Many of the lakes around Edmonton are shallow and laden with nutrients. These factors combine to make some paddle destinations less desirable later in the season due to the build-up of algae and weeds. June is a great time for exploring these spots as we can experience hot weather and cool water with fewer weeds. Here are my picks for June:
Nestled between Edmonton and St. Albert is a birder's paradise and a fantastic place to go for a paddle when water levels are high and weed growth is low. Big Lake is the primary feature of Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park, and is recognized as a "globally significant Important Bird Area". Make sure your sound is on before you play this video for a taste of what you can expect when visiting this bird sanctuary. Big Lake is a shallow, double-lobed lake with a narrow channel connecting the two halves, and can easily be a 15km+ round trip.
Big Lake is best accessed from the Sturgeon River at Riel Recreation Park in St. Albert as the parking lot at Lois Hole Park is well set back from the water.
June 26 note: Alberta Health has issued a Blue-green algae advisory for Islet Lake. I recommend paddling elsewhere for the remainder of 2020 (or until the advisory is lifted). It is still a great place to visit.
I recommended Hermitage Park as a picnic and paddle location for May, but for June I recommend travelling a little further from the city. Islet Lake is about 45 minutes east of Edmonton and home to 10's of km of trails, nice wooded day-use picnic areas, basic facilities and a small lake with a large central island. It's a great place to spend the day with a little bit of everything for everyone. Bring bug spray.
Access to Islet Lake is available via the Islet Lake Staging Area.
Located in Elk Island National Park (park fee required) is a beautiful lake dotted with islands. Bison sightings are almost guaranteed (most likely on the drive to the lake). The day-use area has ample parking, a large beach, well maintained facilities with flush toilets and an outdoor shower. Canoe, kayak, and SUP rentals are available on the lake from Haskin Canoe (obviously I'd prefer you rent from me). Camping is also available.
Access to Astotin Lake is available from the Elk Island National park turn-off on Yellowhead Trail. Note that the access road is a popular cycling destination and bison are present. Drive carefully.
Note: As of June 30, river levels are high/potentially unsafe. This run is not recommended at the current levels.
If you like your paddles to be a little more adrenaline filled, and have the necessary equipment and training, the Pembina River might be for you! We may not have extreme whitewater nearby, but this class I-II whitewater is only an hour from Edmonton and a better fit for the intermediate paddler anyway. The Pembina is best known as a river for tubing, but it's absolutely more fun to run on a SUP.
The start point is Pembina River Tubing (paid parking) and finishes at the Pembina River Provincial Park day use area. Be sure to check river levels before leaving. This is best run during "normal" levels, and can be dangerous at higher flows. I'm always looking for paddle partners to do trips like these as they are not something to be run solo. If you think this might be in your future, let me know!
North Saskatchewan River - This could be an entry every month. The river valley looks fantastic during the height of summer. It will be featured in July.
Sturgeon River - Featured in my May post and good as long as water levels are high. Same start point as Big Lake.
Hubbles Lake/Allan Beach - A fantastic lake with private beach access just west of Stony Plain.
Any large lake of your choice - There are plenty of lakes that I simply can't cover in this blog. Popular lakes include Lake Wabamun, Lac Ste. Anne, Pigeon Lake, Gull Lake, etc. Be sure check the weather, stay close to shore, and avoid lakes or sections of lakes that develop blue-green algae. The latest advisories can be found here.
Sorry for the delay on posting the June list and my July list will be up in very short order. Feel free to include your own paddle suggestions in the comments below, tag @chadhasapaddle on Instagram or email your favourite spots to firstname.lastname@example.org
May long weekend typically marks the unofficial start of camping season in Alberta. While we will need to wait a little longer to camp this year; some of the best paddling is available in the spring and it does not need to wait. Stand up paddle boarding offers great physical distancing opportunities as long as your route to and from the water is given proper consideration as well. Best of all, there are plenty of options to paddle right in and around Edmonton.
Edmonton experiences spring melt and run-off during March and April every year (late April this year). By May, all nearby lakes and rivers are open, and water levels are high. This makes May the best time for exploring small and shallow waterways that won't be accessible later in the season. These are also the safest places to paddle when the water is cold. These are my picks for May:
The Sturgeon River flows between Big Lake in northwest Edmonton, through St. Albert, and ultimately into the North Saskatchewan River, near Fort Saskatchewan. The section between Big Lake and downtown St. Albert is a beautiful paddle only accessible when water levels are high. The river passes under many bridges, including an iconic CN trestle bridge (built in 1907), and offers views of downtown. Wildlife sightings are guaranteed; with beavers, muskrats, ducks and geese most likely to be present. This paddle is a must do before water levels drop and it becomes less accessible.
Parking and water access is available from Riel Recreation Park and downtown St. Albert.
Nestled at the confluence of the Kennedale Ravine and the North Saskatchewan River is one of Edmonton's most scenic and natural parks. Hermitage Park features open grasslands, steep hills, treed hikes. and (most importantly) a pond that you are permitted to paddle on. Sometimes the pond is even stocked with fish.
