Lake of the Woods Lac la Croix is a giant expanse of water that runs along the western border of Quetico Provincial Park. It’s an absolute gem that should be put on your bucket list to paddle.
My first visit there was during a 12-day canoe trip around Quetico, a loop route called Hunter’s Island. Our campsite for the night on Lac la Croix was on an island southeast of Hilly Island. My paddling partner and I took advantage of an early morning calm and pushed off from our campsite just before 6 a.m. We kept close to the eastern shoreline, not only to stay in Canada (the United States runs straight down the middle of the lake) but also because we wanted to check out two historically significant sites: Lac la Croix First Nation pictographs and Warrior Hill.
The rock paintings are spread out across two massive cliff faces just five kilometres from our previous campsite, south of Coleman Island’s southwestern end. The most striking paintings in the first cluster of pictographs are of moose. There’s also a series of animal tracks leading away from a man with braided hair, sitting and smoking a pipe. Then, on the second slab of granite, separated from the first pictograph by a crack in the rock, is another smoker, sitting with exposed genitals. And to the left of the male figure, “L R 1781” has been chipped into the rock.
Farther south is another piece of flat granite with two more panels. The first shows a man carrying a spear, below him is a caribou or elk, above that is a stick figure under a dome-shaped structure and scattered throughout are handprints. The second, just to the south, is made up of a small wolf surrounded by more handprints.
Some historians have labelled this grouping of pictographs as the “warrior” panel because of the proximity to Warrior Hill. This steep chunk of rock is located just over one kilometre to the south, along the east shore, and is thought to have been either a lookout where the Ojibwa watched for their enemies the Sioux, or a hill where young braves raced to the top to test their strength and stamina as warriors.
We spent a good portion of the morning gawking at all the Lac la Croix pictographs, and even spent some time sprinting up to the top of Warrior Hill—with limited success. However, it was well worth the effort, and the trip to this amazing piece of Lake of the Woods.