Much like the rest of Canada, both Alberta and Edmonton have a rich history of canoeing. Birchbark canoes have been used by the First Nations people for thousands of years, and starting in the 17th century, the North Saskatchewan River and its tributaries played a key role in the fur trade and the settlement of the West.
By the early 20th century, Edmonton’s river valley was primarily being used for industrial purposes: It was where you’d find lumber yards, coal mines and garbage dumps. That all changed in 1907, when the city hired Canada’s first landscape architect, Frederick Todd, who proposed the city create a “necklace of parks” and encouraged politicians to preserve the river’s natural beauty.
Today, Edmonton’s river valley is one of the largest—if not, the largest—tracts of urban parkland in North America. Those lucky enough to launch a canoe from its shores will be immersed in natural beauty, and may spot coyotes, deer, moose, beavers and some 200 species of birds. But for those who don’t want to contend with swift-flowing currents or the need to coordinate a shuttle, the area surrounding Edmonton is also home to dozens of small, calm lakes.
Wondering where to canoe near Edmonton? You’ve come to the right place. Read on to learn more about the best canoeing near Edmonton.
[This article is part of our 7 Adventurous Things To Do In Edmonton series. Learn more about where to hike, bike, paddle and sightsee around Alberta’s capital city region.]
Where to canoe in Edmonton
North Saskatchewan River
Flowing for 48 kilometers directly through the City of Edmonton, the North Saskatchewan River offers some of the best canoeing in the region, including opportunities to experience it via traditional voyageur canoe. (See “tours” below for more details.)
If you’ve got your own canoe, there are dozens of put-in spots along the river’s edges: Aquabatics has produced a comprehensive run-down of the best among the bunch.
Few capital cities in Canada can claim to have a national park located so close to their boundaries as Edmonton can. Elk Island National Park is less than an hour’s drive from the city center. As its name implies, the fully fenced park is home to elk, but it’s best known for the bison that you will likely see roaming freely throughout the park.
What canoeists head here for, though, is Astotin Lake. You might recognize pictures of this gem and its picturesque island from your Instagram feed. What social media doesn’t tell you is that it’s a prime paddling spot partially owing to a rental company right at the beach, complete with an easy put-in spot nearby.
Lac St. Anne, Wabamun Lake & Lake Isle
These three lakes—all located about an hour west of Edmonton—are the go-to recreational spots for Edmontonians during the summer months. Wabamun is the biggest of the bunch; Lac St. Anne has a thriving cabin community at Alberta Beach; and Lake Isle is where you’ll find nearly a dozen islands to explore.
They’re some of the region’s best paddling, but far from a hidden secret—you’ll need to be prepared to share the water with fishermen, jet skiers and more.
This lake, about a one-hour drive southwest of Edmonton, is another popular summertime destination and a great place for canoeing around Edmonton. For those wanting to extend their stay, Pigeon Lake Provincial Park has yurts available for camping (in addition to regular power and unpowered sites), while The Village at Pigeon Lake has more upscale options available.
Big Lake & The Sturgeon River
Big Lake can be found within Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park in St. Albert, a city just to the northwest of Edmonton. Although it’s renowned for its birdwatching opportunities—Big Lake is where birds migrating to and from the Arctic such as tundra swans stop to rest—the lake also makes for an excellent afternoon on the water.
The only catch is that the shoreline can be muddy and reedy, so it’s hard to launch from the lake itself—most put their canoes in at the Sturgeon River (which connects to the lake). The closest put-in spot to the lake is in the Riel Recreation Area. Of course, if you want, you can bypass the lake altogether and just stick to the river, which runs through St. Albert.
This is the closest canoeing spot to the Edmonton International Airport. Located just south of Edmonton in Leduc, this small lake has its own membership-based boat club (with rentals available) and a hiking and cycling trail encircling it, making it a multi-sport destination.
Canoe trips Edmonton
While plentiful, most of the lakes close to Edmonton are relatively small in size. This means that if you’re looking for a multi-day canoe excursion, paddling along the North Saskatchewan River is your best option.
Although the one-day Devon to Edmonton canoe trip is one of the region’s most frequented, if you’ve got more time you might want to tackle the 140-kilometer Drayton Valley to Devon circuit, which takes about four days and is Class I rapids, with established camping and wilderness camping along the way.
It’s just one of several multi-day trips along the North Saskatchewan River.
With that being said, other options exist further north, such as the Lac La Biche canoe circuit, which is Alberta’s only backcountry canoe circuit. It takes about three days to complete; more information can be found at Alberta Parks.
