Canoeing on the Red Deer River

Canoeing on the Red Deer River

This blog post is written for the adventurous souls looking for a new family trip idea this summer. If you like camping (in a tent!), canoeing or kayaking, being outdoors and cooking under the stars then you’ll appreciate and enjoy reading about our recent experience.

My husband and I have two sons- aged 5 and 7 and love to spend time outside.  We live close to the Red Deer River and have many days playing down in the river- fishing, swimming, throwing rocks and now skipping rocks, canoeing and floating.  This year is the first year we decided to have an overnight trip on the river with the canoes and the kids.  We decided to wait till our youngest was 5- to just make it easier on us!  The canoe trip requires a lot of sitting (fairly still) and paying attention to stay balanced,  (full honestly here) as well as using the bathroom outdoors!

canoeing on the red deer river

Canoeing on the Red Deer River is for novice paddlers.  You can check the flow rates online at and be aware of water level changes if the Dickson Dam is opened. The Spring has faster flow speeds and gets slower as the seasons go.  If you decide to go on a trip in August, be forewarned that you will be paddling a lot harder and likely needing to portage in areas. 

Our Route:  Just taking it easy and going from McKenzie Crossing to Dry Island Buffalo Jump which is 14km.  The River is very low and slow this year with the low amounts of runoff water from winter and minimal spring rainfall. You can very easily do this route in a single day but we chose to do it over two days with sleeping riverside overnight. 

Tip: The road at Dry Island Buffalo Jump is very steep and impassable when raining. 

Here is a great pdf that includes great information and a chart of the river distances and time frame from


Approximate Distances

Canoeing or











Content Bridge



Trenville Park






McKenzie Crossing





1.5 – 3

Dry Island Buffalo Jump – boat launch






Tolman Bridge - Campground






Morrin Bridge - Campground






Bleriot Ferry - Campground




1.5 – 3


Newcastle Park - Drumheller




3.5 – 6


The Basics

So when you’re going on a canoe trip, remember you need a vehicle at the final destination!  There is no cell phone service on the river and valleys so you will be unable to call out.  You can drop a vehicle before heading out on the river, and remember to take the keys with you!  I once forgot this very important step!

canoeing on the red deer river

For our family of four, we took two canoes and one inflatable kayak for our oldest son to use at times.  This was plenty of space to pack in all our camping supplies- canoes can hold more than you think!  Besides lifejackets and paddles, this was our camping list:

Our List

-cooler with food; hot dogs, buns, butter, eggs, bacon, bread, jam, cut up veggies, apples, oranges, granola bars, trail mix, cookies, chips

-water cooler - do NOT drink the river water 

- tent

- air mattress, we have self-inflatable mattress which means we don’t need to pack pumps

- sleeping bags, pillows (all packed into garbage bags to keep dry or a “wet bag” 

- swim suits, towels, change of clothes, sandals (or water shoes) and runners.

- propane stove, pot, frying pans, camping utensils and plates, wash bowl, percolator and coffee

- matches (in ziploc to ensure they stay dry). Unfortunately we have a fire ban so we were unable to have a fire.

- dry newspaper, paper towel or firestarter, hatchet 

- bug spray, sunscreen, Summer Stick and lip balm

- lawnchairs

- fishing rod, tackle box

- Chore Bar (our multi-purpose soap bar for washing dishes) and tea towel

We were able to fit most supplies into a rubbermaid tote with a tight lid. You don’t need to worry about tying your gear to the canoe as there are no fast rapids. 

camping and tenting on the red deer river

Our Trip:

We left in the early afternoon on June 10 from McKenzie Crossing and the wind was a lot stronger than I realized!  A 30km/h wind can push you UPSTREAM so we really had to paddle to keep moving straight.  

Our route was a total of only 14km so we went about 5km before stopping
(took about 2 hours in the wind) when we found a good flat, elevated camping spot along the river.  There are cattle in places so be mindful of that. We like to pitch our tent tucked up under a balsam poplar and close to the willows for protection from the wind. 

We pitched our tent and then went for a swim!  We also had a bucket and net to catch the invasive crayfish- you find them by flipping over rocks and holding your net behind as they scoot backwards right into your net.  The kids, and me, had a hoot catching them!

Then sitting back at sunset, fishing and listening to the mourning doves (coo-ah, coo, coo, coo)

The next morning, after breakfast we packed up and set back out to complete the remaining 9km which we spread out over 4 hours by taking a few breaks on the shore for lunch. We landed at Dry Island Buffalo Jump in early afternoon and had family there waiting to pick us up with the canoe trailer :)

Nature Sightings:

blue heron on red deer river shoreline wild rose

We spotted blue herons, pelicans, ducks, geese, walleye, goldeye fish, and beavers.

This time of year has blooming vetch, wild roses, flax, marsh marigold along the river beside the horsetails and willows. The badlands make for beautiful scenery and landscape to paddle through.  If you’re lucky, you will be able to see fireflies once it’s pitch black outside!

Be sure to spend time at Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park in this breathtaking valley full of fossil-rich history. The day camping area here is a great spot to stop too. 

canoeing on red deer river

Tips For Families:

  • Bring lots of snacks and have them accessible in the canoes. 
  • Take lots of breaks on the shore for stretching and movement. It’s hard for the young ones to sit so still!
  • Explore the shores and see what you can find :)  My son loved collecting piles of mussel shells
  • Have hats!  
  • Take our Summer Stick to remedy any itchy mosquito bites or wasp stings!
  • Bring a deck of cards to play a game in the tent
  • Float in the water down the river beside the canoes.  Keep one adult in the canoe and tie them together. 
families on red deer river


I think that just about covers it! Be sure to follow the fishing regulations and check the flow rates before starting out!  Our family just LOVES this adventure in our backyard… and the best part? It’s free entertainment in the outdoors! A time for connection, story telling, song-singing and exploring nature. 

canoeing on the red deer river


Elaine DeBock

Thanks for sharing this, Jess! We love being out on a quiet river in our kayak.

Susan Reynolds

This trip would have taken a fair amount of organizing. I’m sure worth it for all the family fun and learning about nature.
Susan (Poyser) Reynolds


What a beautiful blog Jess.. thanks for sharing your adventure 🥰

Jerry-Lynn Burden

Thank you for sharing your family adventure! Hopefully it will inspire more families to do the same. We have such an incredible back yard!

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