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Canoeing Gregg Lake

Updated on August 22, 2013

Canoeing in William Switzer Provincial Park in Alberta

This years start to the camping season was a great success, even though the weather was a bit chilly and wet. I put some new twists into my camping routine this year that were a hit and a few that flopped. The biggest addition this year was a canoe. Yes I finally have a canoe again. It's been quite awhile since I have owned a canoe. I usually rent them when I needed but I got a good deal on a used one so we jumped on it. I also now have a vehicle that will carry a canoe with ease so that was a big factor before.

It was the addition of a canoe that prompted me to go try William A Switzer Provincial Park. In the travel guides I've read its a good place for beginner canoeists of which my wife is and it was an awesome choice. We'll be going back soon.

Photo Credits

Things You Need To Be Comfortable Camping - -things I've learned from years of expoerience...

Camping is making a temporary home away from home. If you are not comfortable you will not enjoy it. If you don't enjoy it , you won't go and you miss out on these wonderful experiences. Having good gear and knowing how to set it up efficiently give you plenty of time to relax and enjoy the time away from home. Practice makes perfect. Teamwork makes the workload less.

B-Air BA-GT-16X20-BL BA-GT-BL-1620 tarp, 16x20, Blue
B-Air BA-GT-16X20-BL BA-GT-BL-1620 tarp, 16x20, Blue
This is the best size to cover a picnic table Anything smaller would just be area specific. We had a 8x10 just over the fire and a 10x12 under the floor of the tent because the tent site was on gravel. Always have a few tarps of various sizes.
Camping  50' Green Rope
Camping 50' Green Rope
Do use the polypropylene rope as it is difficult to tie knots that stay in it. Use the braided soft rope. Have lots its cheap and if you forget it in camp like I did, you're not put out. I left 100ft rope tied to the trees where we had the tarp over the table. It was raining when we left so it was a rush job.
Kelty Adjustable Tarp Pole
Kelty Adjustable Tarp Pole
You need good tarp poles. And quite a few. The more you have the less strain you are putting one each one. You can get telescoping poles but they are difficult to keep extended and are typically cheaper made and rust quickly. Buy quality even if you can only afford a few at a time. The good ones last and keep you safe.
M.V. Trading Deluxe Portable Gas Butane Stove with Free Case
M.V. Trading Deluxe Portable Gas Butane Stove with Free Case
These little gas stoves are the best. Safer to use in an enclosed area ( well ventilated of course) They run a lot hotter than propane and are more controllable as well. If I had any complaints is the lake of a wind screen and the requirement for a wide based pot or pan. These are the same stoves restaurants use on smorgasbord lines.
Primus Litech Coffee / Tea Kettle 1.5L w/ net stuff sack P-733810
Primus Litech Coffee / Tea Kettle 1.5L w/ net stuff sack P-733810
These wide based kettles are great for heating up water quickly for an instant coffee or a cup of tea in the morning when you first get up. On my butane stove it boils water in about three minutes that's enough for two cups of tea and still enough left to wash dishes.

For More Information about William A Switzer Park you can go to

Or call the Visitor Center 780-865-5600

or for General Alberta Parks Information call toll free 1-866-427-3582

Priorities Are Looked After First Thing - -First Things First

tarps and poles and plenty of rope saved the weekend
tarps and poles and plenty of rope saved the weekend

It started to rain when we visited William A Switzer Provincial Park the first time but we were not put off. We were excited to just be there in the fresh mountain air. The park is nestled in the valley of the foothills just east of the Canadian Rockies about 1/2 hour from Jasper National Park.

I choose this park because it was rated as a great canoe experience for beginner paddlers. I needed a quiet place to teach the wife all the different strokes and features of canoeing. The reviews were not wrong, It was a fantastic place.

First things first - we made camp. Here's the order of things.

  • Set up tarps over the table Use an over-sized tarp if possible. It gives you the room to walk around the table and set up chairs off to the side and still be protected from the rain.
  • Set up the tent. I put a 10x12 tarp on the ground before I put up the tent. The tarp saves the floor of the tent from wear as the sites in Parks are usually graveled sites.
  • once the tent and Tarps are up you can unload the camping gear and keep it dry.
  • Set up the stove and make a quick cup of tea and enjoy the view

A Picture Perfect Morning - - How can anyoine sleep in and miss the morning

the misty morning after a night of rain. If the spiders can be out so can I.
the misty morning after a night of rain. If the spiders can be out so can I.

Once I got up and saw the mist hanging low but the sun up I knew I had to make a quick picture tour before the mists disappeared. I grabbed my camera and shot the mist through the trees. Even the spiders were up. Notice the spider web that has no dew on it? What a peaceful time of the day.

