There are few better ways to spend a hot Alberta summer day than by reclining in an inner tube or raft and floating along a river, with the sun warming your face while the cool water caresses your dangling arms and legs. For a lazy-day activity, however, it does take a bit of planning: Have you checked the water levels of your preferred river? Do you have the right safety gear? How will you get back to your car once your float is finished? Fortunately a handful of outfitters offer equipment and logistical support to make your river tubing excursion appropriately stress-free.
Pembina River Tubing: Park at this outfitter’s lot just outside Entwistle (and securely stow your keys with them), then rent a tube and life jacket and glide down the river, through a 62-metre Ice Age gorge, toward Pembina River Provincial Park. The company also monitors the river’s variable water level: Under ideal circumstances, a languid current ensures a family-friendly two- to three-hour journey; a lower flow, however, creates shallow areas that must be portaged, while higher water levels make tubing trips a riskier proposition. Once you’ve exited, Pembina River Tubing provides a ride back to your car.
River Lifestyle Company: This company rents adult- and kid-size tubes, plus life vests, for two enjoyable trips along the North Saskatchewan River in Devon, southwest of Edmonton. (The longer route can feature rougher waters and is subject to river conditions.) Transportation back to your parked vehicle is also provided.
Lazy Day Raft Rentals: While it’s possible to float the Bow and Elbow rivers through Calgary on your own, hazards like bridge pillars—as well as the Bow’s relatively rapid flow—mean you may find it more convenient to gear up with Lazy Day Raft Rentals. The company rents sturdy rafts, paddles and safety gear for navigating the rivers, and can advise you on plotting the best course for a safe float. Shuttle service is also offered from downtown to the starting point of your river journey.
Pursuit Adventures: Pursuit offers curated group floats down an idyllic stretch of the Red Deer River. Guests are provided with all the necessaries—including transportation back to their vehicles—plus a knowledgeable guide and excellent opportunities to glimpse local landmarks and wildlife. Among the unique tour options: a sunset float, and “Raft + Craft” tour with light dinner and a tour of Troubled Monk Brewery.
KID-FRIENDLY TUBE TIME
While families are often able to enjoy natural floating under good conditions, younger kids sometimes have just as much fun at water parks made especially for them. The big draw at Red Deer’s Discovery Canyon is its lazy river, which takes tubers down a gentle incline toward a wading pool and beach. Likewise, Whitecourt’s Rotary Park features a pair of “river slides” with a series of pools and drops for tubing and play. Bring your own tube to either free attraction—or rent one for $5 at Discovery Canyon.
If you’re confident in your water awareness and safety equipment (and have an entry-and-exit strategy), it’s also possible to go river tubing on your own—on the Pembina River route described above, and elsewhere.
Elbow River at Bragg Creek: Entering at Bragg Creek Provincial Park means you can experience the river without the Calgary crowds. The float north into the Cowboy Trail town takes about two hours.
McLeod River at Whitecourt: From an access point along West Mountain Road, south of town, you can tube or raft the mild current back toward Whitecourt. It’s a 2.5- to 4-hour float, depending on water levels.
Milk River at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park: Hoodoos and petroglyphs aren’t the only draws here. The park’s section of the Milk River is perfect for a relaxing float or peaceful paddle.
South Saskatchewan River at Medicine Hat: Floating along from Dale Regional Park offers up choice views of downtown. Note, however, that in addition to the usual safety gear, city by-laws require river users to also pack a whistle and 15-foot tow rope.
Oldman River at Lethbridge: The most popular entry points are Botterill Bottom and Indian Battle parks. From there you’re carried north, passing beneath the iconic High Level Bridge and then the Crowsnest Highway. It’s possible to indulge in a six-hour float to Pavan Park, or exit earlier at Peenaquim Park. (You mustn’t however, float farther than Pavan Park; after that point there are no suitable exits from the river.)
WHAT YOU NEED
Of course, it’s always safety first when it comes to river tubing in Alberta—or anywhere else. In addition to a properly fitted life jacket, it’s a good idea to float with the following:
• A float plan, so that you and anyone else in your group knows the safest place to enter and—crucially—exit the river, and what to do if conditions on the water change. The plan should also be shared with someone who’s not tubing with you, so that they know your expected return time.
• A paddle (or paddles, if you’re using a multi-person raft) to aid steering.
• Drinking water to keep you hydrated in the summer heat. Quenching your thirst with river water is not an option.
• Sunscreen, as well as a hat and sunglasses, as sunlight can be particularly harsh when reflected off the water’s surface.
• Water shoes for getting in and out of the river, or in case you need to portage. Sharp and/or slippery rocks abound.
• A waterproof container for first-aid supplies, your cell phone and car keys.
• A whistle—to signal for help in case of emergency.