skip to Main Content
Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
We Got Lucky And The Rain Held Off For Most Of The Day

9 of the Best Places to Paddle in Alberta

Chances are when you think of Alberta you don’t think of the province in terms of a paddling destination. Yet it has its fair share of rivers and lakes in both prairie and mountain settings. All routes and experiences outlined below offer something for the beginner through to the advanced paddler.

Here’s a list of what I think are 9 of the best places to paddle in Alberta – whether it be in a kayak or a canoe. 

 Coming off of a 4 day canoe trip on the Peace River
Coming off of a 4 day canoe trip on the Peace River

This post includes some affiliate links. If you make a qualifying purchase through one of these links, I may receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support.

Before you start your trip read: A Kayaker’s Checklist – 100 Items to Pack

If you’re canoeing in bear country – which is most of Alberta, I would also suggest taking a bear barrel like this one that I have to keep your food and toiletries out of harm’s way. I also use it as a seat in the wilderness. Don’t forget the bear spray either.

Milk River, Southeast Alberta

The 1,173 km Milk River, named for its milky colour by explorers Lewis and Clark travels from Montana into Alberta and back to Montana again. In southeastern Alberta there’s an outstanding 73 km section of river that can be comfortably paddled in three days.

Start in the town of Milk River (where you can pick up a rental canoe and hand over your car keys so it’s waiting at the end) and finish in beautiful Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park.

You need some experience to kayak or canoe the Milk River as there are occasional Class III rapids, some Class II and lots of Class I rapids. Go early in the season (June and early July) when the flow is good or you’ll end up dancing around boulders on part of the river called the Rock Garden.

While campsites are hardly private, both the one at Gold Springs and at Poverty Rock offer some nice hiking and stellar views of the river. Bird life is excellent along the river. Expect to see loads of swallows darting in among the sandstone cliffs and Great-horned owl sightings are a distinct possibility.

The final few hours of the trip in Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park are very special as you travel through a hoodoo filled landscape.

Read: A 3 Day Canoe Trip on the Milk River

Beautiful campsite by Poverty Rock - that someone else snagged
Beautiful campsite by Poverty Rock – that someone else snagged
Paddling the Milk River through Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park
Paddling the Milk River through Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park

Maligne Lake, Jasper National Park

You’ve seen the photos of Spirit Island in Maligne Lake whether you know it or not. It’s one of the most photographed spots in the world because it’s so beautiful. Most visitors check out Maligne Lake via a tour boat but there is the option to canoe or kayak for a day or better yet on a multi-day paddling trip with a stay at one or two of the three campgrounds.

While Maligne Lake will take your breath away with its beauty, it’s a lake that needs to be taken seriously because of unpredictable wind and very cold water. There is one family-friendly campsite – Hidden Cove a 3.5 km paddle from the launch site, via protected waters but the other two require at least some experience.

Fisherman’s Bay, near Spirit Island is 13 km from the launch site and the Coronet Creek Campground at the far end of the lake is a 21.3 km paddle. The further you paddle the more dramatic the mountain scenery becomes.

This is a very POPULAR paddle so I’d recommend booking campsites the day they open – which is in mid-April now. Call 1-877-RESERVE or book backcountry campsites online.

Read: Kayaking Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park

Canoeing at the far end of Maligne Lake - well off the tourist's path
Canoeing at the far end of Maligne Lake – well off the tourist’s path – and of the top places to paddle in Alberta
If it's sunny and calm expect scenes like this on Maligne Lake
If it’s sunny and calm expect scenes like this on Maligne Lake

Bow River – Castle Junction to Banff 

There are no commercial paddling trips on the Bow River and nor is it easy to rent a kayak. But if you can score a couple of plastic kayaks through friends (or perhaps through the University of Calgary Recreation Centre) and you have a couple of cars then you’re in for a treat.

Park one car near Castle Junction just north of the bridge and the other at whatever end point you choose but somewhere near Banff that is accessible. Go out and enjoy a full day on fast water with one major rapid.

At times it’s a Class III but when I paddled it, it felt more like a Class II. Scout it beforehand. The rest of the day is a delight with mountains as a backdrop and lots of gravel beaches for lunch stops or rests.

Read: Done in a Day: Kayaking the Beautiful Bow River in Banff

9 the Best Places to Paddle in Alberta
Kayaking the Bow River
Beautiful landscape for a paddle on the Bow River
Beautiful landscape for a paddle on the Bow River

Lac la Biche, Lakeland Provincial Park

The Lac la Biche canoe circuit is the only one of its kind in Alberta. Located in Lakeland Provincial Park in central Alberta, it offers a 38 km route over three lakes along with a couple of portages including a 3 km one at the start. (Fortunately portage carts are available.)

