White Water Rivers
Unknown and unrivalled, Grande Cache is home to Alberta’s best selection of white water paddling. With wild creeks that roar down the mountainside or quiet scenic paddles, beginner to experienced paddlers can find a river suited to their abilities. Best of all, rarely will you see another paddler. You can also experience the river in the hands of professional raft guides, offering trips suited to every age and ability. High water season is late-May and June.
The area around Grande Cache is rich with a variety of navigable rivers from mild to wild for white water canoes, kayaks or rafts. We have everything from “easy” class 1 stretches on the Smoky River suitable for moderately skilled canoeists, to raging class 5 runs on the Sheep Creek suitable only for highly skilled paddlers in kayaks or rafts.
Regardless of the water level, or the rating, all rivers should be treated with respect. Proper training and equipment are mandatory. Always scout what you can’t see.
Description of Rivers
Rivers run highest in June and July, but may rise to flood levels at any time due to high rainfall. Ratings given are at normal water levels, and will generally increase at higher levels. They reflect the most difficult rapids on a given section of river.
Extended trips: Canfor Bridge or beyond Class 3 to 4, Canfor Bridge or beyond. Gradient: 4 m/km (20 ft/mi.). Elevation at Put-in: 960 m (3200 ft.).
The Smoky River continues north, roughly paralleling Highway 40 but at some distance. Although mostly fairly tranquil, don’t relax too much because it will suddenly throw a few giant waves or a tricky corner at you just to keep you thinking. Upstream from where the Kakwa River joins the Smoky is a class 3+ to 4 rapids called The Chutes. These are unavoidable. Upstream of where the Cutbank River flows in, is a series of class 3+ to 4 ledges. These can be run or stay river-right to avoid them. SCOUT these before running! They may also be difficult to portage at higher water levels.
The first possible take-out is some 30 km (19 mi.) south of Grande Prairie on the Canfor Road, which heads east and crosses the Smoky. This is at least a 3 or 4 day trip.
The Smoky finally empties into the Peace River near the town of Peace River, so even longer trips are possible.
Generally a small river, suitable for white water canoes and kayaks only. But can swell to flooding easily with heavy rains, in which case its character changes significantly.
Muskeg River Bridge to Mason Creek Day Use Area Class 2 to 3, 2 km (1.3 mi.). Gradient: 6 m/km (32 ft/mi.). Elevation at Put-in: 1290 m (4300 ft.).
A short run which follows directly alongside Highway 40, this is perfect for practice runs or quick evening paddles. There is great surfing right under the bridge during high water. To begin the trek, put in at the Muskeg River bridge, which is 22 km (13.6 mi.) south of Grande Cache on Highway 40. On the way, leave a second vehicle at the Mason Creek Day Use Area, only 19 km (11.8 mi.) south. Don’t have a second vehicle? This run is short enough to walk or bike with ease. WARNING: Don’t miss the take-out at Mason Creek… the stretch which follows ends at Muskeg Falls; 13 metres (43 feet) high and un-runnable! Note: The short section of the river between Mason Creek and Muskeg Falls is navigable, but technical, and you cannot miss the take-out! It also means a considerable hike back to the highway.
Muskeg Falls to outlet at Smoky River Class 2 to 3, 22 km (14 mi.). Gradient: 6 m/km (32 ft/mi.). Elevation at Put-in: 1290 m (4300 ft.).
An all-day or overnight paddle with a remote wilderness feel. Spectacular scenery, great fishing pools and lots of short, interesting rapids. A couple of ledges, one about 1.5 km (0.9 mi.) from the put-in and another about half-way down keep you on your toes. The first you may want to portage; the second, too, in high water.
The put-in immediately below Muskeg Falls, 16 km (10 mi.) south of Grande Cache on Highway 40, involves a 1.5 km (0.9 mi.) hike to the river. Where the trail forks be sure to take the left, which leads steeply down to bring you out below the (un-runnable!) falls. For the take-out, drive 18 km (11.2 mi.) north of town on Highway 40 and turn right at the Smoky River Coal / ATCO Electric site. Cross the Wanyandie Bridge (yielding to trucks), turn left and follow the low road to a narrow bridge spanning the Muskeg River within sight of its confluence with the Smoky.
Class 2 to 3+, 10 km (6 mi.). Gradient: 10 m/km (55 ft/mi.). Elevation at Put-in: 1050 m (3500 ft.) Convenient access and breathtaking scenery combine to make this our most popular whitewater river. Lots of waves to surf and friendly holes to play in, as well as enough challenging rapids and technical features such as The Ledge, Rock Garden, S-Bend, Mini Gates and Little Three to keep you on the edge of your seat. The final kilometre (0.6 mi.) runs beneath spectacular 70 metre (230 foot) cliffs before joining the Smoky River.
Access by turning south onto 104 St. from Hoppe Avenue. When the street swings right continue straight and follow the gravel road, veer right at the split to pass through the gate. (If locked, a key can be obtained from the Tourism & Interpretive Centre.) Continue on, past a gravel pit, to the Fireman’s Pit group picnic area. Turn right at the fence and follow the narrow dirt road 0.5 km (0.3 mi.) to the makeshift parking area.
The take-out can be at the Sulphur Gates Staging Area, where you must cross to the other side of the Smoky River right away at the point where the two rivers join. Look for a dirt road down to the river immediately downstream from the main cliff faces. Allow 2 to 4 hours on the water.
Another alternative is to continue down the Smoky to the Blue Bridge. This adds about an hour of paddling (see description above).
Class 4 to 5+, 27 km (17 mi.). Don’t let the word “creek” fool you. This is our most technical and challenging “river.” While most of it can be run in a canoe with a very good paddler, it’s best left to the kayaks and rafts.
Relatively benign at first, its character changes soon enough… With names like Rock Horn Rapid, The Cauldron, Heidi’s Ledge and The Slide, there are enough features to keep the adrenaline levels high. You may want to portage one or several. Scout ahead!
If you think you’re up to it, access by driving 8 km (5 mi.) north on Highway 40, then 16 km (10 mi.) on the Beaverdam Road. (This dirt road can be a little rough, and a 4WD vehicle is best, especially in wet weather.) Put in at the bridge.
For the take-out, leave another vehicle where Highway 40 crosses the Sheep Creek 27 km (17 mi.) north of Grande Cache. Allow a full day.
Class 3 to 4+, 113 km (70 mi.): 48 km (30 mi.) on the Kakwa, 64 km (40 mi.) on the Smoky. Gradient: 9 m/km (50 ft/mi.). Elevation at Put-in: 660 m (2200 ft.).
This is a 2 or 3 day wilderness trip which offers lots of variety on two rivers. The trip is suitable for good paddlers in open canoes at lower water levels, although several portages may be required. The put-in is located 80 km (50 mi.) north of Grande Cache, where Highway 40 crosses the Kakwa.
The Kakwa is relatively easy paddling for the first while, allowing you to get warmed up for the bottom half, where it picks up speed and offers lots of interesting features. The adrenaline junkies should get a good fix or three here.
Camping spots are wherever you make them, but the confluence with the Smoky River is a popular and logical place. Once on the Smoky, beware the Cutbank Rapids, possibly class 5, which can usually be skirted on the extreme right. (Scout!) From here on it’s time to kick back, admire the scenery, and watch for wildlife.
The first take-out point is the Canfor Bridge, which is reachable on the second day if you’re so inclined. There are lots of good places to camp if you prefer to take your time.
To reach the Canfor Bridge, turn east off Highway 40 onto the Canfor Road approximately 30 km (19 mi.) south of Grande Prairie. Follow to the bridge.