The province of Alberta is blessed with some of the most diverse landscapes in North America. From the world-famous Canadian Rockies, the immense boreal forest, the trembling leaves of the aspen parkland to the pastel skies and fields of the prairies, there is no other place like it.
Visit Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site and Fort Edmonton Park to discover the essential role the North Saskatchewan River played during the fur trade and for Indigenous peoples.
With lots of crown land along the river, there are numerous camping opportunities available and no permits are necessary. Practice Leave No Trace.
Bring binoculars and brush up on your BearSmart camping practices as wildlife is abundant. Black bears, wolves, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and numerous waterfowl are just some.
When To Go
There is enough consistent flow to enjoy the river between May and October. Be mindful of high-water events, usually in June. Immersion gear is recommended.
The North Saskatchewan River carves a path across the entire province, allowing paddlers to access and experience these distinct ecosystems. Alberta’s capital, Edmonton, sits right on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, which offers local and visiting paddlers one of the best ways to experience the city’s natural heritage.
The river valley splits Edmonton in half and forms the largest urban park in Canada, creating an oasis for wildlife and great opportunities for fishing. This slow-moving section is excellent for all levels of paddlers. Few urban metropolia have wilderness right beside the high-rises of downtown.
Only a two- to three-hour drive west, upstream from Edmonton, gets you deep into the eastern slopes of the Rockies and the boreal forest. Fresh glacial water carves through sandstone layers creating a magnificent river valley, dotted with rapids and beautiful camping spots nestled in old-growth forest. Being so close to Edmonton and Calgary, with dependable access points, this river should be on every paddler’s list.
If you have a half-day
The 16-kilometer section flowing through Edmonton is an appealing escape from the hustle and bustle to enjoy the city skyline from a different perspective. The slow-moving water sets a tranquil pace. Stop in at one of the many urban parks for a picnic or search out eddies for surprisingly productive fishing holes. It’s hard to beat an Alberta autumn day where the golden aspen and red chokecherry leaves set the valley ablaze. Access at Sir Wilfrid Laurier Park and take-out at Gold Bar Park.
If you have a full day
Put in upstream of Edmonton at Devon’s Voyageur Park for a semi-wilderness experience that ends right back in the city at Sir Wilfrid Laurier Park. Experience grand vistas and soaring sedimentary cliff banks as you slowly meander 30 kilometers towards Edmonton. Millions of years of history are laid bare by the cutting forces of the river, and sure to delight any rockhounds.
If you have a weekend or more
Head west for numerous options from a couple of days to more than a week. The most popular three- to four-day trip is a roughly 75-kilometer run from Aylmer Provincial Recreation Area to Rocky Mountain House.
This stretch is the premier section for river tripping in Alberta. It offers beautiful foothills scenery, wilderness camping, whitewater and consistent flow rates, which makes for an extended paddling season. This stretch is rated class II but can be hazardous during high water events.
Brett Pawlyk is the program manager at HeLa Ventures in Rocky Mountain House near Edmonton.
Say hello to some of the best river tripping in Alberta. | Photo: Brett Pawlyk