Why do people come to this place?, I ask my captain during a boat cruise around the Georgian Bay, Ontario. I don’t know – it’s very peaceful here, but I guess they come for the scenery, he answers. And he is right, the scenery in this part of Canada is worth the five hour drive from Toronto. The little town of Killarney and Killarney Provincial Park are like a picture book of Canada, and every view I enjoy over the next few days will leave me breathless.
Views, that look a lot like this:
Killarney was the first stop of my week-long road trip through Ontario and is the kind of place that sets the bar pretty high for anything that comes afterwards. To spare myself driving all the way from Toronto to Killarney I boarded a quick domestic flight to Sudbury (roughly 60 minutes with Air Canada), picked up my rental car at the local airport office and drove straight to Killarney (roughly two hours). On the way I passed Killarney Provincial Park which lies just inland from the Georgian Bay, and a coyote. Welcome to Canada!
The Perfect Stay in Killarney…
… begins by checking into Killarney Mountain Lodge, the leading waterfront holiday resort of this little village of only 500 inhabitants. During the summer the population grows significantly as people come to Killarney to spend their summer holidays in their cottage, on a boat or at a resort like this lodge. When I checked into my wooden cabin, walked up the covered path to the main lodge and entered the rustic, but newly renovated entrance hall, it struck me immediately that I had arrived in some sort of parallel universe where Dirty Dancing was set in Canada, and my Johnny would be a canoe instructor rather than a dancer.
Needless to say that I had already found my Johnny at home, and therefore did not need to carry any watermelons around to make new friends. Admittedly, it would have been hard, because the lodge mainly caters to older couples and families, but if you are looking for a quiet place to start your journey, with views as gorgeous as this, then the lodge is just for you.
My cabin was a little wooden dream and far away from the live music and drinks served up at the lodge’s bar, so I slept like a princess with jet lag and awoke early for a glimpse of my first Ontarian sunrise. The restaurant serves up a la carte breakfast, lunch and dinner, and caters to veggie and vegan diets without a problem. My favourite treat to start the day was the Vegan Adventurer breakfast, a bowl of almond milk glazed quinoa with fresh berries, pecan nuts and – of course – maple syrup.
As I had booked two nights at the lodge I had an entire day to explore the things to do in Killarney, which you can easily do in 24 hours. I began my day with an early morning hike to the Eastern Lighthouse, about a 45-minutes walk from the lodge. The trail is marked, even though it is sometimes hard to follow over the rocky slopes – just always make sure to look out for the arrows on the ground or the orange hangers in the trees. The views along the way alone are worth the trek, but if you make it all the way to the lighthouse you can treat yourself to a refreshing bath in one of the Great Lakes – or just sit and stare out onto the blue lake, like me.
Killarney Mountain Lodge also has a marina and offers boat tours all summer long. Whether you fancy an outing on a sailing boat, or prefer a motor boat tour like myself, a boat tour around Killarney Bay gives you a completely different perspective than the morning hike.
A walk along the waterfront is a great way to end your day in Killarney. As I mentioned, the village of Killarney is not necessarily a bustling metropolis and with the season coming to an end in September, I found it very quiet. However, some of the waterfront houses are to die for and the ice cream from one of the marina shops is too yummy not to be tried!
To find out more about Killarney Mountain Lodge, or to book visit their website.
Killarney Provincial Park
Once I had settled into small town life by the sea I had to leave again – adventure was waiting! Only about a 15-minutes drive from Killarney village, back on the only road that leads here from the main highway, lies the entrance for Killarney Provincial Park, an area that has been a park since 1964.
What is the difference between a National Park and a Provincial Park?, I ask my guide Mike as we set out. He just shrugs and says, it mostly has to do with who runs the park, but in terms of protecting the natural landscape of the area it is pretty much the same. I find it incredible to imagine that not so long ago most of the trees in the park had been cut down by the Spanish Logging Company. Fortunately, the Ontario Society of Artists and among them the famous Group of Seven found a lot of inspiration among the white quartzite and pink granite of the Killarney ridges, and urged the government to protect the land from further logging enterprises. Today, hardly any trees in the park are older than 80 years, but oh, those trees have grown magnificently!
