Canoeing Little Limestone Lake

The most magnificent colour changing lake in the world.

Little Limestone Lake - Manitoba’s Gem

September 2017

I was probably 17 the first time I saw a picture of Little Limestone Lake. I recall flipping through a coffee table book at my friend’s house, showcasing hidden gems in Manitoba. I’m sure that my reaction was the same as anyone’s the first time that they see a photo of the lake, I just had to get there – it looked exactly like the Caribbean!

Little Limestone Lake September 2017

Fast forward 5 years and I was sitting in a class at university. One of my classmates started talking about their volunteer work with the Manitoba Chapter of Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS). He explained their efforts around raising awareness for Little Limestone Lake and provided us with a hardcopy postcard to mail to our local politicians.

Little Limestone Lake is noted as the largest marl lake in the world. The CPAWS website is a great resource if anyone is interested in finding out more information on the lake. In short, marl is created by the precipitation of calcium carbonate which is found in limestone. On summer days, an increase in water temperature and pH can trigger this reaction which results in a change to the colour of the water. There are many marl likes located around the world in the U.S. Midwest, Europe, Himalayas, Ireland, etc. but I has been document that Little Limestone Lake has the most dramatic colour changes.

In 2007, Little Limestone Lake was designated as a park reserve which provided interim protection for the lake and up to 100 metres of the surrounding shoreline. In 2011, with the efforts of CPAWS, Mosakahiken Cree Nation and Nature Manitoba, Little Limestone Lake was designated as a provincial park. A scientific study on the lake helped to identify the need for a larger provincial park boundary in order to protect the health of the lake. In August 2015, I finally made the trip out there with the help of newly gifted roof rack and loaned canoe. Information on the lake and camping is pretty much non-existent on the internet. I was able to locate some minimal information on fishing forums and by speaking with Manitoba Parks staff. On Friday night I learned how to strap my canoe down and by Saturday morning my boyfriend were making the 5.5 hour (40 km past Grand Rapids, MB) drive north on Highway 6 to the lake. When you’re close to the lake you should notice a sign on the left of the highway indicating the turnoff. At the end of the road there was a large opening with some campfire pits and a few places to park. When we arrived we were greeting by a swarm of black flies and expected that this would be the demise of our first trip in Northern Manitoba. We quickly unpacked the car and got the canoe loaded.

Once we got on the water the flies quickly disappeared and the beauty of the lake took over. It was hard to believe that we were in Manitoba. We continued across the lake and decided our best bet would be to follow the shoreline to find a good camping spot. We spent the next three hours, in and out of bays, hoping in and out of the canoe. Most of the shoreline was filled with vegetation and had very narrow rocky beaches, and unfortunately not so camping spots. We finally settled on a small flat rock as the evening started setting in and we set up our tent.

The next two mornings I would wake up with the same astonishment over the view from our tent. We ended up paddling for most of the next day and discovered two other really nice campsites that looked as though they had been previously used (fire pits, etc.). We were able to make it back to our campsite just in time as a strong thunderstorm rolled through. The light from the storm lit up the lake even more than imaginable. We hunkered down in the tent for the rest of the evening and let the storm play out. The next morning we kept on betting when we should make the paddle home. We started out when the rain began to die down but were hit with some heavy showers and large waves as we were crossing the lake.

Nonetheless it was a great trip to Little Limestone Lake and I would absolutely recommend it everyone.

Some tips for the trip:

  1. Bring bear spray and camp smart – as with all backcountry camping, be prepared! At a distance we encountered a bear swimming across the lake on our paddle back.
  2. Bring a camera – you’ll want to take lots of photos, trust me.
  3. Do some exploring – the lake is pretty big. We were only able to explore one large bay of the lake due to the rainy weather. We hear there’s a hidden waterfall at one of the outlets of the lake!
  4. Get a license and go fishing – you’ll find lighter coloured fish due to the minerals in the lake. Watch the following video for some sneak peaks at the fishing up there: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AY8-H-RzlPU
  5. Be respectful of Mosakahiken Cree territory and of the lake – check out a map before you go and be mindful of where you’re camping. Ask for permission to camp and please leave nothing behind, the beauty of this lake needs to be preserved.