13 Top Things to Do in Killarney Provincial Park, Ontario
It wasn't long ago that Ontario's Killarney Provincial Park was a little-known secret. Over the last number of years, the word got out, and this little piece of paradise has become a popular summer destination for outdoor lovers.
For campers, hikers, canoeists, and kayakers, this is a top destination in Ontario, with countless kilometers of trails and waterways to explore. Although Killarney attracts less tourists in winter, this park does offer winter camping and activities like snowshoeing.
The lakes, forest, and La Cloche Mountains are the main draw, but the nearby town of Killarney is one of the area's added bonuses. This cute little village has a distinctly coastal feel, with docks, fishing boats, and wooden buildings lining the waterfront. You'll find a small but decent selection of places to eat and stay, as well as a few other amenities.
Whether you're looking for a backcountry experience, some front country camping, or just want to enjoy the natural beauty of the area, you can find what you're looking for here. Plan your visit with our list of the top things to do in Killarney Provincial Park.
1. Hike The Crack
Although this hike used to be a bit of a secret, it's now become one of the must-do activities in the park. Especially in the fall when the autumn colors are peaking. It's incredibly scenic and offers a beautiful perspective over the lakes and mountains. But make no mistake, it's not easy. The elevation gain makes it a bit of a challenge.
The hike begins off the main highway. It starts as an easy stroll through the forest, but beyond this, it's an uphill grind. Near the top, is "The Crack," a section of tumbled massive boulders broken away from the edge of the ridge. For hikers, this becomes a scramble, requiring arms and legs, but it's only a short distance and not insurmountable by any stretch.
The views from the top of The Crack make it all worthwhile. Look out to the lakes and white mountains that make Killarney one of the most beautiful parks in Ontario.
The total round-trip distance for this hike is six kilometers. Allow three or four hours, which will give you time to stop and enjoy the views along the way.
Although this is one of the most popular hikes in Killarney, you can find plenty of other trails to suite all levels of hikers.
2. Camp in Killarney Provincial Park
The main reason many visitors come to Killarney Provincial Park is to camp. For a peaceful, nature escape, this is arguably one of the best places to camp in Ontario. It's not a great place if you're looking for a party atmosphere or for group camping. But if you want to wake up in the wilderness, go hiking or paddling, and enjoy a quiet night around a fire, the George Lake Campground in Killarney Provincial Park is the place to go.
The campground is divided into sections, but it stretches out along George Lake. Some campsites offer easy access to the beaches, other sites are set high above the lake.
Paddlers and hikers can also access backcountry campsites. These are found on the various lakes in the park, as well as along the La Cloche Silhouette hiking trail.
Although most people come here to camp between spring and fall, the park is open to winter camping.
3. Spend a Day at the Beach
Hot summer days in Killarney are perfect for relaxing on the beach and taking the occasional dip. Two stretches of beach line George Lake, and both are scenic little areas to set up a beach chair and spend a day.
The water is shallow along the shore, and sections are roped off for swimming. Unlike Georgian Bay, the water in George Lake warms up to a comfortable temperature during the summer months. For families with small children, spending time at the beach is one of the top things to do in Killarney. Washroom facilities can be found at both beaches.
From the beaches, you can also launch your canoe, kayak, or paddleboard and paddle out to explore the far shores.
4. Paddle on George Lake
Killarney Provincial Park is a popular place for canoeing. Some people come here to head out on multi-day trips into the backcountry or onto Georgian Bay, but George Lake is the most popular place in the park for people who simply want to enjoy a day or a couple hours of paddling.
For less skilled paddlers, day-trippers, and visitors not comfortable heading out on the big waters of the bay, George Lake is a great option. The lake has plenty of beautiful shoreline to explore without having to cross big expanses of water. If you want a longer day trip, easy to moderate portages connect to backcountry lakes and offer a chance to see some of the areas not accessible by road or day hikes.
At the far end of George Lake, a short portage leads to the small Freeland Lake. This is a narrow and usually calm lake filled with lily pads. You may even see a moose along the shore of a weedy bay.
At the end of Freeland Lake, a longer portage (just under 400 meters) leads to Killarney Lake. This is a larger lake where you can spend as much time as you like paddling around. Scenic views of the La Cloche Mountains are one of the key attractions. This is also a popular lake for camping, with backcountry sites available. You need to reserve in advance.
It's possible to paddle on all three of these lakes and return to the George Lake Campground in a day if you are up for a big day of paddling.
You can pick up a canoe rental right from the shore of George Lake, but you'll need to arrange for the rental in advance. If you have your own canoe or kayak, you can launch from either of the two beach areas.
