Hiking in Killarney Provincial Park

Length of stay: 3 days
Visited: November 2020

Located along the rugged shores of Georgian Bay, Killarney Provincial Park is considered a wilderness park. There is a single campground in the park at George Lake and there are a number of backcountry sites that are accessible by canoe or along the famous La Cloche Silhouette Trail. Killarney is open all-year round and provides a number of activities depending on the season. From hiking and canoeing in the summer to snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter.

The George Lake Campground is open all-year round too. In addition to regular campsites, Killarney offers six yurts and two cabins. We managed to book one of the cabins (#138) for three nights, which comes fully equipped with a propane stove, mini fridge, table and chairs, BBQ, and it sleeps five people. The road into the campground typically closes in mid-November when it starts to snow. Visitors instead have to park their vehicle at the park office and take all their gear down using a toboggan, which is provided by the park. Luckily the road was still open when we visited and we were able to just drive to our cabin.

We left Toronto Thursday morning and after spending the afternoon hiking at Lake Laurentian Conservation Area in Sudbury, we drove to Killarney. We arrived just before 5:30p.m and drove straight to our cabin as the park office was closed for the day.

After settling in, we made some dinner and played a few boardgames before heading to bed.

Day 1: The Crack

We woke up feeling well rested. It was supposed to be another nice day outside (8°C) and mostly sunny. After eating breakfast, we went to the visitor centre to check-in and collect our permit. We then drove out of the park to hike The Crack (6.0km, rated difficult).

The trailhead is located 7km east of the park office off of Highway 637. The path leads to the top of Killarney Ridge through La Cloche Mountains. The first kilometre of the path is relatively flat and follows along an old road.

About half a kilometre in, we heard a large animal stirring in the bush. We immediately stopped to listen. Moments later a deer came crashing out through the bush and darted across the path right in front of us. Seconds later, a timber wolf followed hot on its heels. And then a second wolf ran by. We stared in awe not sure whether to proceed or turn around. Then we heard the deer moan. We figured the wolves were preoccupied and continued along. We definitely turned around a few times, just out of paranoia.

After about a kilometre the path becomes a bit more rugged and very muddy. After crossing the bridge, the path follows along the shore of Kakakise Lake to the base of the mountains. From here it’s mostly all uphill. This part of the path overlaps with La Cloche Silhouette Trail (a 78km multi-day hike that typically takes between 7 to 10 days).

The trail leads through a crack in the mountains and up to the top of Killarney Ridge. The trail ends at the top and provides panoramic views of the surrounding area, La Cloche Silhouette Trail continues onwards.

We turned around and hiked back the way we came. Within the final 20 minutes of the hike, it started to lightly sprinkle. We finished up around 12:30pm and drove back to our cabin and heated up some soup for lunch. By the time we finished eating, the clouds were starting to clear.

We headed out later in the afternoon to hike along the Chikanishing Trail (3km, rated moderate). The trailhead is located at the end of Chikanishing Road. There’s also a boat launch and canoe access point here. The trail winds through the southern boundary of the park, crosses a series of small smooth ridges and leads down to a point on Georgian Bay. There are a few interpretive signs along the way that tell the history of this part of Georgian Bay.

We then drove back to the cabin to settle in for the evening. We roasted some veggies and burgers on the BBQ outside and played some boardgames inside.

Day 2: Lighthouses, Lookouts and Bogs

We woke up to a dark and gloomy day. According to the weather forecast it was supposed to be sunny and go up to a high of -1°C. It certainly was cold, but not sunny. After eating breakfast, we bundled up and reluctantly left our heated cabin. We then drove into Killarney (the town).

We stopped to check out the East Lighthouse. There’s supposedly a trail that leads to the lighthouse (the Tar Vat Trail), but it wasn’t clear where the trailhead was. Instead we drove down some sketchy dirt road. It also wasn’t clear whether we could park at the end of it, but we did anyway since we were the only ones there.

Before Killarney was connected to the outside world by road in 1962, all transportation to and from the village was by boat. Killarney was originally established as a fur trade outpost in 1820, but later became a fishing village. The lighthouse was critical to help ships find their way into the remote harbour. There were two lighthouses built in 1867: East and West lighthouses. The two lighthouses were rebuilt in 1909 and automated in the 1980s. Today they are used by snowmobilers and others who travel across the ice.

