When my daughter was three we went on a four day interior canoe trip in Killarney Provincial Park. This was our first backcountry trip, so I booked three nights at George Lake campsite and four nights in the interior. We chose the George and Balsam Lake loop staying two nights on each lake. The trip was very successful, and we had great weather to help us. We went in late August so the bugs weren’t bad either.
The next year, I tried the same thing. We booked two nights at George Lake campground, and then two nights at OSA. After our two nights at George Lake campground we chose to go home instead of paddling into the interior lake called OSA. There were a few factors that led to this decision. The weather forecast was calling for high winds on the day of our departure to OSA. The main reason, however, was that OSA was three lakes away from the George Lake campground and we weren’t feeling up to the challenge. It’s very difficult to book the other two lakes before OSA, and even OSA was only available from Monday to Wednesday instead of the weekend. We had a wonderful time staying at George Lake campground, but in the end we cut our trip short and went home instead of paddling into OSA.
This guide is meant to give you an idea of what are easier canoe-in destinations in Killarney so you have a better chance of success on your backcountry trip, especially if are going with small children. Some spots fill up quickly and you need to reserve them five months in advance and sometimes you need to keep checking back until what you want comes up.
Killarney does not offer reservations for a specific site on a lake, so you have to canoe around looking for a campsite once you reach the lake. It’s also very difficult to reserve a site close to the access point on the more popular lakes during the summer. Recently the the park’s backcountry lakes were added to the Ontario Parks Reservation system. This makes it easier for you to see what areas of the park are available. Despite that, Killarney is a great destination for canoe trips in Ontario. There are several canoe loops you can do in Killarney that are family friendly but most of them require portaging over steep terrain to get to the next lake, so a good look at a topo map is required when planning your trip.
George Lake or Killarney Lake
If you can snag a reservation on either George Lake or Killarney Lake, you can canoe to your campsite, and use it as a base camp, as you explore the region in your canoe. Killarney Lake is two short portages away from the access point (45m and 410m) and really shows you how beautiful the park is. None of the interior lakes allow motorboats so it tends to be quiet during the day.
George Lake is a narrow long lake with steep cliffs on each side, so it can get rather windy. It’s best to leave early in the morning to avoid the higher winds that develop during the day.
You will have a better chance at reserving these two lakes if you go outside of the summer months but you need to bring warmer gear as the nights are colder.
Kakakise was the first lake I stayed on when I went to Killarney. We booked last minute, and rented an aluminum Grumman canoe that was at least 60 lbs. It was very heavy, and the last time we’ll rent a canoe like that. During that trip I realized that Killarney is vastly more beautiful than Algonquin Park due to its granite and quart rock. Hence its popularity.
On that trip, we were without kids, and we did two side-trips. One was a trip up to the top of Silver Peak. The other was a loop around to Killarney, OSA and Norway (which we did with the aluminum canoe and took the wrong turn from Kakakise to George Lake).
With kids, I don’t think we would have done either day trip unless they were older than 10 years old. We would have been happy swimming and exploring Kakakise. The nice thing about Kakakise is that there are only two campsites, so it’s easy to find a site once you reach the lake.
David and Balsam Loop
This was our first backcountry trip when our daughter was 3.5 years old. Since we had some previous canoeing experience we packed relatively light which was helpful since one person was usually carrying everything during the portages. I had a system where I would carry a pack as far as my daughter could walk. Then I’d drop the pack and keep walking with her along the portage. My husband would carry everything else and when he was done, I’d walk back and get the pack. This is a lot slower but by portaging my pack half way, I saved myself the walk all the way back. My husband was able to portage our 45 lb canoe while carrying the pack at the same time.
David Lake is a large lake, and we were fairly tired after spending time paddling around looking for a site. There was nothing available near the access to the silver creek trail. We finally got a campsite at the other end of the lake, far from where we started. The problem with looking for campsites is that you have to zig-zag along the lake to see if it’s taken or not. Binoculars would have been very helpful.
Balsam Lake is a beautiful lake with lots to explore and great swimming. We found a campsite close to our final portage. We spent two days there, exploring various bays. We found at least four turtles, one beaver dam, and lots of frogs and toads.
On our final day, we stopped on Bell Lake for a lunch break on our way back to the car. We were very exhausted after our trip, but it was very enjoyable. At the portage we saw a group of Boy Scouts getting ready to do a similar trip.
Your trip to Philip Edward Island begins at the Chikanishing Creek access point in the park (parking is $11 per day), but the camping is exclusively on crown land on Georgian Bay. I would only recommend this trip with kids if you have some previous experience with backcountry camping and moderate paddling experience. The waters along Georgian Bay can get very rough very quickly. The campsites are basic with no amenities, and you’ll need a self standing tent in most places.
We visited this area on a day trip, and while it was calm in the morning, the winds picked up in the afternoon, and we had water hitting our canoe and going in when we were crossing the Collins Inlet. We had to cut the waves at an angle to prevent rolling with them, and to not have too much splash.
The suggested campsites are marked on a map, and the suggested route is to go around the island, but I would recommend staying away from the exposed south side of the island. Your best spot to launch is Chikanishing Creek, and paddling the creek out to the island. Once you are there, hug the coast line, heading south and look for your campsite. If it’s windy you can camp at a site along Collins Inlet for protection.
Waterproof and attach everything to your canoe or kayak. Check the weather forecast before you leave and read the clouds so you don’t get stranded. Bring a compass and map or a handheld gps in a waterproof pouch. The landscape you’ll be paddling through is simply amazing. It’s very rugged and beautiful and well worth the trip.