Length of stay: 2 days
Visited: November 2022
Killarney Provincial Park is located along the northern shore of Georgian Bay. It is surrounded by wilderness and contains mountains, forests, lakes, beaches and wetlands. It is open year-round and provides a number of recreational activities depending on the season to enjoy the stunning scenery. The campground also offers roofed accommodations that provide a more comfortable and convenient camping experience.
We booked a rustic cabin at the George Lake Campground, which is open for camping all year, for a weekend at the end of November. We left work a bit early on Friday afternoon to beat the traffic and to avoid the worst of the snow squall warning that was in effect. While Killarney wasn’t under a winter weather travel advisory, we had to drive through one of the regions that was. Let’s just say that we should have put our winter tires on before our trip. But we made it.
We arrived at the park just after 9:30p.m. There was a bit of snow on the ground, but the gates in the campground were still open so we could just drive to our rustic cabin. The cabin consists of a single room with a screened in front porch. It can sleep up to five people and comes equipped with a queen bed and a double/single bunk bed. It also has a table with chairs and a bench, lighting, a propane fireplace and a small kitchenette with a mini fridge, microwave, kettle and coffee maker.
We lugged all our gear and supplies into the cabin. According to the thermostat, it was 2°C inside. We turned on the propane fireplace and cranked up the heat. Winter sure came on fast and hard here in southern Ontario.
Day 1: Pink Granite Rocks
It was cold and blustery outside when we woke up the next morning. After eating breakfast we went to the Park Office to check in and to inquire about the trail conditions. All the trails were open and in good condition, but the guy warned us that there may be some slippery sections because of the snow, but we should be fine if we took our time. We started off with the Chikanishing Trail (3.5km loop, rated moderate). The trailhead is located at the end of Chikanishing Road, a few kilometres west of the George Lake Campground.
The trail passes over a series of small pink granite ridges across the Canadian Shield to the rugged shore of Georgian Bay. Along the path there’s a series of interpretive signs that provide more information about the history of the area, including about the First Nations people that lived here and how most of the surrounding forests were logged intensively. The trail is signed with red circles on the trees as well as on the rocks, however these were a bit tricky to see because of the snow.
The snow also made the rocks slippery. There wasn’t enough snow or ice to use either snowshoes or microspikes, so we just had to trust our winter hiking boots and balance. We took our time to navigate up, over, down and around the pink slabs of granite. As if that wasn’t hard enough, as we neared the shoreline, we also had to deal with the ferocious wind. No wonder the vegetation looked so stunted and wind swept.
At the last interpretive sign, we turned around. We crossed over the wooden bridge and boardwalk. This is where the path splits off. We could hike back the way we came, or take the other route which forms a loop back to the trailhead. We opted for a change in scenery and completed the rest of the loop. This portion of the path leads through the forest and up a large ridge towards another stretch of trees. There were a series of boardwalks and wooden planks, likely because this section gets pretty muddy. One of the advantages to hiking in the cold was that at least the ground was frozen so we didn’t have any muddy surprises. Overall it took us an hour and a half to complete the trail. There were a few dicey sections, but we managed to stay on our feet the whole time.
We drove back to the cabin to get out of the wind and to warm up from the cold. After eating lunch, we headed out to hike along the Cranberry Bog Trail (4km loop, rated moderate), which is located at the other end of the campground. While we could have driven to the trailhead (there’s a small parking lot by the second beach area on George Lake), we opted to get the extra steps and just walk there since it only adds a couple more kilometres (round trip) to the hike.
The Cranberry Bog Trail weaves through the forest and passes a series of bogs and marshes, starting with Prolux Marsh. The trail is well signed with red markers on the trees and contains twelve numbered signs, which are often placed at a nice viewpoint. The conditions on the trail were pretty good. A few people had hiked here earlier, so we just followed all the footprints in the snow.
The first part of the trail weaves through the forest before passing Cranberry Bog. After crossing the bridge, the views overlooking the bog just kept getting better and better, but the trail also became more challenging, largely because the snow made the rocks a bit slippery. There were also a few steep sections.
The trail overlaps with a small section of La Cloche Silhouette Trail, a strenuous 80km multi-day trail and is marked with a series of red and blue markers (red for the Cranberry Bog and blue for La Cloche Silhouette). The trail then passes A.Y. Jackson Lake, which was named after one of the founding members of the Group of Seven Canadian artists. There’s one final steep downhill before the trail loops back to the campground.
We walked down to the shore of George Lake before heading back to the cabin. It was really starting to cool down and the forecast was calling for 5cm of snow in the evening. We were looking forward to warming up by the fireplace with a nice cold glass of Chardonnay.
Day 2: Snowy Scenes
The next morning we woke up to a fresh layer of snow outside, which looked very pretty, except it was cold. Like really cold. It was currently -11°C (and felt like -19°C with the wind chill). Thankfully we stayed nice and toasty inside our rustic cabin overnight. The downside was having to walk to the Park Office in the morning to use the washroom. Since I was already outside in the cold, I figured I’d might as well make the most of it and walk down to the beach area on George Lake. The sun was just starting to rise from behind the La Cloche Mountains.
I didn’t linger long as my fingers were freezing from taking a few pictures. I headed back to the cabin to make a hot cup of tea. After making breakfast, we packed up the car. On the way out of the park, we hiked the Granite Ridge Trail (2km round trip, rated moderate). The trail is located across the road from the Park Office. It weaves through the forest, climbs a ridge, and features a series of viewpoints of the surrounding area.
We’ve hiked this trail three times before and every time we’ve been confused as to how to properly complete it. The trail is signed with red markers and thirteen numbered signs. However, the path criss-crosses in a couple of places and there’s a couple of one-way detours, which adds to the confusion.
The first stretch of the trail is relatively straightforward to navigate. The path weaves through the forest and is well marked. The first notable point of interest is at post #4, which passes an abandoned car.
Shortly after there are some arrows to point you in the right direction, which is up over the first ridge. The path branches off to the right at post #6, but there is an option to continue straight. Based on past (failed) attempts, we went right to climb up another steep hill. We continued following the red markers. The path branches off again and it wasn’t clear which way to go, so we kept right hoping that was the right direction. We climbed up a series of ridges which lead to a couple of overlooks of Georgian Bay and La Cloche Mountains, passing posts #9, #10 and #11.
From there we turned around and hiked back the way we came until we returned to the junction, this time we went the other way. But then the path branches off again. We went to the right since that seemed to work out well for us last time, except we ended up looping back to the path that leads to the overlooks. So we turned around and went the other way. We passed post #12, so at least we knew we were going in the proper direction. The path then leads up another series of small ridges that provide another nice viewpoint of La Cloche Mountains before connecting back with the main path.
While we never did find every single numbered post on the trail, maybe next time we’ll have better luck. We hopped in the car and headed home, all the while planning a return trip to Killarney for next year.