Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Kilarney Provincial Park

A.Y. Jackson Lake in Kilarney Park
We had heard from several friends that Kilarney Provincial Park, which is nestled in the La Cloche mountains along the Georgian Bay,  was the most beautiful park for camping and hiking in Ontario so we tried for several years to get a campsite.  We had no success - despite the fact that I would get up at the crack of dawn five months before our planned trip and sit with my finger poised and ready over the "Reserve now" button on the Provincial Parks website. Finally, after three years we managed to get a site at the park.
Picking blueberries along Granite Ridge Trail
I am happy to report that Kilarney is as beautiful as everyone says and it is a hiker's paradise. We were there for 5 days in July and we can't wait to go back.  We did three trails, Granite Ridge Trail, Chikanishing Trail and Cranberry Bog Trail and they were all awesome.  Any one of them would qualify as the best hike I have ever been on.  Having said that, it may have been a blessing that we didn't get a site the first few times we tried since most of the trails would have been too demanding for my kids a few years ago.
Standing on a beaver dam on the Cranberry Bog Trail
The trails are more rugged than those found in places like Killbear or The Pinery which tend to fall into the category of "walk in the woods".  You actually have to follow the blazes on some of the hikes and we did the easiest of the many hikes the park has to offer.
Chikanishing Trail
My kids liked all three but Chikinishing was probably their favourite.  They loved scrambling over the rocks and there were wild blueberries along the trail (that is true of other trails too) which was a highlight for my kids.  I would recommend starting with Granite Ridge, partly because it is one of the easiest and partly because you will find yourself thinking, "this is the best hike I have ever been on" until the next day when you hit Chikinishing or some other trail which is even better.

The La Cloche mountains on George Lake
There is lots to do besides hiking in Kilarney.  We went on a great canoe ride on George Lake.  You can't rent canoes in the park but Kilarney Outfitters,which is  a short drive down the road rents them, and you can buy any kind of camping supplies you might need (plus ice cream!)  You pay at the store but you can pick up and drop off your canoe in the park.  One thing to keep in mind is the wind really picks up once you get out of the sheltered bays.  We went on a calm summer day and once we were out in the open the canoeing was twice as hard as it had been in the bay.  Still doable but not a leisurely paddle. You can canoe deeper into the backcountry of the park, in fact most of the backcountry campsites are canoe in, but you can also go for a half day canoe ride and see lots of beautiful sites.

Jumping from the cliff.
My kids loved the swimming at Kilarney too.  My kids befriended some other kids at an event in the park and learned about a cliff behind their campsite that is perfect for jumping off so we spent several afternoons doing just that.  I have mentioned before that lakes in Ontario, especially that far north, are never going to be terribly warm but the water was perfectly swimmable while we were there.

A turtle we found while on the guided hike which we revisited many times.
The park also had several organized activities while were there including an owl prowl which was a big hit with my kids, two folk music concerts, and a guided hike to find reptiles and amphibians living in the park. They also have an artist in residence who leads workshops throughout the summer months.  There are also some self-guided orienteering activities that my kids liked.  The astronomy talk was cancelled due to clouds but everything else wen off without a hitch while we were there.
Chikinishing Trail 
The part of Kilarney for car camping is quite small, only 128 sites plus six Yurts, so you can park your car and walk or ride everywhere in the park quite easily.  The only time we ever used the car was to go rent the canoe and to get fish and chips in the town down the road.  You can walk to the amphitheater, store, comfort stations, beach, canoe launch etc. from just about any campsite in the park.

This is only vaguely related to the topic I am writing about but my daughters' favourite thing about their trip to Kilarney was making friends with two girls from across the path.  We exchanged addresses and phone numbers and then I lost the piece of paper!  The two girls were even nice enough to send my kids a postcard but it didn't have a return address on it so we haven't been able to write back.  So, if anyone happens to know two little girls named Kian and Indy (I may have those names spelled wrong) from Mississauga, have them send me a message so my girls can write back! They have their letters all written and waiting to go.

Update!  We went back in the fall for another camping trip and did The Crack.  It was great.  I wouldn't recommend it for kids younger than about 8 though and even then only for ones who like to hike. 
The view from the top of the Crack

Things to keep in mind:
  • There is no store in the park for supplies but the Kilarney Outfitters store has all kinds of camping supplies and there is a general store in the town down the road.
  • There are bears in the campground.  We saw two while we were there and we weren't in the backcountry.
  • You need proper hiking boots or sturdy shoes for these hikes.  
  • There are some brazen raccoons roaming the park.  We had one come up to our campsite while we were all just sitting around and try to get in our van.  Between them and the bears you really need to make sure your food is well stored!
  • Kilarney is one of the parks serviced by Park Bus so you can get there even if you don't drive.
  • They provide bear proof bins to keep things in if you don't have a trunk to secure it in.



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