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North Saskatchewan River

Designated


Province
Alberta
Parks
Banff National Park, AB
Length
49km

Story Map

Each Heritage River Story Map displays various visual representations of geospatial data in combination with text, photos, videos and external links.

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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.

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.

River Managers

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

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Designation

A 48.5 km-long section of the North Saskatchewan River within Banff National Park was designated to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System in 1989 due to its outstanding natural and cultural heritage.

This short section of the North Saskatchewan River brings to the CHRS an outstanding representation of the glacier-fed rivers of Canada’s Rocky Mountains. The river’s history includes traditional aboriginal uses of the river valley and the exploration and development of the Canadian West.

Plaque Text

The Canadian Heritage River plaques offer a brief glimpse into why a river has been designated to the System. They are often located nearby one of its historically significant locations, and highlight some of the most important natural, cultural and recreational values of the river. 

North Saskatchewan River Plaque Text

The North Saskatchewan River - The North Saskatchewan River rises in the Saskatchewan Glacier, an arm of the massive Columbia Icefield. The section of the river in Banff National Park flows swiftly past spectacular views of Rocky Mountain peaks. Native people hunted and camped along its shores for thousands of years before David Thompson, Joseph Howse, and later the Palliser Expedition explored the area. With its tributary, the Howse River, it was briefly a major route for nineteenth century fur traders. Today, it provides a scenic recreational experience for skilled canoeists. For these outstanding features, the North Saskatchewan River in Banff National Park has been proclaimed a Canadian Heritage River.