Friday 5 December 2014

Finnegan Ferry, Finnegan, Alberta

Also not open year round.
I have been on the Finnegan Ferry twice, once on August 31, 2014 and on September 21, 2014, both times on a motorcycle. My recommendation to anyone going to take the Finnegan Ferry is to drive a car or truck, do not take a motorcycle.

To get there turn south on from Highway 570 onto Highway 862. At this point you are in the middle of nowhere. The actual ferry is ever-so-much-more-so in the middle of nowhere. Highway 570 is paved, Highway 862 is not. There is just over eleven miles of gravel road to get to the ferry crossing. The landscape is flat Alberta prairie and even though it was a hot summer day on both trips you could see patches of water on either side on the road in the fields. There are several soft spots in the road and the road had heavy loose gravel. On both trips I managed a maximum of thirty miles an hour on this road with a motorcycle.

There is also not much traffic. On both trips I ran across one other vehicle. There is also no cell phone coverage once you get there. For a gravel road it is two lanes wide and in good condition on the north side of the river. It is a little hazardous riding a motorcycle made for the street with the unexpected soft spots and loose gravel. Once you get nearer to the Red Deer River the road takes a gradual descent into the river valley. The only thing at Finnegan, Alberta is the ferry. I am not really sure why the Province of Alberta even operates this ferry. It is in a very rural area and it does not seem to get a lot of traffic.

This must be a great job for the ferryman. I asked him about it and since he started that day he had five vehicles. He and his dog just waited for whatever local traffic there was and visited with the occasional tourist that managed to stumble across this place. If somebody happened to be on the opposite side, well he would be right with you in a few minutes. The river really is not very wide, it takes about the same amount of time to get on, park, and secure the gate than it does to cross. It seems like one of those ideal summer jobs.

If you are going to take the south road from the ferry to the highway instead of doubling back I highly recommend you get a GPS. It is gravel road for about twelve miles before you meet up with a paved highway. The gravel road on the north side is two lanes wide, the road on the south side is about a lane, to a lane and a half wide. The road on the north side is well marked if you come to an intersection with another gravel road. The road on the south side is not. On my first trip I drove south after crossing and once I got up the bank and the landscape leveled off, there was a fork in the road. The sign mentioned a range road, my map mentioned Highway 862. I went left for a few miles, thought that did not feel quite right, then doubled back and went the other way. After a few miles I stopped and had a definite “Where the hell am I?” moment.

South of the Red Deer River, Highway 862. This is looking north, the river and ferry are in the valley. You can see the road on the other side of the river off in the distance.
Believe it or not it is easy to get lost on the open prairie. Especially when there are no landmarks, no farms off in the distance, and the few roads you run across are marked with signs and road numbers that still do not match your map. Even worse, everything kind of looks the same. In midday it is not really clear what direction you are facing. I drove a few more miles, stopped, saw no traffic and no signs of civilization. It was kind of eerie how damn quiet it was. I checked my cell phone and there was a signal. I checked Google Maps and it looked like I was close to the highway I wanted. I could not do more than twenty-five miles an hour due to the loose gravel. I stopped again, checked Google Maps and confirmed that I at least seemed to be heading in the right direction.

I kept heading south and I had yet to see a northbound sign advertising the Finnegan Ferry let alone the direction to it. I rode on and the slow speed was getting on my nerves as it was tough to measure if I was making any progress. Then almost without warning I made it to the highway I was looking for, Highway 561. That is one of the other odd things about the prairie, a small dip in the landscape can hide things like a highway. There was no sign even telling me I was coming up to a highway. To really screw me up the name of the highway was not marked at the intersection. One more check of Google Maps and I knew it was the highway I wanted. To this day I am still not sure what road I came out on and I was damn happy to find pavement. If you have the time take the trip. You will not be disappointed.


  1. Cool little ferry, reminds me of the one in my home town, Canby, Oregon. They have one that ply the waters of the Willamette River. It is still in operation. May have to take a camping trip up north to play on your ferry...

  2. Just outside DC, we have "Edwards Ferry". Still in operation except in times of major flooding...Last time I took it was on my trusty BSA 441...Its gone, the ferry remains...
    Jesse in DC

  3. I'm 75 and remember when my young husband and I did a lot of exploring in the area. It was a wooden ferry, kind of home-built then and busier. It's probably kept open despite little use because to travel to the nearest bridge is a long way off. In winter, once the ice is safe, people drive across. That can be risky. I just came across an old newspaper clipping I'd saved from 2001 and thought I'd check to see if the ferry was still there.

  4. Is this still in operation? would love to go check it out.

    1. Yes. Usually from late April to mid November.