Killarney Provincial Park: La Cloche-Silhouette Trail (4 days / 78 km)
The La Cloche Silhouette Trail located in Killarney Provincial Park is one of the most spectacular backpacking trails in the region. It is also a loop – a rarity – with no required double backing. The quartzite and granite La Cloche Mountains pre-date the Rocky Mountains and are vibrant even from a distance, creating fascinating viewpoints unique to the region. The 80 km trail traverses around the main stretch of La Cloche Mountains, giving 360-degree views of the stunning geography. On clear days from the uppermost viewpoints, you can see as far west as Manitoulin Island and as far north as Sudbury.
The trail is not typical of Ontario hiking, and cannot be taken lightly. There are numerous strenuous climbs and rocky scrambles. It is more similar to hiking done in the Rocky Mountains or the Pacific Coastal Mountains. One should have experience backpacking difficult and mountainous trails before attempting this route. Because of the treacherous terrain, the full 80km trail is recommended to be done in 7-10 days by Killarney Park.
In May of 2019, a friend and I set out to do the trail in 5 days. Starting and ending at the George Lake Campground, we had an incredible experience traversing these mountains and seeing firsthand the beauty of Killarney Park. We ended up doing the trail in just over 3 days, pushing ourselves harder than we ever had on a hiking trip before. I would not recommend doing this hike in less than 5 however, as it was incredibly difficult and did not grant us time to enjoy the region as much as we could have.
The trail is marked with blue markers and rock cairns. The trail converges and diverges with other trails (marked with red markers) and portages (with yellow portage markers). There are 40 or so campsites that are designated to hikers (labelled H1 through H54) which can be found on all trail maps that I have come across. Side trails to campsites are labelled with yellow trail markers. Bookings fill up fast, so book early as possible.
Starting Point: George Lake Campground
Ending Point: George Lake Campground
Total Distance: 78 km
Elevation Gain: 1951 m
Duration: 3.5 Days – would recommend 6-8 days
This route is located in Killarney Provincial Park, Ontario. The nearest city is Sudbury, which is a little more than an hour from Killarney. The route starts and ends at the southwest corner of the park, but travels the perimeter of the entire park.
Traditional Territory: Killarney Provincial Park is located on the traditional territory of Mississauga and Anishinabewaki (source).
Maps & Resources
Maps: The following maps were useful in planning and navigating our route:
- Unlostify Killarney Maps
- Regional topographic maps
- All Trails Pro Maps
- Paddling and Hiking the Georgian Bay Coast
- Ontario Parks Trail Guide
Campsite Reservations: Campsite reservations are required and can be made through the Ontario Parks Reservation System. Reservations are made for a specific campsite (i.e. H24). This is a very popular trail with limited campsites, so you should book your campsites as soon as the reservation portal opens.
Outfitters & Shuttles
Outfitters: We had our own gear and did not require an outfitter. The George Lake Campground Office will have last-minute forgotten items (extra maps, bug spray, sunscreen, water bottles, etc) if you need them.
Shuttle: A shuttle is not needed as this route starts and ends at the same place.
Day 1: George Lake Campground to H4 Acid Lake (4 km)
My adventure partner decided to run the Sporting Life 10k Run in Toronto the morning of our first day, so we didn’t set out until about 1 PM. We made our way up Highway 400 to the 69, eventually turning west onto the 437. Overall, it was about a 4-hour drive. We picked up our permits from the George Lake head office and after some last-minute packing, we were finally hiking at 6 PM. The trail was all in the trees, with no views or significant climbs. There was however a steady nagging incline for the first few kilometres. Our reserved campsite was H4, only about an hour in. We set up camp and started a fire. The small pond our campsite was on had lots of animal activity: loons, beavers, and ducks.
Campsite: H4 had multiple tent sites and a nice fire pit. Water access was relatively easy and there was a nice rock ledge next to the firepit – perfect for sitting. Wasn’t an overly scenic campsite but we had a nice pink sunset view (Photo 1). Quite close to the trail, and I would imagine it would get noisy if we stopped earlier in the day or during a busier time of year.
