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 firstname.lastname@example.org to have them added. My June list will be coming out in a couple weeks. Safe paddling.
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.