By Lori Janeson
Canada’s sixth-largest lake is one photogenic body of water. With thousands of kilometers of untrammeled shoreline and a surprising variety of ecosystems within its watershed, Lake Winnipeg is not to be missed by anyone who fancies themselves handy with a camera.
Lake Winnipeg’s southern lobe is pretty accessible. It begins less than an hour’s drive north of its namesake city, which has an international airport with direct service to most major Canadian cities and a handful of major U.S. cities as well, plus ample car rental options. Paved roads nearly encircle Lake Winnipeg, though there are quite a few inlets and points without direct road access.
Still, to find your perfect Lake Winnipeg photo, you may have to travel a bit off the beaten path. What follows is a cheat sheet to 10 of the top spots to photograph on or near Lake Winnipeg. Most are within three hours’ drive of Winnipeg.
1. Grassy Narrows Marsh, Hecla Island
Hike the Grassy Narrows Marsh Trail to one of the wildlife viewing towers and stake out for a while.
“Chances are good that you’ll see a majestic blue heron, soaring bald eagle, or — fingers crossed — elusive moose.” —Lori Janeson
This is probably the best place to spot wildlife in Hecla Grindstone Provincial Park, and it’s well worth the short drive over from the mainland.
2. Hecla Village, Hecla Island
Nature meets history at Hecla Village, an old Icelandic fishing village restored to its circa-1920 glory. Several buildings, including an old fish house and church, offer a glimpse into the hardscrabble lives of so-called New Icelanders, who eked out a living by fishing Lake Winnipeg and trying to farm the rocky soil. (They weren’t very successful at the latter.)
3. Grindstone Point
Remote Grindstone point juts well out into the northern edge of Lake Winnipeg’s southern lobe, providing panoramic views of lake, sky, and distant land. Visit at night for the chance of a long-exposure shot of the northern lights.
4. Viking Park, Gimli
Viking Park is an interesting place, to say the least. The highlight here is a gigantic status of a Norse warrior — it’s worth visiting to get a shot of him alone. The park itself has plenty of other photo opportunities as well, and Gimli’s picturesque lakefront is just steps away.
5. Narcisse Snake Dens, Narcisse
Narcisse technically isn’t on Lake Winnipeg — it’s a few dozen kilometers to the west of Gimli, on the aspen prairie.
But it’s in Lake Winnipeg’s vast watershed. That should be good enough for enterprising nature photographers willing to bend the rules. Because if there’s anywhere worth bending the rules for, it’s Narcisse and it’s incredible, bizarre, frightening snake dens.
Visit during late April or early May, when thousands of garter snakes rise from their winter slumber. Fair warning: If the thought of a large mass of writhing snakes filling your field of vision makes you uncomfortable, this might not be the photo opportunity for you. On the other hand, it could be the perfect chance for you to overcome your fear of legless reptiles once and for all.
6. Sand Dunes, Grand Beach
Lake Winnipeg isn’t known for its dune complexes, with one accessible exception: Grand Beach, at the southern end of the lake. There’s endless opportunity for a memorable shot here. Try to visit on a breezy day, when waving grasses perfectly capture the essence of the big lake.
7. Endless Water Views, Patricia Beach
Patricia Beach is another great beachfront photo op. This one is notable mainly for the near-panoramic views of the lake, largely unobstructed by tree cover. If you’re looking for a fantastic water shot, head here.
8. Sea and Sky, Grand Marais
Speaking of near panoramic views: Grand Marais, located on the eastern shore of Lake Winnipeg’s southern lobe, is one of the most accessible points of land on the entire lake. The formation juts out far enough out to give you 300-plus degrees of water exposure here. Or bring your kayak and paddle out beyond the point for a truly 360-degree experience.
9. Manigotagan River, Manigotagan
The Manigotagan River is one long, meandering wildlife corridor protected by the provincial government. The community of Manigotagan, near the mouth of the river at Lake Winnipeg, is probably the most accessible point for casual photographers. If you’re willing to schlep through the woods and wetlands, though, you’ll find completely pristine photo ops just inland.
10. Elk Island
You’ll need a boat for this one. Elk Island is a remote island in the middle of Lake Winnipeg’s southern lobe, offshore from Wanasing Beach. Protected by Elk Island Provincial Park, Elk Island is a beautiful expanse of boreal forest and wetlands frequented by water birds and small game.
Bonus: Jenpeg Dam
Lake Winnipeg’s only natural outflow is the Nelson River, which flows north and then northeast out of Lake Winnipeg on a long course toward Hudson Bay.
During the late 20th century, Manitoba Hydro constructed a series of hydroelectric dams on the Nelson River and its tributaries. Though the project provides a tremendous amount of low-carbon power to the people of Manitoba, it hasn’t been without controversy, as dams inevitably disrupt the otherwise pristine aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems that surround them. Additional generating stations are planned in the years ahead. They’re particularly problematic for First Nations peoples disproportionately affected by construction.
If you can set aside the controversy for the time being, head up to Lake Winnipeg’s northern terminus (actually, past it, to Cross Lake) and snap some photos of the remote Jenpeg Generating Station, the southernmost generating station on the Nelson River. The angular concrete of the dam is a stark, even poignant contrast against the deep green of the boreal forest — a reminder that seemingly small attempts to corral the natural world can have big ramifications.
Getting to Jenpeg is tricky, so this opportunity isn’t for everyone. If you can make the long journey, though, you’ll be well rewarded.
Find Your Perfect Shot on Lake Winnipeg
Excited to find the perfect shot on Lake Winnipeg yet? These 10 sights are just the tip of the iceberg — or ice floe, as it were. Lake Winnipeg extends more than 400 kilometers from top to bottom, so it’s virtually certain that you’ll find an uncrowded patch of shoreline to snap your next memory. Happy shooting!
Lori Janeson is a nature photographer living in Winnipeg, Manitoba.