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PostPosted: February 24th, 2009, 4:31 pm 

Joined: May 5th, 2008, 6:37 pm
Posts: 38
Location: Calgary
Trip Report July 2008

Middle Red Deer River Paddling from McKenzie Trails in Red Deer to TL Ranch at Tolman Bridge

We were in the water by about 9:00am at McKenzie Trails. Water levels were about 115 m3/s. The weather didn’t look good, and was raining as we pulled out. It poured for about an hour, clearing up by the time we reached the Blindman River entering the Red Deer River. We stopped for a bite to eat, and dry out. The rest of the day was raining off and on making for a pretty chilly day. The rapids at Burbank were a series of standing waves and was pretty fun, but not much of a challenge. As this was our first trip down a river, we chose Red Deer because of it’s ease, and was a trip I’ve always wanted to do being from the Red Deer and Pine Lake area. The weather cleared up in the evening, and we were setting up camp by about 4:00pm. We leap-frogged two kayakers during the day and camped about 1km down river from them. They were headed to Drumheller. After Monday we never saw them again. We camped about 3 km downriver from the Joffre Bridge, found a nice spot below the high water line near a small creek. Had a great evening, with no wind, lots of sun, and very quiet and relaxing. As we passed the Canyon Ski Hill, three canoes hit the water, despite my warnings that a heavy rain was coming. There were some camp counselors in their late teens or early 20’s who each had about three young kids in their canoes. They had no rain gear, or safety gear that I could see other than PFD’s. They followed us down to Joffre bridge and looked like drowned cold muskrats by the time they reached the bridge. We had quite a hard rain for about 25 minutes. The kids were in decent spirits, and one of the counselors had jumped out of the canoe in waist deep water to keep it from heading downstream and now needs a new cell phone which was in her pocket. We had kind of partially blocked the take out with our canoe, not knowing they were going to use that spot and not the other one 20 feet downstream. So it was a bit of a gong show getting four canoes at a take out about 10ft long adjacent a bridge piling. I helped steady the boats for the kids to get out and helped haul the canoes out of the water. No throw bags or anything. They did have ropes on the bow of the boats though. Total distance travelled 42km. The paddling was very easy, our GPS said we were floating at about 8-9 km/h pretty steadily. The water was very silty, so there wasn’t much fishing attempted.

The forecast on the radio wasn’t good, so we decided to make a long day of paddling. We were up by 6:00am and on the water by 7:00am to try to get packed up before the rain hit. Fortunately there wasn’t any rain all day, but there was certainly a lot of wind. Made the paddling far more difficult. We had planned to camp near the railroad trestle, but chose to keep going to Content Bridge so we could have two nights at the same spot. We made it to Content Bridge by about 4:00pm making for a long paddle, with few stops along the way. The water was still too silty to really try fishing, and the wind didn’t allow for much anyhow. Total distance 45km. Saw lots of pelicans, mule deer, and lots of hawks. On the rest of the trip we saw two bald eagles, lots more deer, lots of different kinds of ducks, beaver, muskrat, and even a weasel. We stayed at the campground to the south of Content Bridge. We walked over to the other campground, and it looked like it was kind of open, but saw no campers and it was very very run down. Where we stayed, we had to prove we weren’t riff-raff to the operator, who once he saw that we were a quiet married couple warmed up to us a bit. Lots of rules at that campground, and they don’t take many tenters, but the place was immaculate. So we were happy with the rules because it was so nice to stay there, and the facilities were great. I was concerned about the chlorine in the water and showers, so we checked it out. The showers were great, very clean, and for a dollar they lasted a long time. The water was very soft well water, and not too overly chlorinated. We drank some of the water, and it reminds me of the farm water we had living out by Pine Lake. If you’re not used to well water, you could really dislike the taste however I didn’t mind it too much. The bad weather never did come except for the wind on Tuesday. Wednesday the weather was great, and we relaxed and read most of the day. The water level was going down a fair bit over those two days. Monday it went down about 4”. As you pass Joffre, the river really widens out, and thus the current slows. Due to the wind, we had to paddle the whole day. Glad we had a day of rest after, to just chill out.

Rest day at Content bridge, no paddling.