Plan on three days to paddle the circuit. There is no moving water so strong beginner paddlers would have fun on this trip. Just beware of the wind as it can blow up suddenly. You’ll see plenty of wildlife and birds and the night skies are perfect for stargazing.

Read: The 3 Day Lac la Biche Canoe Circuit in Alberta

9 of the Best Places to Paddle in Alberta
One of the portages on the Lac la Biche canoe circuit – one of the family-friendly places to paddle in Alberta
Particularly lovely canoeing in the quiet section of Jackson Lake
Particularly lovely canoeing in the quiet section of Jackson Lake

Red Deer River

If you’re a novice canoeist or kayaker the Red Deer River is a great choice – though really its a fun river for anyone to paddle. The river is gentle, warm and not very deep. In fact there are places where you have to drag the canoe over gravel bars.

I recommend a weekend trip that starts at Tolman Bridge and finishes in a municipal park in Drumheller via a shuttle. There are other variations depending on how much time you have.

Start in Red Deer and paddle all the way to Dinosaur Provincial Park if you have the time. Once you get past Drumheller you probably won’t see a soul.

What you’ll get on the river is a lot of badlands scenery, great birding, some wildlife and perhaps even some fossil finds the closer you get to Dinosaur Provincial Park. This is definitely a family-friendly trip. Camp in either dedicated campgrounds or find a gravelly beach in the shade of giant cottonwood trees.

Read: A Weekend Canoe Trip on the Red Deer River

9 of the Best Places to Paddle in Alberta
It’s an easy paddle on the Red Deer River
Our campsite on the Red Deer River
Our campsite on the Red Deer River

North Saskatchewan River

There are lots of ways to paddle the North Saskatchewan River, an important river during Canada’s fur trade. In theory you can paddle from Nordegg to the Saskatchewan border but most people pick a section of the river to explore.

Years ago we paddled a 40 km section east of Nordegg. This section of river is beautiful – the colour, a stunning aquamarine. It’s not like that around Edmonton where it’s a muddy brown colour but in the Edmonton area it’s easy to arrange shuttles and do a day or a weekend trip. 

The river is classified novice to intermediate, except the Nordegg to Devon section where there are some rapids to run. Check out Edmonton Canoe for information on rentals and shuttles from mid-May until the end of September.

8 of the Best Places to Paddle in Alberta
Canoeing a section of the North Saskatchewan River with my husband and son

Astotin Lake, Elk Island National Park

Canoeing, kayaking or even SUP is a great way to experience Elk Island National Park in the summer. You can bring your own boat but it’s also possible to rent at the Astotin Lake Recreation Area.

Explore the islands or plan a picnic at Beaver Bay. A pair of binoculars comes in handy as the birding here is excellent. I’ve never seen so many avocets at one time.

Read: Elk Island National Park: 5 Fantastic Things You’ll Want to Do

9 of the Best Places to Paddle in Alberta
Evening paddle on Astotin Lake in Elk Island National Park
9 the Best Places to Paddle in Alberta
Off to check out the white pelicans on Astotin Lake

Peace River, Northern Alberta – one of the quietest places to paddle in Alberta

The Peace River traverses the central part of the province for over 1,000 km cutting through a landscape made up of boreal forest, prairie, grasslands and rolling hills. If you have only a day you can paddle in the vicinity of the town of Peace River and rent and organize a shuttle with Peace River Cabins & Outdoors  but you can easily spend a week on the river too.

The river is not a hard one to paddle as its Class I. There are no rapids or portages, just errant boulders, some shallow gravel bars and a variable flow rate depending on what is discharged from the W.C. Bennett Dam in BC.

I recommend camping at designated campsites as the alternative is lugging gear up steep, slippery banks – an exhausting and dirty exercise.

The river is not well traveled so there’s a good chance you’ll have campsites to yourself unless you spend a night in historic Dunvegan, in sight of Alberta’s only suspension bridge. Wildlife is common along this river so be prepared to see black bears, wolves, deer and coyotes.

Read: Paddling the Peace River in Northern Alberta

9 of the Best Places to Paddle in Alberta
You’re unlikely to run into many people on the Peace River
Off the beaten path Alberta with our dog on the Peace River
Off the beaten path Alberta with our dog on the Peace River

Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, Banff National Park 

For a quintessential, romantic canoeing experience rent a canoe at either Lake Louise or Moraine Lake and enjoy an hour or two surrounded by majestic mountains and glaciers while paddling turquoise coloured lakes.