5. Hike Chikanishing Creek
Unlike the views from The Crack trail, which looks over the inland lakes, Chikanashing Creek trail takes in sweeping views of Georgian Bay and small islands just offshore. On sunny days, the water sparkles in the distance beyond the windswept pines.
The trail follows Chikanishing Creek and traverses over open rock ridges, eventually taking you to a high lookout point over the bay. This is the most scenic point along the hike. You'll also notice an information plaque up here. Many people, particularly those who have done the complete hike before, turn back at this point.
The trail continues on from here, down the ridge to the shores of Georgian Bay. This section out and back is strenuous and a bit challenging, but worth it if you have your heart set on making it to the water's edge. The shoreline is smooth rock and can be a nice place for a swim on a hot summer's day.
The hike goes back along the same route as far as the high lookout point, and then branches off, forming a loop back to the parking lot. The total length of Chikanshing Creek Trail is three kilometers.
6. Hike the Granite Ridge Trail
Another short but popular hike in Killarney Provincial Park is the Granite Ridge Trail. This is a two-kilometer trail and perfect if you just want a short outing to a scenic spot. The trailhead is located across the highway from the visitor center.
This hike begins with a leisurely stroll through forest, with a couple of sites along the way. One of the main highlights before the ridge is a decaying and rusted old dodge car. Photographers almost always stop at this point for a few snaps.
Just beyond the car, the trail begins to climb up to the ridge. From the top are views out to Georgian Bay in one direction, and to the La Cloche Mountains in the opposite direction. In the fall, when the leaves are peaking in early October, this is a fantastic hike. The rolling mountains in the distance are ablaze with color this time of year.
7. Explore the Town of Killarney
Just 10 kilometers from the Killarney Provincial Park Visitor Center is the town of Killarney. Set at the very end of Highway 637, this quaint little village looks out over Killarney Channel and is a destination in itself.
Killarney has an almost maritime feel to it. Colorful buildings line the waterfront, and fishing boats are often docked in front. In summer, the docks are filled with pleasure boats and yachts.
Even if you are camping in the park, it's worth coming into Killarney to wander around. If you are wondering where to eat in Killarney, Herbert Fisheries on the waterfront has some of the best fish and chips in the area. You can choose to dine in or take your meal out to the restaurant's picnic tables on the dock.
Another great place for a meal is at the Killarney Mountain Lodge or the dining room at the Sportsman's Inn. These two resorts are both located on the waterfront at opposite ends of the shore. They both provide shuttles to George Island on the opposite side of the channel, where you'll find a lovely hiking trail.
Killarney also has a general store where you can pick up supplies. If you just want to stop for a coffee or some pastries, head to the shore in front of the Killarney Mountain Lodge to the Curds n' Way Café and Bake Shop.
8. Photograph Killarney's Hot Spots
The undeniable beauty of the area lends itself to photography. You can capture beautiful images all over the park and in the town of Killarney, but a few places stand out above the others. It goes without saying, all the high ridges on the hiking trails offer great photography opportunities if you have good weather.
George Lake is the centerpiece of the park. It's arguably the most beautiful area in the park and, conveniently, one of the easiest to access. Head down to the beach areas at either end of the park for views out to pink granite shores and the La Cloche Mountains in behind. In the morning, capture the mist rising off the lake, focus on the rock shorelines, and maybe catch a canoe or kayaker heading out for a paddle.
Also in this area is the bog behind Heron Loop in the campground at the start of the Cranberry Bog hike. On summer mornings, the dew-covered cobwebs in the tall grasses are backlit by the rising sun. Mist rises up from the water and above the bog. You can often spot herons fishing the shallow waters here.
The lighthouse is another great area for photography. Besides the lighthouse itself, the waves crashing on the rocky shoreline make for great images, even on stormy days. The large pond in behind is a good place for photographing water lilies, turtles, and frogs. You can occasionally spot muskrat in here as well. In the fall, the glowing colors of the surrounding trees are reflected in the calm waters.
Killarney Channel right in Killarney is another scenic area, particularly in front of the Killarney Mountain Lodge. On calm mornings, when the mist is rising off the channel and the sun is glowing in the background, you can grab some beautiful shots. Pine-covered points of land, rocks poking through the calm water, and birds taking flight are all great silhouettes against the sky. If canoers or kayakers are heading out, they can add some interest to your shots.
