‘Free and easy:’ paddling along the Red Deer River

Mark Twain once wrote that you feel “mighty free and easy” on a river.

Paddle in hand, peering downstream from the stern of a canoe into the striated badlands along the shores of Alberta’s genial Red Deer River, it’s hard not to agree.

“It’s the perfect first trip,” said Mark Lund, a veteran paddler who literally wrote the book on Alberta canoe routes.

“You only need a little bit of instruction and anybody can pretty much paddle it.”

The Red Deer has its source in the Rocky Mountains of Banff National Park and its upper reaches are well-known for whitewater thrills. Further down, however, the flow mellows and settles into its valley like an easy chair.

Downstream from the city of Red Deer, the river may be the best way to get a sense of Alberta beyond the mountains, and experience what the prairie landscape has to offer.

The banks alternate between steep walls and expansive valley views to distant hills. Eventually, it cuts through badlands with spectacular hoodoos and rugged mesas running right up to the water.

“You get a full transition from the parkland to the badlands,” said Lund, whose book “Mark’s Guide for Alberta Paddlers” is sold at MEC.

The scenery is otherworldly, like canoeing on Mars — if Mars had skies full of hawks and swallows, and evening recitals from coyotes yipping in the distance.

“Like all prairie rivers, that’s where the wildlife lives,” Lund said.

Camping? There are established sites along the route.

But many paddlers just pull up to a beach on one of the many islands along the way or find a suitable spot along the bank and pitch their tents. Scavenge some driftwood, light a campfire and enjoy the stars.

No camping is allowed within Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park — although the stunning scenery is well worth a stop.

Technically, the Red Deer is a backcountry trip. There are no services and you must carry everything you need, including water. If you’re random camping, there are no toilets, either. Bring a shovel.

But what makes it so doable is the number of possible entries and exits along the way. The roughly 190-kilometre distance between Red Deer and Drumheller can be configured as a day trip, a simple overnight or a multi-day excursion.

There are numerous bridges — even a ferry — along the way where cars can be stashed for the pull-out. Commercial services are available to ferry gear and vehicles back and forth, saving much time and trouble.

It’s a popular trip and sees plenty of boats on a summer weekend, but because everyone’s heading in the same direction — and roughly the same speed — you don’t see many of them.

There are caveats.

Don’t wait until too late in the summer, when the water gets shallow and forces paddlers to drag their boats. You will see cattle and they do leave their calling cards behind.

The occasional boulder protrudes from the water’s surface and you have to pay attention. If you get hung up, you can’t just call AMA.

Headwinds spring up and can make for hard work.

But on a sunny day, with the persistent tug of the current carrying you downstream, you can lay back against the gunwhales and let your thoughts drift along with the river. Pull your friends’ boats alongside your own and “raft up.” Talk, or not.

Enjoy the free and easy.

If You Go:

— Paddle Alberta has a useful website on the trip, including maps and approximate paddling times, at:

https://paddlealberta.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Paddling_CdnBadlands_MedRes.pdf

— Commercial shuttles include Red Deer River Adventures at http://reddeerriveradventures.com/

Just Posted

Red Deer’s Christmas Wish Breakfast helps children by collecting toys

Donations go to Red Deer Salvation Army and Red Deer Christmas Bureau

Two Central Alberta school districts pay to prepare grads for diploma exams

Clearview and Wolf Creek want all Grade 12 students to Rock the Diplomas

‘Blow themselves up:’ Police worried about butane hash oil extractions at home

CALGARY — Alberta law enforcement officials say they are worried that the… Continue reading

Data suggests violence rising in Winnipeg remand jail; union says meth a factor

WINNIPEG — Newly obtained statistics point to increasing violence at the Winnipeg… Continue reading

Photos: Hundreds attend Red Deer Lights the Night

Cold weather didn’t stop people from enjoying holiday festivities

VIDEO: Stan Lee leaves posthumous message for his fans

Marvel Comics’ co-creator died on Monday at the age of 95

Trump on Khashoggi death tape: ‘No reason for me to hear it’

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said there is no reason for him… Continue reading

Searchers in California fires step up efforts ahead of rain

CHICO, Calif. — Searchers combing a Northern California town levelled by a… Continue reading

Disney details new ‘Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge’ attractions

ORLANDO, Fla. — “Star Wars” fans will soon be able to pilot… Continue reading

Pacific summit ends with no communique as China, US differ

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea — An acrimonious meeting of world leaders… Continue reading

Pope decries that ‘wealthy few’ feast on what belongs to all

VATICAN CITY — Championing the cause of the poor, Pope Francis on… Continue reading

Steep food discounts at U.S. stadiums slow to move north of the border

When the new home of the Atlanta Falcons and United FC opened… Continue reading

Macron, Merkel seek common approaches to Trump, euro

FRANKFURT — French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel consulted… Continue reading

Children of migrants living in U.S. pushing up American asylum-seeker numbers

OTTAWA — As Canada grapples with an influx of irregular asylum seekers,… Continue reading

Most Read