Killarney Park: One of Canada's Secret Natural Wonders

You may have seen the incredible natural beauty of Canada's east and west coasts. But you may not know that only a few hours from Toronto, you'll find breathtaking panoramas, a meditative communion with nature, and a rejuvenated spirit.

I grew up in Sudbury, a mere hour and a half from the town of Killarney and the adjacent Killarney Provincial Park. In my youth, we spent many weekends camping at various provincial parks around Northern Ontario, but inexplicably, I didn’t make my first visit to Killarney until my late twenties, when an outdoorsy friend of mine took me on my first three-day canoe trip. I was dumbfounded that I had spent my entire life up to that point unaware of the beauty that existed so close to my home. Since then, the park has been an oasis for me, as it is for many others. A place to rejuvenate the spirit and bathe in the forest. 

Photo: Clayton Drake

The Killarney region is a place stuck in time. The stunning white rock faces of the La Cloche Mountains, the seemingly endless lakes in shades of both emerald and sapphire, and the regal old-growth forests—all provide a glimpse into what the entirety of the North must have looked like centuries ago. The divine power of the landscape, combined with the undeniable charm of the fishing village of Killarney and the new developments taking place in the community, make Killarney the ideal destination for a get-back-to-nature vacation this summer.

What to Do

The hallmarks of the Killarney experience are the legendary hikes within the provincial park. Difficulty levels range from intermediate level to the physically gruelling. For your efforts, you will be rewarded with breathtaking panoramas, a meditative communion with nature, and a rejuvenated spirit. 

View from the top of Killarney's legendary hike, the Crack

Having previously hiked Granite Ridge, Silver Peak (after a short paddle in), Chikanishing, and the Crack, I opted for one of the easier trails this time around: the Cranberry Bog trail. I would still consider it an intermediate trail, as people with mobility issues will find the sometimes craggy, uneven ground difficult to navigate. While there are elevation changes and some nice views, the Cranberry Bog trail doesn’t offer a clear view of the La Cloche mountains. 

Photo: Clayton Drake

But what it lacks in elevated perspectives, it provides, in the words of the barista at the coffee shop at the Killarney Mountain Lodge, a “very Zen experience.” The trail winds around all manner of Northern tree species, with birds and insects flitting through the air, leaves and water droplets falling around you, over beaver dams and iridescent mossy patches. One can’t help but feel engulfed by life. It’s the perfect setting to get your thoughts sorted, and the entire experience takes about an hour and a half.

For those looking for a more challenging hike, the Crack is a great first trek that will give you a good overview of the different types of terrain in the park, and doubles as a Northern rite of passage that culminates in a gorgeous view of the entire park, La Cloche Mountains included.

Killarney Park backcountry canoeing (photo courtesy of Canadian Canoe Culture)

The park is also the perfect place to embark on your next (or first) canoe trip. Routes are easily planned using the Ontario Parks website; you can reserve all camping equipment through Killarney Outfitters. State-of-the-art canoes can be reserved through Killarney Outfitters, Killarney Kanoes, and Tyson Lake Marina. Difficulty levels range from novice (there are canoe sites on George Lake, a short paddle from the front gates) to expert (multi-week excursions that can take you to all the corners of the park). If you’re in search of wildlife, you’re much more likely to encounter moose, deer, foxes, and bears on one of these canoe trips than on a hike.

All campsites in the park are cleared and maintained, and even the ones in the most remote corners of the park come complete with outhouses.

Where to stay

There are various options for accommodations in the region, ranging from basic to luxurious. For car campers, the Provincial Park’s tenting and trailer sites all offer plenty of isolation between each site, and easy water access to the crystal clear waters of George Lake. The aforementioned canoe-access sites are uniformly pristine and peaceful.

Photo: Clayton Drake

If you’re looking for something a touch more comfortable, the park offers year-round yurt camping as well as two cottages with kitchenettes, available at reasonable rates. Killarney Provincial Park remains open year-round, so you can even camp in the winter if you are insane.