Our plan was to camp at Trenville Park, and we had another day of paddling due to wind and low current. The water levels were still relatively high, but with the wind we would have stood still without paddling. We had slept in, so were on the water by 11:00am. The water was really clearing nicely, and I caught a few Goldeye, and a great 4 to 5lb Walleye. This was a very nice sunny day albeit windy. I was hoping for some whitefish for dinner, but no luck. So far there had only been a few low spots with riffles. Some riffles shown on the map weren’t there due to the higher water. We ran Backbone rapids on the east side of the small island and got hung up on the low water a little. A few bumps and we were through. Looking back the right (west) side looked a lot more fun, but being novice paddlers, we erred on the side of caution. If we were with some more experience people, I would have certainly played a little bit more there. We floated by Trenville, and I forgot this was where we were going to stop for the night! We were having a good time, so it didn’t really bother us that we kept going. We paddled a little farther and had a great landing at the Big Valley bridge. Total distance 37km. The Big Valley campground is closed, but you can camp there, although it’s kind of a free for all. Nothing is kept up, and people have either trashed, stolen, or burned all the picnic tables. We found a secluded spot, and used the fire pit with some wood we brought from Content Bridge. We were very tired, but had a nice stir fry dinner. When planning the trip, I was concerned about keeping food fresh. I froze all the meat, and froze a 4L milk jug, and three 2L pop bottles. By the end of the trip, I still had lots of ice in those bottles. We staggered the food around the bottles, and kept a wet towel on the cooler at all times. If the weather was nicer, we might have run out of ice a day earlier. We were in bed early, and around midnight there was a wild thunderstorm. The lightning was blinding, and the ground shook with the thunder. I didn’t look out the tent to see, but I’m sure that there was lightning hitting within 100 yards. It was pretty scary, a little too close for comfort. Thankfully we have a great Tarn 3 tent from MEC and stayed dry the whole trip. I had also made a tarp lean-to to protect our gear, so most of it was dry but the tent fly was soaked. I have good Helly Hansen rain pants but we have some pretty lightweight jackets. We stayed dry, but we are going to get some better raincoats in the future. I didn’t sleep too well for most of the trip, as I’m a side sleeper and my arms and shoulders go numb after a while even though we have good sleeping pads. Our sleeping bags have sleeves in the bottom where the pad slides in, and then if we roll around, the pad moves with us. I’m a Hennesey Hammock camper when we’re backpacking, but we chose the tent for a place to hang out together if it rained, and I didn’t think there’d be many good trees in the badlands for hammock camping. I think we could have found suitable trees all along, but would have been more difficult. With that hammock, I can sleep all night without waking up once. I’ve just started doing this in the last year or so when I stumbled upon them. My wife and I each have one. I swear by them for so many reasons, but sometimes, like this trip a tent is more suitable for us. If you’re not familiar with them, do a google search!


We were going to play it by ear to see if we were going to go straight onto TL Ranch or camp near buffalo jump (not in the park boundaries) for an extra night. Yet another day of wind and rain, so we just felt kind of tired of packing and unpacking soaked gear. Thus we decided to head to the truck. After the previous nights bad storm, the river was a little higher and basically liquid mud, so fishing was not an option again. This was frustrating because we went through some awesome fishing holes, deep and still. Distance travelled, 29km. We stopped at Buffalo Jump and warmed up with a small fire in the fire pits there. Someone had left some birch so we took advantage of it. We then went downstream a little and stopped looking for a cabin that I used to see hiking at buffalo jump as a boy. We found the cabin, and saw that people can stay there. There’s two beds, a wood stove, and lots of pots and pans and even some bedding. Lots of mouse poop on the tables though, so someone must have left some food behind. We signed the unofficial guest book and kept going. If we were hit by a storm, I’d for sure spend some time there, but probably set up the tent to sleep in. If you find the cabin, please respect the landowner’s hospitality and leave it in better shape than you found it. Apparently it was trashed a few years ago, but was in decent shape when we were there. Seeing the scenery change from parkland in Red Deer to the badlands is really interesting, and a highlight of the trip. I like both equally I think. From Buffalo Jump to TL ranch was a nice float but we again had to paddle due to still water and wind. The folks at the ranch are very nice, and if we would have planned better, we would have booked a ride with them. I’m thinking about vehicle camping there later this summer and booking a ride then. The ranch would be great for a stop for the night, or a starting or ending point on a trip.

So, would I do the trip again? You bet! But I’d make sure the forecast was better, because all that rain wasn’t the most fun. We’re not going to drop our hiking, mountain biking, and backpacking pursuits, but we are certainly going to take some paddling courses to improve our skill level and try some bigger better rapids. We’ll also need a better canoe. The one we have is pretty old, and weighs at least 100lbs. I think it would snap in half on any serious rapids. But the price was right (a gift) and it’s got us on the water for two trips now. One at Barrier lake for a few nights, and now the Red Deer River.

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