Must. Go. To. Woods.

Relaxed 2-Night Loop from George Lake to Balsam Lake

September 1999
5 people: Dave, Robyn, Patrick, Tom, Michael

Night 0: Killarney Mountain Lodge
Night 1: Balsam lake
Night 2: Bell lake

Photo Gallery

Night 0: Killarney Mountain Lodge

We left Toronto around 5:30pm, and had extreme rain on the drive up to Killarney, so we didn't arrive at Killarney Mountain Lodge until about 11:30pm. Someone efficiently directed us to the office, where they had efficiently left our keys for us, and a map to our cabins. Duly we crashed almost immediately and slept solidly (except for Michael, who martyred himself on the cot). Breakfast at the lodge was pleasant (if way too early, at least it was self-imposed earliness) and we were on the road again before 9. A good Night 0... much nicer than a campground.

Night 1: Balsam lake

The friendly people at Killarney Outfitters had taken our canoes to the entry point for us, so we just had to grab paddles and things from them, and our permit from the Ministry, and we were set. Recommendation for next time: don't get their smaller "standard Kevlar" canoes... no keel, flat bottom, stern seat too far forward, steers like a cow and skitters sideways. The bigger boat we had was much nicer.

We went in at the Johnnie Lake access point, and paddled up through Johnnie Lake and Bell Lake to Balsam. There's a beaver dam a few hundred metres before the 300m portage from Johnnie to Bell; you have to portage (or lift over) that bit as well. It's just a dark bar on the map (in general, we weren't very impressed with the map). The portage itself was easy, although its beginning was a bit hidden in the foliage. We were glad we knew in advance that it crosses a parking lot... it would have been a rather startling segue, otherwise.

The little 30m portage from Bell to Balsam actually has a railway with a dolly you steer your boat onto, then pull over with a rope. Watch out at the ends, though; the dolly likes to accelerate quickly.

It took us about four hours in total to get from Johnnie Lake to the campsite we chose on Balsam. We weren't exerting ourselves particularly, and we looked around Balsam a bit before deciding where to stay. The campsite and portage signs are kind of small and relatively subtle.

A very easy day with lots of time for a nap in the afternoon.

Night 2: Bell lake

With an early start, it only took us about 90 minutes to go back over the railway portage and most of the way down Bell lake to a campsite. We set up camp quickly then grabbed lunch munchies and set off again for the trail to Silver Peak. Michael stayed behind to watch the site and read about architecture.

After another hour of paddling, we vaulted over a rudely-parked motorboat at the trailhead and set off. The first few kilometres were easy, then the trail went straight up the mountain... with much huffing, puffing, and overheating (except for Tom who has great long legs and goes up like it's nothing) we made it to the mercifully breezy top.

The view was worth it -- Sudbury in the distance in one direction, Georgian Bay in the other, lakes all around, trees starting to change colour... really gorgeous. After lunch, exploring, and naps the clouds began to roll in and we headed back.

A brief bit of rain on the way back made clean spots on us, so we had a good swim before dinner, startling only one passing canoe with some inopportune nudity.

It started to rain again around bedtime, rained enthusiastically all night, and rained off and on throughout the morning as we paddled out, with lots of wind and more than a few moments of severe tempest. This was fine since it helped us want to leave, and anyway we all have good raingear (Goretex only sounds expensive until you need it).

By the time we got back to Johnnie Lake access point it was sunny again. Most of us had left dry clothes easily accessible in the car, so we were only slightly bedraggled. After checking out at the outfitter's, we drove back to Killarney village (about five minutes past the outfitter's) and ate a great fish-and-chips lunch from a strange and cheerful restaurant in a schoolbus on the waterfront before the drive back to Toronto. Aaah.


This was a nice, very easy (especially if you skip the hike up Silver Peak), scenic introduction to Killarney for us. Michael hadn't been on a trip before and he didn't try to run away even once (possibly he was too busy taking pictures?).

Our unimpressedness with the map persisted. We found the campsites were not accurately marked, there were things like black bars across waterways with no explanation, that sort of thing. And there were too many motorboats in the park in general, but that's our personal opinion, and we liked Killarney well enough to contemplate doing the big loop.