Below is my trip report from a 5 day flatwater canoe trip I did in August 2016 with 4 adults and 2 children (aged 5 and 7). We did a loop in the east side of the park that started in Bell Lake, and continued through Three Mile Lake, Balsam Lake, David Lake, Clearsilver Lake, and Johnnie Lake.
Day 1 (August 22): Bell Lake to Balsam Lake (2 hours)
Driving north off of Hwy 637 on the Bell Lake Road, be forewarned the next 9km will involve some rough driving on a mixture of gravel and pavement of various quality and smoothness. Arriving at Bell Lake, park in the main lot and take a quick walk on a path over to the permit office. For more information on backcountry fees, click here. If you need to rent a boat, Killarney Kanoes is right next door.
Putting in on Bell, paddle past the lodge and campsites through a narrow section into Three Mile Lake. Both of these lakes would be suitable for trippers with a long drive the day they start. After about 1.5 hours of paddling we reached our first challenge: a 30m portage! This portage is very interesting as there are two ways of doing it. The first is a normal mud path, the second is an old concrete path with railway type steel tracks. Either way the portage is extremely short and easy.
Balsam Lake is home to some very nice sites. The lake is long and narrow and most sites are private. We stayed on site #116, on an attached island, backing on to a bog with interesting flora and fauna.
Paddling toward the portage, we weaved through some islands to find the bay that held our portage trail. In Killarney portages are marked with a small palm-sized yellow plastic portage sign. The 665 meter portage starts with a steep hill before flattening out and finally trending downhill again to the lake. We found some other canoe trippers having difficulty with the hill here. As fit experienced canoe trippers, we had no issue with it.
Paddling onto David, we knew that many visitors like to stay on this lake for 2 nights in order to do the hike up Silver Peak. That was our plan too, so we wanted to grab the first site we saw. We paddled out and saw that many sites were already taken. Note: We tried taking a shortcut around the island with sites #99 and #100 on it, but you can't. You have to paddle around it. We found home on site #102.
Site #102 is on a rocky point, has great swimming, views, and loads of quartzite rock. The only downside is the the outhouse is a bit of a walk away from the main tentsite. The kids had loads of fun on this site building with the rock, checking out the wildlife (see snapping turtle photo below left) and great swimming.
A very popular day hike, Silver Peak brings you to the highest point of land at 539m. We began our hike day by paddling to the end of David, portaging a very short 200m portage and paddling about 25m to the beginning of the David-Clearsilver Lake portage. We left our canoes here and walked about 600m down the portage where an obvious junction got us onto the hiking trail. The next junction on the map looks like you need to go right, but in actual fact you keep walking straight. The trail is well marked being part of the LaCloche-Silhouette backpacking route. The trail is wide and flat until you get to the left turnoff to the Peak.
The junction to the peak is again obvious with a large downed tree and some log stools someone created and left behind. Once you turn left here there is a 300m (900ft) climb to the summit. Starting on a dirt path, the trail soon become rocky and rooty. Some scrambling (using hands and feet) may be required in some sections. If the rock is wet, it will be very slippery.
Passing over brooks, through rocky hallways, and up to the white quartzite summit. There are actually 3 summits lookouts. The one with the old firetower cement remnents is the best one for views. On a clear day you can see much of the park, Georgian Bay, and even the smoke stacks in Sudbury.
On our return an afternoon thunderstorm rolled in so we were glad we packed our raingear as well as our lunch and water for the day. We returned to our campsite on David for a second evening.
The morning of Day 4 didn't start off so great as an overnight rain storm had left us with wet gear to pack up. We packed up and set off towards the end of David to a 200m portage, back in the boat for a 25m paddle, and out again to start the 980m portage. The first 600m of this portage is overgrown and full of puddles while the second half is flat and wide. Note the small right hand turn to go down to Clearsilver Lake. If you miss this turn you'll end up on Bell Lake!
Clearsilver Lake is gorgeous. The blue-green colour of the water is stunning. Short and sweet, this lake has only one campsite. I would definitely come back to it in the future. The second portage of the day was a flat 830m portage to Johnnie Lake. Portaging a canoe through this 830m can be tricky so pay attention to the trees (think slalom!).
Johnnie Lake is beautiful. We canoed a short 10mins to site #65. We ate lunch here and set up camp. Having a few anglers in our group, they all had success on this lake. Swimming from this site is second to none, with a steep dropoff rock right on the site. The kids had great fun exploring around the site as well on some hiking trails.
Leaving site #65 on Johnnie Lake, we paddled through the winding narrow lake to a large beaver dam. Portaging on the left, we unloaded and loaded gear over what we think is the shortest portage we've ever done: 25m.
A short 5 minute paddle after, there is a 300m portage landing you back in the parking lot where your journey began. After all was said and done, this was a fantastic trip for the beginner canoe tripper, family tripper with young children, or one that wants a relaxed itinerary. As this was my first experience in Killarney, it is one that I will remember fondly due to it's beautiful lakes, exposed quartzite rock, and LaCloche Mountains. I will surely return in the near future to either the same section or possibly a different part of this gem of a park.