From the “parking lot” it’s a short walk along an unmaintained road to the lighthouse, which is situated on a large rocky outcrop on the shore of Georgian Bay.

On the drive back to the park, we stopped to hike along the Granite Ridge Trail (2km, rated moderate). The trailhead is located across Highway 637 from the park office. The trail leads through the forest and up a rocky ridge which provides views of La Cloche Mountains and the shore of Georgian Bay.

The path is well marked with red markers on the trees and numbered signs from 1 to 13. The first part of the trail is relatively flat and winds through a pine forest. At sign #4 the path passes by the remains of a car, which seems very out of place in the forest.

The trail then leads to a loop and starts to ascend the granite ridge. We continued to follow the red markers and numbered signs, but got a bit disoriented at #11, which provides a beautiful view of La Cloche Mountains in the north. Turns out we had to backtrack a couple hundred metres to get back to the loop.

We returned to the cabin to warm-up, take a break, and heat up some soup for lunch. Later in the afternoon we headed back out to hike along the Cranberry Bog Trail (4km, rated moderate). The trailhead is located in the campground near campsite #101. We parked at the second beach area and from there it’s a short walk to get to the trailhead.

The trail forms a loop and passes bogs, swamps and marshes.

Towards the end of the trail, there are a few warning signs to indicate that the path overlaps with La Cloche Silhouette Trail. We followed the markers closely: red for the Cranberry Bog Trail and blue for La Cloche. There are a few steep sections at the end, which were a bit icy. The trail then leads back down to the campground. From there it’s a short walk back to the car.

We then drove back to our cabin and settled in for the remainder of the afternoon. We went outside later and started a fire, but we didn’t stay out too long as it was cold and we were too lazy to take our camping chairs out from the trunk of our car. Instead we went back inside, made some dinner, and played a bunch of board games for the remainder of the evening.

Day 3: Lake of the Woods

We woke up to another dark and dreary day. After eating breakfast we packed up our stuff and checked out of our cabin. On the drive out of the park, we stopped to hike along the Lake of the Woods Trail (3.5km, rated moderate to difficult).

The trailhead is located north of the park on Bell Lake Road. The drive in was super sketchy and was along a bumpy gravel road with lots of potholes. We parked at the small parking lot, which had a sign for the trail and is also an access point for Turbid Lake. We crossed the road and found the trailhead.

The trail loops around a lake, which we hiked counter-clockwise. The first stretch involves a steady climb through the forest to a rocky outcrop. The trail then leads across the rocky ridge and features lovely views of the lake below and Silver Peak.

The trail then gradually descends through a maze of rocky ridges, outcrops and boulders.

In the valley, the path leads across a small bridge to the other side of the lake. To balance out all the downhills, the path then climbs back up the ridge, somewhat less steeply this time. The path on this side of the lake is more rugged. It then leads down through the dense forest, much of which is blocked with fallen trees and overgrown firs and pines. We were glad there was no snow otherwise this trail would have been even more challenging, but there were a few icy patches though.

The trail then leads to a junction and there is a turnoff for a lookout. We followed the path along a small boardwalk, which connects to an island on the lake. The path leads to the tip of the island and loops back to the main trail.

From the junction it’s a relatively short, but challenging push back to the trailhead. The path continues through the forest and leads up and down a series of small ridges. And just when you think that you can’t possibly handle another ridge, the trailhead becomes visible. Overall it took us 1.5 hours to complete the loop.

We piled back in the car and began the drive back to Toronto. We were a bit skeptical about “camping” in Killarney in November, but it was neat to experience a different side of the park during the off-season. Everything was quieter. It also didn’t hurt that we stayed in a heated cabin. Overall, it was a great trip.


55 thoughts on “Hiking in Killarney Provincial Park

  1. Ab says:

    It was very awesome to see different parts of Killarney that I have yet to explore.

    I think it’s awesome that you were able to get one of the two cabins! I can imagine those being in very high demand. They look nice inside and easily fits my family so I’ll have to look into it. I imagine they get reserved fast during the summer. Boo.

    Thanks for the pictures. Even on a Gray day, it looks beautiful. Lots of great hiking trails go explore this summer!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The nice thing about Killarney is that there are so many activities and I’m sure it looks scenic in every season. I booked the cabin back in the beginning of July as they are usually in high demand, especially because of the pandemic. We initially wanted to visit earlier in the fall to enjoy the fall colours, but of course the two cabins (and yurts) were all booked solid until November. We’re hoping to visit again this year and book the cabin again.