9. Plan a Stay at Killarney Mountain Lodge
If you want to pamper yourself for a weekend getaway, head to the Killarney Mountain Lodge, just 10 kilometers from Killarney Provincial Park. This luxury property is one of the top resorts in Ontario and has one of the best locations in the entire Killarney area.
The Killarney Mountain Lodge has an assortment of rooms to suit all budgets and styles. You can rent a luxury waterfront cabin, or choose large suites with balconies and views across the channel.
If you are on a tight budget, the lodge also offers rooms in what was originally the lodge's staff quarters. These are basic rooms and come with shared baths. However, you still get full access to the lodge and all its amenities.
While most visitors come here to soak up the scenery and spend time exploring the area, you can also choose to relax around the outdoor pool, enjoy the sauna, or relax in an Adirondack chair looking out at the lake.
The resort offers fine dining, complete with meal packages if you choose, or more casual fair on an outdoor deck. Or, simply head down to the shoreline to pick up a quick coffee or tea and snack at the Curds n' Way Café and Bake Shop.
You'll find no end of ways to keep busy here. A lovely hiking trail leaves right from the property and takes you over a scenic ridge and down to the lighthouse. If you aren't up for that level of physicality, you can always opt for a tour, like a sailing excursion or a scenic flight, both of which are offered at the resort.
10. Rent a Canoe on Bell Lake and Hike Silver Peak
One of the most rewarding hikes in Killarney Provincial Park is the Silver Peak Hike on Bell Lake. From the top of this white silica mountain, you can see the entire area, from the rolling mountains to the shimmering blue lakes. The one catch is that you have to paddle to the trailhead.
Bell Lake is located about 30 minutes from the Killarney Provincial Park Visitor Center, down the Bell Lake Road. Getting to the trailhead requires a short paddle on Bell Lake, but canoe rentals are available at the lakeshore and easy to arrange.
The hike itself is 12 kilometers round trip and is an in-and-out trail. Since this hike takes you to the highest point in the La Cloche Mountains, be prepared for some considerable elevation gain.
Although this is a longer hike than The Crack, it does not have any scrambles or technically difficult sections. It's also much less busy and a more peaceful hike.
Canoes are available at the shore through Killarney Kanoes. You can reserve them in advance online.
11. Plan a Backcountry Canoe Camping Trip
One of the most peaceful ways of experiencing Killarney Provincial Park is on a backcountry canoe trip. Paddle across the scenic lakes and camp beneath the pines on a multi-day trip.
Trips can range in length from a night or two to a week or more. Backcountry campsites – often found on rock points and the most scenic sections of lake – need to be booked in advance. Well in advance! Reservations can be made five months in advance, and they fill up quickly. Have your route planned in advance and set a reminder in your calendar to book.
Several canoe routes can be found throughout the park. You can leave right from George Lake, or begin from more remote areas. Begin your trip planning by purchasing a Killarney Provincial Park Map, which shows routings and backcountry campsites. This will help you determine how far you can paddle each day and where you want to book sites.
12. Take a Shuttle and Hike on George Island
While this hike is not in the park, the George Island hiking trail is one of the popular hikes in the Killarney area. For a small fee, you can catch a quick boat shuttle across the Killarney Channel from either the Sportsman's Inn or the Killarney Mountain Lodge.
This hike takes you across the island, through the forest, and past ponds, to the far shore that looks out over Georgian Bay. It then follows the shore for a distance and eventually leads inland again, and back to where you catch the boat. The total hike is 7.5 kilometers and takes about three to four hours.
One of the advantages of this hike is that it does not require hiking up high ridges and has very little elevation gain. It is also less busy than trails in the park, and offers a good opportunity to see wildlife.
13. Visit the Lighthouse or Hike the Lighthouse Trail
The lighthouse is one of those scenic spots where everyone goes, even though there isn't much to do here. Maybe that's some of the appeal. People come out here just to see the lighthouse and wander along the shoreline. Artists sometimes set up on the shore with their easel. On hot, calm days, you may see people swimming in the coves along the shore.
Behind the lighthouse, across from the big lake, is a large pond. The water is usually still and is a good place to see turtles, beaver, and muskrats. From the parking lot, a trail runs along the edge of the pond out to Georgian Bay. This is the start of the Tar Vat Bay trail.
Another hike, called the Lighthouse trail, leaves from the Killarney Mountain Lodge. This hike leads up over a ridge to a scenic viewpoint and down to the shore across from the lighthouse. This is a new trail and is well worth doing. If you're staying at the lodge, it's a must-do.
Although many people start out thinking the trail is going to follow the shore, it actually goes up and over a high ridge, making it more challenging than expected. That said, it's only five kilometers round trip.