Trip Leader: Mike Eaton
On a warm Saturday morning with scattered high cloud, thirteen Northwest Voyageurs in a flotilla of eleven single kayaks and a tandem canoe set out from the Rotary Park dock in St. Albert. In our group were Tom, Colleen, Ethan, Rob, Stephanie, Clint, Doug, Leslie, Mike, Paul, Cathy, Denise and Helga. We paddled up the Sturgeon River to into Big Lake. Since it was early in the season the water levels were perfect for a paddle. After passing under the Ray Gibbon Drive bridge, the river opened up to the expanse of aptly named Big Lake. Big Lake is two large bodies about 3.5km by 2.5 km each connected by a narrow stretch about 1km long.
Our route had us traveling along the south shore headed to the narrows and the second lake section. We saw a wide variety of wildlife; beavers, ducks, herons, gulls, many marsh birds and surprisingly few mosquitoes. Helga was very helpful in identifying the various bird species for the group including both red-wing and yellow-headed blackbirds.
With the water levels being high, there were few solid places to pull off for a break. After about an hour we pulled out to stretch our legs then continued on through the narrows into the second part of the lake. At the 7km mark we started to look for a lunch spot. With another kilometer behind us we found a spot by a beaver lodge. It wasn’t until after we had pulled the boats well onto shore and were sitting down for lunch when we discovered that the lodge wasn’t abandoned and the resident was patrolling out front keeping an eye on us. We ate a quickly ate our lunch and launched to let the beaver relax.
On the way back, we stopped in the narrows and rafted up for a snack and a rest before finishing up the final leg back to the launch. By the end of the day the clouds were building and the wind was picking up so were glad to have the landing in sight. Final stats on our out and back trip were 15.6 km and 4 hours 15 minutes. Big Lake is one of the hidden gems around the city for paddling and wildlife viewing but timing is everything. A month or two later in the season and you may be poling as much as paddling. Using the river gauge for the Sturgeon can give you an idea of the water level. It was around 1.2 m the day we went. We’ll keep an eye on the water and may schedule an impromptu Big Lake trip later in the season.