A few years back I volunteered to paddle and portage the newly expanded section of Killarney Provincial Park – a section between the Panache Lake area and the northern range of the La Cloche Mountains. I re-discovered some perfect canoe and kayak routes through Panache, Bear and Walter Lakes – all connecting to the neighboring lakes already in the park. I recorded them in my guide book, A Paddler's Guide to Killarney and the French River.
Since then, I’ve traveled back. I love it here. The main reason is simple: not so many people. Most paddlers choose to keep to the areas where white quartzite and crystal clear lakes dominate. The northern range has a subtle charm to it’s own, however. There’s a large sense of history here, not to mention lots of fish to catch. The lakes amongst the La Cloche mountains are beautiful to look at but they are also devoid of life. Quartzite isn’t a good buffer for acid rain, a pollutant created by the smoke stacks in nearby Sudbury. That’s why the lakes surrounded by white quartz are always turquoise blue and have limited plants life. The pink granite, however, is able to defend the water quality and provides aquatic plants (and fish) to still thrive.
There’s another huge advantage of paddling the northern lakes that not a lot of people realize. It’s much easier to access Great Mountain Lake from the north than to portage in from the south. You’ve got a few short carries compared to the 3-km trail, which also happens to be up hill along it’s entire length.
On my latest canoe trip to Killarney with my nine-year old daughter, wife and new dog, we portage into Great Mountain Lake from the north and stayed two nights on Gail Lake, a small pond just off of Great Mountain. There’s one campsite on Gail Lake, which means you have the entire lake to yourself. This has always been one of my favorite campsites in Killarney, and what a bonus to have it for two full days. Time to relax, swim, do laundry, bake blueberry pie.
It’s also possible to head to the southwest of Panache/Bear Lake and camp on Van Winkle, Hanwood or Leech Lakes. The portages are short and Van Winkle Lake has two nice island campsites. From Leech Lake you can also take a day trip into Murray and then to Nellie Lake. Nellie Lake is an absolute gem. The water is crystal clear – looking like a swimming pool. The problem is the portage to it is insanely steep and it makes more sense to complete it as a day trip, carrying just the canoe and a day pack.
The scenery, of course, is breathtaking, with ridge tops near the west side of the portage’s take-out providing views of where Group of Seven painter A.Y. Jackson painted Nellie Lake. Group of Seven members Lismer and Carmichael introduced this area to Jackson, who later fought for the park’s development.
Two main access areas can be used to reach the north end of the park. Lake Panache put in is reached by taking Regional Road 55, off Highway 17 (west of Sudbury), to Panache Lake Road (Country Road 10). Turn right and travel 14 km to the access point at Penage Bay Marina. Walker Lake is also a good choice. Use Mountain Cove Lodge to store your vehicle. Turn off Highway 6 (through the town of Espanola) and drive 9.5 kilometers east on Queenway Ave. - which later turns into Panache Lake Road. There a sign indicating to turn right to go to Mountain Cove Lodge.
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