Launch your journey
Make your way to Content Bridge, east of Red Deer. Take Highway 11 for 55km then turn right onto Highway 21. You will soon come across Content Bridge and a campground where you can launch your canoe for a $5 fee. Load up your friends, your gear, your food and set off. If you don’t have a canoe as part of your regular camp gear stockpile, rentals are the way to go.
Navigate the riffle
The crux of the journey comes early. Sixteen kilometres downstream is Backbone Riffle, a short section of Class 1 rapids. Just hang to the left, paddle hard, keep your bow pointed downriver and you should get past it with no problems. It’s all downstream from here.
Wilderness camping below the high water mark is allowed in most places along the Red Deer River. To take advantage of this, consider paddling in late July or August, once the seasonal high water has passed. Once you spot a good campsite, haul your canoe out of the water and set up camp. There are also public and private campgrounds spread along this stretch of the river if you’re travelling in high water season.
Dry Island Buffalo Jump
About halfway through your journey, the river will take you right into the heart of Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park. As you get closer, watch for a red sign on the western shore welcoming you to the park — there’s a canoe launch and picnic area roughly 3km downriver. Once on land, follow the winding game trails northeast to the Dry Island mesa. Check out the spectacular views of the Red Deer River valley, hoodoos and wildlife. There’s no camping in this section of the park, so be sure to be back on the water well before sundown.
Ride it out
Over the rest of the journey, the grasslands fade away and you enter the badlands proper. Islands will begin to appear as you get closer to Drumheller, which make for some potential interesting campsites. End your journey at Newcastle Beach, shortly after the railway bridge in Drumheller. A wise team of paddlers will have parked a vehicle in town beforehand, otherwise you’d better scrounge together some cab fare.
Feeling inspired to start paddling? Check out Prairie Paddling: Discovering Alberta’s Badlands by Canoe or Mark’s Guide for Alberta Paddlers for more trips to plan.