North Saskatchewan

North Saskatchewan River

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Natural Heritage

The designated section of the North Saskatchewan River consists of the river’s 48.5 km long headwaters in the Rocky Mountains of Banff National Park, in Alberta. Beyond the park, the river brings large quantities of water across the prairies, where it is essential for agriculture and municipal water supplies.

The designation recognizes the outstanding natural features of this mountain river, including:

  • the Colombia Icefield, which is the largest in the Rocky Mountains;
  • several peaks of the Eastern Main Ranges of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, including Mount Wilson and Mount Saskatchewan, both of which measure over 3000 metres;
  • tributary valleys, which are the product of more than 60 million years of the earth’s evolutionary history;
  • an extensive braided river channel area known as “Graveyard Flats” at the river’s confluence with the Alexandra River;
  • impressive river terraces downstream of Saskatchewan River Crossing; and
  • habitat for elk, grizzly bear, wolf, coyote, mountain goat and bighorn sheep.

Cultural Heritage

The North Saskatchewan River valley is thought to have been occupied by indigenous people for at least 10,000 years. Both the Kootenay (now known as Ktunaxa) and the Stoney  (now Stoney Nakoda First Nations) used the area for hunting and trade.

The river valley also factored in the fur trade and the movement of people and goods across the Canadian West in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This more recent history of the river includes Joseph Howse, the first Hudson’s Bay Company officer to traverse the mountains, in 1810 (commemorated in Howse Pass National Historic Site ); and Wilcox and Collie, the first Europeans to ascend the north fork of the North Saskatchewan River, in 1896 and 1898 respectively.

Recreational Heritage

The North Saskatchewan offers many opportunities for sightseeing, canoeing, fishing, camping and hiking. The Icefields Parkway is one of the most beautiful scenic highways in the world. The drive along the North Saskatchewan River portion of this route offers visitors an exceptional opportunity to view some of the most beautiful natural landscapes in Canada, largely unchanged from the days of the early Canadian pioneers. There are also two main camping facilities along the North Saskatchewan for those who wish for a night under the stars.

Who Manages the River?

The designated section of the North Saskatchewan River is located within Banff National Park and is managed by Parks Canada.

Fun Fact:

There are two distinct volcanic ash layers over much of the area east of the Howse River confluence, evidence of volcanic activity 5,000 years ago.

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