I am forever saying “I have a cunning plan.” (Any Blackadder fans out there?) When I say this, friends and family eye me suspiciously. However, they always say yes to joining me on these little adventures I’ve cooked up. I am waiting for the day when they say “no way”.
Several years ago I convinced family members to join me on a 5 day trip to O.S.A. Lake in Killarney Provincial Park; then, once I got them there, convinced them to hike the Crack.
If you haven’t heard of the Crack, it is a hike to the top of a very large hill – part of the Silhouette hiking trail around Killarney Provincial Park.
Now to be fair, when I asked, no one said no and more importantly, in the end, no one said they wished they hadn’t done it. However, during the trip, people were definitely wondering what I had gotten them into.
First Time on O.S.A. Lake
The first time I stayed on O.S.A. Lake it was a trip with friends, two couples, trying to cram in a bit of camping late in the season. The one couple had been to Killarney before and highly recommended the park.
It was September and the days were sunny and warm and the evenings were cool. The colours were just starting to change.
We drove for 12 hours (6 up and 6 back), just to have two nights in the park. We arrived very late Thursday night and were thankful we had booked a Yurt.
George Lake is a nice campground, with several yurt options. Staying in a yurt means that arriving late in the day isn’t a problem; there is no tent to pitch after the long drive. The yurt has bunk beds, lights, a deck, a picnic table and barbecue. We were also able to bring along a cooler because we could leave the cooler in the car when we left for our trip in the morning. All we needed to unpack were our sleeping bags.
We arrived on the island on O.S.A. Lake after a leisurely trip through a series of lakes and fairly easy portages. I think our mouths were hanging open the entire way. Blue water, white rock, pink rock, it is truly unique.
When we arrived at the island, Site 29, we thought it looked pretty good. One couple headed out to check out the other sites, only to return to say they thought the island site was the best option. Turns out they were right, it really is a fantastic site.
We had lots of wind, making it chilly, so we spent a lot of time on the rocks on the south shore where it was protected. The swimming on the south side of the island was perfect, there was a great little ledge in the water that dropped off quickly. We had never experienced the clear waters of Killarney and could not get enough of the blue. The swimming was the best I had ever experienced, even though it was cold. It was fun looking down and seeing your feet and then seeing rocks far below.
The mist in the mornings, the white rocks, the blue water; Killarney continued to amaze me.
We paddled out Friday morning and returned back Sunday night, but somehow it felt like a very long trip. We did a lot in those two days, including paddling, hiking, reading, swimming, and reconnecting with old friends.
We all agreed that it was one of the most beautiful camping any of us had ever experienced. Before we left, we were already planning a trip to David Lake for the next September.
I became convinced that everyone needs to experience Killarney Provincial Park at least once in their lifetime. The Group of Seven were definitely on to something. O.S.A. actually stands for Ontario Society of Artists, a group that helped get this land set aside early on, allowing the park to develop.
Ever since that trip, I had been dreaming about going back to O.S.A. Lake for a longer stay, a weekend just was not long enough, especially with the drive.
So I was thrilled when I was able to convince my camping family that they could manage a longer, more challenging trip than we had done in the past.
Second Trip to O.S.A. Lake
We started out this family trip the same way, all staying the first night in a Yurt at the George Lake Campground. This meant that it was possible to spend the evening relaxing.
We set out early the next day for O.S.A. Lake, travelling through George Lake, to Freeland Lake (80 metre portage), to Killarney Lake (380 metre portage) to O.S.A. Lake (130 metre portage + a lift-over). There is an optional 455 metre portage from Killarney Lake to O.S.A., but we have never taken it.
It was a great day – sunny, warm and calm. The paddle was perfect and we welcomed the short portages. The water was low so the marshy area at the west end of Killarney Lake on the way to the lift-over was a bit tricky to navigate, with lots of things to manoeuvre around; but the flowers were amazing – including a field of Pitcher Plants.
We paddled straight to the island, although we were unsure about the suitability of Site 29 for our group, because we remembered that the tent sites were on rock and pretty close together. However, when we arrived, we saw that we were too late anyway; the site had already been taken.
All the other sites in the west end of the lake were available, so we looked at them all. Site 31 looked nice, Site 32 was a very nice small island, but exposed – there was an outhouse rather than a Thunderbox. Site 31 and 32 are very close together. We paddled on to Site 30 and after a quick look, decided that it was the best option for our group.
O.S.A. Lake, Site 30
Site 30 doesn’t look like much from the water, but it is a lovely site. It is pretty sheltered in the pines, but there is a small open point where you can sit out by the water.
The steep rocky shore is very pretty, although it isn’t all that easy for loading and unloading. It isn’t as easy for getting in for a swim either. Barefoot isn’t ideal; water-shoes are the way to go. You need to walk in to swim, but it gets deep quickly in the bay. The water out to the little island is pretty shallow. The swimming was chilly, but the swimming in Killarney is always magical.
There are several tiny islands just off the point and the hills across the lake make it a breathtaking view. There is a bay and a rock face behind the site. This site has a lot of tent site options in the pines.
One thing we don’t like about Killarney is the system of booking; you book a lake rather than a site. This means there is a bit of luck involved in getting the site you want. If you arrive too early, the people on the site may not have left. If you arrive too late, someone else may have taken the site. So there is a bit of a ‘rushed’ feeling if you are staying on one lake for a few days. Of course, if you’re just at the site for a night, it doesn’t matter as much.
At the end of our trip, there was a young couple waiting for our site. They floated around in the bay next to our site waiting for us to leave. They arrived around 11 and we were planning on leaving around 1 (checkout is 2). We did feel a bit rushed. They didn’t want to go exploring in case someone came in while they were away. We didn’t necessarily want them setting up before we had packed up – it was just awkward.