The only caveat is the experience is not inexpensive. You only have two options – rent from either the Fairmont at Lake Louise or Moraine Lake Lodge on Moraine Lake. If you’re not a guest of the properties be prepared to spend upwards of $100 an hour – but splurge because how often are you likely to do this?

Update: Since writing this I learned that you can use your own boat but you’ll have to transport it from the parking lot and put in on the shore of Lake Louise or Moraine Lake.

9 of the Best Places to Paddle in Alberta
You can rent canoes by the hour on Lake Louise – one of the most stunning places to paddle in Alberta
Moraine Lake paddling
Moraine Lake paddling on an SUP

The Glenmore Reservoir in Calgary

Are there any other places in Alberta you’d recommend paddling? I know in Calgary I’m happy to go out after dinner and kayak on the Glenmore Reservoir but I’d be interested in hearing about other lakes or rivers, even if they are in the northern part of the province.

Remember, if it’s Maligne Lake you’re interested in paddling, you must book campsites very early and you can only spent a maximum of two nights in each campsite. The other paddling experiences are easier to organize at the last minute unless it’s a long weekend and you need a canoe rental and a shuttle. Plan accordingly.

Evening paddle on the Glenmore Reservoir
Evening paddle on the Glenmore Reservoir
Racing the sunset
Racing the sunset

A new addition – Kayaking Upper Kananaskis Lake

If you’re looking for either a day paddle or SUP experience then head to Upper Kananaskis Lake in Peter Lougheed  Provincial Park. If it’s a calm day, then it’s a gorgeous spot to paddle but the lake does have a reputation for being windy – so you should be competent under those conditions.

There are no services on the lake so you’ll have to bring your own canoe or kayak or rent one in Calgary or through Kananaskis Outfitters near Nakiska Ski Resort. 

I did an easy 3 km paddle to the Point Campground – one of the nicest I’ve visited. It makes for a great 24 hour getaway! We had big wind and white caps on the way over but calm water on the return – and if we’d had more time it would have been a treat to explore more of the shoreline by kayak.

Read: Kananaskis Kayaking to the Point Campground

Upper Kananaskis Lake is a beautiful colour when the sun is shining
Upper Kananaskis Lake is a beautiful colour when the sun is shining
One of the campsites at the Point Campground
One of the campsites at the Point Campground

7 items I always take on a paddling trip

For Alberta paddlers, you might want to pick up a copy of this book – Mark’s Guide for Alberta Paddlers.

I can’t even contemplate paddling without my personal PFD with pockets in all the right spots like this one. The last one I had for over 10 years. I have a Fox 40 whistle attached to my PFD and I always carry a knife.

I like a waterproof see-through dry bag for my phone.

I swear by my Chacos. They usually last me about three years but they are my go to paddling scandal. If it’s going to be really cold, then sometimes I’ll add a Neoprene sock

If it’s a cold, windy day I’ll take a neoprene glove.

On deck I like to have my water bottle and a map case.

More ideas for paddling in Canada

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

9 the Best Places to Paddle in Alberta

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 28 Comments

  1. Blows my mind every time when I think that a canoe rental in Jasper or Canmore can be a 100$ a day but then Moraine Lake is 100$ an hour. Don’t get me wrong, Moraine Lake is stunning but is that Instagram shot really worth it? There’s plenty of other amazing places here, just like the one’s you’ve highlighted in this article.

      1. We just started canoeing. I am curious if you know whether or not you have to rent canoes provided by the companies at the lakes, or can you put your own canoe in these lakes?

  2. The article gives the impression one must rent at Lake Louise/Moraine Lake. Fortunately, it was clarified in the comments. You really should try Barrier Lake. I was there in a kayak today. Beautiful scenery all around and easy access.

    1. @Chuck You’re right about L. Louise & Moraine L. You could also try paddling Spray Lake, Lake Minnewanka, Vermilion Lakes and perhaps even Upper Kananaskis Lake. Its a treat to be out on the water in Alberta.

    2. You can also enjoy the beauty of nature by renting a kayak ( or 2?) at Lake Isle Kayaking Adventures just 1 hr W of Edmonton! Only $25 hr.

  3. Definitely recommend the Lakeland Provincial Park circuit for excellent canoe or kayak touring. Natural beauty, lots of amazing rustic campsites, outstanding fishing and the serenity of the true north. The portages add to the adventure.

  4. Two Jack Lake in Banff National Park is also a great place. The lake isn’t big but the views are spectacular.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Close search

Pin It on Pinterest