Saturday, September 15, 2018

Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park

In August we had a chance to paddle Two-Jack Lake in Banff. The day-use area is accessed via Lake Minnewanka Road.

Depending on how full the day use area is, you can literally drive to the waters edge and park 20 feet from the water. There are picnic tables along the lake shore as well as a single washroom.

We were there on two different days and faced smoke both time. The pictures on the web of clear days are amazing, with a lovely green lake and amazing mountains in the background.

The beach is gravel and rock but very shallow so launching is a snap. We saw all manner of water craft on the lake.

You can also access the lake of you are camped in the Two-Jack Lake Lakeside Campground on the southern end of the lake. A full paddle around the lake is about 90 minutes.

It was lovely all day when we were then.

The northern end of the lake includes a dam and some interesting rock formations on the west side of the lake.

Immediately beyond the dam is Lake Minnewanka proper. Minnewanka is a pretty huge lake that can really roll in the right wind (or really any wind). Two Jack offers a very similar experience with much calmer waters (although a big blow can be pretty rough).

Overall, this is a lake we'd go back to on a sunnier day. Truly lovely clear water, interesting bottom and shore line and lots of see.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Bow River, Banff National Park

This summer, we had a chance to float down the Bow river in Banff, downstream of Bow Falls. You can also paddle upstream of the falls as well as into the Vermilion Lakes. Instead of putting our kayaks in, we decided to take a raft trip. You could easily duplicate this one-hour trip in your own boat or float all the way down to Canmore (maybe three hours).

We launched on the Spray Creek but lots of folks were launching directly onto the river from the Bow Falls parking lot.

Floating downstream, you get to see the Banff Springs as well as the golf course and several views of Mount Rundle.

We had a pretty smoky day for our trip so the mountains were a bit obscured. The river was lovely and quite crowded.

The paddling here was fairly easy. There were some gentle rapids (we never got a drop on us) and a few sweepers to be mindful of. Overall, though, this wasn't much more adventurous than the North Saskatchewan.

The most interesting feature we passed was some hoodoos. Apparently animal sightings are pretty common but the smoke and the late season meant we didn't see anything too interesting.

The pull out is a small beach (complete with stairs) on the righthand side of the river. This is right beside golf course road, which leads back to Bow Falls.

Overall, a nice easy trip with the option to extend to Canmore. Probably not the best place for a first river paddle (upstream of Bow Falls would be better--fewer rapids and other hazards).

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Johnson Lake, Banff National Park

Earlier this summer, we had a chance to visit Johnson Lake, just NE of Banff on the Minnewanka Road loop. This small lake offers a nice paddling opportunity close to the townsite but far enough away to eave behind the crowds.

There is a fair sized parking lots with new washrooms under construction. There is also a boat and foot-rinse station as the park tries to control the spread of whirling disease and invasive species.

It is a short (200 feet?) carry down a gentle slope to put in off a sandy beach. There are picnic tables here. You can also access the 3.5km walking trail that loops the lake from here.

We arrived on a very smoking day, thus our pictures are dull and didn't show off how beautiful the lake normally is to look at. There is a nice bay to poke around in immediately to the left of the beach when you launch.

At each end of the lake, there is a small dam and a bridge. Halfway up the lake on the south side there is a rope swing out over the water.

The rest of the lake is a gentle paddle in the mountains (alas, invisible due to smoke in those pictures).

It is about an hour down the lake and back at a very leisurely pace (about the same time to walk the perimeter trail). Overall, a nice place to kayak or paddle board. If the wind is coming from the right direction, the lake can get a touch rough.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Waterton and Linnet Lakes

We took a brief (and slightly smokey) trip to Waterton National Park a few weeks back and got a bit of paddling in. There are five lakes of note in the park, but access to Cameron Lake was closed due to last year's wildfires, so we were only able to check out four.

Upper Waterton Lake

The townsite of Waterton is adjacent to Upper Waterton Lake. The lake stretched roughly north-south for about 11km and a boat trip can take you south to the American side.

Emerald Bay (on the northwest corner of the lake) offers the easiest paddling with pea-gravel beaches around the western perimeter and shelter from the wind. There is decent parking and washrooms here. There were deer in the picnic area here.

The bay isn't big but the clear water and interesting bottom features make it fun for kids.

We had a nice time for about an hour checking out the marina, the breakwater, and the bay. The place was packed by the afternoon with boaters and swimmers (although at 4C, I thought the swimmers were brave).

There is also access to the lake all along the eastern and southern edge of the townsite. The beach isn't as nice and you must contend with the wind and the waves right away. The very south end of town (past the campsite) looks like a decent spot to launch from if you wanted to go down the lake a ways.

To the east of Emerald Bay is the narrows that separates Upper and Middle Waterton Lakes (on my map it is shown as the Bosporus). I wanted to get over here but the wind came up and I didn't want to try cutting across two-foot rollers with Jessica (who is a slow paddler). It is also possible to access the narrows from Middle Waterton Lake.

Middle Waterton Lake

Middle Waterton Lake is a smaller lake, although it is large enough to get some decent waves. The headlands that the Prince of Wales Hotel sits on offers a nice bit of shelter on the south shore of the lake.

You can access the lake from Driftwood Beach (parking lot, boat launch, picnic site, washrooms) right across from the Parks Operations Centre. This lot also gives you access to Linnet Lake (see below). You can also access the lake from a parking lot a few hundred metres further towards the park gates.

You can paddle from here around the headlands and access the narrows from the north side. We saw a bear and two cubs swimming in the narrows while we were there.