  2. kagould17 says:

    So wonderful to be able to do this kind of hiking in November, even if some of the days were a bit gloomy. And that little cabin was a good choice. Neat as a pin. Thanks for sharing. Allan

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We had very nice weather considering it was November. And there were no bugs!! The only issue was that it gets dark so early and the sun doesn’t come up until later in the morning. I’m glad we stayed in a cabin as opposed to roughing it in a tent. It was nice to have somewhere warm to return to after a day of hiking and have space to make dinner and play boardgames. Thanks for reading.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. Killarney is considered a wilderness park, so much of the area is left to nature. One of the best parts about visiting in the off-season was that it felt like we had the park all to ourselves.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I always find it tough to motivate myself to go for a hike during the winter months as it’s usually cold and gloomy. But if you do get out there, the trails are generally quiet and there are no pesky mosquitoes or flies. Wishing you and yours all the best for the New Year as well.

  3. carol hopkins says:

    Such wonderful photos! We camped at Thornbury on Georgian Bay when our children were little. It is such beautiful country and your photos make me long to walk the trails you walked. It must have been quite something to have a deer cross your path followed by wolves! Wow! That’s an experience I’m sure you will never forget.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Killarney is easily one of my favourite parks. The hiking here is some of the best in Ontario. It would be neat to do La Cloche Silhouette Trail – a multi-day hike that usually takes between 7-10 days, but I’ll need to work up to that. The longest I’ve spent in the backcountry is 4 days, and we journeyed mostly by canoe. I imagine it’s quite different travelling by foot in rough terrain. And yes, seeing the wolves was easily one of the highlights from our trip. I’ve never seen a wolf so up close in the wild before.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was great visiting Killarney during the off-season as the park was so quiet and the wildlife encounters were amazing. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a wolf in action before, let alone so close in the wild. I didn’t realize that camping was closed at provincial parks, it makes sense given the restrictions. I’m glad we got our winter camping at MacGregor Point in last weekend when it was still open. It turned out better than expected and we had really mild weather considering it’s mid-January.

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        I am still surprised that we were able to go last weekend! We weren’t sure if that violated the stay-at-home-order (probably), but figured if the park was still open for day-use and camping, then it was within the rules. Apparently not anymore. We had awesome weather last weekend for winter camping. The temperature hovered around 0C and it didn’t get much colder than that during the night. We brought lots of extra blankets and put yoga mats under our sleeping pads. The electric blanket was really nice. I would definitely try winter camping again.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The cabin was very cozy and it sure beats sleeping outside in the tent. It was nice to come back to somewhere warm after a day of hiking in the cold. We’ve had to get a bit creative this year with our travel plans and it’s been neat trying out the different accommodation options at our provincial parks. So looking forward to exploring new areas once this pandemic is more under control too. Take care.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. The landscape in Killarney is so incredibly beautiful and is very photogenic. Rummikub is always a good choice and it brings back such fond memories of my childhood.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Ha! We definitely spotted some unusual stuff on our hikes. It was nice visiting in the off-season as it felt like we had the park all to ourselves, but it was also eerie at the same time. Cell reception isn’t the greatest, so I just felt more vulnerable. Thankfully we get didn’t get injured on the trails or stranded on the side of the road (otherwise maybe our car would become a point of interest on a future trail??).

  4. Christie says:

    The cabin looks very neat, we have never considered, as I know they are booked so fast! Such a rush with the wolves, luckily for you they were busy, not so much for the deer..

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The cabins are definitely very popular, even more so now because of the pandemic. We made our reservation nearly 5 months in advance. We initially wanted to go earlier in the fall to enjoy the fall foliage, but of course all the cabins and yurts were booked solid until mid-November. And yes, it was such an incredible (and incredibly terrifying) experience to see the wolves. Lucky us. Not so lucky for the dear.

  5. Live Laugh Dis says:

    As always, your posts leaving me with a longer bucket list of places I want to visit. It looks like such a beautiful area! I have made note of it. Maybe some day I’ll make it there. Thanks for all of the gorgeous photography! -Andrea

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I hear yah. It seems like my travel bucket list just keeps growing over the years. There never seems to be enough vacation time. Killarney is easily one of the most scenic areas in Ontario. The hiking and wildlife opportunities are fantastic. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Ah yes, one of the benefits to visiting Killarney in the off-season is that there are more chances to see the wildlife. Can’t say I’ve ever see a wolf chase before let alone a wolf so up close in the wild. The hiking here is fantastic, regardless of the season. And it was great to have a warm cabin to come back to after a day of hiking. This sure beats sleeping outside in a tent in the cold.

