Saturday, July 31, 2021

Emerald Lake, Yoho Park

We had a chance to paddle Emerald Lake this summer. It is located just inside the BC border along Highway 1, maybe an hour west of Banff. Best paddle of the year so far and definitely one of my top 5 paddles ever.

Emerald gets busy, so we arrived at about 7:30 local time (gaining an hour because we crossed the border from Alberta). The parking lot was almost empty. By the time we left (about 11 am), the lot was full and people were parking down the highway and walking in.

You can rent canoes there (see picture below). If you bring your own boats, you can launch off a small beach about 200 feet west of the parking lot (keep walking past the bathrooms). The parking area also has pit toilets and picnic tables and is the trail head for a hike around the lake. There is also a lodge here (just across the bridge).

The lake itself is a beautiful glacial green and was dead calm when were there. This year Yoho and Banff have imposed some restrictions on private boats (self-check in and a 48-hour drying period between lakes) to control aquatic diseases and pests. Emerald is a part of this project and it is worth reading ahead of time so as to not be disappointed.

It took us about 90 minutes to paddle the shoreline (at a modest pace) and the lake was so pretty we did it twice, once each way.

Wildlife was a bit thin but we did have a nice time with two loons and a chick. The loons were pretty calm as long as we kept our distance.

The far end of the lake has a number of creeks dumping into it. The one below was small. Further to the east there is a larger creek with a silty delta. I managed to get about 40 or 50 feet up this creek (which is moving pretty fast) before the channel got too shallow to continue.

The lake started to get busy with other boaters by about 9 am. Every picture at Emerald looks like a magazine cover so I'll just let you scroll down.

On our way back, we stopped in at the natural bridge and then went into Field. Field is an old railway town and looks like a model train set up. We had ice cream at the Truffle pIds Bistro and Lodge.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Lake Isle, Kokomoko Recreation Area

We spent a few days on Lake Isle in July. There are multiple access points but one of the easiest to find is the boat launch at Kokomoko Recreation area on the south side of the lake, just north of Seba Beach. Easiest route is Highway 16 west to Sea Beach overpass, then north on Range Road 60 until you hit Township Road 534, then west to the water.

The day-use area (green arrow) has a nice boat launch, good parking, pit toilets, fire pits (no wood) and a few picnic tables. This may have once been a campground but is now just a day use area.

The boat launch opens to a sheltered bay. Beyond the bay, there are some interesting islands.

There was a far bit of wildlife here. Lots of pelicans, heron, loons, geese, terns, and fish jumping. There were also deer on the islands and on the shore.

The water is a bit weedy anywhere it is shallow with bullrushes at the edge. The lake was also starting to get a goodly amount of algae (not a bloom, just starting to be a bit green).

Overall, this was a nice enough paddle but not really a good place to swim. 

We rented a cabin here for a few days and enjoyed the sunsets!

If I was to go back, I'd try my luck at the east end of the lake (there is a launch at range road 52 and Lake Isle Road). There also appears to be a creek down at that end which may allow access to to Lac Ste Anne (although the satellite photos suggest there are sketchy parts).

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Star Lake

Star Lake is located SW of Stony Plain mostly known as a fishing hole. It is maybe 500m east-west and slightly longer north-south so the shoreline would be 2 km, maybe? It is on the way to Mayatan lake (which is a nicer paddle). Easiest access is west on Highway 16, south on Highway 770, then west again on Township Road 524.

The boat launch and parking on the eastern edge of the shore, just slightly south on Township Road 524 down Range Road 25 (you can see the access from the intersection on the SW side). Gravel lot, pit toilets, dock and shore launch. No motorized boats, which is nice.

It is an okay paddle (clear water) but lots of folks fish here so you need to give the shore a berth is places.

Not a bad paddle. Not sure I'd go back, though.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Mayatan Lake

I had a chance to paddle Mayatan Lake in late June. The lake is located SW of Stony Plain. Getting there is a touch tricky. 

I came off Highway 16, turned south on Highway 770 (the Carvel Turn), then west on Township Road 524 (turning at Mink Lake), then north at Range Road 25 (Star Lake), then west on Township Road 524A, then south on Range Road 30 into Mayatan Lake Estates. Setting your GPS to Mayatan Estates is probably the easiest option.

Once you are into Mayatan Estates, the boat launch is not marked and easy to miss (see green arrow above). There is a turnabout right at the edge of the lake with parking about 20 metres from the launch. The launch is gravel but easy to use and it was a clean entry.

The lake itself was very clear and you can see down at least 10 feet. There is a slight septic smell just south of the launch (probably leaking from a cabin) but the rest of the lake was fine.

The two halves of the lake are connected with a narrow (7 feet?) channel that is also very hallow. Lots of birds in here and a fun paddle.

The lake shore is almost 100% reeds (except on the south shore of the east half where there is some sort of private camp underneath the power transmission lines. It looks like people swim in the lake (there are deeper portions). Lots of interesting bays to explore. The shoreline is maybe 6 or 7 km around and took me under 2 hours at a stately pace.

I saw a fair bit of wildlife (e.g., angry loons, terns fishing, terns being chased by red-winged black birds) and some beaver. The clear water shows how the beavers have dug deeper channels so they can get out of the lodges after the lake freezes.