Lower Waterton Lake

Lower Watertown Lake is the closest lake to the park gates. It connects to Middle Waterton Lake through a small creek called (rather dramatically) The Dardanelles. We did not try this connection.

The best access is at the northern tip of the lake at the Knight picnic site. A very short carry from the parking lot to the rocky shore gets you on the lake.

The lake also connects at the north end to Maskinoge Lake and, via a river, onto the Waterton Reservoir (we did not paddle either of these lakes).

Linnet Lake

The last lake we looked at in the park is tiny Linnet Lake, located just north of the Prince of Wales hotel and accessed from the Driftwood Beach parking lot.

The lake is small and entirely sheltered. It would be a great paddle for kids.

The lake was, however, signed for swimmer's itch. It was also just a nice sheltered place to read a book out of the (relentless) wind.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Astotin Lake

A few weeks back we were out at Astotin Lake in Elk Island National Park for a bit of camping and paddling. The weather was amazing (+30).

The best news was that the main beach had been cleaned up and was lovely to launch from. The water level looked higher than in recent years and the canoe, kayak, and paddle board rental place was doing a booming business (30+ boats on the water at all times).

There were even people swimming the lake. I've never seen this, although photos from the 1960s and 1970s suggest it was once a big thing. The boat launch to the north of the beach was also in good shape and there were also folks launching from here.

Some smoke started to roll in by the time we got on the water but the kayaking was great. Lots of wildlife.

We staying the campground and, having booked in the spring, manage to snag one of these tent cabins.

The site included a screened in picnic table, fire pit and four adirondack chairs (out of frame to right). The tent was nice and even had a heater (unnecessary for us!).

The boardwalk around the pond has been replaced and there was lots of wildlife to see..

The smoke also made for interesting visual effects, including very red-orange sunsets and sun-rises

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Whitney Lake and Ross Lake

We took a trip out to Whitney Lakes Provincial Park this month. Whitney Lakes has four lakes in the Park (Laurier, Borden, Ross and Whitney) and is about three hours east of Edmonton. Basically east until just after Vermilion and then north for an hour. The roads were awesome with new pavement--an easy drive.

We had time to try two lakes and the online reviews suggested we look at Ross and Whitney Lakes. We started at Ross Lake (bottom right in map above). It has a provincial campground on the south side of the lake with very private camp sites and nice amenities, including large showers. On the west side of the campground, there is a boat launch with ample parking and an outhouse.

Since the lake was also rated as highly swimmable, we went looking for beaches and found two. The first (below) is north of the shower complex along a 300m trail. A bit of a haul for boats but a nice walk and a super secluded beach. We had a lovely swim here with a sandy bottom and shade (it was +30 by noon).

Around the east edge of the lake (in the loop that has campsites 78-102), is a second beach. This has good parking and is a short, 100 foot walk to the beach. There are toilets, play equipment, a swim area and a lovely beach.

We then went to Whitney Lake (bottom left in map above). The entrance is not all that well signed. The campground is not great--big open space with no shade and no privacy. The beach is about 75 feet from the parking lot and is lovely.

It is a big beach with lots of room. There is easy beach launching, a shallow grade, and a marked swimming area. Just to the NE there is a boat launch. There were more motor boats on this lake (bigger than Ross Lake).

The swimming was also nice (+35C by the time we got here). Although nice, I'd rate Ross Lake nicer. The campground was way better, the lake was quieter and more interesting from a birding and paddling perspectives. And the water seemed a bit cleaner to me (although both were lovely).

I'd go back if only to try Laurier Lake (couldn't figure access to Borden Lake from the maps). The distance from Edmonton suggests camping is likely necessary (nearest big centres are St. Paul or Lloydminister if you wanted to hotel it).

Friday, July 27, 2018

Cardiff Pond

Cardiff Pond is located about 15 minutes north of St Albert, just east of Morinville. It is a small municipal pond that is stocked for fishing (and there were lots of folks fishing while we were there). The easiest access point is by the main dock (about two-thirds of the way down the lake on the west edge).

There is a parking lot that is about 300 feet from the water. I didn't see any bathrooms here but I suspect there must be some in the park. At the water, there is a floating dock (behind bush in picture below) but you can also access the water for a beach launch. It isn't much of a beach and I was happy to have water shoes).

Below is a reverse shot of the landing, which is to the left of the dock, just below the trailer.

The pond is small and narrow and has good cover from the wind. It was pretty breezy the day we were there but the water was calm. A nice place to take kids or to practice stand-up paddle boarding.

Although the lake is small, it has lots of coves and reaches. We leisurely paddle all but the NW reach in about 40 minutes. We would have paddle that one as well but we ran into an angry loon (young nearby) so we decided to reverse course.

Jessica had fun hunting for lost fishing tackle and we recovered four errant floats.

I'm not sure I'd go back. It was a nice paddle. Pretty much similar to Hermitage Pond in NE Edmonton. But it was a bit small for our tastes and abilities at this point.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Summer on the Sturgeon

With all of the rain, the North Saskatchewan has been a touch high these past few weeks. So I drove out to St Albert to paddle on the Sturgeon River. The Sturgeon is more of a spring paddle.

The river tends to be much lower in the summer (it often two feet lower than in the spring) and this year is no exception. It was still possible to get in at the Mission boat launch without walking on the muddy bottom, but only barely. The real challenge was the weeds.

The river was choked with weeds pretty much the whole way from downtown to Ray Gibson's Drive. This means way more friction on the boat and also a lot tougher paddling.

It was still better than being in the office (and I had the river to myself) but likely the Sturgeon is done for the summer. Oh well--hopefully we're off to a new (to us) pond up by Morinville in the next week or so.