Take in the badlands from a vantage point like no other. This tour takes you down the Middle Red Deer River, one of the most popular paddling areas in Alberta and accommodates all skill levels. The mysterious badlands scenery, good access, numerous campgrounds, and central location contribute to this tour’s allure. Follow the full tour from Content Bridge to Drumheller or customize the tour by selecting a day trip from one of the many access points. Follow the history of the region down this river, from dinosaurs to First Nations’ people to early settlers in the Canadian Badlands.

Be sure to look up driving times before you depart. A full list of visitor centers as well as contact information for attractions on this tour can be found by downloading the tour document.

The Canadian Badlands Touring Routes aim to follow good secondary highways and occasionally, offer gravel-road alternatives. Please drive carefully and respect private property. Every effort has been made to ensure accurate information at the time of publication. You are advised to conduct further research in advance. We are unable to accept responsibility for any inconvenience, loss or injury sustained as a result of anyone relying upon this information.

Tour Route

1. Before you leave.

Wilderness or "random" camping is allowed along the river on the public lands associated with the river. The river bank below the "normal high water mark" may be utilized by paddlers. Virtually all the public lands above the "high water mark," and in particular those lands designated as the Tolman Badlands Heritage Rangeland Natural Area are presently subject to agricultural leases and access must be arranged with the leaseholder in advance. For further information about the various leases, and leaseholders please consult the Public Lands web site at: srd.alberta.ca .

Paddlers who choose to random camp along the shores should plan their trip for mid to late summer after the high water of June to mid-July. Please note that no camping is allowed within Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park. Paddlers who choose to day-trip and base each day’s paddle from a public or private campground as described in this tour have a broader range of river flows, and more of the summer in which you may plan your trip.

For more paddling and travel information please consult the ARCA (Alberta Recreational Canoe Association)

A Paddler’s Guide to the Middle Red Deer River: Dickson to Drumheller.
This map is available at most outdoor sports stores and map stores, some Visitor Centres in Central Alberta and directly from ARCA at: abcanoekayak.org.

Camping Tip!
Leave No Trace camping is the modern way to camp; great minimal impact camping information is available at http://www.leavenotrace.ca.

Transport Canada requires all canoes, kayaks, and rafts to carry a minimum of:

  • one appropriately fitting Personal Flotation Device (PFD) for each occupant

  • a bailer

  • a buoyant heaving line of 15 m or more (a "throw bag")

  • a sound signaling device (a whistle or "air horn")

  • a spare paddle or oar (kayak paddlers can share a "break-down" paddle).

For further information contact: http://www.tc.gc.ca/marinesafety/

2. Trenville Park Campground to Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park

Today you paddle down to the Tolman Bridge. You will want to maximize the time you have to explore Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park so be sure to start early. Here the valley walls take on more of the eroded characteristics of the Canadian Badlands. The river flats are covered in the short grasses of the western prairies and the driest locations in the valley host prickly pear cactus.

As you enter Dry Island Provincial Park, you will paddle directly towards the site of the former buffalo jump, one of the tallest and largest sites used on the Canadian prairies. Spend some time on the hiking trails throughout the park being sure to hike to the “island” mesa.

3. Dry Island Buffalo Jump to Morrin Bridge Campground

This could be your lazy day, sleep in a bit, and float the river. This leg of the paddle tour is wildlife lover’s dream. On this reach it is common to see eagles, osprey, turkey vultures, pelicans, prairie falcons, red tail hawks, eastern king birds. Watch for white tailed deer, coyotes, and beaver as you complete the transition from the Parklands to the Grasslands region of Alberta.

4. Morrin Bridge Campground to Newcastle Park in Drumheller

Over the course of today’s paddle you leave the near wilderness that you have so far paddled through, to gradually paddle into the urban setting of Drumheller, your final destination.

Imagine the first paleontologists making the same trek down the Red Deer River as you approach the Drumheller Valley. J.B. Tyrrell came down the river by canoe in 1884 and many followed during the “Great Canadian Dinosaur Rush” over the years to come.

Paddle by the Bleriot Ferry as the river gradient decreases and the current slows. Take in the majestic rock formations, unique erosion patterns, and scattered wildlife as you enter the “Dinosaur Capital of the World”.

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