It’s only been in recent years that I learned the absolute joys of water activities, and now I tell anyone who will listen how they should absolutely be finding ways to experience Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River (or nearby lakes) during our short but incredible summer months.
In 2019 I was introduced to Edmonton’s RiverFest—an annual celebration of the North Saskatchewan River and River Valley Park System—through a partnership with EPCOR. This was a great opportunity for Edmontonians to experience the river on free guided raft tours. And it was one of the activities I blogged about in this 2019 post that really gave me a taste for enjoying Edmonton’s river:
Note: sadly, RiverFest is no longer—but perhaps a different river-themed event will take it’s place soon!
I have also done some guided whitewater rafting adventures on different Alberta vacations over the years as well! (You may be surprised to learn that I’ve whitewater rafted in Grande Cache, Jasper, and Sundre region (West Country) Alberta!)
And I’m a fan of cruises, lol so actually I don’t know why I hadn’t sought out water activities locally sooner—really—given how much I like being on the water, lol, but that’s fine, here I am now and this blog post is meant to help you experience Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River too!
Everything You Need To Know To Plan a Float Down Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River
Disclaimer: this guide will give you lots of useful information and recommendations to help plan your adventure gleaned from my personal perspective, experiences, and some of my own research, however I am in NO way a water / river expert, or know ALL things (or regulations) related to river use, so please you cannot hold me liable for anything negative that might happen on your trip. Enjoy the river at your own risk. Please be safe and smart.
What might be holding you back from trying river water activities:
- You don’t how to do it from a logistics perspective—where do you start? End? Park? etc.
- You’re worried you’ll get swept away (it is a river after all!) Isn’t this dangerous?
- You don’t have any floatation devices and aren’t sure which to get (do you need expensive equipment?)
- You didn’t realize people could actually do activities on the water, isn’t it dirty?
- It seems like a lot of work, can someone else just plan it for me and I just show up?
These are the main questions and worries that I had before I actually got on the river myself.
Luckily, I address all of these in this blog post! Handy, hey?
Scroll on as I cover:
- Where to start and end your float
- Safety precautions to factor into your float
- What type of equipment or gear you need to float
- Dispelling some Edmonton river water myths
- River activity rental or tour operators to consider
- Miscellaneous advice to consider before your float
1. Where to start and end your float
You have SO many options for start and end points along Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River!!
This is a happy consequence to being home to Canada’s largest urban park (and North America’s largest urban parkland system).
Below I’ve outlined some popular starting points and popular ending points.
To clarify what I mean by start and end points:
- Your starting point is where you get into the river to begin your adventure.
- Your ending point is where you get out of your vessel and end your adventure.
This is important to clarify and I also do feel like I need to put the following in big, bold, attention-grabbing text, because there are many people who hop into the river for an adventure thinking that it will circle back to their start point. This is not correct.
PSA (Public Service Announcement):
The river does NOT loop you back to your original starting point. You will end in a different location than where you began.
In Edmonton, your end point will always be more north east than your starting location.
The North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton flows from the south west to the north east.
So you can choose whatever start and end points you like really, as long as it’s along the river and you understand the direction of the river, and have planned your end point accordingly.
With that said, here are a few start/end points to help you plan. They are largely based on Edmonton’s river valley parks, which I would recommend you start at especially as a beginner, however there are some areas just along the river that also provide pretty quick access you may want to consider for subsequent trips.
- Terwillegar Park
- Hawrelak Park
- Under the Quesnell Bridge (near Talus Dome / Fort Edmonton Park)
- Laurier Park
- Buena Vista Park
- Under the Walterdale Bridge (near Kinsmen Sports Centre)
- Louise McKinney Park
- Under the James MacDonald Bridge (near Diamond Park)
- Under the Walterdale Bridge (near Kinsmen Sports Centre)
- Accidental Beach
- Dawson Park
- Capilano Park
- Gold Bar Park
The above suggestions are NOT exhaustive. There are many parks along the river valley that access the river and therefore in theory could be used as a start or end point. Basically, any of the river valley parks listed on the City of Edmonton website could be used to start or end your river adventure. And if you have a dog and have taken your dog to off-leash parks in the city, basically, a bunch of the off-leash dog parks access the river too (dogs love the water lol) so follow the dogs for your easy river access! Ha.
- Here’s the City of Edmonton’s resource for parks with formal boat launches
- Here’s the City of Edmonton’s resource on various activities to do on or around the river valley
Factors that may go into selecting your start / end points:
- Some parks have specific boat launches which might make it easier to get in
- Some parks have more trail or field to cross before you get close to the river, so you may prefer to choose a park with. quicker river access
- Some access points may be closer to ample free parking, or perhaps if you’re taking your inflatable on transit, may be closer to a bus stop
- You may choose launch or end point depending on if you want longer or shorter adventure
You will need to have at least two vehicles for your river adventure. You and your river adventure friend (or friends) drive in your separate vehicles (at least two) to the end location and leave one vehicle there, then you carpool and park the second vehicle at your start point.
