Well, I'd sure rather be out there paddling the South Saskatchewan River than in here writing about it. Taking a half or full day to mozey downstream with the sun shining, the breeze blowing, wildlife all over and great sandy expanses to stop and take a break on.... whoa, I'm driving myself crazy here.
There are a number of good access points to the river and it depends on how long you want to paddle. Of course the river won't always look like the above picture. Wind can funnel down the river valley and a headwind can seriously slow you down. But you already know that.
Here's the lowdown on some of our favourite paddling day trips on the South Sask. The access points are pretty easy to get to and you can take-out right in the city at a few different locations. All you need is to organize a shuttle and you're good to go.
Paddling time: 1.5-2hrs
Not too far from the city and easy to find, although access to the river is not the greatest - it's a steep bank that can be difficult to get your boat down, especially if you are alone. To get there, drive south on Valley Road about 6km. Keep your eyes open for the sign to Poplar Bluffs Conservation Area and hang a left onto the access road. You'll drive a bit less than 2km to a little parking area; you need to carry your gear about 100m or so to access the river. Note that the parking area is open from 9am-9pm daily during the summer (May long weekend to Labour Day) and on weekends until October 31 when it closes down for the winter. It's maintained by the Meewasin Valley Authority (MVA).
Fred Heal Canoe Launch
Paddling time: 3-4hrs
This popular launch spot - also maintained by the MVA - has a decent sized parking area and short trail (40m) to the water. Usually there is a small beach there but in high water this completely disappears and you'll be launching from the bushes. You can leave your car in the lot during daylight hours.
To find the launch, drive south on Lorne Avenue until you pass Beaver Creek. Right after you cross the creek hang a right (west) onto a gravel road. Drive along this until you're sure you've missed the turnoff. It will be near the bottom of a hill and you'll turn right, crossing a large open field area with some dead trees. There are sandhill cranes in here during the migration. The road ends in the parking area and there is, surprisingly, a sign for Fred Heal Canoe Launch.
Paddling time: 3.5-5hrs
This MVA maintained area has a lot of beaches during regular water levels and is a hotspot for sunbathers. (Translation: there will be naked people there.) There is a large area for parking and you'll walk anywhere from 50m to 300m to the water depending on river levels. If you are willing to paddle upstream a short ways, there are fantastic sandbars there (and far fewer crowds).
To access, drive south on Valley Road until it curves past the Berry Barn. Just past Lakeshore Tree Farms, turn left onto Range Rd 3063. (You'll know you've missed this turnoff if you hit Highway 60.) Take the road 2.5km south until you reach the parking area.
Pike Lake Pumping Station
Paddling time: 6-8hrs
This is a great full day trip. Enjoy the subtle prairie scenery as you wind your way through the river valley. The launch site isn't maintained though, so your bathroom break will be ... rustic. There is a fence that you need to get around - there is a rough track just south of the pumping station you can use, but it gets nasty if it has rained recently. The put in is a bit steep.
To get there, drive south on Valley Road until it curves west and you hit Highway 60. Turn left (south) onto Highway 60 and head 11.5km to where it curves into Pike Lake Provincial Park. Turn right at this point onto O'Malley Road - a paved road that takes you past acreages for 1.8km, then take the first left (this will be along the south edge of the park) and drive east 5km to the launch. Again, it's a dirt road, so your little Mini Cooper might wallow there after wet weather.
Take-out points in Saskatoon:
- Gabriel Dumont Park: there's great parking here, bathrooms, picnic tables and fire stands, playground, and a small sandy beach very close to the parking lot.
- Victoria Boathouse: on the west side of the river are the Rowing Club docks - great for disembarking. There are bathrooms in the building open during the day, and extensive parking behind the Boathouse. The Saskatoon Canoe Club (and other boating clubs) is based out of here so you might see some friendly faces.
- Rotary Park: tonnes of parking close to the river. There's a small sand beach you can take out on. Then go get ice cream at Homestead Ice Cream on Victoria Ave. You deserve it.