A friend once described her trip to Killarney as “a hike with a canoe on my head”. She felt like she had spent more time portaging than paddling. Killarney is not known for it’s easy trips whether you are hiking the Silhouette Trail, taking a day hike to “The Crack” or paddling through the park, it can be unforgiving.
Some of the trips we would like to do include a few 2000 meter portages in the same day so they are out of the question for our group. We have a 600 meter (.6 km) portage rule because we do the portage twice (3 times really). I think the portage from Killarney Lake into Three Mile Lake is perhaps the longest in the park at 2950 (1.8 miles or 2.9 km). YIKES! Maybe when we were younger.
But try to stay away from Killarney once you’ve been there. It’s impossible. By far Killarney is my favorite park for it’s unique white mountains and clear waters (try not to think about why they are clear). In fact, I love it so much that I have left strict instructions that if any of my friends are still capable of portaging, I would like them to sprinkle my ashes on the shores of OSA Lake.
On a happier note, let’s talk about a Killarney trip that isn’t too grueling.
Our group doesn’t mind a bit of a challenge, but we are not spring chickens. Our solution – George, Killarney, OSA and Muriel lakes.
Many people camp at George Lake. You can drive to your site, do some day hikes and day paddles and enjoy the beauty of the area.
We have started many trips by staying in a Yurt at the George Lake campsite. A Yurt is a tent on a platform with beds and a barbecue. Yurts are a great option if you are arriving late to the park.
Note: Some months have a two night rule for booking yurts. George Lake has a yurt with a ramp, which makes camping accessible for people with physical disabilities.
On a recent trip we booked a site on George Lake for two nights giving us an easy start to our 10 night trip.
Killarney is a bit different than other Provincial Parks, you book a lake not a site. This means you need to look for an unoccupied site when you reach the lake.
We found site 5 was available at the far east end of the lake close to the portage into Freeland Lake. The view was amazing.
The site has a small beach, making it easy to land and unload canoes. The trade off – a beach means there is no quick way to get into the water when it’s time for a swim – the preferred method for most of the members of our group.
We loved this wide open site with its little breakfast spot at the top of the hill by the shore. This little hideaway offered shelter from the wind, a great view of the lake and lots of flat rocks for setting our coffee cups.
Trip to Killarney Lake
When it was time to move on we paddled around the corner to a dock and very short portage into Freeland Lake. The dock and easy put-in made it a nice way to start the day. Freeland Lake is long and narrow and very pretty, but we were soon into a bit of muck at the portage. About half way through the portage between Freeland Lake and Killarney Lake listen for the water flowing over rocks. You will find a short trail into a great lunch or snack spot if you need a break.
My least favorite memory of this portage is watching my paddling partner trip on a root. He fell with a pack on his back and a canoe on his head. Luckily he was fine and the canoe could be repaired. On this same portage we met a young man carrying a canoe – he was wearing flipflops. I cringe just thinking about it.
When you arrive at Killarney Lake you will find a large flat area which is great because this portage can be busy. People staying at the George Lake campground often paddle into Killarney Lake for the day. Tip: If you are like us and need to do the portage twice, leave your things near the forest rather than out by the water.
There are a few very small drawbacks to camping in Killarney – no picnic tables (something you start to miss on a long trip), no cell service (some might say a blessing) and no fish. Also, as mentioned earlier, there are no assigned campsites. This meant we arrived on Killarney Lake knowing we had a site, but not knowing which site would be free.
We paddled past the first site (site 20) and saw a group that looked like they were just having lunch, but we weren’t sure so instead of asking, we decided to paddle on. Every site we came to was taken, and the winds were very high making it difficult for the solo paddler in our group. Finally, we decided to return to that first site. As it turns out we were right, the group has just stopped for lunch. They were upset with us for interrupting, but we were more than ready to stop and have lunch ourselves.
It is well posted that designated campsites are reserved for overnight camping and not for lunch stops. This is also true for portages; the put-in areas are busy and having lunch there is uncool. However, campsites and portages are pretty tempting because they are usually open, flat and offer some good swimming – especially tempting if you have kids. However, it is important to take the time to find other places to stop for lunch and a swim.
Site 20 turned out to be a fantastic site for our group. Wide open space, lots of flat tent sites, a great swimming area at the point, a lot of shade, flat rocks for sitting in the sun and a great view of the white La Cloche Mountains.
The only drawback – it is a high traffic area during the day as all the day-trippers must paddle past the site.
After three fantastic nights, we left Killarney Lake for Muriel Lake. We picked this small lake because of its proximity to Topaz Lake – a lake highly recommended by friends – which I will tell you more about shortly.
The trip out of Killarney and into OSA is always beautiful. We picked the route that has one lift-over and one steep but short portage rather than taking the other route that is one longer portage into OSA. Depending on water levels, it can be interesting navigating the logs and mud patches in the swampy area leading to the lift-over. This is OK with us because we like the challenge. It’s beautiful and we ALWAYS pick paddling over portaging. The lift-over is fun but we did see someone from another party fall in, so we know it is very deep.
The paddle through OSA is always breathtaking.
The portage from OSA into Muriel is pretty easy (595 meters) except for the steep descent into Muriel. We had to float for a bit in OSA to wait for a large group finishing the portage. As it turns out, someone in this group had to paddle back to a previous portage when they noticed they were missing a pack. Luckily they didn’t have far to paddle!
