The North Saskatchewan River

Photo: Beth Nanni.

Edmonton’s river valley is one of the most attractive features of our city. It covers an astounding 7400 hectares with over 150 kilometres of trails – the largest of any city in North America! While we have the City of Edmonton to thank for the multi-use trails, the river valley itself was created over time through erosion. The last glaciers to cover Edmonton began to melt away 12,000 years ago, carving out the river valley and eventually forming the river system our city has been built around – the North Saskatchewan.

The orange tab marks the origin of the North Saskatchewan River at the toe of the Saskatchewan glacier in the Rocky Mountains. Photo: Google Maps – click to enlarge.

The headwaters of the North Saskatchewan River originate 1800 meters above sea level in the Columbia Ice Fields of the Rocky Mountains. The river then makes its way across Alberta, entering our city from the southwest, and exiting from the northeast. It continues on to Saskatchewan where it joins with the South Saskatchewan River and eventually drains into Lake Winnipeg. The part of the North Saskatchewan that meanders through our city is only a small fraction of its total length: 1287 kms.

A view of the North Saskatchewan River taken in 1913 during the construction of the High-level Bridge. Photo: Provincial Archives of Alberta: A-10,320

Without the North Saskatchewan River, the City of Edmonton would not exist. The city was built around Fort Edmonton, a major trading post of the Hudson’s Bay Company, which was erected along the bank of the river in 1795. While the river is no longer used to transport goods or provide food (fish for early settlers), we use it today for recreational activities and as our source of drinking water.

The North Saskatchewan River also increases biodiversity in our city as many mammals, birds, insects, amphibians, and fish rely on the river and the ecosystem it sustains for survival. Porcupine, deer, coyotes, skunks, muskrats, and beavers all frequent the river valley. Many species of fish can be found in the North Saskatchewan River around the Edmonton area. These include burbot, goldeneye, lake sturgeon, mountain whitefish, northern pike, sauger, and walleye.

This beaver depends on the river for survival.        Photo: Jason Teare.

The next time you are enjoying Edmonton’s River Valley don’t forget to pay homage to its creator – the North Saskatchewan River – as it is the life source for our city and also for many of the organisms we share it with.  While we enjoy what it has to offer, it is also important that we respect, preserve, and protect it so it can continue to sustain future generations.

The City of Edmonton has published a River Recreation Guide. It includes information on recreational activities and river safety. To view a PDF version of the brochure click here.


Photos: Jason Teare (unless otherwise specified)

2 thoughts on “The North Saskatchewan River

    • Hello. Yes, fishing is allowed on the river; however, the city recommends that you do not eat more than one fish per week due to possible high mercury levels. Also, it is not recommended that children under 15 or pregnant woman eat fish from the river.

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