Prairie Paddling – Dry Island Provincial Park to Drumheller

This weekend we finished our second canoe trip of the summer. We’re slowly working away at the Red Deer River  – in July we did Content Bridge to Tolman Bridge , and two years ago we did Drumheller to Dinosaur Provincial Park. This time, we finished off the middle section by paddling Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park to Drumheller – we’ve now paddled from Content Bridge to Dinosaur Provincial Park over the past three years. Looking at my well-worn map, we’ve got the Dickenson Dam to Content Bridge section to do before it falls apart.

We put the canoes in the water late Friday afternoon at Dry Island. Late afternoon because it takes an amazing amount of time to shuttle between Dry Island and Drumheller – almost 1.5 hours each way, just because the main north-south highway doesn’t meet the river at either location. It’s a lot of driving time, or sitting and watching canoe time depending on what job you get. Based on this, we probably wouldn’t paddle this stretch as a trip again – you could get much more paddling for shuttle time by putting in just a little further up at Content Bridge.

But once we got on the water, we had just a short paddle to camp. I’d decided we would camp in the same spot we did when we went through in July because it was easier than looking for a new spot. It’s a pretty nice camp – about 1 hr of paddling from the boat launch near the two islands, on river right with plenty of (fairly) flat shoreline which can easily fit a couple of tents and a cooking area. We made ourselves at home and had a swim, ate dinner and sat for a little while watching the river.  We saw a deer swim across the river, and a few pelicans floated by. The coyotes howled and howled that night.

Saturday was a lovely day to be out on the water. I’d figured on about 40 km of paddling, and with the river moving at a snail’s pace, we had a fairly full day to get it done. From Tolman Bridge onward was river that we hadn’t paddled yet, and I was pleasantly surprised by the scenery. I was worried the badlands would be too far away to enjoy (based on our Drumheller to Dinosaur experience), but that wasn’t the case and it was quite pretty along the river.

This part of the river was the busiest I’d seen – a few other canoes, a large group of rafters, lot of people on the shores, and near the ferry, a couple of motor boats. It didn’t detract from the trip, but they were all reminders of how far we were from “true” wilderness. The river really broadens out around Morin, and by the end of the afternoon we all felt like we were paddling on a lake.

Between Morin Bridge and Bleriot Ferry had lots of nice camping, but we pushed on past the ferry to a midstream island before stopping for the night. The first large island after the ferry is really the last good camping spot, and we were happy to find a good gravel bar and flat area at the island head to call home for the night. I’ve always wanted to stay on an island while canoeing, so that’s one more thing to cross off my “to-do” lists.

We had our only really bad weather of the trip just as we decided to turn in for the night. What had been a gentle breeze from the north suddenly became a windstorm, and we were forced to re-fasten down the tent and settle in. The howling winds were a bit nerve-wracking when the tent poles almost bent in half, and the accompanying rain, thunder and lightning had me up for a couple of hours worried that the water levels were going to rise and flood us out. Luckily, the storm died out quickly and by morning it was nothing more than the occasional sprinkle of rain.

Sunday’s paddle took us from the badlands into Drumheller on some incredibly flat water. While some clouds remained, the rain stopped early in the day. Without a headwind, the river was like glass, and it was hard to believe that there was actually any flow. Even without any help from the river, we made good time and were in Drumheller by noon (which is necessary if you’re going to get home at a reasonable time!). Our last trip for the summer over, but I’m happy that it turned out as well as it did!

3 Comments

  1. Hi Jenny, Came across your blog while researching paddling the Red Deer River. A small group of us are paddling from Content Bridge to Drumheller and are looking for any intel on where would be a good place to pull out in Drumheller and where we can leave a couple vehicles as we are doing our own shuttling.
    Thanks,

    1. Hi Nathan,

      I found the information available from Paddle Alberta very helpful (http://www.paddlealberta.org/paddling/paddling_database.asp) when I was planning my trips. This PDF from their website outlines a possible trip from Content Bridge to Drumheller and has contact numbers for the various campgrounds along the way – http://www.paddlealberta.org/pdf/trips/Paddling_CdnBadlands_MedRes.pdf. They also have very good maps of the river.

      When we did our trip from Content Bridge we left a car at the Content Bridge Campground which is on the east side of the river upstream of the bridge and put in from the campground. I think we had to pay a small fee last time and we usually call in advance to make sure they are still open. We left a car at Newcastle Beach in Drumheller and this is where we pulled out.

      Happy paddling!

  2. Some really good posts about this river section. I am from Sask and am considering doing some paddling on here. Some great advice and insight. Keep it up I appreciate it. A few more pics would be nice :). Thanks. Scott.

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