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.