Before Summer Ends in the Canadian Rockies: Canoeing in Banff

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Written by Patrick J. Smith posted on Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

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Summer in Banff and the Canadian Rockies is coming to its inevitable close (though you wouldn’t know it look at the Banff webcam today) and the time to participate in some of the best warm weather mountain activities anywhere is now. Of these, I highly recommend a canoe trip.

Take a fantastic canoe trip in the Canadian Rockies this summer.

One of the things Banff is well known for is it’s beautiful, pristine waters. We’ve got waterfalls, lakes, streams and rivers that are unrivaled for their beauty. You can enjoy slipping along silently in these beautiful waters on a canoe, taking in the amazing mountain scenery….

So what are you waiting for? Time’s almost up! Get to Banff and get in a canoe, and go for the scenic ride of a lifetime. Below you’ll find a great canoe trip to get you started.

Canoe Banff National Park from Castle Junction to Banff townsite

This part of Alberta’s Bow River is on the east side of the Trans-Canada Highway and west of the Canadian Pacific Railway line and Highway 1A (Bow Valley Parkway). The Bow River pours steadily down this valley, where you’ll find islands and side channels that make for great detours. There are lots of Class 1 rapids and riffles, a Class 3 rapid at Redearth Creek, and a decent share of sweepers, tight corners and logjams to make your day interesting. Be sure to take care when canoeing this section.

You can put your canoe in at the parking lot beneath the bridge over the Bow River at Castle Junction. After 6 km of floating you’ll get to Johnston Creek, flowing in from river left. On the downstream side of Johnston Creek you’ll see a sign for a backcountry campsite. Another 3km past Johnston Creek, a right bend in the river leads you towards the Trans-Canada Highway and the Castle Mountain Viewpoint.

At this point you’ll know your are nearing Redearth Creek Rapids, so hold on to your paddle. As you float below the viewpoint, the river turns left, away from the highway. In just a few hundred metres, the river turns sharply right into the area of Redearth Creek Rapids. Rated Class 3, these rapids are a long section of fast water moving over rocks. The waves are non-stop, getting larger as you approach the end. Man a canoe has capsized or swamped here, but proper scouting and safety procedures, this rapid can be run by experienced canoeists.

Having second thoughts about this rapid? Take it easy and portage instead. Although you won’t find a marked portage route, you’ll find that from top of the rapid on river right you can make your way along the shore to where Redearth Creek enters the Bow River. From there, wade across the creek and carry your canoe along the riverside trail to the end of the rapids.

A few km below Redearth Creek, the river becomes convoluted. It may not be obvious, but the river here branches into two or three channels. This is a risky section, with tight corners, endless sweepers and dangerous logjams. Pay attention and be safe!

The large gravel fan at the Wolverine Creek entrance on river right, is where you can finally rest a little, knowing the hardest parts are behind you. Another 5.5 km brings you back to the Trans-Canada Highway. This is a good place to take out as there is a gate through the fence to access a roadside parking area off the westbound lane of the highway.

Another 0.5 km brings you to the Trans-Canada Highway bridge over the Bow River. Careful going under the bridge as there are several sweepers on the left side of the river. From it’s a pleasant, 1.5 – 2 hour paddle to Banff. The river is broad and calm, allowing beautiful views of the lower Bow Valley. Take out at the canoe docks, at the junction of the Bow River and Echo Creek. Do not paddle past the canoe docks as Bow Falls is just around the corner.

Distance: 32 km (takes about 5 – 6 hours)

Level: intermediate

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