Expected sights in the Canadian Badlands are that of the weathered rock formations, cactuses, cows and silty rivers – somehow though, the aged landscape unexpectedly pops out of nowhere. Driving across the wide open Alberta prairies has a welcome, free and liberating feeling – mountains and oceans are great, but there is something about wide open skies and infinite landscapes that are only possible in the prairies.
Driving down the rural Albertan road, we awaited the glimpse of a hoodoo or aged gully, and there it was. A descent into the river valley below on a single-lane steel trestle bridge welcomed us to the Red Deer River at McKenzie Crossing – this was camp for the night.
Canoeing is one of the best ways to explore this area, and here we will give you the ultimate tips for this eco-adventure and how to canoe the Canadian Badlands. There are a few ways get on the water – you can rent canoes from Mountain Equipment Co-op or the University of Calgary, or you can find rentals in the Drumheller area. This adventure can happen without the assistance of a guide if you are an experienced paddler, or you can go with Red Deer River Adventures (links below). We used Red Deer River Adventures for our shuttle service, but they also do single and multi-day guided trips that are professionally organized by locals who know the area best. The owner was extremely knowledgeable and helpful in the planning process and went above and beyond to ensure our three-day canoe trip down the Red Deer River was flawless.
Paddle one day of this itinerary with Red Deer River Adventures, or multiple – whichever you choose, rest assured you’re in good hands exploring the Badlands by canoe. Book ahead of time to avoid disappointment.
Red Deer River, Canadian Badlands
Starting at McKenzie Crossing, we camped at the McKenzie Crossing Campground for the night as we had arrived later in the day. If you start this adventure in the morning, there’s no need to set up camp here and you can use this as your launching point. The first day on the river will see a 28km journey to Tolman Bridge Campground. Paddling past Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park, the landscape transitions from forested shoreline to more well-defined badlands. The riverside campsites are further downstream but we recommend pulling up at the initial pullout and scouting your spot before venturing downstream. Doing this adventure in mid-May will land you at the campgrounds before they’re technically open, but it’s still possible to camp here and place your camping fee in the deposit box. Threatening clouds were rolling near so we pulled the canoes up the steep bank after unloading and hustled to set up a tarp before the overhead thunder, lightening and buckets of water dampened the evening – but at least we were dry. The rain on the tent was a soothing sound throughout the night, and the whimpering and yelping of nearby coyotes reminded us that we were in the rural elements.
Red Deer River, Canadian Badlands
The second day is probably the most scenic and remote of the journey – Tolman Bridge to Morin Bridge is a 23km paddle that will take about 6 hours depending on water flows and winds. Here you paddle through the most dramatic and windswept badlands of the trip – a gentle reminder of just how small we are, and how old the planet really is. Exploring the badlands by canoe is arguably the most scenic and remote way to see this area. Throughout the whole journey, expect to see very few people and to hear only the sounds of water, wind, and wildlife providing a true connection to the 75 million-year-old topography. Break for lunch at the GPS coordinates shown below for an unexpected and incredible Jurassic outdoor kitchen.
Morin Bridge Campground is an easy shore landing and a quick walk with your equipment to the campsite. This area is wide open prairie landscape nestled in a badland valley and complimented by epic prairie sunsets. Cell service will be available here and Red Deer River Adventures asks that you call them at this point to provide your ETA for shuttle service the next day.
If you’re taking this exact paddle itinerary, this day will be your last and shortest – Morin Bridge to Bleriot Ferry is a 9km trip that’ll take just a few hours. This is intentionally the shortest day so that you have time to shuttle back to your vehicle with Red Deer River Adventures and drive to your next destination or find accommodation in Drumheller if you’re exploring more of the Badlands. As you continue down the river you’ll eventually see a vehicle ferry in the distance – this is Bleriot Ferry and your final destination. Pull out here.
– Multiple jugs/cubes of water. The Red Deer River largely runs through agricultural land and therefore has runoff from fertilizers and other pesticides. Filtering the water through a LifeStraw or SteriPen won’t do it here so bring lots of water for the hot, dry and arid landscapes.
– Firewood. Check with local authorities beforehand on fire ban restrictions and don’t rely on t firewood being available for use at the campsites.
– Usual camping gear such as a tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, tarps with rope, utensils, cooking supplies, and beer if you fancy some hot summer bevvies.
– Usual canoeing gear, such as life jackets, spare paddles, bail bucket, etc.
We did this journey in mid-May before the campgrounds open on the third weekend of May (May Long Weekend). This trip can be done throughout the summer and into fall. Check with Red Deer River Adventures on ideal timings and bookings. Self-guided itineraries and maps can be found with Paddle Alberta and Red Deer River Adventures. Links can be found below.
For more Canadian Badlands information and activities visit www.canadianbadlands.com and don’t forget to hashtag #MyBadlands and #ExploreAlberta while out there!
Author: Eco Escape Travel | Date: June 10, 2017