Day 2: H4 Acid Lake to H20 Threenarrows Lake (23 km)
We were awake by 6 and on the trail by 7. The early morning was easy because of a short previous day and excitement to finally put some distance behind us. We began to see some elevation changes. There were a couple of ups and downs this morning, but with the elevation changes come some views. We began to see the mountains peeking out over the trees in some spots. We were elated to have some views, but these were nothing in comparison to what was to come. The first major challenge of the trip is climbing “The Pig” portage. Converging with a portage trail, this section is the largest single climb on the trip. The trail follows an ATV trail and there are loose rocks scattered throughout which make the climb painfully slow.
Climbing this section, there is a side trail going to campsites located on Topaz Lake. Hearing that this lake is one of the many gems of the park, we decided to hike in and have lunch by the water. I would not recommend doing this side route with a full pack. It was about a km to the lake with a handful of ups and downs. The lake was absolutely stunning, and in warmer weather would be the perfect spot for a swim. Back on the trail, we finished “The Pig” portage climb, and congratulated ourselves on a steep decline. The loose rocks made this slow-moving. The hiking trail diverges from the portage/ATV trail on the left and could be easily missed if not paying attention. Remember to look out for those blue trail markers! It was here where we caught our first true look of the mountains in the distance (Photo 2).
Carrying on, we made our way to the Three Narrows Lake dam. Here, there are two options. The first is to follow the trail along Kirk Creek until you reach the bridge, then following Kirk Creek on the north shore back to the dam. In low water, the dam can easily be crossed, avoiding about 5km of trail. The park does not recommend crossing the dam, as in high water this is incredibly dangerous. Use sound judgement while making this decision. We decided to not cross the dam and do the walk around. The trail is a nice flat walk with nothing too challenging, and we even saw a deer. The water was very high (Photo 3) and it would be impossible to cross at the dam. When returning to do this trip a year later, my group and I made the decision to cross the damn (Photo 4), only because it was perfectly safe. The ability to cross at the dam is completely dependent on water levels which can be unpredictable. I would recommend planning the trip assuming you cannot cross the dam.
The section between the dam and campsite H19 is probably the most boring section of the trail. About 8-10km of flat trail through the woods. In the spring, it was difficult to stay on trail the whole time as there was ankle-deep water at points. We took a break at campsite H19 which provided absolutely stunning views (Photo 5). I would 100% recommend this site to anyone doing the trail. If given the opportunity I would have rather stayed at H19 compared to our eventual campsite H20. We ended the long day with some dinner and freeze-dried apple strudel.
Campsite: I would not recommend H20 to anyone that has a choice. The water access is mucky, tent sites are not very good and the lake is small and doesn’t have a view. It does have a privy.
Day 3: H20 Threenarrows Lake to H34 David Lake (22 km)
This morning was a little tougher to get up and back at it. We could definitely feel the weight of “The Pig” portage from yesterday. The climb starting almost immediately from our campsite didn’t help. This climb really picked up at the next marked campsite, H21, climbing 135m in 4km. This section is one of the most interesting of the trail. The trail ascends alongside a 3 story waterfall. The rocks are very slippery from the splash and spray, and I would recommend taking lots of time to do this section safely. The viewpoint at the top of this climb (a few km past the waterfall) is absolutely spectacular (Photo 6 and 7). We spent some time here, catching up on our hydration and fueling up for the multiple climbs to come. Almost immediately there is a massive descent (Photo 8), dropping 100m in less than a kilometre. This brought us to Moose Pass, where there is a relatively clean looking stream, followed immediately by a towering ascent. From this stream, there is a rather large water carry. There are a few water dependent creeks, but the next water source along the trail is at David Lake (12km). There are side trails that lead to Little Mountain Lake (7km) and Shiguag Lake (5km), for those more desperate for water during the carry.
The ascent from Moose Pass is probably the steepest on the trail, covering 125m of elevation in a kilometre. This is the highest point on the whole trail, and provides incredible views (Photo 9). I recommend staying up here for some time and recount the steps of the past few days. You can see almost to George Lake from here. We were also able to spot the French River Provincial Park and Manitoulin Island from this spot. After getting NHL playoff scores and Game of Thrones updates (there’s phone service at the peaks of most of these mountains), we continued on.
