Early Paddling season: excellent trips near Edmonton

Readying our gear at start of day 2, Drayton Valley-Keephills

Readying our gear at start of day 2, Drayton Valley-Keephills

Spring started very early this year, with open water already available in April. This is a terrible thing for our planet since it’s probably due to climate change, however, it’s an excellent thing when you’ve been waiting all winter to get out on the water. I’ve been very lucky to get out and enjoy different adventures every weekend since late April. Here are some images and stories from those trips. None of them involved driving for more than 1.5 hours from downtown Edmonton, which is a big advantage.

End of April: Islet Lake, Blackfoot Natural Area

Blackfoot Natural Area is a fantastic resource for anyone who loves to be outdoors since it’s only about 45 minutes away from most parts of Edmonton (when there’s no Anthony Henday construction!).  There are about 85K of multi-use hiking and biking trails, many of which are also available for equestrians.  As well, Islet Lake is a lovely, sheltered lake, which you can access from the Islet Staging Area.  Ceyana Canoe Club had an early season paddling outing to the lake.  Quite a few club members came out to use their paddling gear early in the season, and the paddling was followed by a potluck barbecue (everyone brings food to share).  I needed to hurry off that day, so I didn’t have a long paddle or any BBQ, but it was a beautiful afternoon on the water.


Early May: Burtonsville Island Biking/Camping Trip

At the end of May, some other cyclists talked about a weekend camping trip that was being organized by members of Edmonton Bicycle Commuters. Cyclists were planning to bicycle 100K each way, to camp overnight on Burtonsville Island, southwest of Edmonton, and south of Keephills, on the North Saskatchewan River.  Because of my broken bones during the winter, I had been training very little, so I knew that I couldn’t do a long bike ride like that.  However, I offered to drive out to the island and carry any extra luggage that cyclists didn’t want to carry.  I also offered to share my car, tent and cooking gear, if anyone else wanted to go by car, instead of by bicycle.  Although there was very little time in advance, I was able to find a travelling companion, in time for the trip.  We drove out from Edmonton in the afternoon, with our camping gear and food.  Cyclists had to bike through rain, heavy wind, and hail, so it was a difficult day for them!  Because I live in an apartment, I store my canoe on my car all summer.  It was very helpful when I arrived at the end of the bike route.  Although Burtonsville is technically an island, it’s possible to walk onto the island by crossing an old beaver dam.  Needless to say, this isn’t a very easy walk, especially if you are carrying a lot of camping gear.  Cyclists locked their bikes together on land, and then walked over to the island.  I used my canoe to ferry their gear over to the island while they walked over the dam.  Once on the island, there were narrow “trails” though the woods, marked with lids from freezer orange juice cans.  Sometimes, these were easy to follow, and other times, they seemed impossible to find.  I had brought too much gear to comfortably carry, so I dropped some of it beside the trail.  Because it was still early Spring, it began to get dark pretty early.  I returned to shore, to try to locate some of the cyclists who hadn’t yet arrived.  The final cyclist arrived right at dusk, and we had to hurry through the bush to find the other campers.  I was glad to locate my dropped gear on the return trip.


Once we arrived at an open area for camping, it was rather magical to be on our own on a peaceful island.  I could see a lot of elk scat (poop), so I knew that they lived there.  We could hear many creatures throughout the night, and the group set up a big campfire, and prepared their suppers quickly.  Most people were pretty tired after their long rides. In the very early morning (4 or 5), most of us heard a creature moving past our campsite, barking 3 short barks in a row, followed by a very short howl, again and again.  It was a very unusual noise, and there was no answer from another animal.  In the morning, the fog was really lovely on the stream by our campsite, and I saw that there were frog eggs on a cattail in the stream.  We discussed what kind of animal had made the noise, and one camper suggested that it was an elk.  In fact, when I came home and compared the sound of elk, to the sound of coyotes, the sound was much closer to that of an elk.  What a surprise for me!  Several cyclists packed up and left in the early morning, as did I, and again, I carried some items in my car so that they wouldn’t be overloaded for the return trip.  Burtonsville Island was lovely, and I was very happy to be able to share it with a group.  Many of the cyclists stayed until Monday so that they could spend all day Sunday relaxing and exploring the very large island.

Mid-May: overnight at Rainbow Valley, overnight trip, Devon-Big Island-Laurier Park

On the May long weekend, my sister and brother-in-law visited Edmonton and we enjoyed a Thursday night together, camping at Rainbow Valley Campground, on the banks of Whitemud Creek, next to Whitemud Drive.  It was a lovely, peaceful environment, where we spent the evening outside, visiting, singing songs, and eating and drinking.  Rainbow Valley is a perfect place for you to try camping since you can always pack up and drive home in the middle of the night if anything goes wrong!