On this trip, we spent the first day just getting settled and relaxing. But the next day we did the very modest 595 metre hike into Muriel Lake. We explored the area at the end, including the little waterfall at Artist Creek. It is a very pretty creek and a nice open forest. This whole area changes drastically, depending on the water level. The water levels were low and the marsh at Muriel Lake was pretty big.
Around the campfire the second night, I ‘pitched my cunning plan’, asking if anyone was interested in hiking the Crack. Either they thought it sounded good, or they were too polite to say no. They asked me questions about it and I had to confess, I really didn’t know anything about the hike, but I did have a map. Everyone said they would go, as long as we agreed that we would all turn around at any point, if anyone in the group decided they didn’t want to continue.
So the next day we packed some lunch and off we went.
We paddled back across O.S.A. and into Killarney Lake, via the short portage and lift-over. We got to the 1440 metre portage into Kakakise Lake. We had some trouble finding an easy place to take out. We needed to leave the canoes, and didn’t want to block access to the portage, so we ended up taking out a ways up the bay, and walking a path along the shore over to the portage.
The portage to Kakakise Lake was pretty and there were some very large trees. We came to a steep part of the portage that was just a hill of boulders; which made us appreciate not having a canoe on our heads. We only met one couple portaging and they did it in one trip, which was wise.
The portage meets up with the Silhouette Trail right at Kakakise Lake, the trail heads north and leads right to the Crack. So off we went.
We walked for a long way up several rock hills; well it felt like a long way, because it was steep. At one point we met some people on their way down and we asked if we were almost there and they laughed at us. It was taking longer than perhaps people had anticipated. Oops. Nobody said ‘lets go back’ so onward and upward. The contour lines on our map got closer and closer together, but we tried not to focus on that.
We climbed until we saw a lot of people clustered together above us and knew we were close.
The Crack got its name because you need to climb through a giant “crack” in the rock. We met a lot of people in this bolder filled area, some heading up and some heading down.
We finally made it to the top and the view was absolutely breathtaking.
We found a place to sit and have lunch. We had cucumber and peanut butter wraps. I had always resisted this combination, but gave in today because I was hungry and that was what was being served. It was surprisingly delicious.
We saw a lot of people standing very close to the edge of shear drops, which made a few of us nervous. We enjoyed the view back from the edge.
We met a very smelly family on their final leg of the very challenging Silhouette Trail hike. Unfortunately the dad had injured his leg a few days before and he was moving slow, but the kids were ‘rocking it’. (OK that was bad.)
The Crack is not the highest peak in the park, Silver Peak has that honour, but the view from the Crack is definitely beautiful. We could see O.S.A. Lake but not our site because of the bay.
We all agreed that the trip was worth the effort, but that didn’t happen until we were back at our campsite, because we still had to get down. While at the top people were worrying about the steep trek back down, knowing that going down a hill is often physically more challenging than going up. Keep in mind our knees were 50 and 60 years old.
The hike back down was pretty quick and we were back on the portage in no time. No one had any major knee pain. However, when we arrived at the canoes, we realized we were all very thirsty and we were all out of water. Poor planning on our part and something we thought was going to be a painful lesson until my brother-in-law announced that he had a water pump – what a relief. You always need more water than you think you need. We’ve seen lots of people drinking directly out of the lakes in Killarney, but we still play it safe and filter our water. We pumped water for everyone and started paddling back.
On the way, near the marsh, we saw some bears on shore.
We were tired when we got back, but pretty happy for the adventure. We didn’t time the trip but we left the site just after breakfast and arrived back at the site just before dinner.
Moose on Site
One couple we were travelling with had a new Swift Kipawa. We borrowed it to do a little paddle around the lake, just so we could test it out.
While we were out on the water – paddling and taking pictures – we heard this huge splash near our site. Curious, we paddled back to the site just in time to see the moose exiting on the far shore.
Apparently, we missed all the action; it had come crashing through our campsite, right past the Thunderbox and into the bay. It swam across and got out on shore on the other side then it took off into the woods.
We still talk about that experience and always wonder what would have happened if someone had been sitting on the Thunderbox; can you imagine sitting there watching a moose running toward you. Yikes.
When the people in our group heard the crashing they ran to the shore to see what was making the noise. Afterward they laughed because no one grabbed bear spray OR a camera.
We spent the rest of our time on O.S.A. Lake paddling, hanging out at the campsite, trying to keep cool, and enjoying the most amazing view of the lake. We also paddled out into the lake with binoculars and caught a glimpse of people on the top of the Crack.
On our last night we had an amazing evening paddling around the lake. It was calm and the white hills at dusk were beautiful.
We paddled out at the end of our five day trip, with everyone happy and hooked on Killarney Provincial Park. My job was done.
We returned a few years later for a longer trip that included George Lake, Killarney Lake, Muriel Lake and O.S.A. Lake.
On the way home we stopped for a snack at the little creek on the portage between Killarney Lake and Freeland Lake; it’s a great place for a rest.
There are a few things keeping us from going to Killarney all the time – the long drive, the lack of picnic tables and the poor cell service. But I think a trip is in our near future – I still have a few friends who have not had the Killarney experience.
Rating: Excellent campsites, beautiful scenery and amazing water. A truly beautiful and unique park. The white rock makes it pretty special. An easy half day trip in to O.S.A with only a few short portages. Although it is not a loop, in Killarney, that is just fine.
Lake: O.S.A Lake (George Lake, to Freeland Lake, to Killarney Lake, to O.S.A. Lake and back).
Map: Ontario Parks Map