Saunders Provincial Recreation Area
Guide

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Introduction

The Saunders Provincial Recreation Area is located between the town of Nordegg, Alberta which lies to the west, and Rocky Mountain House to the east, and is situated on the North Saskatchewan River. It's an attractive wilderness area for outdoor enthusiasts.  Located east of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, the heavily treed area is very natural and wildlife in the area abounds.

The secluded campsite has walk in tent sites and a few camping spots that are suitable for small RV units. This camping opportunity is suitable for those who really like to get away from it all, and are not fussy about amenities. What it lacks in services is made up for in natural beauty and the pristine wilderness environment. Canoers and kayakers use this launch site to travel down the North Saskatchewan River to the town of Rocky Mountain House, which takes about 8 hours by canoe. Nearby historical attractions include the Saunders Mine and townsite and a cairn erected for a ranger who used to operate the ferry at this site. 

Campers who utilize this recreation area enjoy the quiet relaxing atmosphere, the proximity to the river, and immersion in the natural environment. Plenty of wildlife in the area, including birds and mammals that visit the river and make this forested region their home, can be seen while camping at the Saunders Provincial Recreation Area. Be cautious of predators in the area such as mountain lions, bears, coyotes, and wolves. Also, large mammals like moose should not be approached as they can become aggressive if they feel threatened. 

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Transportation in Saunders Provincial Recreation Area

Driving

Although this is a secluded wilderness campground, it is easy to access from the nearest two sizable towns, Nordegg to the west, and Rocky Mountain House to the east. From Rocky Mountain House travel down Highway 11, which is a paved highway, for 72 kilometers (44.7 miles) to reach the access road, Saunders Alexo Road, on the south side of the highway. This 6.6 kilometer (4 mile) gravel road will take you south to Saunders Campsite and the Provincial Recreation Area. From the town of Nordegg travel east on Highway 11 to the Saunders Alexo Road, 31 kilometers (19.2 miles) from Nordegg. The access road may be muddy in wet weather, or dusty in dry weather, and may have bumps and washboarding does occur, so go slow with your RV. Both Rocky Mountain House and Nordegg are significant towns where you can access services and amenities.

From the city of Edmonton the recreation area is just under a three hour drive. Take Highway 2 south to Highway 12 and head west, go south on highway 22 to Rocky Mountain House and then west on Highway 11.

From the city of Calgary it is a similar three hour drive, north on Highway 2 to Red Deer then west on Highway 11.

Parking

Public Transport

Campgrounds and parking in Saunders Provincial Recreation Area

Campsites in Saunders Provincial Recreation Area

Reservations camping

First-come first-served

Saunders Campground

The Saunders Provincial Recreation Area has a small campground with only 5 sites. Two of the sites are suitable for small RVs and they are available on a first come, first serve basis.  There are no serviced sites. The campsite is situated beside the North Saskatchewan River, and there is a boat launch at the Provincial Recreation Area so you can launch a powerboat, or easily get a kayak or canoe into the water. Fire Pits and outhouses are available at the campground, however, you will need to bring your own water and firewood.  Do not drink water from the river which can be infected with parasites or contaminated with refuse from upstream.

While camping here you will enjoy a tranquil, quiet, secluded wilderness experience. Because there may be large predators like bears in the area, it is highly recommended that you secure foodstuffs in odor-proof containers, and store perishables and other food away from your RV. There are few amenities at this campground, so you will need to come prepared with everything you think you will need. If you forget something, at least the town of Nordegg is only a 30 minute drive away so you can restock supplies if needed.

Alternate camping

Seasonal activities in Saunders Provincial Recreation Area

In-Season

Fishing

The river has several species of fish including walleye, perch, pike, sturgeon, whitefish, and burbot. You can fish from the banks of the river at Saunders Provincial Recreation Area or launch a motor boat, canoe, or kayak. Remember if you are on a non-motorized watercraft you will need to paddle against the current at some point during your excursion.  Have an anchor for fishing to keep you in one spot and be ready to paddle. Make sure you have a valid fishing license for Alberta and are aware of local regulations and limits.

Canoeing/Kayaking

The Saunders Provincial Recreation Area is a popular staging site for canoers and kayakers to exit the river if traveling from Nordegg upstream, or to enter the river and travel downstream to Rocky Mountain House. Both trips are less than a day by kayak or canoe along the river. Kayak and canoe enthusiasts are carried along by the gentle current of the North Saskatchewan. There may be some rapids in rocky, shallow areas, so be prepared and ensure you wear a life vest at all times.

Power Boating

The boat launch at Saunders Provincial Recreation Area allows people with motorized watercraft to access the river. Because the North Saskatchewan River can be shallow in locations, with a silt bottom, and sand bars, a river boat that is adapted for shallow water is recommended in the area.  While cruising along the river you will have plenty of opportunity to take in the natural forested area, and spot local wildlife which include native and migratory birds, large mammals, and maybe even a bear. Remember to keep your distance from local wildlife which can be hazardous if threatened.

Off-Season

ATVing

The informal trails that are popular with hikers and snowmobilers, are also popular with ATVers, especially in the fall when trails tend to dry up somewhat, and there is less danger of bogging down in soft spots. There may be restrictions on offloading and accessing trails with ATVs from the Provincial Recreation Area so be aware of regulations before you venture out, and ensure you comply with local guidelines and rules. Always wear a helmet when using an ATV, especially on rough natural trails. Also, be aware that in extremely dry conditions the exhaust system from an ATV can pose a fire hazard, and ATV use may be restricted at these times. 

Snowmobiling

During the winter months this area is often frequented by snowmobilers who enjoy sledding through the deep snow in the area. Although the informal trails are popular with snowmobilers, you should be aware that offloading snowmobiles or accessing trails from the campsite is prohibited. Always ensure you have survival supplies and equipment in cold winter months when venturing out on the trail in case of an equipment failure or accident. It's also a good idea to ensure that someone is aware of your plans, location, and expected time of return. Avoid sledding on the river which does not freeze solid due to running water under the ice surface.

Hiking

During the autumn months, hiking on the informal trails from the Saunders Provincial Recreation Area is a real treat. Although most of the forested area consists of coniferous, evergreen trees, and deciduous trees with changing leaves are not as common as in other parts of the province, the cool crisp air of this season and the active wildlife in the region provide an excellent hiking experience. Because the trails are not maintained, ensure you have good footwear, always inform someone of your hiking location and plans, and be cautious of large predators in the area such as mountain lions and bears.  It may be advisable to carry a bear bell so you don't startle the local inhabitants and bear spray in case of an unexpected encounter.

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