Harry Lake - A Scenic Camping Destination for Any Season

Anyone who camps in Northeastern Ontario during the shoulder seasons  – spring and fall – is aware of the fact that a trip can pose some significant challenges to even the most seasoned outdoorswoman or man. Weather, can be, at best, unpredictable and at worst, a complete disaster!  That said, I’m a staunch believer in the old Scandinavian saying, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothes.”  So every year during the last week of September, my family and I take our chances and organize a canoe camping trip into the backcountry of Killarney Provincial Park.  From the moment the leaves begin to change and the air turns nippy I look forward to this annual adventure, and let me tell you, my family and I have shared some adventures that would put the Griswolds to shame.

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For our trip this year we spent three days camping on Harry Lake in the northeast section of Killarney Provincial Park. This area of the park can be considered the “woods-y” side – if that is even possible! The farther you travel up Bell Lake, the farther away from the white granite peaks of the Killarney Ridge you go and the deeper you punch into the thick hardwood forest that surrounds the La Cloche Mountains.  

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Our reason for selecting Harry Lake as our destination began on our very first camping trip many (many!) years ago. My first experience camping in the woods happened on Balsam Lake and it was during this trip that my family and I hiked the portage trail out to Harry Lake. The view at the end of the hike was so inviting it triggered a long-held desire to return with a canoe and paddle in hand so as to properly explore the entirety of the lake.

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Of the four campsites on Harry Lake only one was occupied while we were there, leaving us with the entire lake virtually to ourselves. Being the popular destination that it is, Killarney Park and the lakes found within the park boundaries can become crowded at times, but Harry requires an extensive paddle and three portages to access, making it less well-known than some of the other more easily reached lakes.  This also limits the day-trip traffic, so if you are seeking solitude Harry is a lake worth checking out. 


Harry Lake can be accessed via two routes: you can come down through the south end of Panache Lake, located in the City of Greater Sudbury, or you can travel north from Bell Lake, which is situated entirely within the park proper.  We selected the Bell Lake access point since it does not require the use of a motor boat – unlike the Panache Lake access – and can be paddled in a day – a long day. Bell is a big lake, as is Balsam, and both lakes need to be paddled nearly from end to end before arriving at the portage, which will take you into Pike Lake.  

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The Pike Lake portage is short, but quite steep in sections, so it proved to be somewhat challenging when it came to transporting our gear. Additionally, although small, it also proved time consuming to navigate since the first half of the “paddle” was more of a “push.” This large swampy section of the lake required manoeuvring the canoe over and through numerous floating, smelly mud flats.  This was not easy in an 18-foot canoe loaded with three adults and a ton of gear.  Our total travel time, including the paddling and portaging, topped out at approximately 6 hours from Bell Lake to Harry Lake. 

The lake itself was a fantastic destination. What it lacked in the showy granite peaks of the La Cloche ridges, it made up for with a rugged shoreline that was thickly forested down to the water's edge. This year the weather was unusually balmy for the month of September, which extended the time of green in the woods.  I had been anticipating gorgeous displays of autumn colour throughout the hardwood forest but fall appeared to have other plans and the leaves had hardly begun to change when we were there. 

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This prolonged summer weather turned out to be a blessing in disguise since our warm evenings enabled us to sit next to the fire well past dusk enjoying the mild temperatures and clear skies – free from bugs, I might add!  Each night a bright moon illuminated the entire forest with its blue glow and cast a light that made headlamps and flashlights unnecessary when moving about the campsite. The full moon did have some drawbacks, however, in that every woodland critter seemed to be amped up into overdrive all night.

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With the woods standing still and not a puff of wind on the water every mouse and squirrel sounded like a bulldozer driving through the underbrush while the Barred Owl who elected to join us on our campsite sounded like he was hooting right inside the tent.  In the dark of the night wondering, “Is that a werewolf or a chipmunk?” well into the wee hours of the morning is not the best way to fall asleep.  The coup-de-grâce of the night-time chorus, however, was the pack of coyotes that got up to howling and yipping at the moon for hours.  They made such a racket that we immediately woke up and tried to pinpoint their location, all the while hoping that it did not happen to be our fire-pit.  During our next day investigations, we were able to identify their tracks in the mud one bay over from our campsite.

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Sleep deprivation aside, our trip was fantastic and my only regret was not packing my fishing rod since Harry Lake looked like it would have been an excellent spot for bass fishing. We were able to enjoy the extended summer weather and I came away with some wonderful, picturesque photographs that I hope highlight Northeastern Ontario’s rugged, wild side.  When planning a trip into the Killarney backcountry I would highly recommend Harry Lake as a destination for adventurers looking to get off the beaten path and experience the region’s untamed wilderness at its best.

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Learn about more adventures in Northeastern Ontario at www.northeasternontario.com

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