Where do I even begin?! Glorious weather, mounds and mounds of pristine, sparkling snow, a cozy cabin in the woods — it was certainly a Family Day weekend to remember!
Just a couple of weeks prior to our departure our plans for the weekend were uncertain. Once again we missed the reservation date so roofed accommodations at Ontario Parks were fully booked. It’s not that we minded staying in a tent, after all we’ve done it before. Both trips, however, happened in late winter, so we could get away with our regular equipment, not a feasible option for a camping trip in mid-February. At the very least we needed warmer sleeping bags. In the end, the weather over the weekend was unseasonably warm but there was no knowing that when we were planning the trip. So when we came across a late cabin cancellation at Killarney, we jumped at the opportunity. We had the most amazing memories of celebrating New Year’s at Killarney’s cabin last year, and it was hard to forgo a little bit of comfort.
Last time our cabin #138 was the only one in the park. In fact, we were its first visitors. Since then, they’ve built another one — #137, and that’s where we got to stay. The cabin was almost identical to #138 so I won’t go into details. Here are some pictures and you can read the post about our New Year’s adventure for more information.
Not having to set up the tent meant we could leave Toronto Friday night, which in turn meant more time for snowshoeing and skiing. We arrived in Killarney after midnight. There was a walk to the cabin from the parking lot but after our 3.5 km trek in the dark in Gatineau, 500 metres were child’s play. Plus the star-studded sky was a sight to behold.
After playing a game of “spot the differences” between the two cabins (for one, #137 had a bench instead of a chest that we loved so much last time and which could be used as a seat, storage and hiding place), we went straight to bed.
Snowshoeing on the Cranberry Bog Trail
The next morning, we registered, transported the rest of our gear, food and firewood we purchased at the office, and then got to making breakfast.
The moment we sat down to eat, we got a curious, furry visitor. We know how important it is not to feed wildlife so we followed the rules, although it was hard not to give in to all that cuteness.
After we finished breakfast, it was time to decide on the activity of the day. We brought our new snowshoes with us, which unfortunately had gotten very little use this winter and started to feel a bit sad at the bottom of our car trunk. We considered all the park’s trails and finally settled on the Cranberry Bog Trail.
The trail starts right at the campground so there was no need to drive, like we would have to if we’d chosen the Crack. And it is longer than the Granite Ridge Trail. Plus, unlike the Crack and Granite Ridge which we hiked last year, three times in the case of the Crack, we’d only been on the Cranberry Bog once before and that was when our younger son was still more of an additional backpack than a hiker.
Cranberry Bog Trail is four kilometres long and is rated moderate. In the summer that is. Add almost two feet of snow and it’s a different ball game. It would have been hard to do the trail without the snowshoes (although someone had done it before us judging by a lonely set of deep prints along the trail), but with sunny weather and above-zero temperatures we came across a different problem: the snow kept sticking to the bottom of the snowshoes until eventually it felt like we were walking with weights tied to our feet. So we had to stop from time to time and break those snow clumps off.
The snow-covered climbs were challenging on the way up, and even more so on the way down. The final stretch of the trail was a combination of sliding down and crawling backwards on all fours — not a pretty picture.
But the scenery around was so gloriously stunning. The trail looked very different from the last time we hiked it. Bogs and lakes were covered with white, tightly stretched sheets framed by green pines and Killarney’s white and pink rocks.
We came across frozen waterfalls and rock walls covered in lichen looking like clumps of skin peeling of a green monster. We found a bit lying on the ground and it did feel rubbery like a piece of leather.
We ended the trek near George Lake. There was a single tent by the water or at least by the ice. Brave people who didn’t chicken out like we did.
Instead of retracing our steps through the campground, we decided to cut through the lake. The sparkling whiteness of the lake was like a canvas waiting for a brush. We added a few more squiggly lines to the ones left by snowshoers before us.
Once we returned to our cabin, we made soup, played a round of Catan, then went outside to build a campfire and start working on our snow igloo. We went to bed tired and exhilarated after such a great day and fell asleep watching the stars through the cabin window.
Cross-country skiing/walking on the Freeland Trail
The next morning promised another glorious day. While we were making french toast and coffee, our son continued working on his igloo.
After breakfast we decided to go and check out ski rentals. Ski rentals have always been an issue at Killarney. The park has three excellent ski trails but never offered ski rentals (they do rent snowshoes). No rentals are available near the park either. One year we got skis from MEC and brought them with us. This time we didn’t have time to make the arrangements and even though we’d planned to buy skis of our own, we never got to it. So we made peace with an idea of a ski-less weekend and decided we would do other things. Until we saw the announcement that there were ski rentals available in the park office. Only $10 per day. It seemed too good to be true and there was a catch, of course. They only had three shoe sizes: 9, 10, and 11. I usually wear 8 but with thick socks could make 9 work. My husband, though, who needs at least 12.5, had no way of squeezing into 11. He then suggested we get the skis and he’d just walk along so that’s what we decided to do.
Before we hit the trails, we made a stop at the BBQ hosted by the Friends of Killarney Park as part of their annual Winter in Killarney festivities. After we filled up on the most delicious veggie burgers with special home-made tomato sauce and hot chocolate, we were ready for our ski/walk adventure.
We decided to try the Freeland Trail. It is a linear 5.5-kilometre trek (11 kilometres in total) and goes from the campground to the Freeland Lake. It has a few moderate hills so was perfect for us. Now that I think of it, I didn’t fall once.
We couldn’t ask for a better weather. We left our jackets in the cabin and after half an hour or so on the trail, we ditched our sweaters as well. It was surreal to be wearing t-shirts in the middle of February.
We only met one woman on the trail, plus a feisty little squirrel and a well-camouflaged grouse (see if you can find it).
Once we got to the end of the trail, I tried to walk down to Freeland Lake but the snow was too deep so we turned around.
The afternoon brought a bit of cloud cover but it was still fairly warm when we returned to the cabin four hours later.
My husband then decided it was time for a quick nap, our son went back to his igloo and I piled the ski gear into a sled and took it back to the office. There I met two guys from Sudbury who wanted to know how they could camp in Killarney. It became pretty clear pretty fast that they knew nothing about camping. They had no roofed accommodations booked and had no gear hoping to rent a tent from the park office, which was closed by then and doesn’t rent tents anyway. I had to disappoint them that they wouldn’t be able to try camping that night (I did suggest trying Killarney village for accommodations). They were a bit surprised to learn we’d come all the way from Toronto. So I gave them my spiel about how beautiful Killarney is and that it is worth the drive. I explained about different kinds of camping, how to reserve sites and told them they should definitely check it out in the summer, and even though there is no bar, they can bring their own booze and enjoy it under the star-strewn sky. Hopefully they will come back.
After we were done with Camping 101, it was almost sunset so I rushed down to George Lake and got the last of the golden glow.
When I came back, our son was still working on his igloo. My husband was still napping but was up as soon as we finished making salmon burgers. After dinner and a game of Catan, it was time for bed.
To the lighthouse
Leaving is always hard, no matter how long the trip. We packed quickly but then, as always, procrastinated around the campfire while our son was reading in his igloo.
Our furry friend was back and he brought along his buddy. They seemed to enjoy our igloo as well although didn’t do much reading in it.
Once all the firewood burned down, there was no point in sticking around so we loaded the sleds and headed back to the car.
Instead of heading home though, we headed to the lighthouse in the village of Killarney. Our son had tons of fun breaking, crushing and kicking the ice along the shore.
With the blinding sunlight bouncing off the deep blue of Georgian Bay, its waters looked deceptively inviting. I could hear summer dreams stirring under the surface.