As we made our way to David Lake, the trail continued to go up and down peaks, as we were now hiking the quartzite mountains, instead of just staring at them from a distance. The entire time we got spectacular views of the La Cloche Mountain Range to the south, and the lakes down below. It is pretty breathtaking to walk kilometres of distance along the massive quartzite rock faces. However, I imagine if there was rain, this would become slippery and treacherous, and progress would slow.
Here, the blue trail markers are less frequent, replaced with rock piles (cairns). Navigation could get tricky on the open rock faces, especially trying to find where the trail re-enters the forest. I found myself constantly reassessing if we were on the trail while on the ridges. A few times, we had to double back, as we took the incorrect route. When in doubt, the cairns are organized so that one can be seen from the previous, and therefore standing beside a cairn will be the best way to find the next and relocate the trail.
There were multiple places along the quartzite ridges where we basically had to climb (both up and down). We had to be very cautious doing this tired at the end of the day. Travelling by cairn instead of trail marker made us feel like we were above a tree line in the Rocky Mountains, something we did not expect from an Ontario hiking trail. While facing north on the ridge before David Lake, we even spotted Sudbury in the distance. We were blessed with a clear day.
Enjoying the views, we made our way to David Lake (H34) and made camp around 5:00 PM. We had some well deserved freeze-dried meals and cliff bars before bed.
Campsite: H34 was a stunning site. The view out onto the lake was spectacular, and it felt like we had the lake to ourselves. There was a privy, firepit and plenty of space for a tent. We saw a few loons off the front porch (Photo 10)
Day 4: H34 David Lake to George Lake (31 km)
Today, we had the option of climbing up Silver Peak as a side trip. It is an 8 km round trip with some pretty serious elevation gain (highest peak in the park); it would be a difficult endeavour. Both my partner and I were nursing some aggravated injuries from trips prior (probably shouldn’t have run that 10 km beforehand) and we woke up feeling pretty beat up. Doing this 7-10 day hiking trail in 3 days was taking its toll. We started the day slowly, moving at a less-than-ideal pace. We made the decision to skip out on the Silver Peak side trail.
As unfortunate as this was, it was the right decision. I returned the next summer and hiked Silver Peak with a less broken body (Photo 11). Although it is probably the best view in the whole park, I recommend approaching the Silver Peak option with caution. An injured or tired person attempting this section (debatably the most difficult section of trail in the whole park) midway through a weeklong hiking trip could seriously jeopardize their health/safety. If there’s a section of the trail that could turn a nagging injury into an evacuation scenario, this is it. There is always next year’s trip. Ideally, and if time permits, I would book a campsite in the area for two nights in a row, taking the whole day to truly enjoy the beauty of Silver Peak.
We continued following the blue markers and ignoring the red markers leading to Silver Peak. The trail for a couple of kilometres is shared with Silver Peak day hikers, and is therefore very well used in this section; a pickup truck could probably get through. Because of this, there are very few trail markers. We had to keep an eye out of the right side of the trail (to the south) to make sure we didn’t miss our turn-off. From our campsite, all the way to the turn-off was fairly flat, and we made great time.
From here, the trail turns south and climbs quickly. After about a 100m elevation gain, we took a break at H37 (Silver Lake) for our morning snack at about 10:00 AM. We quickly realized that our pace was better than we thought, and the idea of making it to our car at the George Lake parking lot was protruding in both our minds. We continued onwards, saying we will continue to assess as we moved forward.
There are a handful of peaks and valleys along the section of the trail between Silver Lake and Bunnyrabbit Lake. It was one of the most strenuous parts of the trail. To make matters worse, this is also a water carry, with no water access between lakes. However, it did provide some pretty spectacular sights. We managed to get to Bunnyrabbit Lake just past noon, and we stopped for lunch. This was the campsite we were supposed to stay at that night. If we passed our booked campsite, we had no other option than to make it to George Lake. We assessed the situation and made the call to continue moving, trying to finish the trail on our third full day.
