Red Deer River – Content Bridge to Tolman

Jonny and I paddled this stretch of the Red Deer River as our first canoe trip together, and returned this weekend for our 5th canoe trip. We only ever paddle once a year, so it’s been 4 years since we were on this part of the river. The annual canoe trip is usually the first big outdoor adventure of the season and helps pass those early July weeks when the backcountry may, or may not still be snowy.

We started Friday afternoon at Content Bridge around 2 pm in unbelievably good weather. It would have been hard to imagine a more perfect day for paddling on the Red Deer – blue skies and 30 degrees! As a change, I paddled in the back of the canoe (for a large part of the trip actually) to work on my steering skills. I’m so used to paddling with Jon that I sometimes forget I should have paddling skills of my own. The only downside to the back of the boat is that it is harder to take photos while you’re supposed to be steering.

Water levels were much lower this year than in 2006 and things were moving much slower. The one river hazard (the Backbone) was exposed, and I felt quite proud of myself as I navigated through it. While nothing serious, several shallow sections, exposed rocks and very small standing waves gave me something to practice avoiding as we worked our way downstream.

We only paddled about 20 km Friday afternoon, taking time to swim and enjoy the sunshine before finding a campsite. This was a little less than I’d planned, but worked out well in the end. Finding a camp spot is my least favorite part of the day, but luckily we searched for only an hour before deciding to settle down.

Evenings always pass quickly in camp – a swim, a drink, dinner, and watching what ever wildlife (in our case, a beaver) might show up can take up a couple of hours before you know it.


By the time the bugs got bad, and rain clouds closed in, I was ready to retire anyways. We recently purchased a new canoeing/car camping tent and this canoe trip was our first time using it. I am in love with, and not just because the sleeping space is bigger than our bed at home. We hadn’t put the additional vestibule on the down-weather side of the tent, and given how warm it was, we were able to sleep with just the screen door on. This meant that when we awoke to rain in the morning, I had a clear view of exactly how wet it was outside, and how little the clouds were moving without leaving the comfort of my bag.

By 9 am, when the clouds had given no indication of moving on, we finally climbed out of our tent, and set up our trusty tarp. You might as well be dry when you get the chance. Breakfast and camp packing up went as well as it can on a rainy morning, and we were on the river by 10:30. Luckily for us the rain was infrequent and not very heavy – a drizzle that kept up just enough so we were wet, but not enough for anyone to get cold.

We just paddled all day (having a few km to cover to make up for Friday), stopping for lunch when we found a shelter and quickly at Dry Island Provincial Park to stretch our legs and clamber up one hoo-doo for a view of the badlands. The badlands are different in the rain, and less enjoyable to play on in the mud, but the river was still beautiful even with the cloudy sky.

Because we’re a lucky bunch, by the time we’d cleared the park and were ready to camp, the rain had stopped. It took a few tries, but we found a flat bank that was cow free and set up our tents. The cows always seem to have the flat, grassy spots already staked out. Just as we finished, the rain started up again and we quickly built a tarp shelter out of our stacked canoes, multiple paddles and two tarps. For quick construction, our shelter held up to the rain and we toasted another successful day now that we were dry.

With the wind finally blowing, the rain cleared out before too long and we got a few minutes of sunshine before it disappeared behind the hills. Our rainy day turned into another lovely evening, with the hoodoos around our camp red in the sun, and the  bugs kept away by the breeze. Which is pretty nice, because camping in the rain sucks.

Sunday was our final day, and although a quick look out of the tent door in the morning showed the river was fogged in, by the time we’d all stumbled out of our tents the wind was starting to blow, and the river cleared off.

We’d paddled almost all of the way to the end on Saturday, so we had a quick 45 minutes of paddling to our car at Tolman left for Sunday. The wind that had blown away the fog became a nasty headwind as soon as we got on the river, blowing in large clouds and then quickly clearing them off for a brief moment of sun before moving more clouds back in. We reached the boat launch in time for lunch, and were home before 5 pm, catching the last few minutes of the World Cup on the car radio. Even with the rain, it was an excellent trip!


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