Canadian Canoe Routes

Athabasca River Berland Bridge to Whitecourt
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Author:  e2holmes [ September 8th, 2010, 11:55 am ]
Post subject:  Athabasca River Berland Bridge to Whitecourt

Berland Bridge to Whitecourt (Class I+), 100km, Athabasca River

August 25, 26, 27, 2010, we did the 100km Berland Bridge to Whitecourt section of the Athabasca River. This section has one optional Class I rapid (you actually have to go out of your way to run it) and a number of riffles. The current is fairly strong, especially in the first 30km after that the current mellows out. The river was still quite cold but not frigid like it was near Jasper. We did it in three fairly leisurely days.

During our trip, the river level was less than 300 m3/s (Windfall station) and all the log jams (piles of logs) were stranded up on land. This was nice because there are log piles at the head of every island and there are about 2 islands per kilometer on this section. So there are log piles everywhere. There were some trees fallen by the side of the river, but at the water levels during our trip, you would have to be skilled to maneuver your canoe into them (like back ferry on purpose into them).

We did this section as a training run while working our way up river progression from easy moving water up to Novice moving water on stronger currents. We wanted a section (and water level) where we could work on skills with loaded canoes and with a stronger current but not be challenged too much (we were with our kids). Though we have a lot of flat water experience and my husband and I have whitewater experience, this was the first time my daughter (12) would be paddling in the bow on a river and the the first time I would be paddling stern. This section was perfect for our objectives. We did a lot back ferrying, forward ferrying, turning the boats in the current, and some eddy turns (there weren't many opportunities for that). We practiced our side-slipping in the riffles and then got a chance to practice that in the one Class I rapid, which was at such low water that all the boulders were exposed. The water was cold enough that we didn't want to flip and never felt in danger of that.

Overall comments. Though we did not have the warmest weather, this was a great trip. We just loved being on the river, the sound of it, the look, the bigness.... No views per se (unlike more upstream in Jasper), but the river itself was a great view.

Canoe rental There is no place in Jasper and rental places in BC were not keen on us taking their canoes on a river. Instead rent in Edmonton. MEC and Totem Outfitters rent canoes for river trips. Book well ahead as they do get booked-up. Edmonton Canoe ( does canoe rental plus shuttling.

Shuttle We arranged for a car rental from National Car Rental in Whitecourt. The rental office is just a 15 min walk from the take-out at Riverboat Park. Cost was $100 (Aug 2010) + gas. Round-trip was 3.5 hrs.

Put-in About 1.5 hrs from Whitecourt. We put-in at the Berland bridge. Drive hwy 43 towards Fox Creek and take the 947 road (there's a sign and it's just past losegun Creek). The 947 road takes you 27km to the power plant on pavement, after that it is 14km on dirt to the Y in the road. Take the right at the Y, and it's 7km to the bridge. There are no signs whatsoever, except an unhelpful one near the power plant that says "Edson". After the power plant (which has a huge fire-spewing tower), you stay on the main road. You'll just have to take your best guess on what's "main". When you make the right at the Y in the road, you'll see signs warning that a weight-limited bridge is coming up. When we did it, the road was bumpy but fine. After a big rain, it could definitely be tough. Also it is a working road and there's a lot of logging. Stay alert and be ready to pull to the side. I printed off the Canadian topo maps for the area and that was helpful, but we still flagged down a truck to make sure we were on the right track. The roads shown on the Paddle Alberta map were not helpful---I was glad I had the topo map. I wished I had printed off the satellite photos from Google maps. That would have been the best.

Camping We camped the first night by our van at Berland bridge. There is good camping there. Our last night, we camped at the take-out at the Riverboat Assoc. Park. There is a sign that says they lock it at 11pm, but locals told us that wasn't the case and that it was fine to stay. There is an RV camp nearby (10min walk) but they don't allow tents. On the river, we just camped on islands. It was not easy to find suitable spots; we had to check out multiple islands. There were bear prints everywhere but they seemed less on islands with fast currents on both sides.

Map The Paddle Alberta map is great and all you need. Definitely get that. You can order it online ( search a bit on their site because the page to buy is a bit hard to find). It takes a week or two to come by mail, so order early. We picked up our copy from the Friends of Jasper store in the Visitor Center in Jasper. The map shows log piles, but that info was not useful as there are 10x more piles than shown. Just expect them at every island. But at low water (<300 m3/s at Windfall), all jams were stranded during our trip. Riffle and rapid (one) info was accurate as was the island info.

Bears We saw prints everywhere but had no encounters. Our first camp we hung our food and the second camp was on a island without trees so we used our bear canister.

Water temperature The water was cold, but not like near Jasper. Near Jasper, the water is wicked cold (seriously). On our section, it was cold but felt manageable wearing 3mm wetsuits. The kids and I wore shorty wetsuits. My husband and our friend are less sensitive to cold water and did not. We had no problem overheating wearing shorty wetsuits since the air temp was so cold during our trip.

Difficulty These comments only apply to the 200-300 m3/s (Windfall station) water level (low water) we experienced. During our trip, Kuba (another adult) and I could overpower the current in most places, though we avoided doing that since we were using this as a training run. However, the river was definitely not a "moving lake". The current moves at a good clip except after Windfall bridge where it really slows down. We took all riffles where the waves were biggest (on purpose) and they were easy. We were never faced with a curve where we needed to back ferry into the inside of the curve (to avoid a sweeper), instead we tried to always head to the outside of the curve to find the section of faster and deepest water. Landing in the current posed our biggest challenge (aka learning experience), except for the challenges we created for ourselves while practicing our ferries and turns in the current.


Author:  kingfisher [ September 8th, 2010, 1:33 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Athabasca River Berland Bridge to Whitecourt

Thanks for this Eli.

We started canoeing with the kids, 5 and 7, on the Athabasca over 30 years ago. Jasper to Whitecourt and beyond, until we were comfortable, and then the Upper Macleod for more fun and excitement.

Author:  Ralph [ September 8th, 2010, 1:40 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Athabasca River Berland Bridge to Whitecourt

Thanks, e2holmes. A good trip report and quite accurate as I recall from doing the trip many years ago. We didn't encounter as much bear sign as you did. This section is a good step in the learning curve on bigger water with a faster current.

Author:  Simmered [ September 7th, 2011, 5:59 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Athabasca River Berland Bridge to Whitecourt

Thanks, nice trip report. Did you see any wildlife on your trip or just tracks??

Author:  e2holmes [ September 7th, 2011, 10:13 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Athabasca River Berland Bridge to Whitecourt

We only saw tracks. But this was by far the most tracks we have seen on any trip in BC or AK. Usually, we avoid camping were there are bear tracks, but there was no way to do that here.

Author:  greenriver [ August 6th, 2014, 1:26 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Athabasca River Berland Bridge to Whitecourt

Nice Report and pictures. I just did this from the 947 bridge to Whitecourt (two days) Aug 3 and 4 2014 with 3 others one day and a fourth the next day from Windfall bridge. The river was a little faster than when you went. (around 450 at Windfall). It was good, although there were times when it did get a little exciting in places. Nice river though. Going to have to do it right from Jasper to Whitecourt or further sometime soon.

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