A fun run full of lots of play and excitement for an intermediate paddler. The Red Deer can be described as a pool drop river, in that it has a number of distinct rapids separated by extended sections of float. Thus while several of the drops can be class III, bank scouting and portaging is easy and there's always ample time to recover from swims.
For this river, 30 cms is low, 50-80 cms is moderate and provides for good for surfing at S-bend. Above 90 cms the river is at high flows and at flood (200+ cms, the river has been above 1000 cms in the past) this is a truly exciting run but not suitable for beginners. In the event of flood conditions, one can paddle with beginners on the Panther river, which is a tributary of the Red Deer, up past Mountain Aire Lodge.
Typical put in locations are the blue bridge at Mountain Aire Lodge , the airport or the Gas Plant. Typical take-outs are S-bend, Wysenchuk's Crossing, or for a long paddle Cache Hill. Putting in at the blue bridge adds about thirty minutes to the paddle, and has one small play feature, a surf wave at a wall, with eddy service at the wall on river left.
The Floods of 2013 significantly changed the Upper Red Deer. In the area where 'Big Rock' used to be, the river has rerouted itself to the north (river left) and completely bypasses the rock feature that created 'BigRock'. Throughout the entire run there is still much evidence of the destruction from the flood. Wood will be moving around in this river for years to come as a result of the flooding.
The Red Deer starts to fork below the former Big Rock. When the Red Deer forks, the left channel is always the easier one of the two, with the right often having (easily avoidable) ledges for boof practice. This is true all the way down to Cache Hill. In particular, there is one ledge in the right channel above Gooseberry that drops into a jet ferry that is ideal for doing laps.
Gooseberry is probably the biggest feature on the Red Deer, and it consists of a river-wide ledge with a notch in it. The notch creates a flushy green tongue that is usually run, punching the bottom. The ledge can also be boofed on the extreme left. Parts of Gooseberries can technically be considered class IV. The right side to the notch is very unfriendly, and missing a boof in-between the extreme left and the tongue usually results in getting pulled back into the pourover and typewritered back and forth across the ledge. Since the drop does change significantly with flow, it's normally bank scouted, eddying out on river left.
Directly below Gooseberry is Jimbo's staircase, which is a series of small ledges that create a sequence of holes to punch through on a read-and-run basis. When punching holes, remember to lean forward, reach across the foampile, and pull yourself through. Do not go into the holes sideways or you will probably be side-surfed and/or flipped.
The rapids continue to show up quickly for awhile, with another fork of the river and the right side having a wavetrain with some small holes to make moves around. Below the fork is S-bend, which consists of 4-5 big standing waves with a potentially big hole at the bottom. The top waves can be caught on the fly, and the bottom two waves have eddy service on river left, in the beach. S-bend has some of the more retentive and friendly surf waves in Alberta, particularly around 75 cms. The bottom hole is not a good place to be at high water. S-bends often has a number of river surfers riding the waves. They normally clear off the wave for upstream traffic but not always.
After S-bend, the river becomes more a float with the exception of a few wave trains. At Nationals the river becomes constricted between two rock shelves, giving a ~150 m wave train that is heavily water dependent as progressive floods have reduced its size. At high water Nationals becomes quite pushy and some muchy but non-retentive holes develop in Nationals, mostly on the left-hand side.
Below Nationals the river has again rerouted itself to river left. Formerly there was a bit of a tricky corner where the river ran into a headwall. This is now high and dry a hundred feet or so from the main flow on river right.
We generally take out beginners at Wysenchuk's, as the paddle to Cache Hill is long and mostly a float. There are some strong eddy lines that are good for stern squirts that often have wood in them in the first half, where the left bank is a big shale hill. About half-way through there is a significant ledge (3') in the right channel. Later on is Sauna Hole, which looks fearsome but is just a right-to-left jet ferry if you pick up your right edge. Below Sauna Hole is a a big wave train. Not long after the wave train is the Cache Hill campsite, which is a big long gravel bar on river left. Directly below the take-out is Cache Hill rapid which has an easy ride down the right. The left is a boulder sieve at medium water and a III+ boulder garden at higher water.
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The symbols can be clicked on and provide some simple explanations of why they are there. You can also use the symbols to get directions from Google Maps to the put in/takeout. A handy thing!
From Calgary drive north on HWY22 to Sundre. From Sundre take HWY584W for 8km until you reach the junction with HWY734. There will be a sign for Mountain Aire Lodge. Turn Left. The takeout at S-Bends is about 32km from the intersection of HWY584W and HWY734. It is not well marked but there is a turn off that leads down to the river with some camping nearby. Mountain Aire Lodge is about another 8km down HWY734.
Continue W on HWY734 and you will reach a junction with HWY940 after about 8 kilometers go left or S on HWY940 for a little bit until you reach Mountain Aire Lodge.
Intermediate to advanced playboating river run
The Red Deer is best in spring and summer. Generally the higher the water the bigger the waves at S-Bends. At high water watch out as this run could step up to a low Class IV. The Red Deer is fed primarily by snowmelt and rain. Low water is about 30cms. Highwater is over 100cms.