Ceyana arranged an early season, overnight trip to allow club members to start out the season easily.  They have done this trip over many years so that new paddlers can get the idea of what an overnight trip is like, without travelling too far from home.  We started out midday from Edmonton, and we were lucky that Mark Lund, founding club member, was organizing this trip, since he has all kinds of paddling gear at home, including a canoe trailer and a truck to haul it. He loaned a canoe to 2 of us to share since it had more space for cargo.  This stretch of the river is quite easy to paddle.  We made good time, paddling to our destination for the night: Big Island.  This is another “island” that is actually connected to land and on our arrival, there were a number of quads and trucks driving back and forth.  Nevertheless, we followed the signs posted by River Valley Programs and located an open area, with a wilderness “throne” (open-air bathroom seat) nearby.  We set up a very comfortable camping area and settled in to prepare our suppers.  After dinner, we walked around the island a bit to explore it.  We saw and heard evidence of a lot of wildlife, including bald eagles, woodpeckers, and mule deers.  We passed a very comfortable night.  Luckily, we had pulled our canoes very high up on shore because water is frequently released from upstream dams during the night.  In the morning, water was about a foot higher on shore, and people who drove to waterfront campsites the night before were now surrounded by water.  It was an easy return to the truck at Laurier Park.  We were fortunate enough that a club member rode out with us to Devon the day before and drove the empty truck back to our take-out point.  As a result, we could just load up the truck and return to our vehicles quickly.

Early June: Drayton Valley-Keephills Overnight Trip

A joint trip was organized between Ceyana Canoe Club and Northwest Voyageurs Canoe and Kayak Club.  The original plan was to paddle on the Red Deer River, but water levels were too low.  The alternate plan was to paddle between Drayton Valley and Keephills (the site of the old Genesee Ferry crossing).  A group of 10 people in 6 boats met in West Edmonton and dropped off 2 shuttle vehicles at Keephills.  Following that, a hearty breakfast was eaten at Teddy Bears Restaurant, near the junction of Highways 39 and 22.  After breakfast, we proceeded to Willey West Campground, just across the river from Drayton Valley,  This was the put-in point, and all of the vehicles that had carried boats were parked here.  After getting out on the river, there were a number of rapids and waves to deal with during the first couple of hours.  By paddling standards, these were nothing, but for me, they’re somewhat stressful to negotiate, especially since my canoe is not designed for river paddling.  With a bit of bailing and some changes in loads, we carried on, to enjoy over 40 kilometres of paddling for the day.  When we stopped for the day, it was on a small island that was opposite of Burtonsville.  I would have like to explore Burtonsville from the river side, but it sounds like there have been many changes to the river over the years.  It might prove to be difficult to access some of the trails and campsites from the river.  The cyclists who camped there earlier reported that they never saw the river during their stay.

One of the things that is most interesting about going on a group paddling trip is seeing all of the different arrangements that people make for carrying their gear, and for preparing meals.  Our trip organizer had paddled for longer than most of the participants had been alive, and a lot of his gear is gathered at garage sales, or it is repurposed from other household items (i.e. TV trays, vitamin bottles, peanut butter jars).  Others had everything fresh from an outdoor equipment store.  Everyone really enjoyed their supper, and all reported getting a great night’s sleep.  After breakfast, we were back on the water, but this 27K+ stretch was far calmer.  We did very little paddling on day 2, letting the current carry us towards our takeout point.  After getting off the water, most of us shuttled back to Drayton Valley to pick up our vehicles.  The participants who stayed behind found that they were surrounded rather quickly by families with Pit Bulls, as well as by people who came to the Crown land to shoot guns!  It was stressful and they were happy to see us return so we could load up and get back home.

June daytrip: Capilano Park-Fort Saskatchewan

Because I’m trip coordinator for Ceyana, I receive emails from many people who want to go paddling in or near the city.  The FIFA Women’s World Cup is being held in Edmonton so there are many visitors to the city.  One of them is a photographer from Texas who wanted to do some paddling in the Edmonton area.  Fortunately, we could both get away on a Friday afternoon, so we paddled a very lovely stretch, between Edmonton and Fort Saskatchewan.  That day was very windy, and the dark clouds threatened heavy rain all afternoon, but we only had a very brief stretch of “spitting” rain.  We paddled into a headwind for a lot of our trip, but my partner had paddled a number of long-distance canoe races, so he relished the challenge.  He handled the stern duties very effectively.  It only took us 3 hours, 13 minutes to paddle the 27.5 kilometres.  We had shuttled my car to the takeout and we made a quick return to the city after finishing our trip.  We saw plenty of pelicans, some osprey nests, and some really nice grasslands and cliffs.  I’d recommend that stretch to anyone who wants to start out with river paddling.  There were no real obstacles along the way.  The river runs more slowly, but it still moves you along.

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