Milk River, Alberta

Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Ralph Rix
Trip Date : 
July 11 to July 15, 2022
Additional Route Information
173 km
5 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
0 m
Longest Portage: 
0 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Not applicable
Not applicable
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Access to Put-In Information: 

At the bridge over the North Milk River on Highway 62 a few kilmeters north of the hamlet of Del Bonita, Alberta

Technical Guide: 

Background information: 

From Wikipedia:

“The Milk River is a tributary of the Missouri River, 729 mi (1,173 km) long, in the U.S. state of Montana and the Canadian province of Alberta. Rising in the Rocky Mountains, the river drains a sparsely populated, semi-arid watershed of 23,800 sq mi (61,642 km2), ending just east of Fort Peck, Montana.

It is formed in Glacier County in northwestern Montana, 21 miles (34 km) north of Browning, Montana, by the confluence of its South and Middle forks. The 30-mile (48 km) long South Fork and 20-mile (32 km) long Middle Fork both rise in the Rocky Mountains just east of Glacier National Park, in the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.[citation needed] Much of the water in the North Fork is diverted from the St. Mary River through a canal and inverted siphon.[5]

The main stream flows east-northeast into southern Alberta, where it is joined by the North Fork of the Milk River, from there it flows past the town of Milk River and Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, then turns southeast into Montana, running east along the north side of the Sweetgrass Hills, turning south, passing through the Fresno Dam, then east past Havre and along the north side of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. Near Malta, it turns north, then southeast, flowing past Glasgow and joining the Missouri in Valley County, Montana, 5 miles (8 km) downstream from Fort Peck Dam.”

Some of this section is stolen from various reports and especially from JR.  We used the Milk River map from Paddle Alberta (formerly Alberta Recreational Canoeing Association – ARCA - I’m not sure if this is currently available.  The Milk River map from ARCA is a treasure trove of information about the river, history, wildlife, etc.  We also used the Milk River 3 map from GoTrekkers.    We also found the book, “Prairie Paddling, Discovering Alberta's Badlands by Canoe” by Arie Vandervelden to be a valuable resource.

Meriwether Lewis (of the famous Lewis and Clark expedition) described the Milk this way in his journal: “The water of this river possesses a peculiar whiteness, being about the colour of a cup of tea with the admixture of a tablespoonfull of milk. From the colour of its water we called it Milk River.”

However, long before Lewis and Clark, Indigenous communities lived and thrived on the land surrounding “Kináksisahtai” or “Little River”—the Blackfoot name for the Milk River. First Nations have inhabited these lands for thousands of years, and you can find cultural signs like rock carvings and paintings that still exist today. Writing on Stone Provincial Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the take-out for this trip.  You should plan on spending some time here going on some of the guided tours or just walking around.    

The flow in the Milk River is controlled by dams used for irrigation.  Because water is needed for irrigation in Alberta and eastern Montana, the flow of the Milk River stays relatively high during the summer.  This consistent flow allows for good paddling when the river would normally be without much water.  Here is a link to the scope and history of the irrigation project:

We averaged 6 to 6.5 km/h at 18 to 19 cms over the first few days.  We are not particularly fast paddlers.  The last day, as the speed of the river decreased, our speed decreased.

Drinking Water

We did not plan to use purified or treated river water for drinking because we were unsure if our devices and chemicals would make the water potable. We decided instead to take enough water with us for the 2.5 days to the Town of Milk River. We budgeted for 5 litres per day per person with a little extra so each tandem canoe had approximately 30 litres of water.  You can resupply at the Town of Milk River, at Gold Springs Park and at Writing on Stone. 

Another water strategy:  We drink from 1 liter water bottles when paddling but we found that that is not enough water for a whole day, especially when it is hot.  Since our water was stored in 15 liter containers that were tied into the boat, they were difficult to access during the day.  We started filling a separate 2 liter container in the morning and leaving it accessible during the day so that we could replenish our 1 liter water bottles when needed.  This worked well and we found that drinking 2 liters of water when paddling was sufficient. 


