Paddling the North Saskatchewan River

In Canada, a country known for it’s numerous rivers and waterways, the North Saskatchewan river stands out as a premier route. It runs for more than 1200 km (750 miles) from the Rocky Mountains eastward across the prairies to it’s joining with the South Saskatchewan river.

Both of these rivers were important transportation routes to the interior of North America for many centuries. The biggest appeal to us was perhaps the fact that the valley of the North Saskatchewan is relatively unchanged since the early explorers traveled on it. Except for a few bridges and power lines, the valley still keeps it’s wilderness feel for most of it’s length. The woodlands of aspen and fir that line the banks are undeveloped and filled with deer, beaver, muskrat, bear and coyote. Also, various hawks, eagles, ospreys and even pelicans are found in plentiful numbers. The few towns, farms and industries can, at times, be heard but rarely seen.

We chose to start our trip in Devon, Alberta and paddle to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, a distance of 800 km (500 miles). We set up in a campground on the river in Devon and I then drove to Prince Albert where I stored our vehicle at abrian-and-diana secured facility, then returned to Devon by bus.

This easy bus connection was key to our choice of put-in and take-out points. The total load was over 230 kilos (500 lbs.) which included our dog, Leo, and his food.

On August 05 we set out with sunny skies and easy flat water paddling. The river was shallow, warm and surprisingly empty of any other travelers. Over the course of the trip we saw perhaps half a dozen watercraft of any kind as the shifting sand bars and short season deter any interest in boating at all. Each day paddling began around 8 o’clock and we would look for a camping spot around 3:30. These were usually on one of the sandy islands that are frequently found. There were no sections of water difficult enough to mention. Everything in the way of faster or bumpier water was easily
runnable. The prevailing winds, when present, were mostly at our backs and we averaged over 36 km (24 miles) a day.

campThis routine continued without stop under ideal conditions and we were docked in Prince Albert after 22 days. It was never our intention to paddle straight through without a break but most days we woke to sunny skies and decided to keep moving while the weather was good. Leo was a delight to have along with us. I had placed a piece of dense foam on the floor in front Diana for him to sit or lay on. He made it his job to continually scan both shores for wildlife.

Once again our Pakboat canoe proved it’s mettle. It was never necessary to make any corrections at all after putting it together at the start of our trip. For twenty-two days in a row we maneuvered our way around islands and sandbars, dragged the canoe up onto beaches and loaded and unloaded our gear. All this was done to such a satisfying degree that we completely forget that we were traveling in a folding canoe until, of course, it was time to fold it up again.

Pleasant paddling,
Brian and Diana Svelnis


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