I venture out into the park together with my guide Mike from Killarney Outfitters. His experience and my enthusiasm shall enable us to paddle from George Lake across Freeland Lake and into Killarney Lake where we plan to set up camp. If we have time we might be able to nip over to OSA Lake – Mike’s enthusiasm outperforms mine. With my paddling experience I’m happy if I make it across one lake, I say. But all my worries were uncalled for. Even though we only set out around 10am – after a thorough gear check at the Killarney Outfitters store – we reach our campsite on Killarney Lake by lunch time which leaves us enough time for some down time and a sunset paddle to gorgeous OSA Lake, named after the Ontario Society of Artists who worked hard to make this park happen.
Dinner is cooked over the open fire and Mike even brings forward a bag of marshmallows – what would camping be without s’mores?! Tired from a day of paddling we force ourselves to stay up until after dark anyways for some star gazing. So far away from all civilisation and with the moon hiding out of sight we can see billions of stars and even the Milky Way above us! Exhausted but happy, I crawl into my sleeping bag. We didn’t bother putting on the rain sheet of the tent, so while I can still see the stars through the canopy above my tent, I slowly sink into sleep.
I awake early – not because I forgot to turn off my alarm clock or because it gets too hot in the tent, but because a squirrel climbs down a tree next to my tent and wishes me a noisy morning. I am lucky though, because the wake up call came just in time for sunrise, so I climb out of the sleeping bag and down the rocks towards the shore, where I spend the next hour watching the fog slowly rise above Killarney and Norway Lake in the distance and the sun slowly making her way over the shoulder of The Crack peak.
After a big breakfast we set out again to backtrack our steps (paddle strokes) towards the other end of Killarney Lake. There we would leave our canoe behind and follow the Silhouette Trail up to The Crack, one of the park’s highest and most popular peaks. It is only 338m tall, but don’t let the number fool you. It is a sweaty endeavour to reach the top! The view is worth it though, and from up here you can see how glaciers, water and wind have carved down the ridges of Killarney Provincial Park, which are much older than the Rocky Mountains in Western Canada.
The Silhouette Trail is actually a long-distance loop trail around Killarney Provincial Park which takes around seven days to complete – but that’s an adventure for another trip.
Back at our campsite we enjoy a refreshing swim in Killarney Lake, a nap and a couple of hours down time, before it is time for another fire-cooked dinner and more s’mores.
Not without hesitation do I pack up my bags and equipment early on the next morning. How nice would it be to just stay at Killarney Lake and extend summer for a couple more days – but alas civilisation calls me back, and we have to make our way back towards George Lake.
Quick Facts about canoe camping
You can hire equipment or book a guided outing with Killarney Outfitters which has been serving visitors in Killarney Provincial Park since 1972. You don’t need to be an expert in either canoeing or camping, but general physical fitness and the will to rough it up in a tent are advisable. Also note, that this is not glamping – the campsite has a thunder box toilet, which is essentially a wooden box with a hole – it’s not as bad as it sounds though!
To enjoy a similar weekend on your own make sure you get your camping permit for the park sorted out as early as possible on the park’s website.
And just like that I have fallen in love with Canada again – Killarney has exceeded all my expectations and if you want to have a picture-book experience of Canada as well, you now know where to find it!
Disclaimer: This trip was supported by Ontario Travel.
All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.
This is a post by Kathi Kamleitner.
Kathi Kamleitner was a regular contributor at Travelettes from 2013 to 2019. Originally from Vienna, Austria, she packed her backpack to travel the world and lived in Denmark, Iceland and Berlin, before settling in Glasgow, Scotland. Kathi is always preparing her next trip – documenting her every step with her camera, pen and phone.
In 2016, Kathi founded Scotland travel blog WatchMeSee.com to share her love for her new home, hiking in the Scottish Highlands, island hopping and vegan food. Follow her adventures on Instagram @watchmesee!