Planning on Rafting Down the Bow River This Summer? Here’s How to Stay Safe

You remembered the life jackets, but did you remember your car keys, an extra paddle and good shoes?

Photograph courtesy of Travel Alberta

It’s a local favourite come summertime: lounging in an inflatable raft while coasting down the Bow River, admiring the view of the approaching downtown skyline.

If you don’t have your own raft, you can rent from various sports-specific venues including Lazy Day Raft Rentals, Rapid Rent Outlaw Sports and the University of Calgary Outdoor Centre. The Paddle Station rents rafts and kayaks out of two mobile rental stations right along the Bow River.

Aside from Harvie Passage, the rapids down the Bow are all Class 1 rapids with the exception of Class 2 rapids near 10th Street N.W., but Calgarians still need to be aware of the hazards out there to make sure their trip is safe. Harry Daley, the owner of Lazy Day Raft Rentals, shares the essential tips when it comes to rafting down the river. You should also check the City’s handy safety tips page for updates on known danger zones and other considerations.

Plan your trip

Knowing your route means you can properly plan your day. This needs to happen before you leave the house. Daley says that some rafters will start from Baker Park and now that the west side of Bowness Park has reopened, most rafters are choosing to start here. Popular end points are Prince’s Island, Shouldice Park or Edworthy Park.

“Rafting from Baker Park to Prince’s Island Park will take roughly 3 hours, ending at Edworthy Park takes one and a half hours and ending at Shouldice Park takes one hour.”

Be ready for the trip by making sure you’ve packed enough water and plan to spend some time picnicking at whichever park you end at.

Make sure you have the right equipment

Before you even step foot in the raft, make sure you have everything you need. It’s common knowledge that if you’re rafting on the Bow or the Elbow you should have a life jacket. But just having the jackets in the raft isn’t enough. Daley says that all rafters need to be wearing the life jackets for the entire duration they’re on the river.

It’s also important to have a safety kit in case you do run into trouble. “Our safety kits contain a bailer, a throw rope and a whistle,” says Daley. “Having an extra paddle is also advisable in case one gets lost.” Lazy Day Raft Rentals rents the third paddle for no extra cost.

Having all your equipment also means having your car keys

A day on the river means having two cars: one to take you to the starting point and one at your end point. “Make sure you have the keys for both cars with you,” says Daley. “You can save a lot of money by not having to take a taxi if you forget them.”

Lazy Day Raft Rentals also has two different shuttle services for rafters going upstream from the shop. (Shuttle service isn’t offered if you’re planning on rafting down the Elbow.) On weekdays, the shuttle runs from the Lazy Days Raft Rentals shop to Baker Park, Shouldice Park or Edworthy Park for $25 for groups of one to four. On weekends, a 40-passenger shuttle bus is offered for $5 per person from Lazy Day to Baker Park only. Both shuttles are open to rental customers only. Advance reservations are strongly encouraged as the shuttle usually sells out.

Know the hazards and obstacles along the way

Daley says rafters should be cautious as they enter downtown.

“While going under the 10 Street Bridge, it’s best to stay in the middle of the river or to the left,” says Daley. “The right side of the river tends to pull people into the rocks and there are river surfers on the right. And be aware that the Elbow is really shallow,” adds Daley. “We’ve seen rafts get damaged because of that river’s depth.”

It’s also important to check weather reports before heading out on the raft. If you do get stuck in a hail storm while you’re on the river, Daley recommends that you paddle the raft to the river bank and use it for shelter until the hail stops.

Wear the proper footwear

Daley says that most people will finish their rafting trip at Prince’s Island because it’s easy to exit and there’s lots of free parking for Lazy Day Raft Rentals customers by the Curling Club. However, it’s important to know that it’s rocky there. “A lot of people forget that and don’t wear the proper footwear,” says Daley.

To avoid injury at the end of a fun day of rafting, be aware of the rocky riverbed and watch where you step.

Renting a raft costs anywhere from $55 for a four-person raft to $125 for a 10-person raft. Life jackets are $5 with raft rental. Lazy Day Raft Rentals, 720 3 St. N.W., 403-258-0575,

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