  6. ourcrossings says:

    So many beautiful photos. Looks like you had a fantastic weather to explore the park on foot and sounds like you had a fun filled adventure. I mean, how often you get to see wolves chasing after a deer? That little cabin looks quite cosy and the lighthouse is so beautiful. Thanks for sharing and have a good day. Aiva 🙂

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. We had fantastic weather considering it was mid-November. The park was very quiet and we were often the only people on the trail. This worked out well as we were able to see more of the wildlife, including a real life wolf chase. It was a bit nerve-racking as there aren’t many people around and cell reception wasn’t the greatest. Luckily we never ran into any issues. And yes, it was nice to return to a warm cozy cabin after a day of hiking. This sure beats sleeping outside in a tent! Thanks for reading. Take care.

  7. alisendopf says:

    First off, that is a pretty sweet cabin. I can imagine they are hard to book in the summer, but super cozy in the winter with the wood stove.
    Second, you are so civilized with your hiking trails! I love the red tags tacked into the trees. We have to rely on vague directors, and the odd tree blazing. Our more popular trails where Search and Rescue has to drag people off trails (like Mt. Yamnuska) gets blue paint on the rocks, but that’s it.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The cabins have become super popular these days. We initially wanted to visit Killarney earlier in the fall to be there when the leaves were changing colour. But of course the cabins and yurts were booked solid until mid-November. The provincial parks in Ontario are pretty great at marking the trails. Some of them even have storyboards or signs along the trail that provide more information about the history of the area or just fun facts about the flora and fauna.

      • alisendopf says:

        We have the story boards on the shorter, interpretive trails. I guess I used to go to those places when my kids were little. I will have to wait for grandkids to start exploring those trails all over again 🙂

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        Yah, the trails with storyboards are generally short and sweet and relatively easy. I like to “hike” along these when the weather isn’t the greatest or if I’m feeling tired, but still have a little bit of energy left for something leisurely.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      For sure, the weather can be hit or miss in November. We were lucky that we didn’t get any rain or snow. The heated cabin was lovely and it sure beat sleeping outside in a tent. We’re hoping to return next year, assuming we can book one of the cabins again. I imagine the parks are going to be even busier this summer.

  8. meiphotoimages says:

    What a wonderful place. Especially loved your photography from the top of the Killarney Ridge. It reminds me so much of the views onto Killarney National Park in Ireland. I wonder if there is a link somehow? Thank you for sharing… p.s. love the cabin 🙂

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Killarney is one of my favourite parks in Ontario. The landscape is incredible and it’s no surprise that the Group of Seven drew inspiration from it. When I was planning for our trip, I had to remember to put “Provincial Park” at the end of Killarney otherwise the search would return recommendations for Killarney National Park in Ireland. I would love to visit Ireland someday, including Killarney National Park. It looks beautiful.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Killarney is one of the most scenic areas in Ontario. We visited earlier in the summer, but it was nice to return in the fall during the off-season. We pretty much had the entire park all to ourselves. We’re hoping to return this year. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Killarney is one of my favourite places in Ontario. It’s not surprising that the Group of Seven drew a lot of inspiration from the landscape here. It was a real treat to stay in one of the heated cabins. It was nice to have somewhere warm to return to after a day of hiking in the cold.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The landscape in Killarney is breathtaking …I can’t wait to return! I’m hoping to visit again in the fall when the leaves are changing colours. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The abandoned car just seemed so out of place. I love how the forest has started to reclaim it and plants and trees have now been growing around it. Killarney is one of my favourite parks in Ontario. We’re planning on returning in the spring before all the crowds and bugs arrive. Thanks for commenting.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. Killarney is one of my favourite parks in Ontario. The landscape is breathtakingly beautiful and it’s the perfect place to just reconnect with nature. The nice thing is that it’s open year-round so it’s great to see it through the different seasons.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Those are two of my favourite parks as well. The landscape at Killarney and Killbear (and just in general around Georgian Bay) is gorgeous with those smooth rocky outcrops and windswept trees. It’s no surprise that the Group of Seven drew much inspiration from this area.

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