Killarney Canoe Route: The Bell-Great Mountain-Killarney Loop
Before I ever tried my hand (or feet, rather) at hiking, I was a canoe tripper. My first two trips were to Algonquin, and then, I discovered Killarney Provincial Park. It was love at first paddle.
Now, I want to share one of my all-time favourite Killarney canoe routes with you: the Bell-Great Mountain-Killarney loop. Read on to start the adventure!
The Bell-Great Mountain-Killarney Loop
One reason why this trip was one of my favourites is that we had a kick-ass crew on this adventure. No matter how awesome your route is, I always believe the people will make or break your trip.
But it was also epic because this canoe route takes you to some sweet lakes, through a fun, winding river, and has you owning the two 3-kilometre portages in the park.
You also have the option of doing the popular hike to Silver Peak, the highest point in Killarney, to enjoy a view of the park’s gorgeous landscape.
This trip can be done over four days, although I recommend staying out for five or more, so you can get at least one rest day in.
Day 1: Bell Lake Access Point –> David Lake
Day 2 (adventure day): David Lake –> Silver Peak hike –> Great Mountain Lake
Day 2 (relaxing day): David Lake –> Great Mountain Lake –> Little Mountain Lake visit
Day 3: Great Mountain Lake –> Killarney Lake
Day 4: Killarney Lake –> Bell Lake Access Point
If you are able to stay out longer than four days, camp out on Great Mountain Lake for two nights and visit both Silver Peak and Little Mountain Lake on your trip.
Staying on Killarney Lake for two nights is also a great idea, as you’ll be able to unwind after the long trek on Day 3 before a long paddle on your last day out of the park.
Read on for each day’s itinerary and additional tips for this Killarney canoe route!
Day 1: Bell Lake Access Point to David Lake
Your adventure begins at the Bell Lake Access Point, where you’ll register your group and pick up your canoe(s), paddles and life jackets.
Tip #1: Make sure to secure your canoe rental before your trip with Killarney Kanoes here.
Ready to launch? Let’s go! About 3km of paddling will get you across Bell Lake to the beginning of a 700m portage. Then, it’s ~1.5 km of paddling through a swampy lake.
After that, a 210m portage brings you to David Lake, one of the largest lakes in the park and host to 15 campsites.
Tip #2: Fill up on water while you’re out on David Lake before getting to camp.
Tip #3: Remember that the next day’s route starts at the 2775m portage. So, if you can, avoid camping at the opposite end of David Lake to save yourself the extra paddling in the morning.
It’s a relatively short day, but remember that by the time you get out of the city and to the park, register, get your canoes set up and do a final pack-up, you’ll likely be well into the day before you even hit the water!
Day 2: David Lake to Great Mountain Lake
After leaving your campsite on David Lake, you’ll paddle over to the 2775m portage. This is one of two ~3km portages in the park. And this one is, by far, the more brutal of the two.
With lots of rocks and roots strewn along the trail, you’ll have to watch your footing. There’s steep ascents and descents that will get your buns burning!
The good news is that when it’s over, you’re on Great Mountain Lake, your home for the night.
Tip #4: Site 155 on Great Mountain Lake has some amazingly flat rocks by the water that are perfect for hanging out and tanning. Site 157 boasts a beautiful view of white ridges across the lake.
Adventure Day: Silver Peak
If you want to add some more adventure to your day, take on the challenging hike up to Silver Peak, the highest point in the park.
Dock your canoe at the David Lake portage that will take you to the Silver Peak hiking trail (see pink circle on map). From here, it’s ~5km to the top (blue circle)!
Tip #5: You’ll probably want to leave most of your gear with your canoes as well. Hiking with a full pack up to the peak won’t be much fun! But do so at your own risk — and at least take your valuables with you.
Once you’ve made it to the peak, take in the gorgeous views of Killarney Provincial Park and Georgian Bay. You earned it!
