During the second week in July two summers ago, my wife and I traveled along the north shore of Lake Winnipeg from Grand Rapids to Two-Mile Channel--a stretch you would do if you headed up the west side of the northern basin.
We encountered no other people once past the friendly locals working near Grand Rapids at the tail end of the commercial fishing season.
The prevailing winds were from the north, were frequently strong, and were often challenging along stretches of shoreline that didn't offer protection.
Long Point (to the south) looks to me to be both scenic and a potentially thrilling paddling challenge. Getting around the north side of it in such strong north winds could be difficult. You would possibly only be able to paddle this approximately 40 km stretch early in the mornings and late in the evenings and/or when the wind was temporally either coming from a different direction or not blowing strongly. In other words, if you do the west shore, you might want to schedule extra time for getting around Long Point.
There are sections of very scenic but potentially dangerous cliffs and grottoes due north of Horse Island. We had fun climbing around one of these cliffs, too, and the view off of it was spectacular.
On the west end of the extreme northern shore of the lake is Limestone Point, which has a beautiful, approximately 15km-long sand beach.
Much of the rest of the shoreline to Two-Mile Channel has eroded so dramatically that it's actually quite interesting.
Note that, except for on Limestone Point, good places to camp are fairly limited between Grand Rapids and Two-Mile Channel.
I think which side of the lake to paddle is a subjective matter and that the much longer west route could have both advantages and disadvantages for you.
I hope hearing about our experience can be useful to you.
There are stretches north of Horse Island where the cliffs go to the water's edge, some short enough that they probably wouldn't necessarily be a problem if a storm suddenly blew up. However, others are long enough that they certainly could be.
We saw some spectacular spray shooting out of the grottoes under one of these sets of cliffs, and that wasn't even during stormy conditions. You definitely would not want to be driven to shore there.
We stayed far away from the cliffs--not just to avoid getting bashed into some of them but also to stay clear of the chaotic wave action nearby from rebounding waves. In a couple places this zone extended more than a hundred meters from shore. Being forced further into the lake by cliffs could create other dangers by exposing you to stronger winds and bigger waves.
While the east shore lacks the cliffs of the west shore, I've read in a couple sources that it has more reefs that can be exposed in deep wave troughs. Therefore, if you do the east route, I encourage you to keep a sharp lookout for lines of buoys and unusual patterns of breaking waves off shore.
I've paddled up the east coast (Bloodvein to Norway House) in a canoe. It took 6 days and we were windboud for half of one of those days.
We packed food for 30 days - no one had anything positive to say about paddling on Winnipeg - but none of these people were paddlers. We did finally meet a paddler on the Bloodvein R. who had also served in the Coastgaurd on Lake Winnipeg who gave us the first reassurance that paddling the lake wasn't so bad.
In general, taking advice from non-paddlers is a waste of time. Winnipeg is a fantastic lake, the contrast between the green water, blue skies, and yellow sand shoreline is spectacular.
The east shore is mostly sand, so campsites aren't a problem. If I were paddling it again, I'd plan on spending a night north of the Poplar river, there are lots of rocky shoals here - very scenic.
The other great spot is east of Warren Landing where there is a small dune field along the shore.
I'd plan on waking up in the dark and getting off with the sunrise every morning. There are tons of cormorants and pelicans, so it often smells like fish sh*t. And the water is green and dirty (hence the name). Fishermen are all along the east coast up until late June-early July. There are almost no cabins along the shore..
The west coast is limestone, and there are suppose to be some cliff shorelines (unlike the east shore) so I imagine there might be some potentially dangerous shoreline. Plus the east shore has the big bays and grand point.
Here's what most of the east shore looks like:
let me know if I can help with any specific ?'s
>>Water quality is a concern for me but we have good filter/purifiers.
We drank the water, either boiled or iodined.
>>The wind-bound days is also a concern. Yours is a little less than 10%. We are planning on allowing 10% also.
We just brought lots of food. We weren't sure what to expect, but it sounded bad. In hindsight, I don't think paddling large lakes is nearly as problematic as most people make it out to be if you don't mind swells and 3 ft waves. (I've since paddled a bit of Superior's north shore). A skilled kayaker can paddle under almost all
conditions. We had a spray cover. I also live on Superior, and hardly a day ever goes by when I don't look out on the lake and judge the paddling conditions.
>>How far did you travel from shore? Did you make some of the bay crossings or did you paddle into all bays?
We travelled right along shore. We had some friends try to cross Pigeon Bay (on a seperate trip) while they were sailing and the wind shifted, and they were caught far from shore in 8 ft waves. Paddling large lakes is only dangerous if you make poor decisions. (with a few rare exceptions)
>>Did you stop at any of the settlements along the east shore (i.e. Berens River, Poplar Point)?
We stopped at some one's house on the outskirts of Berens to make a phone call and we paddled in to Poplar River and stopped at the fish co-op (nice people). Never really entered either town.
>>What was the majority of wind directions you faced?
We had one low pressure after the other pass by so that winds were often out of the east. This is one reason it took so little time to move up the lake.
>>Did you have trouble with the fishermens nets in any way?
no, you can paddle right over them
The key is getting going before dawn and catnaping when the winds are up. We were so paranoid about paddling the lake, we paddled at every opportunity, so this meant paddling from dawn to dusk if conditions allowed. When the wind did force us to get off the lake (2 occasions), we were almost grateful b/c we had been paddling so hard.
Lots of bear tracks are evident b/c it's so sandy. We had a mom and cub walk right next to our tent one night (and we often keep our food in the vestibule) - they didn't even inspect the tent.
I'll try to remember to get some wind data to you. You can get the daily wind speeds and directions for the last 50 years or so - if you're really interested you can get a better idea of the normal conditions. I don't think prevailing surface winds are out the northwest all summer long. (this may determine if you go CW or CCW)
I suspect 3 or 4 groups paddle the entire west or east coast of the shore every year. I'd be leary about crossing any bays in a canoe, but you should be much safer in a kayak - and if you're paddling the west shore you'll want to make several crossings.
The NE shore of Winnipeg is some of the most accessible wilderness I know.
In 1995 two guys kayaked the whole circumference of Lk Wpg. It took them almost two months. Lots of down time due to high winds. Have to be carefull of the weather. If you check with the Manitoba Recreational Canoe Ass. they should be able to tell you who they were It was a trip they did for Manitoba Hydro to check shoreline conditions. I have done some of the north end of the lake and it is quite beautiful.
I went from the South end of the lake as far as Poplar River and then back to Sagkeeng in an uncovered canoe a few years ago. I was held up by weather a couple of times, but I don't think I was held up for an entire day more than three or four times on the trip. Even days that were crazy windy generally had a few hours in the early morning in which to paddle, and often a couple more around dusk.
I'd make sure to pull your canoe WELL out of the water, and maybe tie it up to a tree, too. I woke to a wild wind one night and thought I better check on my canoe. It was 3/4 swamped, even though I had tied it up a good 25 feet from the water's edge, and what seemed to be at least 3 feet higher than the water.
North of Beren's River, I found the shore to be fairly swampy and brambly with lots of collapsing peat. There were still plenty of beaches and occasional rocky bits, but decent campsites were definitely harder to find.