Other thoughts:

It was not difficult to find camping places between Del Bonita and the Town of Milk River except, as JR put it, “Many of the banks look like nice silty sand to land, but it is pure boot sucking mud.”  You do have to be careful about where you step near the edge of the river.  Once you are past the edge, there are many places that would be good campsites.  Remember that there are no trees and I strongly recommend a tarp with tarp poles, a number of guy lines, good pegs and a mallet.  The wind can get very strong and there is little shelter from it and there is no shade from the sun.  The ground can be very hard so good pegs and a mallet to drive them are required.  Sheltering from the wind and sun in your tent can be a very hot experience.


Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

Our Trip – Sunday, July 10 to Saturday, July 16

Sunday, July 10, 2022

We left home about 8:00 a.m. and got to the campsite on the North Milk River near Del Bonita about 4:15 p.m.  The rest of the crew was already there and doing some last minute organizing.  We had previously arranged for a shuttle with Karen’s Canoe Service (403) 758-6683.  She lives close to the campsite.  We met her at her place at 6:00 p.m. and followed her down to Writing on Stone Provincial Park.  The shuttle, there and back, took about 2.5 hours and cost $95.00. 

We had arranged with the staff at the Visitors’ Center at Writing on Stone Provincial Park (403-647-2364) to leave our vehicles in their overflow parking area for the duration of our trip.  There is no charge for the parking but they want to have a record of licence numbers of vehicles and they want to know how long you will be parked there.  I’m assuming that if you don’t show up on time they will alert the authorities but I don’t know that for sure.  We also booked Poverty Rock Campsite for one night through the Visitor Center at Writing on Stone.  There is no charge for using the Poverty Rock campsite but they do want you to register.  We had also booked two campsites for out last night of the trip at Writing on Stone by using the Alberta Parks Website: (

Book early for campsites at Writing on Stone.

In addition, we had booked two campsites at Gold Springs Campground (1-403-647-2277) for Wednesday night.


When the drivers returned to the Del Bonita campsite, the wind was blowing briskly and the temperature had dropped so it was a cool evening.  The coolness had some of us worrying about clothing choices but this was the last time we were cold.  The weather was hot for the rest of the trip.  We retired to our tents early and had a good night.

Monday, July 11, 2022

We started from the bridge near the tiny community of Del Bonita, Alberta.  The campsite has two shelters, one older one that is close to the river and the road and close to two older outhouses and a newer shelter that is further from the river and road and close to a newer outhouse and a playground.  The newer camp shelter had a supply of wood for fires although we did not have a fire.  I would hate to see a grass fire start in that windy, dry area.  There are two hedgerows of shrubs with space between them that will help block the wind.  There are no trees in the area.  The grass in the campsite had been mowed fairly recently and tenting was fine.  I would call the campsite “rustic” but everything was clean and there was toilet paper in the outhouses.  There may be limited or no cell service here.

We were up before 7:00 a.m. and on the water by about 9:30 – not too bad for the first day when you are fitting everything into the canoe and tying everything down.  The river is narrow at the campsite and the current is quite fast with few eddies.  Even in places that looked like there should be an eddy there seemed to be significant downstream current.  The river winds back and forth across the valley with banks increasing to small and medium sized cliffs on outside bends.  Most stopping places had muddy landings for the first step or two but then the banks leveled out and the footing was good.    Two consistent features of the North Milk River and later the Milk River are the strong current and the meandering oxbows.  On this trip, the river volume at the Town of Milk River station ( started at about 19.5 cms and ended at about 17 cms.  We found this to be a good level for paddling.

The scenery was grassy hills in a fairly wide, fairly deep valley.  We did not see anyone else on the river during the 5 days of our trip.  At first, there were almost no shrubs and there were no trees at all.  We did start to see a very occasional tree on the second day but they were very few and very far apart.  On some north facing slopes and deeper coulees there were some low shrubs.  We saw a few mule deer, antelope and coyotes.  We saw many swallows starting at the first bridge and on every outside bend where there was a steep bank – it seems a good idea to wear a broad brimmed hat.  We also saw some Canada geese, Brewer’s blackbirds, red-winged blackbirds, killdeer, meadowlarks, some ducks, some mergansers and an assortment of small birds.

For first hour to hour and a half, the swift current continued around many tight corners. About this time, the gradient increased, there were more rocks to dodge and the tight corners became more challenging.  Finding the deep water channel required quick decision making because it was often hard to see very far downstream and the current wandered from side to side in the channel.  In many places there was a vertical one to two foot bank along the edges and, as we went downstream, the banks on the outside of the bends became medium to large cliffs.  All of these things made for a busy but enjoyable paddle.

