Where do I even find the words to describe the beauty that is Killarney Provincial Park? It is often called the crown jewel of Ontario Park system, and deservedly so. Over 600 square kilometres of iconic wilderness, these striking landscapes of pink granite and white quartzite ridges peppered with jack pines and interspersed with clear, sapphire lakes were an inspiration for the Group of Seven artists. In fact, they were so captivated by its beauty that they persuaded the Ontario government to turn the area into a park. The birthplace of Killarney, formerly known as Trout Lake, is now called O.S.A., which stands for the Ontario Society of Artists, to recognize their role in the creation of Killarney Provincial Park. And that’s where we got to camp this past weekend.
I woke up at the George Lake campground around 8 a.m. to the most serene and beautiful morning. Our little ‘alarm-clock’ was still asleep, which was a bit strange considering he is usually up by 6 and had actually fallen asleep at 7 p.m. during our drive up to the park the night before. Must be the forest air.
I took a walk around George Lake, made breakfast and then woke up the boys. By the time we packed the tent, got our backcountry permit at the office, swung by Killarney Outfitters to pick up our gear and loaded the canoe, it was 11:30. The day was sunny, the waters were calm, and we had a beautiful paddle ahead of us.
Our son decided he wanted his own mode of transportation so we got him a kayak. It turned out a bit more work than he’d imagined and by the first portage he proclaimed he was more of a canoe person. We switched places, and I had a go on the kayak. In the end, we just tied it up behind our canoe and tugged it along. Portages were a bit more complicated. A kayak meant an extra thing to carry and I regretted ever getting it. Later though, kayak gave Roman an opportunity to do a lot of exploring on his own and once he got a hang of it, he actually used his kayak quite a bit, so it wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
It took us about six hours to get to the site, including a stop for lunch and extra time for portaging. The route to O.S.A. Lake goes through four lakes and includes three portages. The first portage between George and Freeland Lakes is very short and easy, only about 80 metres. After you cross Freeland, a pretty little lake with marshes and water lilies, the portages get a bit longer (380 m between Freeland and Killarney) and buggier. Once you hit Killarney Lake, the number of paddlers drops down. This lake is pretty big so it takes some time to get around but you get to enjoy the beautiful white cliffs.
There are two portages between Killarney and O.S.A. – 455 m and 130 m. Of course, we decided to go for the shorter one even though it was further away. As it turned out, to get to it you have to navigate through a maze of tree stumps, not an easy task. After we spent about 10 minutes trying to get off one of the stumps, we figured a longer portage might take less time after all. 455 metres isn’t too long when it comes to portages, but this one was particularly muddy and a hungry horde of mosquitoes attacked us the minute we stepped into the shade of the woods. We had lunch at the end of the portage to alleviate the pain (both literal and figurative) and were ready for the last leg of our trip.
O.S.A. Lake is one of the most beautiful lakes I have seen with its clear water of unusual teal blue dotted with islands and framed with white cliffs.
We headed for the island site, which, of course, was already taken. We paddled further in and managed to get a site on another island, much smaller though. Roman was very happy about it because who wouldn’t want to have a whole island to themselves. To me, it also meant fewer chances to run into a bear, which is silly because I know bears can swim but why would they? There was nothing of interest to them on that island, except for us, of course. Luckily, we didn’t come across any bears on this trip. A pesky squirrel did make a hole in our food bag at night and helped itself to some nuts. But I’ll take a squirrel over a bear any time.
Unlike other parks, the site didn’t have a table, although someone had constructed a bit of a shelf between two trees, but there was an actual outhouse instead of the usual thunder box. It provided a bit more privacy and some reading material since previous campers had used its walls to immortalize their thoughts. There was a poem about the perils of not bringing enough toilet paper, a praise for Killarney’s beauty, acknowledgement of the Group of Seven’s good taste, and declaration of eternal love. Funny what people think about as they do their business.
All in all, it was a great site with beautiful views all around.
The site also had a nice rock ledge that we used for eating, reading, relaxing, playing and watching sunsets.
That night we fell asleep to a chorus of frogs and distant loons.
Again, I was the first one to wake up, which I am not used to. Usually, I am woken up by persistent “Mom, time to get up, I am hungry.” While my husband and I were busy with camping chores, our son spent the morning exploring the nearby islands.
After the most delicious oatmeal (recipe coming soon), we set out on our expedition to the Crack.
The Crack is one of the most famous spots in the park that offers incredible views but it makes you work for them. The trail to the Crack starts off Highway 637, not far from the park entrance. The trail can also be accessed through a portage from Killarney to Kakakise Lake and that was what we planned to do. It meant we had to cross our ‘favourite’ portage from O.S.A. to Killarney again but with only a canoe and one backpack with snacks and water, it was much quicker and easier to do. Plus, we had a great welcoming party this time.
We stopped at an island on Killarney Lake for lunch. Good thing, too, because I don’t think we would be able to stomach the upcoming trek without proper nourishment.
The portage from Killarney to Kakakise is a little over 1400 metres but those seemed like the longest 1400 metres in our lives. The bugs from the other portage looked almost gentle compared to the monsters that lived here. Even with nets, pants, long sleeves and multiple layers of bug spray, the attack was brutal. There was a dense, buzzing cloud accompanying us along the whole length of the portage. All we could be grateful for was that we weren’t actually portaging, so our arms and hands weren’t full with gear and we were turning them around like windmills to swat away the bugs.
Once we got out of the woods and onto the rocks, it got better and was way more fun. Our son kept hopping from one rock to another like a mountain goat, happy he got to use his climbing skills.
The view from the Crack was worth all the bites and sore muscles.
At the top, we met a couple who’d just got engaged so they asked us to take their picture as they re-enacted the proposal. As it turned out, they weren’t the only ones who got betrothed on the Crack that day. Apparently, on their way up they ran into another couple right in the middle of a proposal so the guy felt like his thunder was stolen but still kudos for picking such a great spot.
Upon our return to the site, we had our favourite minestrone soup, did more paddling and swimming, and enjoyed another spectacular sunset.
And just like that it was time to pack and head back. Way too soon, as always.
The trip back was uneventful. The portages were getting easier and shorter, the lakes more crowded with paddlers.
We managed to complete the trip in five hours this time. Once we returned the gear, we stopped at Herbert Fisheries in the village of Killarney for the “World Famous Fish and Chips” to honour our tradition to finish every trip with fish and chips. The claim for world fame wasn’t an exaggeration. The fish was pretty good, so good in fact, that it made the return to civilization almost worthwhile. Almost…