- The vehicle that will be parked at the start point needs to have all your gear and equipment to start.
- The vehicle that will be parked at the end point should have towels to help you dry off or help dry your water crafts off at the end of your float.
2. Safety precautions to factor into your float
Confession: I’m not a strong swimmer.
So I wouldn’t dream of doing any kind of water activity without a life jacket on or with me in my water vessel.
You absolutely must bring a life jacket with you when doing a river activity. The official safety message is also that your life jacket should be on you AT ALL TIMES when on the water.
But I do like to take it off briefly depending on the situation, to snap some photos too. Again because I am not a strong swimmer I will not do a water activity without a lifejacket on or nearby and factor in conditions like—calm lake waters versus calm river waters versus raging river rapids—etc.
Edmonton’s river water flow can sometimes be much more still or much more rapid depending on the day, or even what area of the river you’re on. The river can also be higher or lower depending on time of year or recent activities (lots of rainfall for instance).
Sometimes there will be river water level warnings issued (check the City of Edmonton social media and river valley parks sites for notifications).
All of these—fast or calm river, high or low river—factor into whether you should go on the river that day.
Every time I’ve been on the river on my own personal trips, the flow has been quite slow (so literally a leisurely “float”). If the river is too low you risk scraping rocks and damaging whatever water vessel you’re in. If the river is too fast, you might have trouble getting in or out of the river. Knowing Edmonton summer weather can be pretty wild (and forecasts can be pretty wrong)—you may also start out in hot, sunny, blue sky weather, and then while you’re on the water, you could be caught in torrential downpour, these are all things to consider and be prepared for!
I only recently learned that anyone doing river activities also need to have some safety equipment beyond just your life jacket.
You can get all required safety kit materials at any store that sells water sport / equipment.
- Here is a link to Canadian Tire’s Fox 40 Classic Boat Safety Kit (not sponsored)
(According to the kit), the items you need to help with emergencies on the water are:
- Bailing bucket
- ¼” x 50′ (15m) safety heaving line with float
- Water-resistant flashlight with rubber grip
- Reflective safety mirror
These don’t take up too much space within your water craft and could make all the difference if you run into an issue on the water so I do recommend you get a kit or bring these items with you on your adventure.
In fact, it’s federal law (apparently—I didn’t know this until recently, I think there needs to be more education on this especially for leisure / recreational / beginners) that you have to have the items listed in the above boat safety kit on you (one kit per boat/floatation device) when doing activities on the water, and if you don’t and are caught, can apparently be fined up to $10,000.
I think usually it’s just a warning (that’s if you are even “pulled over” on the water) and then there are lower fines you may get beyond a warning, but the “up to $10,000” risk (and I guess, dying on the water) is enough I think to ensure you get yourself a boat safety kit if you’re doing river water activities.
- You can see the full list of safety requirements for boats, paddleboards, personal watercrafts, etc. in this guide from Government of Canada
This information is NOT referenced on City of Edmonton sites related to water activities on the river (though I think a link would be good).
In terms of non federally regulated safety tips:
- Remember to apply sunscreen before (and probably during) your float, depending on how long you’re out. on the water, and how easily you burn
- Bring a bottle of water
- Bring snacks (but don’t litter)
- Bring a waterproof bag to hold your personal items (they’re called ‘dry bags’) and if you order off Amazon I might get a few cents back. I got a small (2L) one as a well as a large (40L backpack size) one
To summarize the safety section of this post: always assume the worst could happen on the river, so make sure you’re bringing personal protective equipment (like lifejackets and the boat safety kit items), also water, snacks, and whatever else you think you’d need to feel comfortable and confident on the water. Also pay attention to water flow speeds (fast / slow / calm) and water levels (high or low) before you go out.
I tend to go full bathing suit when I’m on the water but I also bring a light jacket or sweater *just in case* wind picks up or it gets chilly at points (which does happen when the sun disappears behind clouds lol).
3. What type of equipment or gear you need to float
Mike and I had purchased an inflatable kayak in 2020 for our water adventures and we absolutely DO NOT RECOMMEND Intex.
I share my horrible experience with our Intex kayak in this Instagram post so I won’t go into great detail here, but essentially, DO NOT BUY an Intex inflatable or any Intex product—I certainly will never based on the terrible product quality and even worse customer service I received from both Intex and Cabela’s (so I also do not purchase anything from Cabela’s anymore).