Hermitage Park is a great place to bring the family on the long weekend. You can bring your dog, have a picnic with a campfire, take a hike and go for a paddle in a safe body of water. While you're at Hermitage, be sure to visit the tornado memorial at the north end of the pond.
For the more adventurous paddler, springtime provides a unique opportunity as spring run-off fills the banks of the Whitemud Creek. By May, April's class I to II whitewater sections have become smaller riffles, and by June exposed rocks will replace the open water. Time is really of the essence with this one. If you have river experience, grab a buddy for safety and take advantage of this unique opportunity to experience the Whitemud Ravine from the water. You won't regret it.
The entire stretch of the creek within city limits is navigable during high water, but a common place to start is just upstream of Snow Valley in the Whitemud Park parking lot. From there, it should take about 1.5 hours to get to the river. Paddlers must be aware that tree falls are common in the ravine and present a hazard that must be respected. If starting further upstream, beaver dams will also be present. No matter where you start, be alert for hazards, and expect to portage several times along your route.
North Saskatchewan River - Always a great option. Be aware that spring means colder water and stronger currents. Make sure your take-out location is safe before you launch.
Astotin Lake (Elk Island National Park) - Access is currently closed due to covid 19. If it opens in May, the beach, many islands and bison will be worth the trip.
Big Lake - If you launch on the Sturgeon River and go southwest instead of northeast, you'll hit Big Lake. Great for longer paddles, bird watching and sunsets.
Telford Lake (Leduc) - Long and narrow lake with a lot of parking and great water access. Home of the Leduc Boat Club.
Chickakoo Lake (Parkland County) - Currently closed due to covid 19. When open, it is an excellent picnic and day use paddling alternative to Heritage Park for those west of Edmonton.
This list is just scratching the surface and will grow over time. Feel free to include your own suggestions in the comments below or email your favourite spots to email@example.com to have them added. My June list will be coming out in a couple weeks. Safe paddling.
Summed Up in a 360 Degree Photo
If you ask me why I love paddling on the North Saskatchewan River, I could simply point to this picture. It encapsulates the elements that I believe make paddling through Edmonton feel incredible. Here's why:
1. Bridge Architecture: if you imagine the "tiny planet" in the photo as a clock, a white bridge denotes the 12 o’clock position. The Walterdale Bridge is one of Edmonton’s most iconic structures, and a magnificent feet of engineering; using thrust-blocks instead of piers to span the 200m wide river. It is certainly not the only bridge you’ll come across though. A leisurely 1.5 hour paddle from Whitemud Park to Louise McKinney Riverfront Park will bring you under 6 different bridges. Other structures overlooking, and visible from, the river include Keillor Point (aka End of the World), and the Funicular.
2. History: if you look at the 1 o’clock position and squint a little, you’ll see the distinctive chimneys of the Rossdale Power Plant; which began operations in 1902 and produced power until 2008. The City is now looking at repurposing the space while preserving the heritage of the site, which is really exciting news for the river valley. Hotel McDonald is also prominently visible from the water. While not nearly as old, the Edmonton Riverboat (formerly River Queen), is back in operation as it approaches the quarter century mark. Traveling past the York boat at Fort Edmonton Park is a great reminder that the river, as a trading route, predates Edmonton as a city, and Alberta as a province. The river is also dynamic, with no greater evidence than the (still visible) manholes that went over the bank after a landslide destroyed three homes in 1999.
3. Downtown Skyline: between 4 and 6 o’clock you can see the towers in downtown Edmonton start to dominate the horizon. Edmonton is currently experiencing its greatest period of high rise construction in decades; in part spurred on by the removal of a downtown height restriction, investment in the Ice District, as well as a focus on revitalizing the core. When paddling on the North Saskatchewan, the appearance of the downtown core is both striking and unexpected, as it is well concealed by a bend in the river.
4. Urban Wilderness: between 6 and 11 o'clock is untamed wilderness. It is fitting that this takes up the largest section of the "tiny planet" as the continuous connection of parks in the river valley give Edmonton the longest urban park system in Canada! The parks range from open grassy areas, treed areas with trails, to cliffs with the park at the top of the cliff. The decision to protect the North Saskatchewan River Valley was incredibly forward thinking, and we are reaping the rewards now. On the river you can be minutes away from the chaos of the city, but feel hours removed. For me, the river is calming; a place where any problems feel small and insignificant, and I can simply live in the moment.
Not pictured in the title photo: the people. Paddling on the river brings an awareness that the river valley is something to be shared collectively with others. Some people fish at the mouth of Whitemud Creek. Others take a break under bridges or splash in the water around any gravel bar they can find. Some even pan for gold. If you’re on the river just after sunrise, you can watch members of the Edmonton Rowing Club start their training by going upstream. The river is a shared resource, and I hope to share it with others from the best viewing platform out there: a stand up paddleboard. It looks even better in person.
Chad writes about Edmonton, SUP, travel and his van. We participate in affiliate programs, and can earn a commission on qualifying products linked in the blog.