The section of the trail between Bunnyrabbit Lake and “The Crack” is absolutely spectacular and provides some of the best views of the trip (Photos 12 – 14). This section is similar to the last and has lots of smaller ups and downs (between 30 and 80m ascents/descents). Some of the clearest water in the park is in the lakes of this section, including Whiskeyjack Lake, Norway Lake and Shingwak Lake. On a warm day, I would recommend taking a dip in Proulx Lake before the last big climb to “The Crack” – it has some fantastic swimming.
“The Crack” is a famous viewpoint of the park, most frequently climbed by canoeists camping on surrounding lakes and day hikers from the highway parking lot. It is characterized by a massive rock crevasse which the trail runs through. The crevasse and the declining section afterwards are littered with small boulders, making the descent dangerous. The viewpoint from the top of “The Crack” looks out onto OSA and Killarney Lakes, and is absolutely breathtaking (Photo 15). The climb up to “The Crack” from Norway Lake is about 130m total, but there are some smaller ups and downs along the way. The trail in this section has some pretty steep and difficult terrain. We powered through, knowing that the view would be well worth it. We stopped for a late afternoon snack at the crack and enjoyed the scenery (Photo 15). From here, we slowly made our way down the rock crevasse and bouldery sections which form the final descent to the highway.
At this point, we were pretty exhausted, but we knew we only had 8km left of relatively flat terrain. The section between “The Crack” trailhead and George Lake Campground was the easiest hiking of the whole trip, but that didn’t make our fatigued legs feel any better. We made our way past the final campsites of the trail, which didn’t look particularly inviting. We pulled into George Lake Campground around 9 PM, just as the sun was going down. We ended up chatting with a man who was about to embark the next morning on his 8th hike of the trail in as many years. Honestly, we understand why he would keep coming back. This has to be some of the most spectacular hiking that Canada has to offer.
This hiking trail far exceeded our expectations. The difficult climbs pushed us hard, the well-maintained campsites were perfect for resting, and the viewpoints throughout the entire trail were rewarding. With the La Cloche Mountains present throughout the whole trail, I could not believe this was in Ontario. It seemed to be more reminiscent of the Appalachian Mountains than anything I would expect 4 hours from Toronto. For anyone with long-distance hiking experience, I would absolutely recommend this trail for an incredible adventure.
Doing this trip in mid-May had its pros and cons. The bugs had not yet surfaced, which allowed us to be more relaxed throughout the day, and we only saw two other groups on the whole trail which made this frequented trail feel remote. However, at night the temperatures dropped to below freezing, and we had to pack accordingly (heavier weight). The birch trees had not grown their leaves back, and it left something to be desired at some of the viewpoints. I imagine doing the hike during the late summer or early fall would be ideal for full foliage.
Once again, this is an incredibly challenging hiking trip and should not be held equivalent to other hiking trips in Ontario. There are many difficult ascents and descents, some of which require climbing. Beyond this, the route is quite remote, and an injury would most likely require a helicopter evacuation. I have also learned from park staff that there are dozens of evacuations from this trail every year, And therefore, I would only recommend the full trail for those with long-distance hiking experience.
Along with this hike, the summer of 2019 was full of hiking for me, including the week-long trips in Jasper National Park, The West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, and Garibaldi Provincial Park in British Columbia. Even though Western Canada has a reputation for both difficult and beautiful hiking trips, the La Cloche Silhouette Trail challenged all these trips for being the most beautiful and the most difficult of the summer. I would say it was definitely the most rewarding. Ontario has a bad reputation for hiking trails compared to the rest of the country, but I personally think the La Cloche Silhouette Trail is a contender for the best hiking trip in Canada.
Trip Report Written by Cam from Mad for Maple
Mad for Maple is a social platform used to share the Canadian wilderness adventures of three friends: Matthew, Matt and Cam. We hope sharing our adventures in this setting will provide entertainment and inspiration for others, promote sustainable outdoor etiquette, and showcase Canada’s natural beauty.
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