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Enjoy fall splendour from an island on the North Saskatchewan

Edmonton's river valley is a great place to spend an autumn evening or two. The folks at Urban River Adventures offer a unique take.
Perfect for a unique, special-occasion treat: try a 'glamping' experience on the North Saskatchewan. Photo: Lucy Haines

When autumn winds blow, and overnight temperatures threaten to hit the freezing mark, a camping adventure may not be top of mind. But why not? I tested that theory this week, on a quick 'glamping' (glamorous camping) expedition to an island on the North Saskatchewan River, toque and long underwear in tow along with an eagerness to test the elements (well, to dip a toe in the chilly river waters, anyway).

Edmonton-based Urban River Adventures is not quite done (dates are still available into late October) with a first successful season offering unique, back-country-type camping experiences. Whether you're ready to climb into a tree tent, or prefer a more luxurious (and roomy) tent stay with mattress and duvet, this is a fun and unique excursion for a quick night or two away. The optional VIP food packages (with heat-and-eat suppers, hearty breakfast and even s'more fixings) and river activities like kayaking, paddleboarding, tubing--even panning for gold--are lovely and recommended perks for the adventure.

Trained guides whisked my teenage son and I on the zippy, 10-minute jetboat ride upstream from Devon to the hump of unspoiled crown land that would be our home for the night. On arrival, Urban River Adventures staff start campers off with a primer on how to navigate the visit: where to pick up food and bring dishes back, and how to use the propane, wood stove and toilets located at the 11 sites dotted around the island. 

Urban River Adventures prides itself on 'Leave No Trace Principles' in all aspects of the glamping experience. This includes disposing of waste and recyclables properly, leaving rocks, leaves etc where they're found, and respecting any wildlife one might encounter. Guides report beavers, birds, muskrat, rodents--even moose and deer have crossed the island at this shallow point of the North Saskatchewan--but we encountered none on our 24-hour stay: the rustling in the night was the wind, we assured ourselves the next morning.

Arriving late afternoon on a sunny September day, we quickly dropped our bags and grabbed our well-labelled supper supplies. The cast-iron-prepared saucy beef, potatoes and summer salad were easy to re-heat, and delicious--as was the extra garlic bread and the cookies/marshmallows to finish. Sitting on comfortable Adirondack chairs with a full belly and watching the prairie sun set was reason enough to make the trip out, but playing a quick board game and chatting with my son as we roasted our marshmallows in the blazing fire--well, as the commercials say, that's priceless.

If you get to the island on one of the earlier departures in the day and leave later the next day, you'll get a full taste of all this glamping adventure has to offer. Included activities like spike ball, fishing or even swimming (there are wee patches of sand at some spots off the island) all meet Urban River Adventures' mission to 'give adventurous individuals the chance to experience the local, natural highlights of backcountry camping 'with a touch of glamour' in the river valley.

Visitors need to have good mobility, as the island's paths are uneven. Getting from shore in and out of the boat also requires sturdy footing, so keep that in mind when considering a visit. There's also no running water, and it's each camper's responsibility to change and clean the private, covered camp toilet provided. 

This getaway will set you back from $250-$375 night for two (depending on add-ons). Sites are private and well-equipped: you don't have to remember a sleeping bag, flashlights, towel, toilet paper--even the roasting sticks are provided! I particularly appreciated the French press morning coffee to go with my sausage and spinach frittata breakfast.  There's your glamping right there.

For those considering a fall glamping experience before things close for the season, (don't worry, there's heaters and blankets available to keep cozy) there's a midweek (Buy one get one) BOGO deal. See for details.