Well, technically, we did have a map, it was just last year’s map. The landscape didn’t change, the location of the campsites were the same, however, some of the site numbers HAD changed. When we stopped at the park office to check in we picked up two new maps. When we got to the beach where we were starting our trip, we realized the maps had not been updated, we had just purchased the exact same maps we already had in our packs. So we put the new maps back in the car and set off. We figured we could rely on our memory. Rule Number One – never rely on your memory, especially when you are eligible for the seniors discount.
Let the adventure begin….
We were travelling with another couple, the very people who introduced us to Killarney many years ago. The trip up George Lake was quick as we rode giant waves most of the way to the portage. We were pretty happy to have sunshine given that the forecast was for rain until late in the day. We had driven through a very big storm on highway 69 but as we loaded the canoes we only had a few sprinkles.
The waves made unloading at the dock on George a challenge, but when we got to Freeland, it was calm. We paddled toward some big puffy clouds creating the best backdrop for a picture.
The portage into Killarney Lake was slippery, busy, but it was sunny and warm. The paddle out into the main part of Killarney Lake was pretty good. However that all changed when we exited the narrow channel into the first large bay. We were greeted by giant rolling waves that hit us broadside. This experience will be familiar to anyone who has ever paddled Killarney Lake.
We were happy to round the point. Heading east we had the wind at our backs again. However, even wind at your back can be a challenge when the waves are big and you have a dog doing his best jack-in-the-box routine in the front of the canoe. We thought the waves on George were big, but they were baby waves in comparison to these.
It was at this moment that someone noted that the ‘old site #17’ was on the point to our right, so maybe it was moved one site further and was now the site located down in the bay we were about to pass. They wondered, if in fact, the bay was where we were supposed to go. We had some discussion as we bobbed around in the middle of the lake. I was sure the new #17 was an island site at the far end of the lake. However, with the stress of the waves, the question about the bay, and the old map, I started to doubt myself. I was sure we were on an island, but were we? I had booked a total of 6 sites in Killarney over two trips for the summer, so I was seriously starting to second guess myself.
My husband’s contribution to the discussion was “If we get down there and it is not our site, we are not getting back up the lake today.” I knew he was right, but I was annoyed. Couples in a canoe – sigh.
So I had four jobs – keeping the dog from tipping us, paddling, watching the map and panicking. I knew others were worried too, but when you are the one saying we need to paddle to the far end of the lake, in rollercoaster waves, it feels like a lot of responsibility. I almost cried when we rounded the point of the island and I saw a sign tucked back in the bay that said #17. This may sound dramatic, but I really was at a ‘crying level happy’. I have always had a very good memory, but as I get older it lets me down on occasion. I was so grateful this was not one of those occasions. My paddling partners were also very happy this was not one of those occasions.
We were in Killarney a fair bit this summer and we ran into several people in the same situation – old site/new site – am I going in the right direction…? This included a solo paddler heading into a very strong wind. We were able to confirm he was heading in the right direction.
Site #17 Killarney Lake
The two trips we booked to Killarney this summer was making up for a 10-year absence. I joked that I had managed to book the 6 worst sites in the park because I was assuming that since they were the only sites left when we booked, everyone else had passed them up. What I had forgotten was there really isn’t a ‘bad site’ in Killarney. Some are definitely better than others, but it is so great to be there, you overlook the rocky takeout, the steep climbs, the long portages, the uneven tent pads, and the wind. OK you don’t forget the wind and I have never done a long portage in Killarney. But you get the picture – it is beautiful in every direction. You will spend most of your time with your mouth hanging open in awe of your surroundings. We have often said every site has something you can love; in Killarney it’s the view.
Site #17 was a great find. It is very close to another site across the channel and the takeout is a bit steep and rocky, but the site is lovely. The bay is pretty, the canoe traffic is low, there is a trail to a pebble beach on the far side of the island that offers a great view up the lake. It is the ideal spot to check the weather, or more accurately the wind and waves. In the shelter of the east side of the island it was hard to gauge the winds if you were planning a paddle. We started out one day and made it to the point before turning back.
The beach is also on the far end of our mobile provider’s cell coverage. It was really hit and miss but you could make calls and get texts and the occasional email. This was important because the people we were travelling with were leaving their teenage son alone for the first time and having phone contact and text messages helped.
The island has a very large hill in the middle, but the path to the beach is fairly flat. There is also a trail to a great lookout over the little bay. We didn’t follow the trail that led to the point because it looked pretty delicate. We didn’t see any need to tromp where we didn’t need to tromp.
