Winter at its best: Our Family Day weekend in Killarney

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!

cabin 137 at Killarney Provincial Park

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.

cabin 137 at Killarney Provincial Park

cabin 137 at Killarney Provincial Park   cabin 137 at Killarney Provincial Park

cabin 137 at Killarney Provincial Park   cabin 137 at Killarney Provincial Park

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.

transporting gear to the cabin in Killarney PP   transporting gear to the cabin in Killarney PP

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.

racoon asking for food   racoon asking for food

racoon close-up

   racoon close-up     racoon close-up

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.

Killarney winter trails map

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.

hiking the Cranberry Bog trail    hiking the Cranberry Bog trail

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.

at the Cranberry Bog Trailhead in Killarney Provincial Park in the winter

snowshoeing the Cranberry Bog Trail in Killarney in the winter   snowshoeing the Cranberry Bog Trail in Killarney in the winter

snowshoeing the Cranberry Bog Trail in Killarney in the winter

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.

snowshoeing the Cranberry Bog Trail in Killarney in the winter

snowshoeing the Cranberry Bog Trail in Killarney in the winter   snowshowing the Cranberry Bog Trail in Killarney in the winter

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.

frozen lake along the Cranberry Bog Trail in Killarney in the winter

taking a break on the Cranberry Bog Trail in Killarney in the winter   snowshoeing the Cranberry Bog Trail in Killarney in the winter

frozen lake along the Cranberry Bog Trail in Killarney in the winter

frozen lake along the Cranberry Bog Trail in Killarney in the winter  frozen lake along the Cranberry Bog Trail in Killarney in the winter

view of George Lake from the Cranberry Bog Trail in Killarney in the winter

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.

frozen waterfalls

lichen on the rocks   a piece of lichen

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.

La Cloche Silhouette Trailhead in Killarney in the winter

tent in the winter in Killarney

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.

George Lake in Killarney in the winter

crossing George Lake in the winter   crossing George Lake in Killarney in the winter

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.

building an igloo   building an 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.

Family Day weekend BBQ in Killarney

Family Day weekend BBQ in Killarney

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.

cross-coutnry skiing on the Freeland Trail in Killarney

cross-coutnry skiing on the Freeland Trail in Killarney   cross-coutnry skiing on the Freeland Trail in Killarney

cross-coutnry skiing on the Freeland Trail in Killarney

cross-coutnry skiing on the Freeland Trail in Killarney   walking along the Freeland Trail in Killarney

cross-coutnry skiing on the Freeland Trail in Killarney

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).

squirrel on a tree stump   grouse in the woods

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.

cross-coutnry skiing on the Freeland Trail in Killarney

The afternoon brought a bit of cloud cover but it was still fairly warm when we returned to the cabin four hours later.

cross-coutnry skiing on the Freeland Trail in Killarney

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.

sunset on George Lake in the winter

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.

coffee and campfire   reading in an 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.

two racoon on an igloo   two racoons

Once all the firewood burned down, there was no point in sticking around so we loaded the sleds and headed back to the car.

cabin 137 at Killarney Provincial Park

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.

Georgian Bay and Killarney lighthouse in the winter

Killarney lighthouse in the winter   Killarney lighthouse in the winter

cracked ice

Georgian Bay and Killarney lighthouse in the winter   kicking ice near Georgian Bay

killarneyfeb2017-112

Georgian Bay in the winter   Georgian Bay in the winter

ice slab

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.

12 thoughts on “Winter at its best: Our Family Day weekend in Killarney

    • Thank you, Joyce! Yes, that cabin is really beautiful and cozy. As much as I was ready to go camping in a tent, once the cabin became available it was hard to forgo the opportunity. And the raccoon was so cute, just a ball of fur with a tail and two eyes, and completely fearless. Although raccoons usually are but this one was even more so. At one point he wanted to climb into a chair with my husband and we had to shoo him away. I always try to give animals lots of space and was taking pictures of him with a long lens but then he got really close, started sniffing the lens, probably thought it was food and that’s how I got a close-up of him. We’ll definitely miss the raccoon 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • It definitely was a perfect winter weekend and the raccoons were adorable. Those cabins are worth a visit, a glamping experience like no other. Our neighbours said they’d used to book yurts in the winter but after trying a cabin they could never go back to yurting. Thank you for stopping by!

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  1. Hi Oleksandra, it is awesome.

    I am big fan of camping and read your blog every week at least…I was wondering in January , where you going to go on Family weekend…and you ,like always, make a good choice…I am so happy for you and your family!!!
    Hope to meet you some day in one of the parks…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for following my blog! It’s always great to hear from fellow campers! Yes, I agree Killarney was a great choice. I think my motto will soon be: When in doubt, go to Killarney. I look forward to meeting you one day and chatting about camping. Happy adventuring!

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  2. Pingback: Fun day at Mountsberg Conservation Area: raptors, sheep and maple syrup | Gone Camping

  3. Pingback: Our last winter trip of the season at Windy Lake | Gone Camping

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