Overall, this was a nice paddle. I was there early to beat the heat and the lake was empty. Nearby Star Lake was pretty busy with people fishing at the same time.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Sandy Lake

A tip from a fellow on the Facebook took me to Sandy Lake, which is about 40 minutes NW of Edmonton by the Alexander First Nation. The best access is from the east on Highway 642 (which takes off from Morinville at the Highway 2 overpass). We came up from Highway 16, but ran into Covid road blocks on some of the secondary north-south roads.

I've looked at Sandy Lake a couple of times but could never sort out the access. There is a boat launch immediately west of the bridge on the south side with good parking. The launch itself is pretty interesting and this is not a first-date lake! It is about a 50-foot carry from the parking lot to the water but the water is a muddy path out through the weeds. We had to bum scoot, then pole, then paddle to get going.

The weedy channel was actually pretty cool, with lots of yellow-headed blackbirds and water fowl. Once we got clear, the lake was nice. The water is about the colour of iced tea. Between that and the launch, this is probably not a SUP destination. I also wonder about getting a canoe out of the launch with a slightly deeper draw.

We had a lovely paddle. There are clusters of cabins along the shore and lots of birds with young.

The lake south of the bridge is about 1-2km wide (depending on where) and maybe 4.5 km long? We went about half way down. No boats, glassy smooth, incredible sun, huge skies. Forest is most deciduous so might be pretty in autumn. I'd say the lake is pretty shallow (<10 feet) and would be pretty weedy in late summer (edges were already weeding up).

We saw ruddy ducks (blue bills are cool) and grebes with babies on their backs. Also geese, mallards, maybe a loon, a huge heron, and some wood ducks. 

The return to the launch was nice and getting out was way less muddy than I expected (basically managed to shuffle up on some grass and step out dry footed).

I don't think it is possible to get to the northern part of the lake (under the bridge). As far as I could tell, there were no services or public washrooms in town except maybe a general store. There was a park and picnic site on the east side of the bridge on the north side of the highway.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Half Moon Lake, Thorhild County

After visiting Half Moon Lake SE of Sherwood Park, a friend pointed out that there was also a Half Moon Lake NE of town in Thorhild County. I took Highway 28 north of town to Bon Accord, turned up Lily Lake Road and followed it until it dead-ended at Township Road 590. Then maybe 4km on gravel to the Half Moon lake Campground. About an hour all told.

The campground has a day use area with a sandy boat launch on the north shore. The access fee is $20 per car to use the launch. There are washrooms and decent parking. The rest of the lakeshore is private property and I didn't see any other access points. I expect this lake would be hopping on the weekend.

The lake is only about 200m wide and the perimeter is four and half or five km long. It took me less than two hours to paddle at a relax pace. The lake runs east-west and there are no trees on the west end so the wind gets a good run. I'm not sure the lake is deep enough to worry much about big rollers. It was pretty windy when I was there (up to 30kmh) but the waves were no real problem.

The west end of the lake is a typical northern Alberta lake. Pine trees, boggy shore, beaver lodges, waterfowl, and some lilybeds. The water was super clear.

I paddled though the swampier area on the west end and then cruised the south shore back east.

The eastern half of the lake is much of a Parkland style, with aspens. Overall, the east end was prettier.

The wind really picked up on the way back but the wave action was pretty modest (below).

Overall, a nice paddle. A friend said she and her family picked up some itch there once so a rinse after getting out might be in order (I didn't see any facilities for that, so plan ahead with some water jugs). There was a touch of algae in the west end (typical swamp stuff, not a bloom). No idea what the water would be like in the summer--might be worth phoning ahead to the campground.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Half Moon Lake, Sherwood Park

I tried out Half Moon Lake a week or so back. This Half Moon Lake is located south and east of Sherwood Park. You can come at it a couple of different ways. If you come in off Township Road 520 on the south side, you can access the lake through the Half Moon Lake Resort. This includes a beach (see below) and boat launch. I understand there is a small day-use fee to launch from here ($10/person).

The other options require you go east from Sherwood Park on Wye Road then turn south down Range Road 220 and come at the lake from the North. There are two public access points that I have flagged in the screen cap below. Both are a little tricky to find. As you drive eastward along the north shore of the lake, there are three Canada Post super boxes. The launches are across from the second and third boxes.

The right-most launch is a grassy path down to the water. There is a bit of slope.

The water entrance is the pits. Big step down to the bottom where the lake drops off rapidly.

I think the better option is the left-hand access. This is a gravel road. In theory, you could drive down, unload and drive up. But there is no room at the bottom to turn around and the road is pretty pitted and quite steep. I just parked at the top and carried (maybe 200 feet?).

Access to the water is good with a little shelf of gravel on the bottom to stand on and launch from.

The lake is about 4km around the perimeter but the western section is marsh where pelicans and other birds nest (so best avoided until late summer).

There were a lot of lovely birds (including pelicans--I saw one group of at last 30 in the distance) flying and floating. The trees are mostly aspens and have a lovely rustling sound in the wind. I bet this would be spectacular in the autumn when the leaves turn.

A beaver lodge, a fair number of cabins, and lots of power boats on the shore. So probably a busy lake on a summer weekend. I wonder about algae in summer.

Overall, a really nice beginner paddle (maybe an hour around the edge). Not much shelter in a blow, though. Would totally go back.