Log Cabin Chronicles

kayaker

© 1998 Laurie Mackenzie

Kayaking Northern Ontario

LAURIE MACKENZIE

"I don't know about you, but I'm getting the hell out of here!" my sister exclaimed as six-foot swells surrounded her, splashing frigid Georgian Bay water into her kayak.

While deciding where our summer vacation would unfold this year, my sister Allison declared she wanted excitement, physical challenge, and plenty of unpredictable wilderness. I guess she didn't mean all at once.

The thought of spending eight days on a lake was the most undesirable prospect I could imagine for my summer vacation. Growing up on annual visits to Maine on the Eastern coast of the United States, sedentary lake water with mushy beaches did not paint an ideal vacation picture. But being a younger sister and having only one choice for a travel partner, I succumbed to my sister's preference.

I'll always yearn for the ocean, but if salt water just isn't possible, Georgian Bay in northern Ontario, is the next best thing. A landscape which inspired Group of Seven paintings, crystal-clear Georgian Bay is surrounded by misshapen evergreens and ancient quartzite hills. Killarney Provincial Park lies on the northern coast of the Bay, about one hour south of Sudbury. A large body of water, Georgian Bay mimics the ocean with its cold temperatures, choppy water, and crashing waves.

The town of Killarney is ten minutes from the park entrance and hosts hundreds of yachts each summer as well as tourists looking for hiking and fishing excursions (hunting is not permitted in provincial parks).

A desire to be near water and test our limited camping skills led to combining a few days of kayaking on the bay with a few days of hiking in the park. The itinerary was simple:

  • arrive Saturday and stay at Killarney Mountain Lodge ($85 per person per night, including a generous supper and breakfast); wake Sunday and head to Killarney Outfitters to pick up our kayaks and gear ($60 per person per day including kayaks, all camping equipment and food);
  • spend Sunday and Monday night on an island in the bay;
  • Tuesday night at the lodge (hot shower and soft mattress were welcome luxuries);
  • Wednesday to Friday nights in the campgrounds of the provincial park ($18.25 per site per night).
Sea kayaks are steady and the chance of tipping is low. With the fibreglass kayaks provided by Killarney Outfitters, paddling the kayaks full of gear was not strenuous. The hardest part is when high winds and choppy open water join together to make paddling a bit nerve-racking.

The benefit of kayaking along shorelines is that the boat can glide through anything-tall water grass, in between rocks and through hidden bays. We never met up with a speed boat and once we realized Georgian Bay was full of narrow waterways, paddling in between islands became our preferred route.

Killarney Outfitters supplies clients with equipment from dehydrated food to camping stoves to dry bags. Sleeping bags, tents, matches, a flashlight, and toilet paper are all part of the package.

Guided tours are also available. A topographic map gives paddlers an idea of where they are heading but since islands don't have street signs, keeping a close eye on the map is the best safeguard against getting lost. Fortunately, land at the top of the bay is protected and not considered private property, so selecting a camp site is as simple as choosing which island looks most welcoming.

In the George Lake Campground of Killarney Provincial Park, sites are spread apart so there is no sense of intrusion. Although there are toilets and sinks with trickling water, there are no showers in the park. On the shore of George Lake, canoeing, kayaking, and swimming are all part of the activities available at the campground and a number of day hiking trails begin from the campground.

Kayaking and hiking on Georgian Bay this summer turned out to be one of my more memorable vacations. I tested my sparse wilderness skills, challenged my physical capabilities, and soaked in phenomenal scenery. It may not be the ocean, but Georgian Bay is breathtaking wilderness for land and water lovers alike.

Killarney Outfitters

Ontario Parks

Laurie Mackenzie is a Montreal journalist.


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Copyright © 1998 Laurie Mackenzie/Log Cabin Chronicles/8.98