Tip #6: Even on a warm day, it can be quite windy and cool atop the exposed peak. Pack something long-sleeved, and also don’t forget some snacks and water!
Relaxing Day: Little Mountain Lake
If you’d rather take advantage of the short day and do some relaxing, skip Silver Peak, grab a campsite on Great Mountain Lake, then head over to Little Mountain Lake for an afternoon swim.
The only campsite on Little Mountain Lake is a hiking site for those doing the La Cloche Silhouette Trail. But you can paddle in after the short 55m portage from Great Mountain Lake, park your canoe on some rocks and enjoy the view of the Koolaid-blue lake encircled by white ridges.
Jump in for a swim, but beware — the water here always seems way colder than elsewhere in the park!
Tip #7: Keep in mind that campers have until 2 pm to leave their site. That means, if you get to Great Mountain Lake quite early in the day, sites may still be occupied.
Day 3: Great Mountain Lake to Killarney Lake
This day is all about adventure and endurance. I highly recommend that you get an early start to the day, so that you’re not looking for a campsite on Killarney Lake in the dark — yup, it happened to us!
First off, you’ll be taking the 55m portage from Great Mountain Lake to Little Mountain Lake. You could potentially hang out on Little Mountain Lake on this day, if you don’t get a chance to otherwise.
Just remember there’s a lot of ground (and water!) to cover today, so as tempting as it is, be careful not to over-indulge here.
Onwards from Little Mountain Lake, you have two back-to-back 910/900m portages awaiting you. Then, comes a long, winding, swampy river section with a few short portages and lift-overs.
The winding river section was a highlight for everyone on this trip. After paddling big lakes, this was a cool change of scenery that made us feel like we were explorers.
Tip #8: This section takes much longer than it looks due to low water levels in some areas, lift-overs (such as beaver dams), and occasionally getting lost taking the wrong turn. Account for more time than expected!
Once you’re out of the swampy river section, it’s a ~4km paddle on Threenarrows Lake. Eat lunch before the paddle, or find a spot to stop at during the paddle, to refuel after your morning workout.
You’ll also want to rest up before taking on the last challenge of the day — the second 3km portage of the trip!
A 400m portage and short paddle will bring you to the start of the 3090m portage. You’ve already had a long day, so keep focused and switch up portaging the canoe if you need to.
When you emerge at the other end, congratulate your team on a job well done, then find your campsite for the night on Killarney Lake.
Day Trip: The Crack
If you stay on Killarney Lake for two nights, and you’re still up for more adventures on your “rest” day, take a trip to The Crack.
Paddle over to the 1400m portage (see pink circle on map), drop your canoe, then take the hiking trail up to The Crack (blue circle) for a stunning view that includes Killarney and O.S.A. Lakes.
Day 4: Killarney Lake to Bell Lake Access Point
This is the home stretch! Enjoy your last breakfast in the park and get ready for your morning paddle out of Killarney Lake.
A 1375m portage from Killarney Lake will get you to Norway Lake. Stick to your right and curve into the channel that takes you down to the 1425m portage.
Tip #9: There’s a steep, rocky descent on the 1425m portage that may even have some water flow during a wet season. Either way, watch your footing!
A short paddle across Kakakise Lake and an 860m portage later, it’s time to start the long paddle through Carlyle Lake and Johnnie Lake. These lakes are connected, although a giant, hard-to-miss beaver dam marks their border.
Pass away this ~12.5km stretch with some games, snacks and racing. Or simply enjoy your last moments on the water with some peaceful paddling.
Last, but not least, a 295m portage will bring you to the parking lot at the Bell Lake Access Point. Well done, team! Time for that victory photo … and victory meal!
Tip #10: Reserve your campsites for backcountry canoeing online here. You can book five months to the date of your trip. Popular lakes, like Great Mountain Lake and Killarney Lake, go fast!
Have you canoed this route before? What other tips do you have for our fellow paddlers?
>> Map screenshots from Jeff’s Map