Just before the first and only bridge between Del Bonita and the Town of Milk River, we encountered a sharp left hand corner with large rocks on the outside of the corner.  We assumed that the rocks were placed to protect the bridge.  This difficult corner caused problems for all of us but one boat was swept into the large rocks and capsized.  We discovered that it was hard to rescue people, boats and things in a narrow, swift river with few eddies and almost no gravel bars.  The two swimmers received some bumps and scratches while being swept along in the fairly shallow, rocky water until they could be rescued.  Their boat was also hard to rescue because of the speed of the current and the scarcity of eddies.  Fortunately it was a warm, sunny day and, once the two paddlers and their boat were rescued it didn’t take too long until they were dry and warm.  We all had a snack/lunch break and they reorganized their boat.  Even though most of their gear was tied into the boat, some items floated away but, amazingly, we found everything except one travel mug.  Some of the found items were a number of kilometers downstream from where the upset occurred. We continued on our way with lots of rock dodging, channel finding and tight corners.  We had no further incidents and stopped to camp about 4:00 after having paddled about 32 km.  We found a very nice campsite on river left, put up a large tarp for shade and went for a dip in the river to cool off.  The water was not very cold and it felt great to get wet and to cool down.


Tuesday, July 12, 2022

We were up early because there are no trees and when the sun hits a tent it doesn’t take long before the tent gets too hot to be in.  The first half of this day was similar in nature to the first day with strong current, some fairly tight corners, rocks to dodge and deep water current to try to follow.  The river continues to wind across a treeless valley with grass growing right to the edge of the river.  The second half of the day brought a slightly slower current and less rocky rapids but the oxbows continued.  We were about to start looking for a campsite when we encountered a large herd of cattle which had access to both sides of the river.  We couldn’t stop to camp along this stretch with the cattle because we weren’t sure how they would treat tents and tarps and people.   They seemed fascinated and frightened by the people in canoes because some of them followed us for a long distance.  After a while we were rescued from the cattle by a fence that was on both sides of the river which stopped the cattle from following us.  We were able to find a campsite not too far downstream from the fence. We paddled about 46 kilometers on this hot day so we were glad for the shade of the tarp and for the opportunity to get wet in the river.  This evening we had a long discussion about the rapids still to come between the Town of Milk River and Writing on Stone Provincial Park.  A friend had done the trip from the Town of Milk River to Writing on Stone Provincial Park about two weeks before our trip so his information was quite current.  He was particularly concerned about the first “landslide” rapid above Gold Springs Park where a fairly recent landslide came down from River Left and constricted the current toward River Right.  Just below the constriction is an island which divides the river into a left and right channel.  He was particularly concerned about the strong current in the right hand channel which would take paddlers toward an undercut bank.  He had given detailed instructions about how to approach the landslide section so that you would be able to get into the left hand channel and avoid the undercut bank in the right hand channel.  As we were discussing the strategy, we focussed our instruction on the least experienced pair of paddlers.  The next morning they said that, knowing about the number and difficulty of the rapids ahead, they would be getting off the river at the Town of Milk River because they did not feel that they had enough experience to safely navigate that stretch of river. 


Wednesday, July 13, 2022

We arrived at the Town of Milk River at about noon and stopped at the campground that is on river left.  If you need or want anything, it is a short walk to the Town of Milk River.  The pair who were concerned with their ability to cope with the rapids pulled their canoe out here.  After talking with some people at the campground, they managed to get a ride to their vehicle at Writing on Stone.  We had lunch together and the two remaining boats set off.  After the Town of Milk River the river has several rocky rapids which gradually got more numerous and more difficult as we approached Gold Springs Park Campground.  At “landslide” rapid we had no difficulty due to the information from our friend but we could see that it would be challenging to avoid the undercut bank in the right hand channel.  The rock-dodging and channel-finding continued to Gold Springs.

