Canoes once reigned supreme in Western Canada, but over the last 20 years kayaking has surged in popularity in the province of Alberta, with the pandemic only serving to cement its place. In the summer of 2020, kayak outfitters and tour operators in Edmonton reported being consistently booked-up.
The area around Edmonton is ideal for novice paddlers, thanks to the dozens of calm, shallow lakes surrounding the city in nearly every direction. That’s not to overlook the North Saskatchewan River, which flows steadily through the downtown core.
Regardless of whether you choose to launch your kayak directly within the city or from an outlying area, you’re also likely to see some of Edmonton’s wildlife; hundreds of species of birds call the area home, as do beavers, porcupines, coyotes, deer and moose.
Ready to head out on the water? Here are our favorite spots, outfitters and schools for kayaking 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 kayak in Edmonton
North Saskatchewan River
The North Saskatchewan River runs for 48 kilometers through the city, offering both islands (such as Big Island) and offshoots (including Whitemud Creek and Mill Creek) to explore. Throughout Edmonton’s River Valley you’re likely to see animals including beavers and birds.
With dozens of put-in spots along the river, it may feel hard to narrow down the best adventure on the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton. AQ Outdoors has a great rundown of spots to put-in and paddle, but our top pick would be to kayak from Devon to Edmonton. One of the most popular options, budget half a day for the downstream journey.
A regional favorite for tubing (many a local has spent summer afternoons floating down the river with beverage in hand) this is also the spot for whitewater kayaking around Edmonton. You’ll find Class II rapids between the bridge near Lobstick River and the Pembina River Provincial Park—a section of water that takes about a day to cover.
Don’t want to kayak on Edmonton rivers? With dozens of small lakes within an hour’s drive of the city in pretty much every direction, you’ve got plenty of options. Astotin Lake, the biggest body of water within Elk Island National Park, is one of the prime locations. A kayak rental company is located on-site and it’s easy to launch from the beach. The only potential downside is the park entry fee, but it’s worth the opportunity to see Elk Island’s massive herd of free-roaming bison. The National Park is located just a 35-minute drive east of Edmonton.
Lac Ste. Anne, Wabamun Lake & Lake Isle
Lac Ste. Anne is to Edmontonians as Muskoka is to Torontonians. The main community, called Alberta Beach, is where many Albertans own summer cottages, perfectly placed for exploring the 54-km2 lake and islands. Wabamun, about 15 minutes south, is just as popular but slightly larger. Finally, Lake Isle—named for its nearly dozen islands—is a small recreational lake nestled between the two.
The lakes in this region tend to be shallow, which also means they can be weedy near the shore. You’ll need to be prepared to share the water with motorized boats, but the trade-off is that there are plenty of docks and boat launches to avoid the underwater plants.
All three lakes are located about an hour drive west of Edmonton, and they offer some of the best kayaking in the Edmonton area.
Pigeon Lake & Sylvan Lake
Pigeon Lake and Sylvan Lake are a bit further afield than some of the other bodies of water on this list—the former will take about 90 minutes to reach, while the latter will take about two hours—but both are popular lake communities south of Edmonton and are well worth the trip.
Like Lac Ste. Anne and Wabamun, you need to be prepared to share the water with motorboats and Sea-Doos, but you’ll also have access to more amenities, including a range of accommodation and kayak rental companies.
Located within Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area, Islet Lake is about an 45-minute drive east of Edmonton. It’s the only place within the recreation area that canoeing and kayaking are allowed, and the launch area is only a short walk from the parking lot. That’s not the only selling point: There are no motor boats here, but there are plenty of islands to discover. Adventure Alberta has written a comprehensive guide to exploring the lake and its islands.
Big Lake and the Sturgeon River
The Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park—which Big Lake sits within—is best known for its wetland hiking trails, where you can view around 200 species of birds, including those that migrate to and from the Arctic, such as tundra swans. However, the park is also a good spot for kayaking, particularly as it connects to St. Albert’s Sturgeon River.
If you want to skip the lake and get directly on the river instead, go to the Riel Recreation Area, where you’ll find a boat launch.
Both waterways are found in St. Albert, a bedroom community directly northwest of Edmonton.
Nestled within Leduc, a small community near Edmonton’s International Airport, Telford Lake is only a 30-minute drive from the downtown core. It’s popular with paddlers, so you’ll find that you’re in good company if you set out for a paddle here.
Kayak lessons in Edmonton
With locations in both Calgary and Edmonton, Aquabatics is an outfitter and gear store offering comprehensive kayaking lessons for beginners and advanced paddlers. Courses include kayak rolling and kayak fishing.
Another local operator, Haskin Canoe, runs private and group kayak lessons directly on Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River, starting at $95 per person.
Kayak lessons are also provided in many of the community paddling clubs that exist throughout the city of Edmonton. These might not be the best fit for tourists who are just looking for a one-off lesson, but one of these membership-based programs might fit the bill if you’re based in Edmonton and looking to develop your skills over time:
- Edmonton Whitewater Paddlers
- St. Albert Canoe & Kayak
- United Alberta Kayaking Association
- The Greater Edmonton Racing Canoe & Kayak Clubs
- Leduc Boat Club
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Kayak rentals in Edmonton
In addition to kayak courses, Haskin Canoe’s outpost in Elk Island National Park will fully outfit you for a day spent paddling on Astotin Lake. Haskin Canoe offers both single ($20/hour) and tandem kayaks ($30/hour), rented out on a first come, first served basis.
Lake Isle Adventures
You can explore the nine islands of Lake Isle with Lake Isle Adventures, a family-owned business that rents out kayaks from the start of May until the end of October. Bookings must be made by texting 780-241-5034 and payment is cash-only. Inquire for pricing.
Located in the summertime community of Sylvan Lake, Sunsport Rentals hires out single and double kayaks for $20/hour.
Get Fit Rentals
With pick-ups directly in the city of Edmonton, the locally owned Get Fit Rentals is arguably the most centrally located place to rent a kayak in Edmonton. Get Fit rents out inflatable one- and two-person kayaks starting at $45 for a one-day rental, with discounted rates for weekends, long weekends and weekly rentals.
Mountain Equipment Co-Op’s gear hire program is currently on hiatus due to COVID-19, but when it resumes, it will offer canoe and kayak rentals.
Edmonton’s many membership-based clubs also offer kayak rentals. You typically need to buy a membership in order to rent a kayak, but this is the most affordable option if you live in Edmonton or will be in the city long term. Clubs with kayak rentals include The Leduc Boat Club and The Ceyana Canoe Club.
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Kayak stores in Edmonton
Wondering where to buy kayaks in Edmonton? Here are some of the best places to buy a kayak in the Edmonton region.
Whatever your paddling needs, Aquabatics has you covered. With locations in both Edmonton and Calgary, Aquabatics specializes in kayak, canoe, SUP and rafts. 3825-99th Street.
This outdoor retailer has two nearly new locations in Edmonton: a mega store within South Common (a shopping area on the city’s south side) at 1624-99 Street, and in the downtown Brewery District at 11904-104 Ave.
Kayakers paddle in the waters off Elk Island. | Photo courtesy of: Roth & Ramberg