Backcountry Camping in Killarney Provincial Park
Since having Billy (our new pup) join our family, we’ve been looking for ways to include her in our travels and backcountry camping has quickly become our new favourite way to spend time with her on weekends!
After consulting a friend, we went searching for backcountry camping spots in Ontario. Most campsites except for Killarney’s backcountry can be booked online. Since Ontario’s summers are short, sites are usually totally booked up within the first few weeks of the season until end of August.
We called Killarney and booked sites H4 for the Friday evening, and H1 for the Saturday evening about 6 weeks in advance. After a 4.5 hour drive from Toronto, we arrived at Killarney and hiked an hour and a half to our first spot.
Relatively flat, the hike wasn’t too difficult—there were a few rocky spots, and one or two areas we had to carry Billy to walk across some logs across small streams. The hardest part was carrying all our gear (packs somehow get heavier after an 1.5 hours) and pacing with the pups (Billy was so, so, excited).
What we packed:
- MEC Creekside Sleeping Bag
- MEC Volt 4-Person Tent
- MEC Reactor Sleeping Pad
- Primus LPG Stove & 450g Propane Cannister (we had some leftover after making the majority of our meals and coffee with it)
- Pioneer Cups
- MSR Pot Set
- Johnny carried a 75L Forge Pack, and I carried the 60L Flair Pack
- Aeropress Coffee Maker
We split up our gear to try and even out the weight of our bags with first aid, bug spray and coils, food, tents, and more.
This was the view at our first campsite in Killarney (H4). We arrived Friday evening (it got darker and flashlights/headlamps were much needed towards the end of our hike). We set up on top a cliff, which didn’t seem like much by sun down, but by morning the view was beautiful! There are enough spots for a ton of tents (there’s a cap of 8 people/site), and a fire pit. The walk to the water was a little steep and we had a few slips—I’m sure there are better ways to get down to the lake but we were lazy.
We spent our mornings making endless cups of coffee, snacking on granola bars and oatmeal, and taking second naps with the puppy.
It was actually our first time using an Aeropress (we pre-ground coffee at home) and it was so so easy and so so much better than instant coffee. The only con is the volume per brew, but with only time in the mornings, that wasn’t a big deal.
We loved our tent! Not that we camp often and have much to compare it to, it was definitely the lightest, and easiest tent to set up, with a great translucent fly that kept the rain out and was easy to remove. It comfortably sleeps 3 + Billy, and we had more than enough room to hang out in it too through a quick rain shower during lunch (4 of us, and 2 pups with a pot of mac and cheese).
The sun came out for a few hours and we got Billy to swim for the first time. She didn’t mind the water, but definitely didn’t enjoy it either (we’re working on it). The lake was the perfect temperature, clean, and shallow where we were.
We could hear another group not too far from us. They sounded much closer to the water, but we didn’t venture in that direction as we didn’t want to disturb them. We ended up saying hi as they were leaving their site Saturday morning and passing by ours.
With the lake being a little hike from our site, we brought down our pump to filter our water while we were swimming. We took extra care and added purification tablets to our water for drinking too (we eventually got lazy and just boiled water straight from the lake for cooking, we were all fine). For future, we would also bring energy tablets, like Nuun, to flavour the water as the water tablets do have a chlorine taste.
On Saturday afternoon after some time in the lake, we packed all our things, and hiked back about half an hour to our next camping spot (H1). We were like kids in a jungle gym running around our site once we got there.
This site (H1) is definitely more secluded and shaded. There’s a platform for a tent and flat area that could fit 2-3 more. Surrounded by quartzite and water, there are 2 areas to swim from with easy access to water. I read some reviews in advance that made it seem like H2, the next site, was so close that all could be heard, so we may have just been lucky that no one was staying there. We heard nothing but leaves rustling the entire day.
It was a little bit more difficult to find a spot to hang our bear bags (food) with the trees being taller and closer to where we set up our tents at this site (H1) compared to the first (H4). We made it work and had no bear problems all weekend (there are black bears in northern Ontario and it’s super important to pack away all your food and everything else with any type of scent). We could have probably watched a video on putting up bear bags… You should probably do that if you don’t know how and are planning on making a trip out to the backcountry, haha.
We also did a lot of clapping and singing when we were hiking in Friday night, #paranoid, heh.
This campsite is a lot more shaded than H4 (which was out in the open, as opposed to between trees). It was great because the tent didn’t get as warm during the day, perfect for Billy to nap in luxury (she’s a princess and thoroughly enjoyed our sleeping pads).
The first area to swim in was right next to the tent platform. With Billy getting us up early in the morning, it was nice to bring our sleeping bags and pads out, nap, and make coffee on the rocks (honestly, we’re never having instant coffee while travelling again).
I seriously wish I could enjoy slow mornings like this every day in the summer. It was strangely therapeutic waking up early with no alarm, no cell service to scroll through social media to kill time, or think about the plans I had for the day, and instead, only think about making a good cup of coffee, and petting Billy… (I know I will thrive during retirement).
On the opposite side from where we spent the morning, is a higher cliff area that made for some very fun cliff diving. With all the sunshine, we spent 3-4 hours jumping into and getting out of the water (a really great workout), basking in the sun, and a few more rounds of trying to get Billy to swim (she actually jumped in at one point, we think because she thought Johnny may be drowning, haha).
If you’re looking to visit Killarney in the summer and spend a whole lot of time in the water, I highly recommended booking H1 for both nights instead of H4 (as that spot didn’t have the easy access to water). With some floaties, we could have easily spent the entire day floating in this lake (known as Acid Lake).
We left the best meal for last: instant noodles (Shin Ramyun to be specific, because it’s the tastiest) with Spam. We enjoyed it on top of the cliff’s edge with the last of our beer and I’m drooling writing about it. There was something so wonderful about being able to jump in the lake after consuming a hot bowl of spice.
I was proud of our meal preps, we did good! Only one meal (our first dinner) was a little heavy (ribs and potatoes for 4) that was also the most delicious to have after a long drive and hike in. We also cut up veggies and left it in a cooler bag for a day to enjoy with frozen sausages for another meal.
With a good mix of dry food and gourmet (backcountry standards) cooking, we don’t regret our decisions at all. We kept our meals simple enough to cook out of one pot or over a small grill, garbage minimal, and still very satisfying. A longer trip may require sacrificing on food for gear, but we don’t think we’ll be trying any longer trips anytime soon.
If you’re thinking about a trip to Killarney, I highly recommend it! Whether you’re an experienced camper, or have never gone before, this won’t be a camping trip you regret! From the perfect lakes, limited cell service, a view of the Milky Way (yes, you can see the Milky Way in Killarney), and more, there’s little that can go wrong (so long as you do your research ahead of time).
You’ll have to call the Ontario Parks office to make a reservation, and check out Jeff’s Maps to see a detailed map with all the campsites, distances between them, and more. We downloaded the app that worked great with zero cell service.
We enjoyed our weekend so much, we’ve booked another backcountry trip for weekend in October too 🙂
*This post was sponsored by MEC and all thoughts are my own.
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