In that same Instagram thread you will find some great alternative inflatable kayak brands that I’d encourage you to research and consider and purchase INSTEAD of Intex (literally, I am telling anyone who asks, my experience with Intex was absolute trash).
If you are looking at investing in an inflatable water craft, there is always going to be the risk that it may puncture, but that’s where looking at companies with excellent customer service, good return policies, long warranty lengths, are going to make a difference in case a puncture does happen.
I am a big fan of inflatables because I think they are super convenient, compact, typically very light and easier to carry, and generally more affordable than hard shell crafts. There’s also a fair bit of options (and brands) you can browse and choose from online, or locally, Camper’s Village sells some, so you should also be able to find one that suits your needs—large, small, more heavier duty, wider, etc.
Mike and I have actually been eyeing up this foldable, hard plastic origami kayak Oru Kayak or a seemingly indestructible Sea Eagle Kayak. Our adventure friends also love the Kokopelli and Alpacka Raft brands. But these are bigger financial investments (if you want ones that are big enough for two, or for pets), and we have a few home reno-related purchases we’re doing this summer, along with our upcoming IVF treatment, so we decided this summer wasn’t the summer for a pricier inflatable purchase.
I am thrilled however, to let you know that we bought a $30 Canadian Tire Outbound River Tube that has just been phenomenal so far. We also got this $80 Connectable Island Tube. And will be using these two for our main water activities this summer.
So your water activities don’t necessarily require super pricy, heavy duty equipment, however also keeping in mind, we aren’t planning on going on whitewater rapids in these tubes lol. Calm lakes and quiet rivers is where we’ll be using these, so gauge your equipment needs by what type of water adventure you’re hoping to do.
Whenever I’m out on the river I also see lots of people on paddle boards, lots of people on hard shell and inflatable kayaks, canoes, or rafts. I’ve seen dogs in water crafts with their pawrents. I’ve also seen a range of inflatable floaties (those unicorn and fun looking ones!)—just make sure you’ve got your safety kits especially if you’re going on perhaps a less sturdy or lower quality device. So really, the options are numerous!
To summarize, to do activities on the water, at minimum, you need:
- A floatable device / watercraft of your choice
- Tube / Floaties
- If your device is inflatable, you’ll need an air pump
- I recommend at least two paddles so it’s easier to steer the vessel and actually gain some speed if you find your float is going too slow (sometimes the river flow is very slow!)
- Personal protective equipment
- Life jacket
- A boat safety kit (detailed above)
- A dry bag (waterproof bag/backpack)
- Water bottle, sunscreen, snacks
- Towels / change of clothes (in case you get too wet)
4. Dispelling some Edmonton river water myths
When people see me doing water activities on the North Saskatchewan River, one of the common questions I get is: “But isn’t the water dirty?”
Edmonton’s river has a bad reputation of being dirty (and perhaps unsafe) because for some of the season, the water looks brown.
Most of the water from the river comes from melting snow, ice, and rain originating in the Rocky Mountains. If the water looks a bit brown that’s due to silt and sediment, which is totally natural.
The North Saskatchewan River is quite healthy and that’s important because it’s also our City’s water source.
One of my favourite fun facts about the water in Edmonton is that we actually have the best tasting tap water in North America! When I travel across Alberta, and have tap water in other places, I literally ALWAYS comment on how it doesn’t taste as good as home tap water lol.
Of course you shouldn’t be drinking river water while you’re out on the river (it gets filtered before it goes into our taps), but you can absolutely recreate safely on the water!
So yeah, our river is not dirty! It’s safe to recreate on. You can touch it. Don’t drink it direct from the river but the river water IS what you are drinking once it’s filtered through to your taps. Enjoy!!
5. River activity rental or tour operators to consider
If you’re reading through all of this and you’re thinking, hey, this is great information (😉) but maybe it’s a lot more planning, process, plus purchases than you’d like to do for maybe one or two water excursions over the summer, good news—there are also some river activity rental and tour operators you can book through so your adventure is a bit easier!
CanoeHeads is a local rental / shuttle company that offers day trips from Devon to Edmonton (5-6 hours) or overnight trips (Genesee Bridge to Edmonton). These floats are unguided and not supervised but rents out the equipment required plus handles your parking and pick-ups. CanoeHeads also offers just a shuttle service (lower cost) if you want to use your own water crafts.
River Valley Adventure Company just this 2021 season has launched river raft rentals! You can rent for a day or for a week and the best part is they’re located RIGHT at Louise McKinney Riverfront Park.
Haskin Canoe offers water equipment rentals as well as different river tours—shorter trips, longer trips, and also evening / sunset paddles too.
