Looking for a place where the bears roam freely about? Where you fall asleep to the chaos of the loon calls?  A place where the air smells like sweet pine and fresh earth?  Where solitude and stillness can be found? A place to reset and recharge, and bring your life back to the basics?

You can find it here. For a wild and rugged time, head to Killarney.

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The lakes and hills in Killarney stretch as far as the eye can see, which is far when you are standing atop one of the many quartzite ridges.

Killarney Provincial Park, is an unsuspecting gem in northern Ontario.   While it has little in terms of front country camping, Killarney does have an extensive hiking, backcountry and canoe system which I decided to take full advantage of on my latest adventure. Just about four hours north-west of Toronto, you can drive away from the chaos of the city and welcome in a completely different vista.  Trade in skyscrapers for trees, pools for lakes, the subway for a canoe and the hoards of people for a forest of critters. Purely Perfection.

So what makes Killarney so unique and awesome? Where should I start! Without a doubt, I would say the rugged and wild landscape. The turquoise and blue lakes against the vibrant green forests are a drastic contrast from the towering whites and pinks of the granite and quartzite rock that surrounds them; making a picture perfect panorama in every direction.  Standing atop a ridge and looking across to the Georgian Bay, you may have an incredibly hard time believing that you are in Ontario and not in some mountainous province. It is these incredible landscapes that inspired many famous artists who in turn pushed to protect the lands that now make up this park system. Now that is a pretty awesome tale.

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Topaz lake is the epitome of Killarney landscapes 

Most adventurers visit the park for two reasons. Hiking and Canoeing. You can’t get much more basic than that. The park has one of Canada’s most famous backpacking trails: The La Cloche Silhouette Trail a 78-kilometre (48 mi) backpacking loop named after a famous painting by the Group of Seven.  The trail itself is no walk in the park.  Though doesn’t have “true” mountains, there is significant elevation change over some pretty rough terrain.  The park suggests it be undertaken in 7-10 days.  Not a bad suggestion if you want to really take the time to enjoy the incredible sights and landscapes that the trail is famous for.

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Starting clockwise along the La Cloche at George Lake Campground Trailhead. 

Being a part time adventurer with a full time job has it’s time contraints. I knew I wanted to get in a few days of canoeing during my visit here as well as do some hiking along the trail, so I planned to hike a couple small sections of the La Cloche, knowing that I would certainly be back to finish hiking it in its entirety some day.   One of the sections competed was the the “Baie Fine” Section, camping at Topaz Lake.

Picking up the La Cloche trail at George Lake Campground left a 6 mile (give or take) hike into the campsite at Topaz Lake. The weather in Canada was its typical unpredictable self, with temps blazing into the high 70s F one day (of course I only packed sweaters and pants) and snowing the next.

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Looking out over Acid Lake along the La Cloche 

This section of trail meanders through forests, crosses several creeks and breaks out at various lakes along the trail. Acid lake was the perfect backdrop for a picnic lunch, enjoyed in complete solitude. There are also a couple of great campsites on Acid Lake.

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In early May that water is ice cold, but the hot day and tired feet warranted a dip.

There is not much elevation change along this section until the final climb (and I mean climb) to Topaz lake.  They call this “The Pig” portage. The trail to Topaz lakes departs the pig about half way up and has a sign showing the side trail to Topaz lake.  Trails to campsites are marked with yellow tags  (vs blue which mark the La Cloche trail, and red marking side trails to other places).  As always, the effort here was worth the reward.  High ridges completely surround this private lake oasis, perfect for star gazing or sunset watching.  Click here to view the painting of Topaz Lake by artist Arthur Lismer of the Group of Seven.

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The ridge line before the decent to the campsite at Topaz

Climb back down the other side of the ridge where only one campsite sits on the entire lake so you can enjoy it all to yourself (way to go Ontario Parks!!!!).  It was hard to find a level spot of ground to pitch the tent but we found a place with great lake views not far from the fire pit area.   As the sun casts down on the lake, the water turns from blue to emerald and back again.

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Enjoying some free time around Topaz Lake 

On a still day, a perfect reflection of the ridges above can be seen in the water. Only a lone beaver makes splashes along the waters edge. In the warmer months, Topaz would be a great lake for a summer dip and is crystal clear for snorkeling. This was by far, the most epic backcountry campsite I have ever experienced.  I am fairly confident that this backdrop could inspire even the most artistically challenged person to paint a masterpiece.   To say my only grudge was that the moons reflection off the white ridges surrounding the lake made the sky too bright to take star photos, is saying a lot.

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A perfect reflection on a still Topaz Lake at sunset

We actually met only 3 other hikers on the trail that day who were cursing us for “stealing the Topaz lake” campsite from them.  I assume the lakes reputation for being pretty spectacular has long proceeded it. My suggestion… book early. The sites along the La Cloche fill up quickly and early in the season.  But I mean… who wouldn’t want to wake up to a view like this in the morning…..?

Topaz lake and the Baie Fine section of the La Cloche was a true winner.  Stay tuned for an upcoming post about conquering Silver Peak on the La Cloche: the highest point in the park!

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