Paddling The Shield: Canoe Tripping in Killarney Provincial Park



It’s 7 am on a chilly February morning. Huddled up to our phone outside a quaint little cabin in the Adirondacks of New York state (while on a ski trip) we are desperately trying to maintain reception while we talk with the parks office in Killarney Provincial Park. We’re attempting to book our first trip there, a canoe circuit, in this historical Ontario park 8 hours drive away. Our first selected route is unavailable-the lakes are booked solid. Unbelievable. It’s not even possible to book earlier than 5 months before the trip date. Exactly 5 months before our planned start date, at 7:02, and our route choices were already unavailable! We glanced at the map, made some adjustments to our route and tried again. This time the parks officer confirmed our dates, we were in. But what we were in for? We stood in the snow, where the thought of summer and days paddling seemed so far away. Thinking of a foreign park so many miles north and wondered: how busy would this place be? would we be paddling alongside dozens of canoes everyday while we wished for solitude? would we be racing our fellow paddlers for campsites, fighting over prime spots? would all this planning so many months in advance be worth it?

Was it worth it? Yes, unquestionably yes.


For our first trip to this famed park on the edge of Lake Huron we chose a classic route: The Bell Lake/David Lake loop. This took us through 5 clear blue lakes, all with Canadian shield rock tumbling down into the water.


Yep, Killarney is far. But its worth it! (


Relaxing on the Shield

It’s no wonder one of Canada’s most well-known group of artists, the Group of 7, congregated here and produced some of their most memorable paintings from this park. It was 5 days of sun, swimming and breathtaking flat water paddling.

Day 1 (Well, Pre Day 1)


Georgian Bay

A first trip (well any trip) to Killarney park must include a side trip to Georgian Bay. 30 minutes down the road from the entrance to the park, this bay is nothing short of magical.


Swimming and rock jumping at Georgian Bay

Sitting on the western edge of Lake Huron the views of the water are endless and with fishing boats chugging in and out of Killarney townsite and a lighthouse on the point we felt like we were standing on the edge of the ocean.


The lighthouse at Georgian Bay


First glimpses of Georgian Bay

Day 1-Carlyle Lake to Bell Lake

Paddle Distance: 16km

Portaging Distance: 295m (2 passes-we strive to do our portages all in 1 trip but so far with a dog and an extremely heavy canoe (70 lbs), 2 trips is the best we can do. Of course this means all our portage distances are multiplied by 3!)

Campsite: #89


Setting off

Day 1 brought us through the lakes of Carlyle, Johnnie and Bell. All were beautiful but our favourite was Johnnie; with steeper, larger rock faces and our first views of the La Cloche Mountains.


Lilly pad alley-a narrow waterway between Carlyle and Johnnie lake


Beaver dam-not paddling around this one! This beaver dam spanned the whole narrow section of the lake passage from Carlyle to Johnnie.


Great rocks for cliff jumping on Johnnie Lake



First views of La Cloche mountains in the distance

We had a brief moment of panic as we set off from Bell Lake after a short portage. Bell Lake can be accessed from the road so there were 5 other canoes putting in with us. A friendly fellow paddler who was exiting Bell lake had mentioned the campsite number they had just vacated (with 3 sided views of the lake!) and that other campsites around looked like they would still be occupied that night. I had no idea where these 5 other canoes were headed but I did know there were only 8 campsites total on the lake. The race was on!


We made it to site 89 (and the other canoes paddled on peacefully probably with no intent on even staying on Bell)


Perfect campsite swimming hole


Evening solo paddle


Morning view

Day 2: Bell Lake to Balsam Lake

Paddle Distance: 14.2km (5.4km to campsite, 8.8 km exploring)

Portage Distance: 40m (2 passes)

Campsite: #114

A short morning paddle brought us to Balsam lake, a small, quiet lake nestled between the bigger more well-known lakes of Bell and David. The short portage from Bell to Balsam was made even easier with the remains of a marine railway which meant a full cement path the entire 40m.  Balsam lake didn’t have the same vistas of Johnnie or David lake but it did have the solitude we were looking for. Only 7 campsites are on Balsam lake  and 5 of them are tucked around corners and far enough away from each other that each one feels completely private.


Portage between Bell and Balsam with remnants of an old marine railway


Sandhill cranes, we think. These long-legged birds can grow to 4ft tall! Quite a surprise to see them as we came around a corner.


Sunset on Balsam lake

Day 3: Balsam Lake to David Lake

Paddling Distance: 12km ( 4km to campsite, 8km round trip to Silver Peak trailhead)

Portage Distance: 620m (2 passes)

Hiking Distance: 10.6km

Campsite: # 93

Another short morning paddle to David Lake and our campsite. Again we lucked out with a secluded, gorgeous rock outcropping. After a quick set up we paddled on to the end of David Lake and the Silver Peak trailhead. Silver Peak is one of the high points of the La Cloche mountains. This mountain range in Killarney Provincial Park is over 3.5 billion years old and once stood higher than the Rocky Mountains of the west . Although weather and time have brought this mountain down several notches it is still a steep and arduous hike that rewards one with sweeping 360 degree views including the far off islands of Georgian Bay. (Important note: always important to have an extra camera battery on hand! Until next time, these amazing views from our hike can only be talked about and not shared).


Morning mist on Balsam Lake


IMG_20160801_085515 (1)

Trying out our doggie sunshade for the first time ( made from a converted child’s bed canopy)


Travelling in style-our Bodhi loved the sunshade


Silver peak trail-this trail is not to be taken lightly!


And the camera battery ran dry…1/3 of the way up


David Lake

Day 4: David Lake – Clearsilver Lake – Johnnie Lake

Paddling Distance: 9.4km

Portage Distance: 1860m (2 passes)

Campsite: #68

Today was all about the portage; with our double passes we did over 5kms of portaging! More than 1/2 of our total paddling kilometres! Killarney is renowned for its extended portages-many over 2kms long, some even over 3kms! And if you’re doing double passes, or even triple (those who like to paddle in style with chairs and dutch ovens!) these portaging kilometres can quickly add up.


Grinning and bearing the load!


Our last night, enjoying some traditional bannock

Day 5: Johnnie Lake-Carlyle Lake Access Point

Paddling Distance: 9km

Portaging Distance: 0!

And today we returned to the start. We rose before the sun lifted and paddled through the water as the first light glinted through the trees. With our early start we were treated to 3 beaver sightings, 2 deer and a huge heron taking flight. Slightly melancholy at first, realizing this adventure was coming to an end, we cheered ourselves up by planning our next route through Killarney, knowing a place as beautiful and serene as this deserves many more visits.


Tea at first light


All a little bleary eyed, we took a final look at the La Cloche mountains in the background before leaving Johnnie Lake


The Particulars

  • Reservations: Can be made up to 5 months in advance-highly recommended.
  • Cost: Approximately $100 for 2 for 4 nights/ 5 days paddling
  • Distance Driving: 550km from Ottawa / 400km from Toronto
  • Distance Paddling: 47kmBell/David Lake Loop with Carlyle Lake Access point (including portage distance, not including side trips)
  • Outfitters: Killarney Outfitters:
    • Although we don’t have any personal experience with this outfitter we saw numerous groups using their canoes: Ultra-lite Kevlar Souris River canoes (yes, we were envious!). They also rent Sea Kayaks and Stand Up Paddleboards and loads of camping equipment. With shuttles, water taxis and meal planning it sounds like they can pretty much take care of every detail of a trip!
  • Resources:





About rambleoutyonder

A duo inspired to live life to the fullest.
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4 Responses to Paddling The Shield: Canoe Tripping in Killarney Provincial Park

  1. Karen says:

    Another outstanding presentation by the adventurous Browns’!! So many spectacular photos but the Morning Tea beats all… I wonder why I never see it live?? And Silver Peak looks like a set out of Harry Potter with those amazing tree roots! I’m so glad you take the time to put together your wonderful memoirs – for us and for you! Thank the inventor of digital photography for making life so much more photogenic 🙂 I LOVE it all !

  2. Dave says:

    Great photos you two. Just killing it out there. Keep it up!

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