Edmonton canoe shuttle
In addition to organized tours (see below for more information), Edmonton Canoe offers a BYOB (bring your own boat) option. For $30 per person, they will strap your canoe, kayak or SUP to their trailer and shuttle you to the starting point in Devon or Capilano Park, depending on the day.
If you’ve got more than a day trip in mind, contact Timberwolf Tours for your canoe shuttle needs. The tour operator and outfitter will transport you to your put-in spot, with prices based on the number of passengers and the length of journey.
If you want to tackle the Devon to Edmonton section of the North Saskatchewan River, CanoeHeads offers a shuttle service for $60 for two people. They also offer a shuttle to the Genesee Bridge from Laurier Park (an overnight journey) for $120 for two people.
Canoe lessons Edmonton
From recreational paddling to whitewater, Aquabatics offers some of the most comprehensive paddling programs in the Edmonton area. Most of their courses in Edmonton focus on kayak and SUP skills, but they also runs custom programs for groups upon request.
With a rental location within Elk Island National Park, Haskin Canoe are experts on canoeing in the Edmonton region. Their canoe clinics are designed for beginners, teaching all the basics including safety, how to navigate around hazards, and how to do an eddy turn and front ferry. Courses are held in Capilano Park on the North Saskatchewan River and cost $95 per person.
If you live in Edmonton or plan on spending a longer period of time in the area, community clubs are one of the best ways to learn to paddle or to improve on your existing strokes and skills. Most are membership-based, meaning you have to pay a fee to join first—but this can often work out to be more cost-effective in the long-run.
Canoe tours Edmonton
Imagine floating down the North Saskatchewan River in a replica voyageur canoe, watching the skyline of Edmonton’s city center pass you by. This is just one of the tours offered by Haskin Canoe. Other options start at $40 and include a sunset tour of Astotin Lake in Elk Island National Park, or a bespoke multi-day adventure further afield.
Edmonton Canoe operates several different unguided itineraries suited to a range of skill levels: You can choose to paddle from Devon to Edmonton (an all-day experience for two people for $130) or stick closer to the city by spending three hours paddling from Laurier Park to Capilano Park (starting at $90). Most weekdays, they also operate a “happy hour on the river,” where you can paddle from Laurier to Dawson Park (also starting at $90).
CanoeHeads has two popular unguided packages on offer. The first is the iconic Devon to Edmonton offering, which is a full-day trip ideal for beginner and novices for ($120 for two people). The second is an overnight trip, which starts at the Genesee Bridge and ends at Laurier Park, with a night or two spent camping on crown land along the way ($220 for two people).
Specializing in canoe trips further afield—including the three-day Lac La Biche circuit in northern Alberta and sections of the North Saskatchewan River closer to the Rockies—Timberwolf Tours offers a range of bespoke tours. Inquire with this operator/outfitter for pricing and details.
While Métis Crossing is somewhat out of Edmonton’s jurisdiction—it’s a solid 90-minute drive northeast of the city near Smoky Lake—the tours at this cultural center are one of the most unique ways to experience the North Saskatchewan River.
With Métis Crossing’s “Paddle into the Past” experience (available starting June 2021) you’ll travel on the river via an authentic voyageur canoe, taste bannock and learn traditional Métis crafts.
Canoe rental Edmonton
Based out of Elk Island National Park at Astotin Lake, Haskin Canoe rents canoes on a first come, first served basis for $30 per hour.
If you’re trying to get kitted out for a multi-day expedition on the North Saskatchewan River or elsewhere in Alberta, Timberwolf Tours rents out canoes and any of the camping equipment that you might need. Canoe rentals cost $40.00 per day or $200.00 per week.
Mountain Equipment Co-Op offers a gear rental program, where you can borrow kayaks or canoes. The program is currently on hiatus due to COVID-19.
If you live in Edmonton or will be in the city longer-term, another affordable option is to join a membership-based club. Both Ceyana Canoe Club and the Leduc Boat Club have canoe rentals that are available to their members.
Where to buy a canoe in Edmonton
Aquabatics is an expert in all things watersports. With locations in both Calgary and Edmonton (at 3825-99th Street), this retailer carries kayaks, canoes, SUP boards, life jackets, helmets and everything else you might need to get out on the water.
Carrying canoes, kayaks and SUP boards, MEC has two locations in Edmonton. The South Edmonton Common location (1624-99 St.) is the bigger of the two, but the Oliver Square location (11904-104 Ave) is in the brewery district, so you can grab a beer after you browse.
Photo courtesy of: Explore Edmonton