Grand Rapids Provincial Park
Zed Lake Provincial Park
Burge Lake Provincial Park
Paint Lake Provincial Park
Lynn Lake is roughly 1,090 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg. Let's put that into perspective: That's almost the same distance between Winnipeg and Medicine Hat, Alberta; almost the same distance between Winnipeg and Omaha, Nebraska. It takes about 12 hours of driving through some of the most pristine forests in Canada to arrive at this remote town, built as the result of a 20th century gold and nickel rush. Twelve hours on the road – all within the province of Manitoba.
The town of Lynn Lake was borne from the death of another town. In the 1940s, after a mere 20 years, the copper veins that ran beneath the town of Sherridon, 190 kilometres south of Lynn Lake, were mined out. The town's fortunes had reverse dramatically. In desperation, prospectors headed out in every direction, in search of salvation for the town. This salvation, a massive nickel desposit, was found in 1945 near Lynn Lake.
The people of Sherridon moved north to work the new mines at Lynn Lake, bringing the whole town with them. Tractors pulled the houses, churches, and offices of Sherridon north along winter ice roads. Sherridon was completely transported 190 kilometres to the north, to what is now Lynn Lake.
For the next three decades, Lynn Lake was a mining boomtown. Gold was discovered shortly after the nickel deposit and by the mid-1970s, the town's population peaked at nearly 3500 people. Unfortunately the 1980s saw an end to the mining boom when the nickel deposit ran out and gold production stalled, as the mines began to be tapped out.
Today, Lynn Lake's mines are no longer in operation. Only 700 people remain in this town at the end of Manitoba's most northernly highway, Provincial Road 391. Just outside this remote community are the two most northernly road-accessible provincial parks in Manitoba – Zed Lake and Burge Lake.
The journey north to Zed and Burge lakes was the most demanding my travel companions and I have undertaken so far, but also the most rewarding.
Highway 6, between Winnipeg and Thompson, is a smooth strip of pavement, better than most southern Manitoban highways. Although the highway cuts through largely uninhabited boreal forest, a steady stream of traffic limits the feeling of isolation.
Along the route to Thompson and Lynn Lake, Grand Rapids Provincial Park is located just outside of its namesake town, 440 kilometres north of Winnipeg. The park is not marked. It is not maintained. If you are driving this way, don't bother stopping.
Provincial Road 391 runs for 320 kilometres between Thompson and Lynn Lake and is the opposite of Highway 6. Intermittently paved, the road winds along wild northern lakes and rivers, with Leaf Rapids and Lynn Lake the only settlements on the road. The unusually dry conditions made the driving easier, but I can imagine how much of a nightmare the road could be during wet conditions. Thick smoke hung in the air and draped to the road, the result of major forest fires in the area.
After arriving at Lynn Lake, we headed to Zed Lake Provincial Park, 40 kilometres from town, and set up camp. We then travelled to Burge Lake Provincial Park and relaxed at the park's small beach.
Both provincial parks offer rustic campgrounds (no showers, no electricity) cut into the jack pine forest. After renting a canoe from a local outfitter, we set out on Zed Lake, with dreams of reeling in master angler-sized walleye and northern pike.
These dreams were soon dashed – ten minutes out on the lake, lightning began to strike just to the south of us. We paddled as fast as we could to get off the lake before the storm hit. This thunderstorm was likely no relief to those who were fighting the massive forest fires that were raging to the south and the northwest, as the short downpour would not have extinguished the fires and the lightning had the potential to start more.
The storm seemed to have little effect on the fires because the next day, smoke still hung heavily in the air. With a forest fire-related travel ban limiting us to the campground areas of the two provincial parks, we decided that we would shorten our journey home by five hours and spend the night at Paint Lake Provincial Park, 35 kilometres south of Thompson on Highway 6.
It was an excellent decision. Paint Lake is cut into the Canadian Shield and to my eyes is reminiscent of Lake of the Woods – rocky islands divide the lake into a series of channels.
The campground is similar to the larger campgrounds in Whiteshell Provincial Park. Mystery Country's Paint Lake Resort, which rents boats, jet-skis, canoes, and kayaks, is also located on the lake.
With the sun shining down on us and the mercury pushing 30 C, we rented a boat and cruised around the lake. Paint Lake is a boater's paradise, a seemingly never-ending maze of islands and channels. Without a doubt, Paint Lake Provincial Park has been my favourite stop of the summer so far.
The remote northwest corner Manitoba offers some of the best parks and scenery in the province. The long journey to Zed Lake, Burge Lake, and Paint Lake was worth the drive and is one I would highly recommend.
The longest trip of my year-long adventure has been accomplished. Next week, I'm heading to the eastern side of the province and Nopiming Provincial Park.
Parks visited in this post: