Escape to the open water of Lake of the Woods

One of the biggest lakes in North America, Ontario's Lake of the Woods is made for boaters ready to take an adventurous leap

Push your boating to the next level with an international trip to the pristine and complex Canadian waters of Lake of the Woods. Set along the Canada-US border, the island-dotted Ontario waters of Lake of the Woods are easily accessible from Minnesota and offer a variety of experiences, including some impressive challenges. 

The second-largest lake in Ontario, at over 1.5 million acres, boasts a northern wilderness appeal, though its many channels are clearly marked and its shores are populated by small cities and outposts for getting a bite to eat, refuelling, or staying the night on dry land. Get ready to leave shore and explore a whole new side of Lake of the Woods.

Cruise through Canadian cottage country 

A massive system of waters, islands and peninsulas, Lake of the Woods is home to over 14,000 islands and a combined shoreline of 65,000 miles—that's more shore than Lake Superior! You can find complete charts for Lake of the Woods and surrounding areas at the Canadian Hydrographic Services. You could spend anywhere from a day to a month navigating around islands and tackling channels all way from the border to the southeast past the towns of Morson, Sioux Narrows, and Nestor Falls to the city of Kenora in the northeast. Take the eastern route through more remote areas, or challenge yourself in the southwest's wide open waters near Big Traverse Bay. 

Located on the Canadian Precambrian Shield, the island and land around the lake are rugged and wild, with dense forests, rushing rivers, and wildlife that ranges from deer and eagles to bear and wolves. And with an average depth of 7.9 metres (29 feet), the lake is home to all manner of fish species, including walleye/pickerel, muskie, and northern pike, so if you’re there for the fishing, expect success. You’ll catch glimpses of the area’s long history too, including Indigenous pictographs on rock faces along the shores. No matter where you plot your course, you’re sure to discover a new cove, beach or bay along the way and hear the iconic call of the loon morning and night.

Crossing international boundaries when boating brings both a refreshing change of scenery—and a regulatory stop at a border crossing station. Thankfully you can use your smartphone to check in to Canadian waters, just bring your state government ID or even your passport. Boaters also need to carry proof they can safely operate a boat: the most common proof of competency is the Pleasure Craft Operator Card, which lasts a lifetime and can be obtained from a number of providers, such as Boat Ed.

Boating necessities on Lake of the Woods 

The waterways and beaches near the small city of Kenora, the area’s biggest town, and nearby cottage-country areas are fairly populated in summer, yet in relative terms, they're tranquil and most boaters are polite and helpful. Find maps and more information about navigating the lake at Kenora's Lake of the Woods Discovery Centre, where boats can dock for up to four hours and the parking lot has space for trucks and boat trailers. 

Also in the city, you'll find all the amenities you need during your trip, including scenic waterfronts with both private docking facilities and public docking and launching ramps,  as well as marinas with fuel service stations. With numerous grocery stores and restaurants that range from casual brewpubs to fine dining, you'll stay well-fed and happy about it. While resorts, lodges and hotels, such as the iconic Best Western Lakeside Inn, make visitors feel right at home on shore. 

Kenora's Woodlake Marine offers new and used boats and engines and doubles as a repair shop. Just east of Kenora along the North Shore of Pine Portage Bay, check out Northern Harbour, one of central Canada’s largest marinas, for docking and boating services. More boating amenities can be found on Sunset Country’s site, covering Lake of the Woods and further north.

Or if you’re looking for something a little different, spend more time on Lake of the Woods with a houseboat: houseboat rentals can be found in Kenora, Sioux Narrows, Nestor Falls, and Morson. And if you see a fleet of Laser sailboats out on the water, you might be near Royal Lake of the Woods Yacht Club—founded in 1903, it’s the only inland royally-designated yacht club in the world. 

Smaller towns and outposts offer a more rugged experience, but all cater to boaters’ needs for food and gas. You can also access Lake of the Woods from the small Township of Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls on the lake’s eastern shore, known for the Northern Ontario Sportfishing Centre and a lively fishing culture. And make a trip out to the Aulneau Peninsula, the largest land feature in the lake, to see massive cliffs and sheer rock faces.  

Whether you’re cruising along, honing your captain skills, or hopping on a Seadoo, expect a true boating adventure through true Canadian nature on Lake of the Woods.

5 Must-Stops on Lake of the Woods

  • Stop for lunch at Crow Rock Lodge.
  • Grab a beer at Lake of the Woods Brewing Company.
  • Add a Seadoo ride to your boating adventure by renting one from Lake of the Woods Docking in Kenora, which also runs four docking sites and two marinas.
  • Take in the sight of the Sioux Narrows Bridge, which was once the longest span wooden bridge in the world.
  • Check out an Indigenous pictograph. There are several on the lake, most of which are charted.
About Robyn Fadden

Writer and editor Robyn Fadden is an explorer searching out hidden historic gems, city secrets, and quiet green spaces off the beaten track. Based in Montréal, Robyn covers outdoor activities, music festivals, art, tech, and numerous other events for Tourisme Montréal, MUTEK, CKUT 90.3 FM radio and other organizations.

Recommended Articles

Search Boating