I pulled out the butane stove and set the small kettle of water ( I had filled the night before to make it ready) and had a cup of tea in just a few minutes. I have several camp stove from the big Coleman white gas stove I inherited from my grandfather, to a small Swedish backpack stove (Svea 123) that I've had since my teens, a small propane stove that I hated because it never got hot enough to do anything fast. All of them (except the propane stove) are good for certain circumstances. The Butane stove I picked up at a restaurant supply house before they started showing up in camping stores. It is awesome. Quiet. Clean. Very easy to regulate the heat. You can even safely use it in a well ventilated tent on stormy days. These are the same stoves restaurants use on the buffet table or for making personal omelets. They work great.

One can of butane lasts one day if you cook three full meals and heat water for washing. You can get 3 packs of butane for these stoves for less than 10 bucks. Simple math to budget for.

Paddling Gregg Lake - - A Perfect Day

canoeing Gregg Lake
canoeing Gregg Lake

We stuck to Gregg Lake just off where the modern campsite is situated. The water was still high and cold as it is still early in the year. We were not willing to get out of the canoe and portage over the many beaver dams that separate the five small lakes in this valley.

We plan to come back later in the year and paddle from Jarvis Lake in the south end of the park up Jarvis creek to the other lakes and ponds along the way and end in Gregg Lake. We'll be more willing to get out of the canoe and into the water to pull the canoe over the beaver dams.

We saw a Bald Eagle fly over head with a huge fish in its talons. We also saw an Osprey diving for a fish but it missed. They look so ticked off when they are wet. I also spied a Marsh Hawk flying low over the reeds, searching. I was hoping to see if is stopped and hoovered over a spot then I would say it was a Harrier Hawk.

We heard loons but never saw them as they were nesting. Lots of ducks of course and one beaver. It was a great first time paddling experience.

I took the time for instruction of basic canoeing strokes and posture. Kneeling is the way to paddle a canoe and the seat is only leaned against. It makes for more stable travel. You can sit on the seat when resting of course but remember when you are seated you are shifting the center of gravity up and that means stability is lowered.

I noticed as a novice paddler, one tends to reach forward, leaning into a stroke. Doing this you will be sore after very little time. Paddling a canoe involves posture. Kneel on a kneeling pad, and never reach for a stroke further forward than your knees are. Pull and release when the paddle reaches your hips. This keeps your back straight, the stroke relaxed and your endurance up. Paddling should be relaxing. Of course if you are going into rapids or paddling against wind or current you'll need to apply a bit more effort but practice the posture and you'll discover how little the effort it takes to propel a canoe.

It's also about rhythm. I stead easy pace is better than heavy erratic strokes. Now you know why the old voyageurs sang paddling songs.

We Took To The Trails As Well

Blue Lake from the trail
Blue Lake from the trail

After the long paddle over the afternoon we too to the trails after supper. All the lakes have self guided trails near or around them. They are hiking trails in the summer and cross-country ski trails in the winter. The park is open all year round so that is awesome. We can't wait until we see it in the winter and get a chance to use our new snow shoes.

Blue Lake is circled by a few trails. This picture looks south over the water from the hill behind the Blue Lake Center. This collection of buildings have been a summer school , an adventure academy, a Metis cultural showcase and many others in its years of operation. It was here before the park was designated so it is grandfathered in. It's a unique feature. Most summers there are canoe rentals available to the public. We'll see.

Beaver Lodge

Beaver lodge one of many in the area.
Beaver lodge one of many in the area.

We spotted the reason why the area is full of small lakes. The Canadian Beaver. This industrious rodent is responsible for damning the creek and making the water back up into lakes. We did see one briefly in the afternoon paddle around Gregg Lake but to really watch them work one would have to set up a watch at dawn or dusk as these are the best times to watch beavers.

Rare Flowers For A Rare Trip

rare flowers dotted the trail
rare flowers dotted the trail

I took these pictures of calypso orchids not knowing what they were and found out later when we visited the Information Center to chat that they are fairly rare. They were out in abundance on the Blue Lake trail.

The trail looked abandoned with only the white tailed deer traveling them regularly. We could tell by the scat on the trail. We ran into a few of them at several points around the lake. I think we were either following them or the other way around. They were too fast to get a good picture.

We heard the eerie call of the Grey Owl just before we finished the trail. It was a nice ending to the day.

Campfires Equal Memories

A fire  in camp is the focal point of everyone
A fire in camp is the focal point of everyone

Campfires are awesome.

I didn't get to make S'Mores this time but it was still fun.


  • 2 graham crackers
  • 1 marshmallow
  • 1 square of semi-sweet dark chocolate bar

Toast marshmallow over the campfire and sandwich the gooey mess between the two graham crackers with a piece of chocolate bar and squeeze together until the heat from the marshmallow melts the chocolate and sticks the two graham crackers together. Eat and enjoy!

Weird and Wonderful

a curiosity we found in camp.
a curiosity we found in camp.

I noticed this willow tree behind the campsite and had to take this picture. I have never seen any pussy willow bud out like this. It wasn't just one bud, if it was I would call it a gall but the whole top of the tree was budded out like this one. I'll have to ask around and take another picture in a week or so when we get back up there.

The staff at the Information Center was stumped as well.

Any one out there know?