At the start of our trip we had to check in at the main office at George Lake. They told us we had the option of cancelling our Muriel lake site and moving to another lake; apparently the Muriel Lake sites had just reopened after a series of “bear issues”. Our group decided that we were large enough (5 people) and careful enough with food and garbage that we would be OK. The good news, the bear issue kept people from camping on the other site so we had the entire lake to ourselves. The sites are pretty close together so this was perfect.
We ended up on site 35, a small cozy site close to the water’s edge. The site was backed by a large hill. I prefer better sight lines, but snuggled beside the water has its charm. The hill did mean a bit of a climb to the “thunderbox” but nothing too difficult. It was a tight fit for 3 tents but it worked out. We checked out site 34 and it is a very nice site with a great view but it would have been a lot of climbing up and down to the water so site 35 was a better choice for our group.
Every night we got to enjoy an owl hooting across the lake. What a treat!
I must admit I did keep my bear spray handy in the tent and spent a few hours the first night lying awake listening to forest sounds. Tip: Ear plugs will keep you from waking with every little sound like chipmunks, owls, or snoring campers.
We were there for three days so we had a lot of time to explore this tiny lake. It isn’t as dramatic as Killarney or OSA but it has a very pretty island and a hike to a small waterfall at Artist Creek. It is a real mix with the white La Cloche Mountains, Georgian Bay type rock and dense northern forest.
As mentioned earlier, our main reason for booking a site on Muriel Lake was the easy access to Topaz Lake. We packed up a day-pack and left early one morning, heading to Topaz for lunch and a swim.
The trip started with two short portages and a paddle through a beautiful swamp and the striking Artist Lake.
We left our canoes in the forest beside Artist Lake and walked the 700 meter portage to an old logging road. The logging road is now the 1320 meter portage that links Baie Fine (part of Georgian Bay) with Threenarrows Lake to the north. This portage is affectionately known as “The Pig”. The Pig isn’t the longest portage in the park, but it has the distinction of being the steepest. We turned right and started hiking up to Topaz Lake. We were thankful to be doing this hike without our canoes.
Topaz definitely lives up to it’s name. It’s a tiny lake, with water so clear it seems like you are looking down miles below your feet. The water was pretty chilly but no one wanted to get out.
We had lunch and chatted with boaters, hikers and other paddlers. We had been told that Topaz Lake was the place where unwashed paddlers and hikers hung out with the folks who hike up to Topaz from “yachts” anchored in Baie Fine. We met some folks wearing white and looking freshly showered. We were keenly aware that we were 7 days out from our last shower.
After lunch we walked back to our canoes and paddled back to our campsite refreshed and ready for dinner.
It was time to leave Muriel Lake and we were all thankful we had avoided bear issues. We packed up and did the short paddle back to the portage that would take us to OSA Lake for our final two nights. After the portage, we did take about twenty minutes to pick blackberries keeping our eyes peeled for the bear and the two cubs that were spotted there by a family the day before. Apparently the family – mom, dad and three kids – were doing the portage when the seven year old son decided to run ahead. He rounded a bend to find a mother bear with her two cubs standing in the middle of the portage. He froze in his tracks. Lucky his parents came along seconds later and the bears headed into the bush. His father said “well, he will never do that again” – he wasn’t smiling.
When we arrived back at our canoes with a container full of berries the day had suddenly become very dark and we could hear thunder. By the time we reached the first site on the lake (there was no looking around at other sites), the thunder was pretty loud but still no rain. We unpacked the canoes, and raced to get our tents up. We hurriedly covered the rest of our gear with tarps. Later we would laugh that the rain was hitting our butts as we dove into our tent.
The storm was violent and lasted over an hour. We came out of our tents, quickly set up a little tarp shelter, and got ourselves organized. Everything was wet and the site was dark and damp. It was the perfect night to pull out the “emergency meal” – the “just add hot water to the pouch chili”. But seriously how could we complain, we just had nine days of sunshine.
The storms raged on and off all night. Whenever I feel nervous camping I always hear my grandfathers voice telling me to “buck up”. He moved from the city to the country and worked alone in the woods. The man had no fear.
We woke early the next morning because someone at the site across the bay was screaming. (More about that experience in the post titled “Bears“). Everything turned out fine and we got to enjoy the early morning view. What is that old saying “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning”. That morning the entire world was pink and we were able to take some interesting pictures before the next big storm hit.
Luckily the sky cleared, the mist lifted and we had an excellent day hanging out at the most amazing campsite.
It was time to leave and we realized we were just not ready. We had been gone ten nights and we wanted more. It was on that last morning that our group decided that we would increase our trips to thirteen nights, which has become the perfect length for us.
We had a beautiful – but windy – paddle back to the George Lake campsite.
Of course we had to make the drive into the town of Killarney for the famous fresh caught fish and very yummy chips.
Ending our trips and saying goodbye before the long drive home is always so difficult but we always end by starting to talk about next year’s trip.
Rating: Pretty Easy (Senior Approved)
Lakes: George Lake, Killarney Lake, Muriel Lake, OSA Lake with a side trip to Topaz Lake