Length of stay: 2 days
Visited: December 2021
Killarney Provincial Park is located along the rugged shores of Georgian Bay. It is open year-round and provides a variety of activities depending on the season. In the winter the park features a few trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Killarney also offers walk-in winter camping, six heated yurts and two heated camp cabins.
Last fall we stayed in one of the camp cabins in Killarney and had such a wonderful time that we decided to return again, but in the winter for a different experience. While the main gate into the George Lake Campground is closed from the end of November to the beginning of May, visitors can park at the Park Office and walk in with all their gear. The park even provides toboggans, which makes hauling your stuff in and out much easier when there’s snow.
We arrived at Killarney late Friday night. It was lightly snowing outside and the road leading into the campground was icy. Since there wasn’t much snow on the ground, we carried all our supplies in by hand, or rather backpack. I had called the park in advance to let them know that we were arriving late. They said the cabin would be open. And it was open, except someone else was there.
When we arrived at our cabin we noticed that the lights were on and there were two people inside. They must have seen us put our stuff down on the picnic table and they came outside. It turns out they thought this was their cabin, but they got the numbers mixed up. We ended up swapping since the two cabins are mostly identical. The only difference was the cabin that we initially booked comes with an extra bench. Normally we wouldn’t have minded, except that P, K and E were coming down on Saturday and we could have used the extra seating. But whatever. It was late at night.
Day 1: Let it Snow
We woke up the next morning to a couple of inches of fresh snow outside. We shovelled the snow off the deck and then walked to the Park Office to use the heated washrooms and to fill up our water bottles. We then carried the rest of our stuff from the car to the cabin.
Since we weren’t expecting P, K and E until around lunch time, after eating breakfast we went for a short hike. We returned to the Park Office to check in and then hiked along the Granite Ridge Trail (2km, rated moderate), which is located right across the road from the Park Office.
The trail winds through the forest, climbs a ridge, and features a few lookouts of La Cloche Mountains and Georgian Bay. It is signed with red markers and a series of 13 numbered posts to assist with navigation.
The first part of the path is relatively straightforward and leads through the forest. The first notable viewpoint is at post #4 which features an abandoned car. After that navigation got a bit tricker with all the snow, especially since we were the first people on the trail and there were no footsteps to follow. There were also some wet and slippery sections along the rocks, which added an extra element of challenge.
Somehow we took a wrong turn and ended up at posts #12 and #13, but clearly didn’t complete the entire trail. We didn’t complain too much as we at least got to enjoy one of the scenic overlooks of La Cloche Mountains.
Afterwards we walked back to the cabin to warm-up and eat a snack. P, K and E arrived at the park just before noon. We walked back to the parking lot to meet up and help them lug their gear in. This time we used the toboggans since there was enough snow.
After getting settled in, we set off to hike the Cranberry Bog Trail (4km loop, rated moderate). We first had to walk through the campground to reach the trailhead, which is located by campsite #101. The hike along the road was quite the adventure with all the ice, but the clouds had cleared and we even enjoyed some sun.
The trail passes by several bogs, marshes and swamps and features plenty of nice views of the surrounding area. It is well signed with red markers and twelve numbered posts. Thankfully a few other people had hiked along this trail, which made navigation much easier.
Towards the end of the trail, there were a few warning signs to indicate that the path overlaps with La Cloche Silhouette Trail, a strenuous 80km trail that takes up to 10 days to complete. We paid extra attention to follow the red markers.
As we neared the trailhead, we watched the sunset from on top of the ridge.
Afterwards we walked along the shore of George Lake before heading back to our cabin. We made dinner on the BBQ and spend the remainder of the evening just hanging out.
Day 2: Granite Ridge
We slept reasonably well considering there were five of us sleeping in the same room. We had a slow start to the morning and made a late breakfast on the BBQ. We then packed up and made a couple of trips back and forth with the toboggans to lug our gear back to our cars. It was a bit chilly outside and overcast, but at least it wasn’t windy.
After checking out of our cabin, we went for a hike along the Granite Ridge Trail (2km, rated moderate). Except this time, we actually hiked along the entire trail, or at least most of it. It helped that we now had footprints to follow in the snow. I’m glad we returned as the views overlooking Georgian Bay and La Cloche Mountains were spectacular with all the snow.
After eating a quick snack in the parking lot, we drove into Killarney, the town. Except there wasn’t much to see as it was winter and everything was closed (although that could have also been because of the pandemic). We then headed home. We left a bit earlier than planned as there was a snowfall warning in effect and the forecast was calling for 15 to 20cm of snow overnight, followed by freezing rain.
While some of the hiking trails in the park are inaccessible or even more challenging in the winter with all the snow and ice, it was nice to experience a different and quieter side of Killarney. Who knows, we may try to make this an annual tradition, assuming we can book one of the heated cabins of course. Winter camping in a tent just doesn’t seem all that appealing.
My progress on the Ontario Parks Challenge can be found here