Refresh in Athabasca, with river time and farm fresh goods
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Alberta's northeast abounds with wide-open spaces, pristine lakes, boreal forests and captivating heritage experiences. Explore NEAB this summer!
Athabasca, AB - Town has just begun to stir, the Athabasca River releases misty ghosts of traders past into the morning air, to hover and dissipate in the early morning sun. At tables and stalls, vendors have begun to put out their wares for market day in Athabasca, AB. A short stroll from the farmers’ market, paddleboards and canoes rest at water’s edge.
As it did for the Indigenous peoples and the hearty riverfaring folk who forged their way into these wilds centuries ago, adventure awaits modern day explorers like Lisa Stocking and Heather Boucher.
Saturday mornings in Athabasca draw locals and visitors waterside. The Athabasca Farmers’ Market happens weekly at Centennial Park, bringing in producers from throughout the region, with a mix of old and new world influences. With its paved riverside trails, a splash park/skate park, central gazebo and scenic river views, it is purposely designed to be a gathering place, and it works.
Stocking and Boucher browse the tables, stopping at the SHONA Congo/Canada booth to admire the colourful, handmade African handbags on display. SHONA Partners Mapendo Ndontgosi and Argentine Imanirakunda came to Athabasca from Congo and took to sewing and selling their wares as a way to earn a living here.
Winding down their shopping, the two stop to grab a bite at Mingho’s Way, a food truck with flavours inspired by chef Vinh Tien's Asian heritage. With takeout in hand, they head for the river bank for a pre-paddle picnic.
From there it’s on to the main event: paddling down the Athabasca River. Many people now have the comfort to get on a paddleboard on the lake with ease, but river paddling is different. The Athabasca is a big, fast-flowing river.
To get into the current, Stocking, a certified paddleboard instructor with Paddle Canada, shows Boucher how to point the nose of the board against the current and let it pivot them into downstream position.
“Paddling the Athabasca is one of the most peaceful places, it’s not really busy,” says Nancy Tarrant, of PaddleUrWayRentals, which offers kayak, canoe and paddleboard rentals in the area. “I like the fact that the river is moving, so you can kind of be lazy and just enjoy the view and see the wildlife as you go.”
Being a river there are some precautions to take and hazards to watch for, Tarrant points out, but once the high runoff season is past, it can be great paddling. July through September is primetime.
When she’s not on the river, she also loves to put in at nearby lakes. “You can always find a little quiet spot out there to just enjoy quietness and listen to the birds. We have some amazing paddling locations in Athabasca County.”
Pulling out at River Meadows RV Park, Stocking and Boucher lace up and head into the trails to explore the region’s plentiful boreal forest. The trails here, which meander over creeks, logs and hills, feature in the Kapâwinihk Wilderness Triathlon, which Boucher co-organizes.
With a full day of adventure behind them, the pair head to Tawatinaw Valley Retreat Bed and Breakfast to unwind. Set on a sprawling, forested acreage on the Tawatinaw River, that same appreciation for the outdoors and adventure has inspired Shawna and Rex Vollema to create their retreat here.
“It’s so peaceful here, there’s not a lot of traffic,” says Shawna. “I go for a walk every morning and we see moose and deer, and the lake is awesome for birds.”
As the sun begins its downward arc, Stocking and Boucher wander down to the dock at Tawatinaw Valley Retreat, content to relax and soak up the calming beauty of the lake after a day well spent.
WHEN YOU GO
- The Athabasca Farmers' Market runs Saturdays from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.
- Rent kayaks, paddleboards or canoes from PaddleUrWayRentals.com
- Learn SUP skills with PaddleAthabasca.com
- Does biking, paddling and running trails all in the same day sound like your perfect adventure? Check out parallel54.org to sign up for the Kapâwinihk Wilderness Triathlon.
Read more to discover other great adventures in #NEAB!