I discovered Killarney Provincial Park earlier this summer while hiking the 100km La Cloche Silhouette Trail over four days. At the end of September, I returned with brave and hardy souls to tackle a 65km, 4 day canoe trip in Killarney. The emergence of Fall colours, serenity and isolation of NE Killarney Provincial Park, towering cliffs of granite, and great company made for one of my favourite canoe trips of all time. While far less warm than the 5-day canoe trip in Algonquin Park earlier this year, there is something to be said about cozying up next to a fire in fleece pants and toques. And hot chocolate, and mulled wine.
Where: Killarney Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada
When: May through September (hot and buggy in the middle of Summer, probably best in August and September. Our trip went into the beginning of October and it was lovely!)
Length: 65km loop (54km paddling and 10.5km portaging), 4-6 days
Canoe Trip Base Cost: $12/day for Backcountry Reservations, $12 Reservation Fee, $15-infinity/day for food, $30/day for canoe rental = ~$200 for a 4 day trip
Additional Variable Costs: fuel for your stove, food barrel rental, any new camping gear, a car rental, gas money, a flight, accommodation outside the park, wine, beer, etc.
As always, remember to respect the Earth in your adventures. Here’s an honest approach with actionable steps you can take to be an awesome person who is helpful and responsible: How To Leave No Trace Do your research on the people, place, culture, and environment, and once you have a plan: tell it to someone!
4 Day Canoe Trip in Killarney
For this route, you’ll be driving 4.5h from Toronto. Is it worth it? Absolutely. The access point is on Bell Lake at Killarney Kanoes, located in the NE part of the park. A note on Killarney Kanoes: these guys are by far the best canoe rental company and trip outfitters I have ever had the pleasure of renting from. Their rates are fair, the boats are well taken care of, and the people are equal parts helpful and hilarious. The route is a loop, and actually takes you out of the park boundaries for a small part. Portages are well kept and the area is not heavily trafficked. With 3-4 campsites on lakes that could easily support a dozen, this route will take you way out there. It’s a challenging route with long days, but you are rewarded with pristine views of rocky cliffs and glass lakes.
Jeff’s Killarney Map is great. Use the electronic copy to plan, and then take the hard copy with you.
For canoe trips in Killarney, you book a book a lake in the backcountry for each night. You don’t book a specific campsite; just the lake you intend to stay on. Campsites are first come first served, so it’s usually worth it to wake up early and get to camp early to snag that site with the view of the sunset and perfect swimming rock! However, on our trip we didn’t have any problems with sites being taken. Although this was likely due to timing (it was October after all), this part of Killarney does see a fraction of the traffic that Algonquin does.
Day 1: Bell Lake to Great Mountain Lake (10km paddle, 4km portage)
Getting to the park around noon should be enough to fit this first day in. We checked in at Killarney Kanoes where our boats awaited and our permit was issued. Although we never asked his name, we decided that “Greg” suited the helpful fellow who prepared our gear. He warned us about things to watch on our route, areas where we might have trouble, and noted that our route was ambitious. Sound advice and a few hilarious stories later, we were on our way.
Day 1 is pleasant. Jeff (of Jeff’s Maps) budgets 4 hours, and we were pretty spot on that timing. To make Jeff’s timing, do all of your portages in one go. The longest portage (almost 3km) is on Day 1, so it’s nice to get it out of the way! Although it drizzled for a short while at the beginning of our day, it cleared up well in time for our arrival at the campsite on Great Mountain Lake. Soup, sausages, cous cous, and the inevitable glass of red wine were just what we needed. This site was stunning, and its smooth rocks were exemplary of what makes Killarney unique.
Number of portages: 3
Average length of portages: 1.2km
Longest portage: 2775m
Shortest portage: 210m
Day 2: Great Mountain Lake to High Lake (18.5km paddle, 2.5km portage)
Day 2 is the longest (an estimated 7 hours). It didn’t help that we woke up quite late and didn’t hit the water until well after 10am. However, with motivation and some cool & competent trippers, we powered through the day. If you read Jeff’s Map, the shortest path to High Lake goes through Round Otter, Goose, and Rocky Lakes. Friendly Greg of Killarney Kanoes warned us that this route was essentially impassible due to low water levels, so around we went. The detour meant a lot of paddling: not ideal with headwinds and slight hangovers.
Danny – our in-house fisherman and fish expert – reeled in a bass that he would carry all day for our enjoyment when we finally reached our campsite. An inconvenient addition to the portages, but a delicious one at that! High Lake is on the northernmost boundary of Killarney. While the only campsite on the lake isn’t the best of the best, it gives you the lake to yourself which is lovely.
Number of portages: 7
Average length of portages: 340m
Longest portage: 715m
Shortest portage: 125m
Day 3: High Lake to Balsam Lake (15km paddle, 4km portage)
Drinking a bit less wine than the first night helped us start our Day 3 a little earlier. The route on Day 3 goes out of the park boundaries. You go from High Lake into Bassoon Lake, which is part of the Killarney North Forest Reserve. Bassoon Lake is on crown land, so if you choose to camp here it is free! Further on, you come into a small cottage community on Lake Panache. Lake Panache is massive: on windy days, this route could take twice as long so consider this in your planning. Through Snake Channel, fisherman Danny landed one of the biggest fish I’ve seen caught live. It was a beautiful pike, far too big for the designated Ziploc bag.
