Thursday, June 29, 2017

Campsite to River! Camping and Floating across Southern Alberta

Summer is here and there's no better way to spend a day at camp than by floating down a calm river in a tube, an inflatable raft, or even on a stand up paddleboard. Add a canoe or kayak, and you can enjoy half-day outings floating down some very relaxed rivers in Southern Alberta.

Floating down the Little Red Deer River, Red Lodge Provincial Park

The three campgrounds I'm featuring in this story all have rivers flowing through them. For Red Lodge and Writing on Stone, you can jump into the river at one end of the campground with your inflatable boat of choice, and easily float to the far end of the campground. For Dinosaur Provincial Park, you'll have to set up a car shuttle and I'd recommend using an actual kayak or canoe (with some introductory paddling experience.)

Paddling down the Red Deer River in Dinosaur Provincial Park

Red Lodge Provincial Park

We just recently camped in Red Lodge Provincial Park and the Little Red Deer River was still a bit high for "lazy floating." Another week or so though, and this will be a prime location for tubes and inflatable rafts.

The Little Red Deer River winds through the campground and families enjoy starting at one end of camp, floating down to the far end, and then repeating - all day long.

At low water levels, there are beach areas and you should expect to find lots of fun mud to play in. (Hopefully your kids like mud more than mine does!)

And for day users, there are plenty of day use picnic areas where you could stage your floating adventures from. 

Floating down the Little Red Deer River, Red Lodge Provincial Park

What to Expect from the Campground:

Honestly,  this is a great campground to visit with friends. We were a little bit lonely camping here by ourselves because everybody else appeared to be in groups.

Unless you're busy hanging out with friends, there is not a whole lot to do at this campground so make sure you bring boats of some sort. Otherwise, there was also a fun little trail along the river that we enjoyed biking, and we saw many kids biking around the campground roads.

There is a great playground in a central field that has a badminton net and plenty of room for a game of soccer. This was definitely the meeting place for families in the campground and was always full of children.

Site selection: Try to book a power site on the river in the C loop near the playground.

Biking along the Little Red Deer River in Red Lodge Provincial Park

Other Water Adventures in the Area: 

We drove to Red Deer while camping at Red Lodge to check out the newly renovated Discovery Canyon. It was a cute park where you can rent tubes (or bring your own) and enjoy a short little float down a small creek. There is also a beautiful white sand beach and plenty of grass for blankets.

Day Trip from Red Lodge Provincial Park: Discovery Canyon in Red Deer

If you have kayaks or canoes, you can also float a longer stretch of the Little Red Deer River from Red Lodge Provincial Park. Check with park staff at the campground for recommended put in or take out spots.

Easy floating through Red Lodge Provincial Park

Writing on Stone Provincial Park

Writing on Stone Provincial Park has a fabulous campground situated in the Alberta badlands with hoodoos everywhere you look. It is a great place to explore and to learn about the history of our First Nation people.

"The spectacular Milk River valley contains the largest concentration of First Nation petroglyphs (rock carvings) and pictographs (rock paintings) on the great plains of North America." (Alberta Parks)

While here, I definitely recommend hiking the interpretive trails, signing up for a guided tour to see the rock art, and bringing some boats or inflatable rafts/tubes to enjoy on the Milk River. The river is calm around the provincial park and is great for novice paddlers with some basic river experience.

Stand up paddleboarding down the Milk River outside Writing on Stone Provincial Park

Option one for floating the Milk River: Put in at Weir Bridge above camp and float 9.7 km back to the campground.

Option two:  Float from camp down to Deer Creek Bridge in an easy 7.1 km float.

For both of these options, I recommend using kayaks, canoes, or a stand up paddleboard so that you can paddle rather than just floating down the river.

Option three: Float from one end of the campground down to the camp beach. Repeat as many times as you want. 

Easy floating and paddling down the Milk River

Follow this link to read my full story on Camping in Writing on Stone Provincial Park

And note that you should check the Milk River water levels before planning to paddle. By mid to late summer the river is often too low to paddle. You would still be able to float through camp, but a real trip with kayak or canoe would be impossible at low river levels.

Enjoying the beach in the Writing on Stone Provincial Park campground

Dinosaur Provincial Park

Paddling the Red Deer River is a fun way to spend half a day while camping in Dinosaur Provincial Park.

The river is relaxed and often feels like a very slow moving lake as long as you don't go during spring run off. It is a great float trip for novice paddlers with some basic river experience.

The Red Deer River is great for stand up paddleboarding near Dinosaur Provincial Park

For this one, you won't be able to simply float through camp. You'll have to set up a shuttle and head up river to the Steveville Campground. From the Steveville bridge it is a 14 km paddle so you'll definitely want kayaks, canoes, or even a stand up paddleboard.

If you want a longer trip, you can start at the Emerson Bridge Campground, spend a night at the Steveville Campground, and then end at Dinosaur Provincial Park. Your first day will be 28 km though and personally, I found it to be quite long on a stand up paddleboard.

The family kayak, loaded with kids and gear for an overnight trip down the Red Deer River

For full information on camping, hiking, and paddling in Dinosaur Provincial Park, please read the following stories:

Camping in Dinosaur Provincial Park

Camping in the Alberta Badlands

Wild about Dinosaur Provincial Park

Hiking in Dinosaur Provincial Park 

Fossil Hunting in Dinosaur Provincial Park

Sunset in Dinosaur Provincial Park

And, if you're interested in paddling other sections of the Red Deer River, check out this story: Paddling the Alberta Badlands.

Canoeing down the Red Deer River in Central Alberta

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