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Manitoba's Big Whiteshell Lake is a shining star among the 200 lakes in Whiteshell Provincial Park. Fourth largest lake in the park, Big Whiteshell Lake covers about 4,200 acres and includes many bays, inlets and rocky islands. Over 20 miles of shoreline offer a feel of pure wilderness, while trails and scenic vantage points provide plenty of visual adventure to any outing.
Big Whiteshell Lake gains its water from inflows from Goose Lake, Green Lake, Sutcliff lake, Bedford Creek and directly from runoff from the granite outcroppings surrounding the lake. Overflow travels through a short channel to Little Whiteshell Lake and eventually drains into the Whiteshell River. Fewer than 200 cottages grace a small portion of the western shoreline, and most of the eastern bank is within the designated wilderness zone. There are no true roads around the entire lake, and traveling the eastern shore is reserved for those who hike the trails. Canoeing and kayaking are favored modes of transportation in this wilderness area, with several designated canoe trails shown on various park maps.
A couple of commercial resorts rent housekeeping cabins on the lake's west bank and offer a variety of services to their guests. These are open year round as the area is very popular among winter sports fans for snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Private cottage rentals are possible lodgings choices along the shore and often include a small boat with the cottage.
Two Whiteshell Provincial Park campgrounds located at the lake fill quickly during warm summer months. Both have sandy beach areas, boat launching facilities, fish cleaning stations, picnic grounds, playgrounds and campsites with electricity. Water and restrooms are located within the campgrounds. Commercial resorts also have launch sites for personal boats. Big Whiteshell Lake is large enough for water skiing, tubing, wakeboarding and other water sports.
Fishing is the biggest draw to Big Whiteshell Lake for walleye, northern pike, perch and the occasional whitefish. Although the walleye are stocked regularly, the fish also reproduce naturally. Careful fish monitoring leads to fishing regulations that may be changed annually, so current fishing regulations should be consulted and can be obtained with the annual fishing permits. Ice fishing is also popular, but the large lake may be hard to fish without local advice. The little settlement of Big Whiteshell Lake on the western side has a gas station and bait available, along with the latest local fishing information. The resort proprietors can also be helpful with the latest hot fishing spots and baits.
Wildlife are plentiful in the surrounding area: black bear, white-tailed deer, moose, lynx, wolves, otter, fisher, raccoon, red fox, beaver, porcupine, muskrat and squirrel are relatively common and may be seen along the trails, particularly in the wilderness zone. Canada geese, owls, loons, bald eagles, osprey, ruffed grouse, ducks and a variety of songbirds can be found among the pines and at the lake's edges. Several hiking trails such as Big Whiteshell Hiking Trail, Jumping Rock Trail, Castle Rock Trail and Mantario Trail are popular hiking destinations. The new 6-mile Big Whiteshell Mountain Bike Trail is a favorite among mountain bikers.
Located 100 miles east of Winnipeg in the far southeastern portion of Manitoba, the park that gives Big Whiteshell Lake its name abuts the Ontario border. The nearly 675,000-acre park covers the western edge of the Canadian Shield geology formation before it becomes prairie. The name itself is interesting in that the white shells that give the park its name are not native to the area. Called miigis shells, the shells are a type of cowry which play a part in ceremonies of the Midewiwin or Grand Medicine Society of the native tribes from the east coast through the Great Lakes. The shells were apparently obtained by trade and highly valued for ceremonial use in the area. Archaeological evidence shows that aboriginal tribes have lived in the area for at least 8,000 years, leaving a petrographic reminder of their passage in the many petroforms found throughout the region. Not all of these formations representing snakes, turtles and birds have been mapped and visitors are reminded to leave them undisturbed. Some are still used for traditional ceremonies.
Many other lakes in the area also offer campgrounds and cottage rentals. A few are full-fledged resorts, but far more common are housekeeping cabins and private rentals. Several points of interest within Whiteshell Provincial Park offer historic and natural exhibits and information. Bannock Point nearby is a well-known site containing many petroforms. Alf Hole Goose Sanctuary serves as a nesting location each spring. Interpretive displays, a self-guided trail and observation gallery assist in enjoying these large waterfowl. Whiteshell Natural History Museum has displays of local bird and mammal species, while the Museum of Geological History displays the geological formation of the lakes and features of the local landscape. The Whiteshell Trappers Museum displays the history of trapping in the area and explains the modern use of trapping in wildlife management.
After a fun-filled day of fishing, hiking and swimming in Big Whiteshell Lake, a great way to end the day is around a crackling campfire near the beach. And before you leave, make sure to reserve your spot for the following year. Right along with the walleye, you'll be hooked.
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