St. Mary (AB) - Lower III

* note that this is for the St. Mary River in Alberta, south of Lethbridge; not the St. Mary River in BC, near Cranbrook *

This is a dam-controlled play run which can be run at many levels. Over 80 cms makes for huge roller-coaster waves. Water is warm due to top-spill from dam.

There are 2 significant rapids on this run, class III+/IV- depending on level.

Wood is generally not an issue on this run, as there are few trees in the area.

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Run Information


There are several takeouts used by the locals (from Lethbridge) that reduce the length of the flat water on the lower parts of the run. One is described:

From the put-in, drive E on Twp. Rd. 52 Turn LEFT (N) on Rge. Rd. 231 and drive 12 km Turn LEFT (W) on Twp. Rd. 55 and drive to the intersection with Rge. Rd 232

There will be a ~700m carry up from the river.

The take-out can be recognised from the river by the large house on the hill on river right. Take out of the river after the bend to the right, and walk along the 'roadway' to your vehicle.

Note that this take-out is on a ranch, and I am not certain as to the level of permission paddlers have to take out here (at the time of this writing - May 2011 - there is a locked gate at the end of the lane with a “No Trespassing” sign attached).

Please respect the ranch or it will definitely be off-limits. Close any gates that you open. Pack out any garbage that you may have. If you see some garbage, pick it up and carry it out (it's not far). Don't spook the horses.

Put In

To get to the dam: Drive south on highway 2 to highway 505 (10 km south of Standoff). Turn LEFT (east) and drive 15 km to the dam. Turn LEFT into the visitor area.

Check out the spillway. There should be a 10m wide rooster tail throwing water 10m into the air at the bottom of it.

Continue SE on hwy 505 for 6.5 km to highway 5. Turn LEFT (NE) on hwy 5 and drive for 7 km Turn LEFT (N) on Range Rd. 231 Turn LEFT (W) on Township Rd. 52. Take this to the end, where there is a small parking area.

Carry your boat down ~300m to the river.


Big-water run with potentially warm water. When the water is warm, you could wear a short-sleeved top if the weather will be above 25°C. Note that the water may be warm when it's been in the lake for a while, but during spring run-off in a high water year will not be much warmer than anywhere else. Practice good river preparation.

At high flows, there are lots of large surfing waves. Most require hiking back up as eddy service is rare, but are often worth the while. This author has paddled it at 90 cms and 160 cms, and whilst the waves are larger at 160 cms, I think there were more catch-able waves at 90 cms.

There are two rapids worth noting on this run, that occur in short succession. The first is called run-no-run. It starts off about 2/3 of the way down the run. The river will come around a bend to the right, where there will be an amazing surf wave/hole about 1/2 the width of the river. Take-out on the right to scout the rapid, which consists of a hole river right/centre at most flows, and a series of waves/holes along the river for about 100 m.

After this rapid, the river will be mostly straight and then bend slightly to the left. Eddy out on river left BEFORE the 90° corner to the left to scout the next (and most significant) rapid, called Hairpin. It consists of a fast slide on river right into a series of 12' haystacks, with a couple of holes about 75 m downstream. The rapid can be easily scouted/walked in its entirety on river left, and the water after the rapid is calm. The whole thing is III+/IV- depending on flow.

Length & Time

20km, Full_Day



Flow Information

Dam-controlled. Watch for a release over 100cms in June or July for epic surfing. Need more info. FIXME



Other Resources

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