This summer (2021), I partnered with Tourism Medicine Hat to explore one of Canada’s sunniest cities, and share ideas to help you plan your visit!
I’ve been to Medicine Hat a fair bit (see all the previous travel blog guides below!)
Each time I visit The Hat (as the locals call it), I try something new!
One of the new activities I did during my recent trip was float down the South Saskatchewan River, which winds through The City of Medicine Hat. The timing was perfect, as a few weeks earlier, I had floated down and blogged a Guide to Floating Down the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton!
I love floating rivers, they’re such a perfect activity on a hot summer day, I figured I’d do a sister-blog post to my floating the North Saskatchewan River for those who live or plan to play down south.
Scroll on for Everything You Need To Know To Float the South Saskatchewan River in Medicine Hat, Alberta!
And as you plan your visit to ‘The Hat’, be sure to reference my other blog guides for the area too!
- Copy My Itinerary: A Weekend Of Fun In Medicine Hat, Southern Alberta (July 2021)
- Travel Guide: Only In Medicine Hat, Alberta: 8 Unique Experiences To Try (July 2020)
- A Day in Downtown Medicine Hat: Food to Eat, Shops to Visit (July 2020)
- UPDATED Guide to Instagrammable Walls of Medicine Hat (July 2020)
- Explore Alberta: 7 Things To Do (including Where to Eat) in Medicine Hat (Feb 2020)
- Things To Do in Medicine Hat (March 2015)
- The Old Guide to Instagrammable Walls of Medicine Hat (October 2017)
Explore Southern Alberta: Guide to Floating Down The South Saskatchewan River in Medicine Hat
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?)
- 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
- River activity rental or tour operators to consider
- Miscellaneous advice to consider before your float
1. Where to start and end your float
When I went on my float down the South Saskatchewan River in June 2021 with my friends Jack and Nicole (who are local to The Hat), we dropped in at the Trans Canada Highway Bridge (there’s a small parking lot there with quick access to the river). We ended at Strathcona Island Park (also ample parking and quick access to the river). My suggestions below for start and end points are based on close proximity to the river, and easy or somewhat easy parking though officially, I’ve found that Echo Dale Regional Park is the preferred and most recommended starting point for your Medicine Hat / South Saskatchewan River adventure.
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 Medicine Hat, your end point will always be more east than your starting location, which is west.
The South Saskatchewan River in Medicine Hat flows from west to 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 potential start/end points to help you plan.
Note: I’ve only launched and ended within the city on the two locations that are bolded below, everything else are suggestions based on what I saw as easy access from the river, but you may need to do a scouting mission to find parking, and see if you’re comfortable with the walk / access to the river from those points.
Officially, Echo Dale Regional Park is the most recommended and most picturesque starting point.
- Echo Dale Regional Park * the most popular starting point though be prepared for a full day float
- There’s a great beach here too!
- Trans Canada Highway Bridge just off Red Deer Drive SW * this is where my group started
- Near the YMCA Learning Centre 770 1 St SW (just need to find nearby parking)
- Near the Medicine Hat Public Library 414 1 St SE (just need to find nearby parking)
- Near the Riverside Veterans’ Memorial Park (just need to find nearby parking)
Factors that may go into selecting your start / end points:
- Some areas have specific boat launches which might make it easier to get in
- Some areas 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 (Echo Dale Regional Park would be the starting point that gives you the longest day on the water if you go all the way to Strathcona Island Park)
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.
Medicine Hat’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!
All of these—fast or calm river, high or low river—factor into whether you should go on the river that day.
During my Medicine Hat float, flow was almost hilariously slow lol (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. If the water is too slow you risk being out on the water as it starts to get dark, or you didn’t bring enough water or snacks to tide you over while you’re out on the water. You need to be prepared for anything to happen on the water!
I also 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
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 boat safety kit items), water, snacks, and whatever else 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. 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 for this particular Medicine Hat trip, I decided we should also spring for this $90 Outbound Raft with Cooler. This combination of tube and raft will be used 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. And I can’t stress the importance of having at least two paddles in your vessel so that you can speed up your float if required.
But 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. 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, I tried to find some Medicine Hat area river rental companies you may want to use.
There aren’t as many options here as there for the North Saskatchewan River but consider:
- Outdoor Xcape Rentals – is a local company that rents single or double hard shell kayaks or inflatable floaters if you don’t want to spring for your own!
- Carefree Adventures – is a local eco-tourism business that paddle events, lessons, and tours in Saskatchewan and Medicine Hat (call to inquire about Medicine Hat availabilities).
- Medicine Hat Paddling Club – doesn’t offer tours or rentals per se, but if you do find yourself in love with paddling. on the South Saskatchewan River, consider joining the club for group events and resources.
5. 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—no matter what river you’re in—is getting in and out of the water—but the actual float itself is generally 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 South Saskatchewan River, at least when I went, was extremely calm, and unlike some other rivers, like the river that flows through Banff, 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 North Saskatchewan 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. So I think you could still do the same for the South Saskatchewan River!
- 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)
- Is the South Saskatchewan River the only place I can do river activities in Medicine Hat?
- In my research, I found that Seven Persons Creek has had kayakers adventure on it before, so that could be an option. Also not far from Medicine Hat would be Elkwater Lake which has a lot of motorized and unmotorized vessels on the water.
- This website lists other lakes close to Medicine Hat that may be worth a float!
- Are there more tips and tricks to floating?
- You can check AMA’s Alberta River Tubing Guide for even more information about what you should know before floating in different areas of Alberta.
Do you still have questions after reading the guide?
Let me know and I’ll do my best to update the post with an answer.
Otherwise, have fun and be safe 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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