Five friends and I recently spent 3 days on the stunning South Saskatchewan River where we paddled from Outlook to Saskatoon. This easy, pleasurable and rewarding paddle is the perfect trek for those just getting their feet wet into the world of canoeing.
It is impossible to get lost as there is only one route to take, there is access to hundreds of fantastic beachside campsites and there are is no white water to contend with. If you are looking for an overnight canoe but feel like you don't have enough experience for some of the more challenging northern routes then I recommend this to you!
This guide will tell you how to paddle from Outlook to Saskatoon and will outline where we camped, how far we went each day and what you can expect.
Before I fully dive into each of the days in more detail here are some overview facts about the canoe from Outlook to Saskatoon.
The total distance on the water is just under 94km. That means you need to average more than 30km a day to make this a 3 day trip. While that may seem daunting it is more than achievable. I suggest doing this trip in either June or July when the water levels are still high. By the end of August and September the spring runoff is long gone and the water will be quite shallow. The reason for this is because of Gardiner Dam that controls the flow of water. As the season progresses they usually hold onto more water so the water level will drop. Even with a decent level of water we still had many sections where we had to get out and walk a few hundred feet to find deeper channels again. These are actually welcomed breaks as you get to stretch your legs!
When paddling pay attention to the flow of the water. Find the "express lanes" when you can, but also focus on taking the most direct path that is possible. You can add a lot of distance just zig-zagging across the river.
Make sure you bring tons of sunscreen. We lucked out and had a 30 degree weekend, but that meant lots of sunscreen and hats!
There is cell coverage for most of the trip for when you need it or just want to see where you are on the river.
During the entire paddle you will pass kilometer after kilometer of pristine beaches. We didn't wear shoes the whole weekend because you just don't need to. You will be hard pressed to find softer sand anywhere else. I kept saying the entire trip that people spend thousands to go to Mexico for white sand beaches when they can just drive 30km south of Saskatoon instead!
Remember - pack out what you pack in. There is no excuse for leaving garbage on the beaches! You carried the full weight of it there, you can carry the empty weight of it out!
If you need to rent canoes there are two places that I know of in Saskatoon that can help you out: Eb's Source for Adventure or Classic Outdoors. Make sure you book well in advance to ensure you have boats for your crew!
Okay - let's get into the details!
Day 1 - Launch
If you aren't familiar with Outlook, it is a small town that overlooks the South Saskatchewan River about 100km south of Saskatoon on Highway 15. It takes about an hour to get there by the highway from Saskatoon. Since this is a three day trip we started early Friday morning. We met at a friend's place at 7:00 AM in Saskatoon, ate a quick breakfast and were on the road by 7:45 AM.
The best place to launch from is on the west side of the river outside of Outlook, follow Highway 15 west and cross the river. There you will see an unofficial boat launch of sorts that gives you access to the water. Do not enter the property that is there, the turn off is just before it. From here you can bring boats and gear to the water. With our 7:00AM start time and after we finished unloading and a quick bathroom stop we made our first paddle strokes at 9:30AM.
From here you are with the current heading north back to Saskatoon. I suggest recruiting someone to drive your vehicles back to Saskatoon, if that is where you are launching from, so you don't have to pick them up 3 days later. You will be tired enough as it is!
The first day we experienced a significant headwind and managed to do 34km before 6:00 PM. There are two landmarks that are a good gauge to see where you are. The first is Big Pipe, which is literally a giant pipe that is in the valley. We reached this around 4:00pm. The next are two white towers that have power lines stringing across the river. We set up camp about a 2km further up river from these.
The first night we camped on an island that had a perfect beach and places to set up tents. I recommend finding campsites that have a bit of tree cover but a nice flat beach. The trees provide shade and firewood, the flat beaches make for the perfect camp and bonfire spot.
Day 2 - Paddlin'
Day 2 is much like Day 1. Lots of paddling, lots of dodging sand bars and lots of beautiful scenery. The entire trip you will pass shifting dunes, green rolling hills and loads of wildlife. We saw bald eagles, osprey, deer, vultures, swallows, hawks, bullfrogs and basically anything else that calls the river valley home. Plus you get the added benefit of complete quiet. You will feel isolated even though you are not that far from civilization.
The water is a bit deeper here so there will be less walking, but it really depends on whether or not they are letting water out of Gardiner Dam. We broke camp at 9:30AM which gave us plenty of time to paddle for the day.
I suggest paddling another 33 to 35 kilometers this day as well. This will leave you a nice leisurely Sunday to roll into Saskatoon. We purposely positioned ourselves south of the famous Berry Barn. Which you will learn about why in Day 3. We found a great campsite along the shore where we could pull up our boats, have a fire and pitch our tents in the shade. The sun get's very hot in the morning so position your tent so it is in the shade in the morning. We got to camp at around 5:30PM which left us plenty of time to set up camp, have a beer or four and play some frisbee.
Day 3 - Heading Home
Day 3 is really when you will cruise. For the most part the river is deeper here and you won't be walking too much, however the river does snake a bit so you will be putting on a few kilometers without heading north. This is where your hard work paid off. You will only paddle 25km on Day 3 to get home.
We broke camp at 9:15AM and headed to the Berry Barn for a heavy breakfast. If you aren't familiar with the Berry Barn it is, in my opinion, one of the best breakfasts in the Saskatoon area. From our campsite to the Berry Barn was about a 50 minute paddle so still eat a light breakfast before heading out.
It is easy to spot the Berry Barn from the water, look for the big red barn and the patio that overlooks the water. There is a small beach to pull up on for your boats where you can leave them while you gorge yourself inside!
So worth it!
From the Berry Barn to Saskatoon is about a 3 to 4 hour paddle.. You will pass Fred Heal Canoe Launch along the way which can be a good place for an emergency pickup if the weather changes, but for the most part you are on Easy Street.
The best place to get picked up is at the Saskatoon Canoe Club which is located in Victoria Park. There is a public dock you can use to pull your gear out of the water. You will have cell coverage coming into the city so you can coordinate with your pickup if you need to.
That's it! You have just paddled 94km and spent three days on the beautiful South Saskatchewan River! If you want to add more distance you can start from Gardiner Dam, plan for this to add another day to your trip but much of the tips here are the same.
If you curious on what you need to bring for gear and food. Check out my gear list by clicking here.
Have any tips or tricks or have done this paddle before? Let us know in the comments!