The first long weekend of the summer is the Canada Day break, and for this year’s special 150th celebration, a backcountry trip to Ontario’s crown jewel Killarney Provincial Park was in order. Killarney is located about 4 hours drive north of Toronto, and is primarily a canoe-in wilderness park. It is hugely popular, usually fully booked all summer, requiring you to jump on the reservations as soon as they open 5 months prior to your arrival date. And with good reason: its crystal clear saffire lakes and pink granite, white quartz hills are picture perfect, and were a favorite subject of Canada’s famed Group of Seven artists.
This was my third time at Killarney (previously having car- and canoe-camped here before), but this was the first time to do any significant multi-day paddling and portaging in the park. With three other camping buddies, the adventure begins under overcast skies and the constant threat of rain, but we anticipated improved conditions later in the weekend.
Our first night was spent on George Lake, which is also the launch point for many canoe excursions in the park. After the long drive it was a pleasant short paddle to the northern shore of the lake, where we settled at Site 5 and pitched our tents. The ground was saturated with the recent rains (very wet spring in Ontario), so we were literally camping between several small streams of runoff water. The mosquitoes were relentless.
We explored the area around the site, particularly where we would be portaging the next day, before settling back for dinner. Just in time, too – by evening the thunderstorms and downpours rolled in.
Conditions improved on Day 2 as we broke camp and headed further east. After a short carry-over from George to Freeland Lake, we crossed a muddy 410m portage to Killarney Lake where a fellow camper provided helpful tips on the best sites at our destination. We were ecstatic to find Site 22 available, and quickly set up camp.
Located on the western end of Killarney Lake, this is a fantastic location – spacious, raised on a granite outcrop with water on three sides, with terrific views and a nice breeze to keep the bugs away. Perfect for swimming, too. This turned out to be the best site all weekend – we felt very fortunate to spend two nights here. And what a view!
Hiking to The Crack
With our extended stay on Killarney Lake, we decided on a Canada Day hike to “The Crack”, a popular destination with day-trippers atop the white quartzite hills, and part of the longer La Cloche Silhouette Trail that loops the southern portion of the park. We’ve ascended The Crack before, but this time the approach would be from a 1400m portage trail from the lake that joins the main trail to the rocky peak.
Being a holiday weekend, the trail was quite busy and there was a small crowd at the top, and a great party atmosphere for Canada’s 150th birthday. The expansive views of the surrounding lakes were mesmerizing – we were even able to pick out our exact campsite on Killarney Lake!
On Day 4 we headed to O.S.A Lake for our last night in the park. O.S.A. (Ontario Society of Artists) is notoriously hard to book during the peak summer season. The crystal clear lake contains only five official campsites, and we were lucky to snag one on the far western side (we hoped to get one of the two island sites but both were already occupied). After a few heavy showers, the weather finally improved and skies were clear for the remainder of our stay.
The areas around O.S.A. are great for spotting abundant wildlife. A leisurely paddle around a calm lake is the best way to experience this amazing park. As dusk and night approached we made the most of our final night with some star shots – not a sound other than the occasional cry of a distant loon. Amazing!
Early on Day 5 we broke camp and headed back to the access point on George Lake. This would be our longest paddle day of the weekend, a 12-km route taking roughly 4 hours including three portages. What a great Canada Day weekend. As we drove back to the city, I was already planning our next adventure at this most beautiful of Ontario parks.