Our plan was to hike The Crack. Well the female members of the group wanted to hike. The guys had no interest. We were not sure about taking our dog to the Crack, so we thought that leaving the guys would work out well. However, the winds stayed strong on Killarney making the trip up the lake too much of a challenge. I was not confident in my ability to paddle those waves before and after hiking the Crack. I really need to practice in the stern. My J stroke is pretty good for about 30 minutes on flat water. Not great in waves.
On a fairly calm day we all decided to head out for a paddle. We wanted to go to Freeland Lake because there is cell service there and one person was not having any luck on the beach. We were going to stop and hike The Crack, but it was a dark, overcast day, and the portage was very busy. Maybe next year.
We were on the island for 3 nights. The forecast was for sunshine but we got a mixed bag. Sun and cloud with one day mostly cloudy.
From the site you can see the channel that leads to the portage to Norway Lake at the far end of Killarney Lake. We paddled to this portage. It was so pretty, so many little areas to explore.
We ate well, including our first ever attempt at cooking Halloumi cheese. We learned about this miracle camping cheese earlier in the summer camping with family who offered us a piece they had fried on the campfire. We used our stove but it was still amazing, even without the smokiness from the fire.
Killarney doesn’t have the big firepits you find at other parks with the attached grill. Question – why do people pack in grills but they never pack them out? I assume they think it is helpful for others, but the pile of rusting grills is just an eyesore. Just my personal opinion.
We did have neighbours on the site across the bay as well as a plane that landed and spent the day on the beach just around the corner from us. They looked like they were fixing something. We watched it take off in the evening and were sure it was not rising fast enough to miss the ‘mountain’ at the end of the lake – but it did thank goodness. Otherwise than neighbours and the occasional visitor it is a fairly private site
We were surprised to see a giant turtle. Last time we were in Killarney we didn’t see any wildlife. Does this mean the lakes are rejuvenating? We also saw fish, loons and beavers. This is a wonderful sign.
Site 64 on OSA Lake
The friends we were camping with were the friends we were with the first and only time we were able to get the big island site on OSA Lake. It was in September and it was before you booked a specific site. We had the ‘lake’ booked and just got lucky. We have tried many times to get that site to recreate the magic of that trip, but have never had any luck.
This year we booked a Zoom call with them, so we could look at the reservation page together. Picking the dates and sites by sharing the screen was a very handy planning technique. We realized we could get the island for one night but we wanted three nights on OSA and we really didn’t want to move sites. We even tried changing the dates of the trip but still could only get 2 nights on the big island.
The site we often stayed on when we have been on OSA Lake in the past is now closed, so the small island – site 64, the site formerly known as 32 – seemed like the best option. We were able to book it for three nights. We had checked out this island in the past and ruled it out. In my mind it was small, open, the swimming wasn’t great, and it was very close to another site. I remember it had an outhouse because it was such an open site with no privacy. But – we would be on OSA.
What a nice surprise when we arrived. It was bigger than I remembered. The outhouse was gone so there was no privacy, although one of the old walls was used as a privacy shield. You needed to tell others it was your turn, then you needed to tell the mice to leave. They do startle you at night! I think the light from headlamps causes them to panic.
Our tent sites were far apart, and both sites were pretty flat. Although, for such an open site, there isn’t a lot of flat tent options. One area was flat and big enough to hold a few tents, if you don’t mind snuggling together.
The water between the island and the shore was a small channel of bright green. One day ducks flew through the channel below us – it was magical.
The swimming was not fantastic, but we did find a couple of spots to get in at either end of the island. It is very rocky and water shoes helped.
Because it was an island there was no firewood, but we just went for a paddle and found wood.
The portage to Muriel Lake is not far from the island, but the traffic is further out in the lake so you do have some privacy. People do paddle down the channel if they are going to the large island or the site next to the little island. The site across the channel was always booked but it was still fairly private.
The only negative experience on OSA was seeing a large group of people camped on one of the tiny islands in the middle of the lake. This island is too small to be a site. They were there for two of the days we were there and who knows how long they were there before we arrived? We didn’t report them because we had no internet access, but we were surprised that no one was checking the lakes. A group that size would do so much damage to such a small island.
We had a great time on OSA, only a little rain. We explored the lake and had a calm sunny day to paddle out. We left with great memories from time spent with friends. We did not make it to Topaz Lake, another unfulfilled plan. The day was calling for rain and we were just enjoying being on OSA. The rain really came down in the afternoon so it was a good decision. The best thing about rain is the amazing skies you get after the clouds start to move off.
It was easier leaving knowing we would be back in a few weeks. The paddle out was great. There was only a light wind on George Lake.
On the way home, highway 69 was closed and we were detoured through North Bay. That was a very very long drive home made a bit better with a parking lot picnic with a burger and fries. We were sure hoping the travelling would be better on our next trip.