On Our Second Trip to the Park - - on breaking a record

We saw this little lady sitting on the side of the road. She had a single most attention on something else because she let us get right up close before shuffling off. We've heard drumming in the woods lately so I assume her attentions were on a male in the area who must have stopped drumming when we arrived and she had lost sound of him. She was beautiful to see.

I should have taken her state as an omen. She lost something. At the time I just thought it cute.

So we canoed Gregg Lake the week before and followed up the creek to the beaver dam. This time we decided to put in lower down the creek and paddle up to the dam from the other side.

It wasn't a bright sunny day but it was warm so it was perfect for canoeing. Not being sunny there was less glare off the water. We basically drifted down the stream from our point of entry. The water was flat and even though the creek twisted and turned a lot we had a wonderful time.

Into Graveyard Lake we spotted a empty nest, piled high and made of reeds, right at the mouth of the creek. We made it three quarters of the way around the lake before we found the pair that belonged to the nest. I nice pair of Canadian Loons with a single wee one floating on the water by being nestled on Moms back.

Once back in the creek we continued on up towards the beaver dam. This leg of the creek was shallower and was running a bit faster. We were laughing at the tangled turns of the creek and more than once we nosed into the bank. That was the second omen I should have heeded.

There were a few rifles that funneled us down the center and then a few shallow spots that we bottomed out on but were able to pole our way with the paddles. What came next was a bit too much and we plowed into the soft bank a bit too hard and before I could even say boo my lovely wife pushed us off the bank like the other two times before, this time though she just succeeded in dumping us both over into the water. I've been canoeing since I was nine with never having an unscheduled dump of a canoe. I'll now have to paddle until I am one hundred to break my record. Oh well.

She popped out of the water like a cork because she was wearing her life jacket correctly, but she did loose her prescription sunglasses. I on the other hand had my camera in my pocket so I had no more photos that day. We laughed about it all the way back. The water was surprisingly warm so being dunked wasn't that bad. But laughing we had a hard time paddling up stream against the current so we ended up walking back most of the way. We were wet anyway.

To top the day off when we got back to the point we launched from we spotted a sign a bit battered bent and rusted that said launch point in big letters. That was cool we knew it was a launch point but getting closer we read the small print saying from here on in the water got shallower and had many deadfalls, swampers and impassable points. I guess we should read that first.

It was a great day all the same.

How To Dry Out A Camera

The camera was turned off while stowed in my pocket so as soon as I got dunked and stood up I was quick to get the camera out of the water. It is important at this point not to turn on the camera.

When we got back to camp I put the camera in a sealed container covered in dry white rice and left it there for the remainder of the trip. Two days later it still had a drop of water behind the rear LCD so I put it back in. Two days later it looked OK so I tried it out. All was well. Patience wins.

Campsite Comforts

Rio Adventure Roll-Top 18 Table
Rio Adventure Roll-Top 18 Table
We use this small aluminum camp table to hold the Butane stove. We can keep it out by the picnic table or move it in to the tent if it is stormy out.
Folding Camp Chair - Green
Folding Camp Chair - Green
There are so many style and varieties that you have to try them out before you buy. We bought our chairs from a camping trade show as most styles have the square back that I find very uncomfortable. If you find one that is comfortable buy it. You'll regret it otherwise.
Rain suits are a chore to put on if you are paddling and wearing a PFD. A rain poncho just slips over the head and everything else and still allows you the freedom to paddle. The cheap ones are okay. I have mine stuffed in a pocket of my PFD.
GasOne Butane Fuel Canister (12 Pack)
GasOne Butane Fuel Canister (12 Pack)
Need I mention that morning cup of tea only took 3 minutes on my butane stove? That is comfort.

Campsite Gadgets That Make The Day

Coleman 10-In. Steel Tent Stakes
Coleman 10-In. Steel Tent Stakes
Get lots of these. I have close to 50 in my camping box. The little wire tent pegs that come with tents are worthless on a packed gravel site of many provincial parks. You'll be happy you did.
Outbound Longhouse 6 Person Two Room Family Dome Tent (Brown, Large)
Outbound Longhouse 6 Person Two Room Family Dome Tent (Brown, Large)
I like a big tent even if it is just the two of us camping in it. This is our current tent and it sets up quickly even when it is raining :) It is also large enough to be able to use cots if you wish. It's getting harder to sleep on the ground now, no sleeping is fine it is the getting up that is getting harder. Sleeping on a cot alleviates that.
STANLEY J5C09 Portable Power Station Jump Starter: 1000 Peak/500 Instant Amps- 120 PSI Air Compressor- USB Port- Battery Clamps
STANLEY J5C09 Portable Power Station Jump Starter: 1000 Peak/500 Instant Amps- 120 PSI Air Compressor- USB Port- Battery Clamps
This was an awesome addition to my camping gear. I used the air compressor many times to plow up the air mattresses and the built in lamp was great. I even charged the cell phone even though there was no cell service in the back country. My smartphone does other things as well.

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