The nearby Avalon Eco Resort is also a great option for those seeking a comfortable bed to sleep in at night and cooking facilities. The resort is completely off-grid, and lodgers are rewarded with views of Tyson lake right outside the cabins. Park passes and canoe rentals are included with a stay at Avalon, a nice bonus as park access costs $14.50 per vehicle for a day pass.

For those seeking something more upscale, the Killarney Mountain Lodge provides a resort experience par excellence. The resort boasts a full restaurant, spa, large wine selection, an after-hours lounge with regular entertainment (the Carousel), a games room with a pool table, table tennis, and shuffleboard, and a heated pool and sauna. They also offer free use of bikes, canoes, kayaks and water bikes for resort guests. The rooms are impeccable, the beds soft and comfortable, and the staff knowledgeable and friendly.

Photo: Clayton Drake

The resort offers packages that include meal plans, as well as a-la-carte water excursions on both sailboats and motorboats. Additionally, you can rent your own boat from the resort and forge your own adventure. The resort is fully equipped for weddings and other large gatherings.

Another option for you winter lovers is the Sportsman’s Inn Resort and Marina. Each room comes with two queen beds and a fireplace, with a shared veranda that overlooks the Killarney Channel, where lodgers can experience both a Killarney sunrise and sunset. There is a full restaurant and pub, as well as full access to all the facilities at the Killarney Mountain Lodge. In the summer, there is a pontoon shuttle that takes lodgers across the channel to additional accommodations on Camp George Island. Worth keeping in mind for next year.

View from the Sportsman's Inn (Photo: Clayton Drake)

Both the Sportsman’s Inn and the Killarney Mountain Lodge have played host to massive renovations in the past six years under new ownership, and they're well-equipped to handle your next vacation. If you’re looking to relax, unwind, eat delicious food and get lots of sleep, Killarney Mountain Lodge is the perfect place.

What to eat

The single most important place to eat in Killarney is Herbert’s Fisheries. The sign outside reads “World’s Best Fish and Chips,” and the claim is hard to dispute. There is one thing on the menu at Herbert’s: fish and chips. What kind of fish is it? Whatever is caught that day, typically whitefish or pickerel, both equally delectable. Lightly battered and fried up to a crispy golden brown, Herbert’s is irresistible, even to someone like me who doesn’t typically like fish. You will not find fresher fish, as the restaurant is steps from the docks where the fishermen bring in the catch of the day.

Herbert's Fisheries (photo: Yves Ouellet)

The Sportsman’s Inn offers both a fine dining menu and pub fare for the after-hours crowd. The Killarney Mountain Lodge boasts robust breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, with steaks, wild game, local pickerel and root vegetables as dinner highlights. There is no shortage of delicious food in the town.

The Future

The owners of the Killarney Mountain Lodge have constructed the Canada House Conference Centre. Completed in May 2019, it houses two large halls of 150 and 250 capacity, as well as a spate of smaller conference rooms in the basement, along with a brand new fitness facility. The halls both have views of the Killarney channel, and the facility envelops conference-goers in Douglas Fir, white pine, stone fireplaces, and herringbone-pattern hardwood floors. Once things open up again, the town is certain to undergo an economic boom thanks to this new conference centre.

Photo courtesy of Killarney Mountain Lodge

With all this investment in the town of Killarney, I can only hope that the region I have grown to love will retain the essence that has captivated generations of people. Killarney distills the essence of something quintessentially pan-Canadian: untamed beauty, an unhurried lifestyle, and humbling natural phenomena. Killarney truly is one of the crown jewels of Canada, and sooner rather than later, a lot more people will be entranced by its charms.

About Clayton Drake

Clayton Drake wears many hats (both real and figurative) and has many interests and hobbies. He loves writing, and is always on the hunt for his next adventure. He lives in Sudbury.

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