Frozen lakes, snow swept mountains, sparkling enchanted forests, the howl of a lone wolf and the crackling ice of the Georgian bay. One thing is for certain; the cold, long winter only makes Killarney Provincial park more unique and beautiful. If you bundle up and brave the cold, there is plenty to see and do here during the seemingly endless winter months. Wildlife is abundant; leaving behind a maze of fresh prints in the snow. Birds are still singing and flitting around, even against the chilly winds. The frozen lakes make for easy exploring and the viewpoints are unobstructed and magnificent. The park has over 33 kms of groomed cross-country ski paths, but in my opinion, the best trails are those that have you strapping on snowshoes and doing a bit of backcountry exploring in the park interior. Heavy snowfall during the winter months can make it difficult to access remote back roads and trails. Don’t despair, there are plenty of trails to access if you let your adventurous spirit loose. If you prefer to explore some of the park’s more popular trails, here are 4 great options that are worth checking out. Strap on your snowshoes and enjoy a winter adventure in one of my favorite Canadian parks !
- Granite Ridge for Sunset: Granite Ridge is a quick and easy trail (2km loop), conveniently located across the road from the George Lake parking lot and park office. The trail is a quick and easy climb that winds through the forest before popping out on a ridge. There are two lookouts that will both provide great views on a clear winter evening. Looking south, you will see Georgian Bay on the horizon. Continue to the north lookout for a perfectly placed viewing platform for a winter sunset. The La Cloche mountain range stretches out in front of you as you watch the sun cast amazing colors over the snow-covered ridges and paint the bay in the distance. Don’t forget to dress warmly; the winter wind can be chilly up there. Make sure to pack a headlamp for the hike back down.
H@H Tip: Don’t have snowshoes or skis? Call the park office and see if they can help you out. They have snowshoes and skis in select sizes for rent at a very reasonable price (10$/day I believe).
2. The Crack: Pick a clear sunny day to get the full glory of this winter hike. This may only be a 6 km out and back hike, but don’t under-estimate the snow and ice on this trail because it will slow you down considerably. The parking lot for the crack trail is plowed during the winter so you can access it from the highway. There is no sign marking the trail, but it will be one of a very few side roads plowed: keep a look out for it about 7 km from Killarney Provincial Park Main Gate or 1.5 km from Carlyle Lake Access Rd. If the snow is deep, snowshoes will be required. If you don’t need snowshoes, I recommend microspikes or something with good traction; the exposed rock sections of this hike are steep and very icy. The Crack trail will meet up with the La Cloche Silhouette trail along the way which will add another set of blazes (Red and Blue markings). Just past Kakakise Lake after a bridge crossing, the trail takes on a steep incline, gaining elevation quickly. You will undoubtably know when you have reached “The Crack”; you will be at the bottom of a deep crevasse, with rock walls extending upwards around you. Surprisingly, hiking this in the winter is significantly easier than the summer since the snow drifts fill in the gaps between the large rocks on the steeper sections, making it a more forgiving and direct climb. Once you emerge from the depths of the crack, you’re immediately rewarded with views that will leave you speechless. This is the park’s most popular summer trail, and certainly worth the hike in the winter for an altogether different experience. The windy ridge line at the top offers little shelter from the cold winter blast, but try to stay here for a while to take in the spectacular scenery (a thermos of hot cocoa helps). Looking out over the very frozen Killarney and O.S.A. lakes and the La Cloche mountains in the distance, you will be shaking your head in disbelief that the mountainous vista in front of you is in fact Ontario. If you are lucky enough to be here when the lakes are safely frozen, you can explore further (north-east ish) along Kakakise lake on your way back to the trailhead. I’m told a spectacular ice fall awaits those adventurous enough to go looking for it.
H@H Tip: Be sure you practice ice safety and know what to look and test for before you consider travelling on or over ice.
3. Cranberry Bog with a La Cloche Extension – Cranberry Bog is a family friendly snowshoeing trail and is easy to access trail from George Lake. The loop itself is about 4km. If you want to kick it up a notch, continue further along the La Cloche Trail and take in some of the backcountry lakes as well. A.Y Jackson and Little Sheguiandah Lakes are smaller and more likely to be frozen during the winter months, making them perfect for exploring the frozen falls that cascade down the rock walls here. A few minutes of hiking beyond the campsite on Little Sheguiandah will lead to a breathtaking viewpoint on a high perch, with a view over Sheguiandah, George Lake and the La Cloche Mountains. It’s also a perfect spot to sit and stealth watch from above for little critters traversing the frozen lakes. I know they frequent these parts since their scurry of footprints were pressed in the snow.
H@H Tip: Need a good map? The free maps in the park office will show you the basic, most popular trails. If you want to explore deeper in the park, I recommend JeffsMap. Having a GOOD map is especially important in winter when trail markers may be difficult to find under snow.
4. Chikanishing Trail – If you want to experience the Georgian Bay in a whole new way, hike this trail in the deep freeze of winter. The brilliant and inviting turquoise waters of summer are replaced with an aggressive, grey landscape which appears to be frozen (literally) still. You can start the Chikanishing ski trail from George Lake, or drive a few minutes from George lake to the top of Chikanishing Rd (off Hwy 637) and park on the shoulder. This will cut off a couple extra kms of flat hiking. Hike down Chikanishing Rd to the parking lot where the normal trail begins. The trail is fairly easy and passes over a few small rock ridges before emerging on the Georgian Bay. The trail markers painted on the rocks are difficult to find in some spots if the snow has covered them, but it should be easy to roam the rocks and find your way around without them. There are interpretive plaques along the way that tell a great story of the history and life in the area. Cross over the small wooden bridge to an island which brings you close to the water’s edge. You can stand and listen the rumbles, gurgles and cracks of the water moving under the forming ice in the Bay. This trail is another excellent example of the vast and diverse landscapes found in the park.