Killarney Provincial Park: George Lake to Kakakise Lake (4 days / 54 km)
Located at Georgian Bay’s northern shore, Killarney Provincial Park provides excellent canoeing and hiking opportunities. White rock cliffs and crystal clear lakes characterize this park’s landscape. Killarney has an enormous historical significance. Oral history accounts of the park and surrounding lands affirm Odawa, Ojibway and Potowatomi’s use of and relationship to this land.
Historically lots of artists have taken inspiration from Killarney’s spectacular landscapes. We have to thank them for the efforts they made to conserve this area.
This is a fantastic route to get introduced to this spectacular park. This route passes through 5 different Lakes and offers stunning views of the La Cloche Range; you will want to paddle really slow to take in the sights that you will encounter at every turn. This route has six portages, 3 of them long but very straightforward. Another reason why I think this is a fantastic route is that it offers the possibility to hike to 2 of the most scenic places in the park (The Crack and Heaven Lake)
Trip completed: September 2020
Starting Point: George Lake
Ending Point: George Lake
Total Distance: 54 km
Duration: 4 days / 3 nights
Difficulty: Moderate (3 long portages, each over 1 km)
Killarney Provincial Park
Traditional Territory: Killarney Provincial Park is located on the traditional territory of the Mississauga and Anishinabewaki (source).
Maps & Resources
Guidebook: Top 60 Canoe Routes of Ontario by Kevin Callan
Map: Jeff’s Map of Killarney and Killarney Provincial Park Backcountry Hiking and Canoe Route Map.
Campsite Reservations: You need to book your campsites on the Ontario Parks Reservation System. Starting 2022, you must book a specific campsite, not a campsite on a specific lake. You can see a list of campsites on the Ontario Parks website here.
Camping Permits: You pick up your permits at the George Lake campground office.
Outfitters & Shuttles
I rented a 16 feet Kevlar ultra-light canoe from Killarney Outfitters. I picked up the key for the canoe at their shop, and they delivered the canoe right to the start of my route on George Lake. You have to call in advance to arrange rentals and deliveries. When you finish your route, you leave your canoe at the same spot where you picked it up. Just bring the key back to the outfitters.
If you bring your own canoe, you just have to pick up your permits at the George Lake campground office and park your vehicle in the parking lot beside George Lake.
Day 1: George Lake to Killarney Lake (9 km)
At 1 pm, we launched our canoes at George Lake. As soon as we started paddling, we noticed how crystal clear the water is here. Being one of the main access points, George Lake can be a bit busy. We paddled for 3 km to the east end of the lake, where the portage to Freeland Lake is very visible. The George Lake to Freeland Lake portage is 45 m.
Freeland Lake is a narrower lake. The next portage is located at the northeast end of the lake; the sign is tiny, so you have to keep your eyes open. The Freeland Lake to Killarney Lake portage is 455 meters and straightforward. Freeland Lake has lots of wildlife activity; we saw a couple of Blue Herons and lots of Beaver huts.
Killarney Lake has ten campsites. We went to campsite 21, which has a fantastic view of the La Cloche range and has its own little beach so, of course, we went for a swim. From here, we explored the west side of the lake where looks like the prime place to spot a moose. We didn’t see one, but I’m sure that we would have seen one if we stayed a bit longer.
Campsite: Killarney Lake Campsite #21
Editor’s Note: Killarney changed its campsite numbers this year and we will have the updated numbers shortly!
Day 2: Killarney Lake to Norway Lake (8 km)
After an early breakfast and a quick swim, we continued paddling the entirety of Killarney Lake, delighted by the spectacular views all around. The colours were changing dramatically from one day to the other, and we could appreciate more oranges and yellows.
Portage from Killarney Lake to Norway Lake (1.4 km): Our first real challenge was waiting for us at the end of Killarney Lake: a 1.4 km portage. Unfortunately, the muddy terrain here didn’t make it any easier, but overall we emerged victorious to my favourite Lake of this trip: Norway Lake.
Campsite #31 is located on a little island right after you emerge from the previous portage; a short 5 minutes paddle will take you there. What a fantastic campsite! Situated on an island, we were less worried about night visitors and had an excellent view of every side of the island—easy access to swim.
As an option, 200 metres before reaching the end of the portage that takes you to Norway Lake, you will pass by a small creek, leave your canoe here for a minute and follow the stream upstream. You will be surprised.
Campsite: Norway Lake Campsite #31
Day 3: Norway Lake to Kakakise Lake (5 km + 9 km detour)
You have two options here: chill day or challenging but rewarding day. We went for demanding and rewarding.
Portage from Norway Lake to Kakakise Lake (1.4 km): We paddled south to the end of Norway Lake and began the portage to Kakakise Lake.
If you are up for a challenge and a treat, do this: Pay attention at the halfway point of the portage, where it intersects with the La Cloche Trail. Leave your canoe here and hike east or west. Both directions offer something unique.
We went east towards Heaven Lake. It is a 2 km uphill hike but absolutely worth it; the view is spectacular, and this lake was once thought to be the highest in the province (it’s not). If you decide to hike west, you will be treated with three picturesque lakes close to each other.
After the detour, we returned to our canoes and finished the portage to Kakakise Lake. Once you arrive at the end, you can grab one of the two campsites available on this lake.
Note: If you want a chill day instead, complete the portage without the detour.
Campsite #52 at Kakakise was terrific. You have an unobstructed view all the way west. Make sure to wake up before sunrise; you won’t regret it.
Campsite: Kakakise Lake Campsite #52
Day 4: Kakakise Lake to George Lake (20 km)
We could have divided this day into two, but we decided to have an extra early start because we really wanted to hike The Crack. It was slightly rainy, but that didn’t really bother us.
Hiking the Crack: Once we’d paddled Kakakise Lake in its entirety, we left our canoe close to this lake’s west shore. Here we joined The Crack trail and hiked to the top, where we had a fantastic view of O.S.A lake and Killarney Lake. Being here helped us to put our trip into perspective.
Portage from Kakakise Lake to Freeland Lake (2 km): Back to the canoe, we prepared for the trip’s longest portage, a 2 km muddy portage from Kakakise Lake back to Freeland Lake. You have to be very careful here because at the end of the portage you will paddle through a marshy area and low waters for about 200 meters. You will even have to do a mini portage to avoid a beaver damn.
After this, you are back on Freeland Lake, retracing your route back to the take out on George Lake.
I will never forget my time spent in Killarney. It is a place that stays with you long after your visit, and if you know where to look, you will be amazed every second. I would recommend to everyone that has not seen this park yet to try this trip! These are my reasons why I loved this trip so much:
- Great opportunities to spot wildlife
- Gentle introduction to longer portages
- Crystal clear and turquoise lakes
- Sunsets and sunrises
- Dark skies perfect tor stargazing
- Having the La Cloche range so close makes this place so unique.
Javier Mendoza is the founder of Toronto EcoAdventures, a small business focused on making the outdoors accessible by organizing small-group day trips from Toronto to different parks in Ontario.
He moved to Toronto from Mexico 12 years ago and has been exploring the Great Canadian Outdoors ever since.
Website: Toronto EcoAdventures
Facebook: Javier Eduardo Mendoza Olmos
YouTube: Toronto EcoAdventures