We had to dodge a few fancy yachts on our way out of Killarney harbour as we began our two-week canoe journey around Killarney Provincial Park.
Playing chicken with big boats was a fair price to pay, however. Killarney is incredibly beautiful — a majestic landscape of quartzite mountains and aquamarine-coloured water. It’s one of my all-time favourite places to visit.
I first explored Killarney back in high school. My buddy’s father had told us tales of giant blueberries, so we drove up in a rusted-out Ford Pinto and discovered there was much more to Killarney than just the blueberries.
In my mid-20s, I quit my job to move up to the small hamlet of Killarney and wrote my first book. Fifteen books later, I still think it’s the best place to explore in Ontario. That’s why I was so thrilled to take my nine-year-old daughter, wife and eight-month old dog on a canoe trip there this summer.
The water surrounding the town of Killarney is more suitable for a kayak. Georgian Bay and Lake Huron are the backdrop; the enlarged lakes are like inland seas. We were travelling by canoe and got lucky the first day out. Killarney Bay was calm the entire way across, and Fraser Bay only got choppy near the end of the day.
We portaged once, taking a 600-metre-long snowmobile trail linking Killarney Bay with Fraser Bay. It’s a swampy trail that gets little use in the summer. There’s an easier route directly across Killarney Bay, but paddling up to the more northern end seemed less exposed and safer. It also allowed us to catch a glimpse of Indian Head Rock, a quartzite cliff face that’s been sculpted by wind and time to look like a human face (Kyla thought it looked more like Darth Vader).
Night one was had along the southern shore of Baie Fine. We used a Crown Land campsite and had some yachts anchored offshore for neighbours. Be warned. This is a busy place for boats. But they don’t necessarily take away from it all. The crafts here aren’t pesky speedboats or jet-skis. They’re just big, fancy sailboats that seem to blend in with the stunning scenery.
Day two had us taking a series of short portages that link Baie Fine with McGregor Bay. Again, the trails weren’t used much but the passage through was clearly doable. McGregor is just as scenic as the other inlets — even more picturesque, actually. We spent the day floating freely in a moderate chop, with a slight breeze behind us the entire way to our next stop — the North Channel and the entrance to Killarney Provincial Park’s western border.
Our campsite was marked with a park sign but it had rarely been used. As we approached, two bald eagles flew from an old twisted pine. They returned after we set up the tent and lit a campfire. Once again we had a few yachts moored nearby for the night. We could also hear the drone of a couple fishing boats pass by as they returned to a nearby rustic lodge. The site was still blissful and we actually were sad to be heading away from the big water the next morning. The waters of Georgian Bay and Lake Huron have an addictive quality. The sheer size of the waves, the rock and the incredible expanse of it all keeps you completely spellbound.
More beautiful landscape awaited us, however. Killarney’s ancient La Cloche Mountains could be viewed from our campsite. For the next few days, we would find ourselves paddling and portaging through its northern range. This is the same area that once drew several members of the Group of Seven to capture the iconic Canadian wilderness on canvas. I couldn’t wait to share it with my wife and daughter, even though the portages that awaited us in the morning were some of the steepest I’ve ever done…
(To be continued.)