With our early start, we took our time paddling. Ahead of schedule, we even made the time to have a fire at lunch. Hot chocolate and tea were had, toes were warmed, and fish was filleted. The scenery was as exciting as it was serene: fully alive yet eerily still. With overcast skies but calm waters, it was some of the nicest paddling I’ve had the pleasure of doing.
The ultimate campsite!!
The campsite on Balsam Lake we stayed at is tied for first place with the island campsite on North Tea Lake in Algonquin Park on my list of the best Ontario campsites of all time. Its iconic Killarney rock features, massive seating area and unique view of the sunrise are winning attributes. A big stone table served many purposes such as topping our pizzas and mulling our wine. For a little post-dinner snack, we enjoyed the catch of the day: a little pike to go with the pizza.
Number of portages: 6
Average length of portages: 700m
Longest portage: 2195m
Shortest portage: 205m
Day 4: Balsam Lake to Bell Lake (10.5km paddle, 0km portage)
The last day is a real treat. With only one portage that is 40m long there is little to stress about. In the morning, we woke up to perfect reflections of the trees on the lake. Blue skies and a hot sun replaced the 30mm of rain we were expecting, making us all smile a little bigger. A little leftover pizza and some jazzed up oats were on the breakfast menu, plus two rounds of hot beverages for everyone.
It was a lazy and lovely morning; well deserved after a couple of long days on the water. Slowly, we paddled and floated our way back onto Three Mile and Bell Lakes. We eventually arrived back at Killarney Kanoes where “Greg” was glad to see us alive and well. It was sad to say goodbye to the canoes – unfortunately, canoe tripping leaves my realm of trip planning after October. Until next season Killarney, it’s been a slice!
Number of portages: 1
Average length of portages: 40m
Longest portage: 40m
Shortest portage: 40m
Roses n Thorns
Rose (the best part)
Paddling to portaging ratio & the portages in general!! This was a HUGE win. On previous trips, there has been far too much portaging. On this trip, the portages that did happen were incredibly enjoyable. Killarney’s infrastructure and maintenance of the trails is exemplary, and the views along the way are ideal. With birch forests, a bit of elevation change up and over rocky ridges and clear paths, the portages were lovely. As an added bonus, the Autumn temperatures ensured no pesky bugs got in the way of ultimate fun!
Thorn (the worst or most hilarious part)
Personally, the thorn was chilly toes – why did I choose to wear sandals, and why did I bring no pants? It snowed for goodness sakes. This is unpreparedness and unnecessary extreme minimalism at it’s worst. As a group, I think the most hilarious moments were had trying to find the first portage on Day 2. Slowly sinking in knee deep in mud with many hours of travel ahead, it took us over half an hour just to find the darned thing!
Bud (the new friend)
It may have been obvious in my recount of the trip, but the new friend here is most definitely “Greg” and Killarney Kanoes. While I’m not sure Greg would consider us friends, I certainly have a friend in him and his business. Honest advice, practical tips, TLC towards the gear, and one authentic Ontario Parks experience renting boats. You go, Greg! If it is Greg, anyway…
Gear and Food List
Canoe tripping requires slightly more gear than a hiking trip. Naturally, you’ll need the canoes. Killarney Kanoes rents boats, barrels, and anything else your group may need for a canoe trip. You’ll want a stove and cooking kit, but will also have the luxury of cooking over a fire. Of course, you’ll need your sleeping kit and a pack to carry it all in as well. See my Gear for the Trail list for a decent list to start. Make sure you bring a map (Jeff’s Map of Killarney can be ordered/bought online).
Since you are not carrying packs over long distances each day, you can bring all sorts of fun food! On a canoe trip you are less concerned about weight, and can therefore bring fresh veggies, eggs, meats, and other items that would never fly on a hiking trip. Here are some ideas: Food on the Trail. On this trip, days looked like this…
Breakfast: We stuck to an oats only breakfast this time around. It’s nice to have something warm on frosty mornings.
Lunch: Naan/tortillas with peanut butter, jam, and hummus. Supplement with personal snacks such as goldfish, pepperoni sticks, GORP, granola bars, dried mangoes, and corn nuts.
Dinner: Sausages & cous cous, pasta with fried veggies and soy chunks (+ fresh bass), and pizza with all the toppings (+ fresh pike and mulled wine!!)
Make it Happen
- Understand the route and pick a time of year you want to go. You may choose to make this a shorter or longer trip depending on your preference and experience.
- Choose your route/itinerary, and where you will stay each night so you can book your campsites. Again, you book a lake instead of a specific site. This can be done online.
- Book your canoes! In high season, the light boats that are best for portaging can be scooped up quickly. The boats we rent are the Ultra Light Kevlar 16′ ones, and the rates can be found here. You will also need a food barrel.
- Once that is locked in, book your flights and/or transportation to the park
- If flying, fly into Toronto (YYZ) and rent a car from the airport to drive to Killarney. The access point is Bell Lake at Killarney Kanoes.
- The fun begins! Plan your meals, get your gear in order, and gather a group of super cool people to make it awesome
- Get outside and do the thing
If you would like to paddle this canoe trip in Killarney and need advice, tips, or guidance, please feel free to contact me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org 🙂
Click the image to pin it for later!
I’ve also painted a couple small landscapes from Killarney Provincial Park. They are for sale, and can be found on my art shop!