I’ve explored lakes and rivers while eagles and hawks flew overhead, deer meandered on the shoreline and warm summer breezes ruffled the water. Alberta has some of the most memorable places to canoe in Canada, for all skill levels. Here are a few of my favorite paddling experiences. Optimal times are from June through September.
Journey Along the Historic Bow River
Banff Canoe Club’s Voyageur Canoe Adventure is geared to beginner and intermediate paddlers. I have canoeing experience and I was interested in learning about the history and culture of the region, so it seemed like a good fit. The tour started at a dock on the Bow River in the town of Banff and lasted about 90 minutes – long enough to dip into Canadian history. We learned the Voyageurs were French Canadians who travelled by canoe, trading goods such as blankets and flour for furs from the 17th to 19th centuries.
Our guide was in costume as a Voyageur, wearing a loose-fitting white cotton shirt and orange sash over leggings, as he gave us safety and paddling tips aboard our roomy, 14-passenger, 103 m (34 ft) canoe. Then we set off to learn about the geography and history of Banff National Park and the intrepid voyageurs.
We got great views of Rundle, Sulphur and Cascade mountains and paused to take wildlife photos. I saw osprey flying to and from their nests and a solitary figure riding a horse along the shoreline. Next time, I hope to see a beaver, Canada’s national animal.
For a gentle evening paddle, we signed up for the three-hour Pyramid Lake Canoeing Experience offered by Jasper Tours in Jasper National Park. I finally got to see a beaver just as the sun began to slide behind the peaks. We were told there are occasional moose sightings on the lake – so when I return, I aim to cross a photo of this magnificent animal off the bucket list, too.
Bucket List Adventures
For experienced paddlers seeking a multi-day adventure that crosses several lakes, the Jackson-Kinnaird canoe loop in Lakeland Provincial Park near the town of Lac La Biche – 220 km (140 mi) northeast of Edmonton – is perfect. We got to try portaging for the first time – transporting the canoe overland to get to the next waterway. The only backcountry canoe circuit in Alberta comes complete with campsites along the way and canoe transfer carts to make the trip a bit easier. The 38 km (24 mi) circuit includes four different lakes – Jackson, Kinnaird, Blackett and McGuffin– and takes approximately three days to complete.
Our mountain river canoe adventure on the Athabasca River guided by Timberwolf Tours was classified as Novice Open Canada, so no experience was necessary. We trained for a day on open water to get the feel of two-person canoes that also held our gear. Some manageable rapids posed fun challenges during this wilderness trip as we glided past boreal forest. The five-day journey departs from Edmonton.