"But aren't many gardens beautiful because they are imperfect?...aren't the strange, new flowers that arise by mistake or misadventure as pleasing as the well-tended and planned?"
Author: Libba Bray
In answer to this quote, no. Well-planned is more pleasing.
I had planned to go to the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) on Labour Day weekend this year. The ELA, in case some of you haven't been, is very nice. But I’ve been several times and it just didn't excite me.
I've long thought people were too hung-up on guidebooks and published routes. Where's the sense of exploration? I wanted something new and adventurous.
A friend of mine has a co-worker whose friend is a canoeist, and this individual possibly said that North and South Steeprock Lakes were the most beautiful places to paddle in Manitoba. That sort of quality third-hand information should have been cause for pause. But remember, new and adventurous were what I wanted.
I searched the internet and found very little. The Parkland Tourism page indicated people do canoe there, and there is a provincial park and campground on the shore. Google Maps seemed a bit confused as they put the park in the wrong place, but the lakes were properly named and located. An email to Parkland Paddling Club went unanswered. North Steeprock is more than six hours from Winnipeg and with almost no information, I decided to stay closer to home. Then I reconsidered. After all, adventure, exploration, and discovery were the name of the game.
I've canoed, kayaked, hiked, and camped in several provinces, territories, and states, and always made out fine. Planning is great, but this was just a weekend trip, so no need to worry about little details. True, I had no map, but I had a compass and GPS, and surely there would be information available at the provincial park. We embarked on a voyage of discovery.
North Steeprock Lake is indeed a long drive from Winnipeg. Along the way, we discovered that the Gladstone Bakery is worth a stop. But don't eat too much as there is a restaurant in Kellwood that also looked really good, though we were too full for anything but dessert. The North Steeprock Lake campground office isn't open in the evening, and there are no maps, display boards, signs, or anything else indicating where one might canoe-camp. If you want to get there during the day, don't dawdle at every bakery along the way.
The campers of North Steeprock Lake are a friendly and helpful bunch, but they had no idea if there was a portage and had never seen a campsite on the lake outside of the campground. Setting out into an unknown lake with no map in the evening is not a great idea. We did it anyway, and found the portage trail into South Steeprock before sunset. Unfortunately, the portage started with 200 meters of bog to drag through, so we made camp on North Steeprock, leaving the portage until morning. By “made camp,” I mean we set up a small tent on a small marshy hummock that was not at all flat and had no place for a fire. In the morning we ate a leftover cinnamon bun from Gladstone Bakery.
We’d been lucky to find the portage. It wasn't good luck, mind you. After dragging through the bog we realized the arrows we’d followed were not for us. Instead, they indicated a snowmobile trail that, rather than connecting the lakes, ran along a ridge between them. After another hour of dragging and paddling we found the real portage marked with a white piece of plywood on the ground. 500 paces brought us to South Steeprock Lake.
It looks like a nice flat meadow - but it's not
South Steeprock Lake looked very much like its northern namesake, and similarly didn't have any obvious campsite locations. There were places in the forest that could be used in a pinch, but none that were hospitable enough to make us want to stay. After a couple hours paddling around South Steeprock we portaged back and continued along the North Steeprock shoreline looking for campsites. Eventually, we found a nice level spot with a fire pit. Other amenities included a picnic table, biffies, and our car right there. The North Steeprock Provincial Park staff were as friendly and helpful as the campers had been. The staff didn't know of any campsites out on the lakes either.
Both lakes are beautiful, and I hear the fishing is good. We did not see any steep rock, or, really, anything different than more commonly used routes. While it was an adventure, it was not, in my estimation, worth the drive.
Two weeks later . . .
Steep Rock Beach
(sometimes sequels are even better)
A couple of weeks after I mis-adventured to North and South Steeprock Lakes - the lakes in Steeprock Provincial Park, north of Swan River - I went to Steep Rock Beach, what I am now calling "Better Steep Rock". To avoid any confusion, Better Steep Rock is on the east side of Lake Manitoba. From Winnipeg, drive north on Hwy 6 past Ashern and Moosehorn, then turn left (west) on Highway 239. Continue until you get to the lake/dock/boat ramp/cantina. From Winnipeg it is about 2.5hours.
Steep Rock Beach was very nice, and worth the trip. We just went for the day to check it out, but will likely return for a longer trip.
Limestone cliffs are a highlight, and the pebble beaches and mixed broadleaf forests add some variety to those of us accustomed to paddling where the Precambrian Shield is at the surface and soils are thin and acidic.
There is a kayak/canoe rental spot right on the beach. The proprietor on occasion offers handfuls of oats to his guests. That might seem odd, until one makes their way to the island just west of the launch, where two goats spend their summers.
The concession stand offers snacks, ice cream, burgers, and such, and is decorated in an entertaining tropical theme. In fact, it is so effective that the proprietor can make people say, "it's like we are in Mexico," just by turning up the Spanish language music! I enjoyed our trip to Steep Rock, and would recommend it.
This would be a fine location to explore in a sea kayak, sit-on-top kayak, or canoe. I am told a north wind can quickly make conditions exciting, so as always, go with care.
*Note - on our way North, we encountered a friendly (and mandatory) aquatic invasive species check-point set up by Sustainable Development Manitoba. Even with a paddle-craft, make sure you put it away clean and dry before moving it between bodies of water: http://www.gov.mb.ca/waterstewardship/stopais/
"Better Steep Rock"