Edmonton Canoe offers a variety of tours every day of the week. You can do full-day trips or shorter afternoon trips and there are other options to select too.
Note: this is not an exhaustive list, but should be a great starting point for you to decide what you prefer to do (book through a company or do your own thang, or a mix of both!)
Also if you keep tabs on Edmonton events (and subscribe to my free newsletter where I share ideas for Things to Do, Eat, and Know Each Week), there are occasionally guided river adventures that happen over the summer you can sign up for (maybe less likely during a pandemic summer but keep an eye out!)
6. Miscellaneous advice to consider before your float
Here are answers to a few river activity-related questions I’ve received or that you may have that isn’t covered in the above sections:
- Is river floating family-friendly?
- Absolutely! It’s just a matter of how big your water craft is, or how many you have, but this is definitely a super fun activity you can do alone, with a friend, partner, double date, group hang, family adventure, you name it. I would also absolutely call it leisurely and ‘beginner’-friendly.
- Are there tricky aspects about floating on the river?
- I would say that the trickiest part of floating is getting in and out of the water—but the actual float itself is easy breezy (level ease depends on what waterway you’re on—river, can be easy but watch for that water speed and water levels, lakes are always super chill)
- Getting in—ensuring you’ve got all your stuff in the craft and it’s not going to float away from you before you settle in.
- Getting out—ensuring you’re paddling to the side of the river fast enough, ensuring you have something to sort of hold on to, or anchor on to, and that you’re scraping the least amount of rocks as possible as you get closer to shore.
- But the North Saskatchewan River is relatively calm, and unlike some other rivers, like the river that flows through Banff for instance, it’s not like there’s a waterfall that you’re headed towards and could potentially plummet down if you don’t get out at the right spot lol
- Can I bring my dog/pet?
- Let me tell you about my adventure cat friend @GreatGramsofGary…. lol!
- As you can see, Gary definitely goes on floats and river/lake adventures with his pawrents. Now water activities are not going to be for every animal. Gary is SUPER chill. It’s my goal to take Olive and Artie my two dogs with us on a water adventure (we’d do a lake to test it out) this summer and part of this will be figuring out their temperaments
- Absolutely you CAN bring a dog/pet with you on the water but it adds additional layers—make sure they have lifejackets is a MUST—and there may be additional safety considerations to factor in as well
- And also just be prepared that your pet may hate it lol so if you try it and they hate it, don’t bring them lol
- Should you clean, drain and dry your craft between uses?
- You should clean, drain and dry your watercraft between all uses!
- Especially if you’re changing waterways, you should dry it for 48 hours to help prevent the spread of diseases and invasive species (in fact if you take your watercraft to some National Parks starting Summer 2021, you’re actually required to declare that you have done this to help avoid that spread of disease or invasive species)
- How late in the season can you go?
- The latest that Mike and I went out on the river last year was early October. It was still pretty hot then, but as our float went later in the evening and the sun started going down it got real cold real fast!
- I had looked into how late you can go on the water at this time and the general consensus I found was that you can really go as long as water is flowing but there’s just much more safety considerations (wear a wet suit instead of a bathing suit, for instance)
- The risk when doing water activities is always what happens if you fall into the water, are you going to be okay, and if it gets later in the season and it’s colder, falling into the water could literally be life-threatening, versus falling into the water in mid-July, is probably not going to be as chilly and life-threatening (but could be)
- Should you find a guided tour or book rentals as your first experience?
- I think if you can go with people who have done it before, that helps ease you into the activity—or if you don’t know anyone who has, then yes, booking a guided tour or rentals would help you get a feel for the experience without investing in equipment, gear, etc. It will also give you confidence on what routes to take and what you need to bring, or be more convenient in that you don’t have to plan different parking / carpooling
- Where else can you enjoy water activities in the Edmonton area?
- I think you can do the river many, many times, and try different start/end points, and with different people to keep things fresh and exciting, but there’s also other bodies of water to enjoy around Edmonton, including:
- Check out this AQOutdoors resource for a list of lakes and ponds that are great for kayaking!
Do you still have questions after reading the guide?
Let me know and I’ll update the post with your question and my answer!
Otherwise, have fun on the water!!!
Please remember: this guide was written to give you lots of useful information and recommendations to help plan your adventure gleaned from my personal perspective, experiences, and some of my own research, however I am in NO way a water / river expert, or know ALL things (or regulations) related to river use, so please you cannot hold me liable for anything negative that might happen on your trip. Enjoy the river at your own risk. Please be safe and smart.
If you did use my guide, tag me in your water adventure posts! I’d love to see what you get up to.
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