Gold Springs Campsite (1-403-647-2277) is very nice.  There is road access which would allow for starting or stopping a trip here.  We had previously booked two campsites and we had two large tenting campsites along the river.  We landed our canoes just below our campsite and we were able to bring our gear up the short steep bank.  There were lots of trees in the rest of the campsite and many of the campsites were situated in those trees.  There is also a large, ox-bow shaped “lake” which is stocked with trout and where people can swim.  There are hot showers to be had for loonie and toonie coins.  There are also a number of clean porta-potties situated around the campsite so it’s never far to get to a toilet.  There is a camp office/store with limited hours.  Facilities - Gold Springs Park Society Campground


Thursday, July 14, 2022

After Gold Springs is the Coffin Bridge takeout, the supposed break between less significant rapids upstream and the named rapids downstream leading into Poverty Rock so it would seem to be a natural place to stop and take a break, except the official takeout 200 metres past the bridge is not good. The bank is eroded, high, and shoreline full of mud. Then when you get up on top of the bank, there is no shade, I repeat no shade.  Unless someone really needs the pit toilets that are here, pull in under the bridge and relish the shade and coolness, you will enjoy your lunch break much more.


The paddle from Gold Springs Park to Poverty Rock has many rapids.  Some are marked and named on maps of the river.  There are many rocks to avoid, sometimes in fast current.  Finding the deep water channel is also a challenge.  My assessment is that all paddlers who attempt the parts of the Milk River downstream from the Town of Milk River to Writing on Stone Provincial Park should be able to manoeuver competently in fast water.  We were traveling with loaded canoes with all of our camping gear and we were carrying drinking water.  Loaded boats don’t respond quickly.  For most of the rapids, finding the deep water channel was the most difficult part.  In those rapids, it was usually fairly easy to follow that current near the outside of the bend, however, in some of the rapids it was necessary to be able to follow that channel back and forth across the river while avoiding the rocks.  For some of the rapids, it was necessary to take quick, decisive action to avoid boulders, boulder bars and/or ledges and to avoid being swept into undercut cliffs.  At times there were long stretches of water where maneuvering was required.  Having said all that, it was a very interesting and entertaining section.  We found the campsite at Poverty Rock to be very nice.  It has a nice shelter, a number of picnic tables, mowed grassy areas for tents and a fairly new outhouse.  Note that there is no public road access to this site.


Friday, July 15, 2022

The Weir Bridge takeout has been developed and has a nice shelter & benches. The actual landing is a little sketchy, but doable but it is muddy.

After Poverty Rock the river slows down and there are less rapids.  The landforms along the river are fascinating hoodoos and strangely shaped rocks and cliffs.  We arrived at Writing on Stone Campsite at about 2:00 p.m., had an ice cream from the Office/Store, picked up our camping passes and booked a guided tour of some of the sites.  Two of our group walked up to the overflow parking area up by the Visitors’ Center to get our vehicles.  We parked them close to the canoe landing ramp and loaded our gear and boats and went to our campsites.  Since it was hot we all decided to put on our swimming gear and PFDs and go for a float around the peninsula on which the campground is located.  We floated from the canoe landing ramp to the beach area.  It was great to cool down.  We went for a hot shower and then walked up to the Visitors’ Center to meet the guide for our tour.  The guide was very knowledgeable about the Rock Art in the Archeological Preserve at Writing on Stone.  After a great tour we had supper and went to a drama presentation at the Amphitheatre.  It was an informative and amusing show.  A great way to end our trip.

Saturday, July 16, 2022

We decided to see the Visitors’ Center before we left for home.  It was very worthwhile and we highly recommend going there if you are nearby.  Then there was a long drive home and our own bed.

This was a very good trip with lots of exciting moving water and rapids and great scenery with interesting wildlife.

Although our trip timing was good in terms of the distance we had to cover each day, I would consider taking one more day on the reach above the Town of Milk River so that the paddling days would be shorter and you would have the energy and opportunity to go for a walk in the evening. 


Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
082H02, 082H01, 072E04
Topo Maps (1:250,000): 
Other Maps: 
Alberta Recreational Canoeing Association (Paddle Alberta) Milk River Map GoTrekkers Milk River 3
Suggested Resource Material: 


Post date: Mon, 08/01/2022 - 12:32


Thanks for the report. I would like to paddle the section upstream of Milk River town some day.
I wanted to add some bits of info: it is quite easy to paddle for a day or 2 downstream of WOS Park because of the bridge access.  The landscape is wonderful if you continue down into the US a bit but access is only by 4WD.  Also there are some excellent native petroglyphs along the cliffs on the left bank downstream from Poverty Rock.