Avenue’s Ultimate Summer Challenge #7: Go Rafting On the Bow

From gear to popular landing spots, here’s what you need to know before taking a raft trip down the Bow.

Photograph by Neil Zeller

Welcome to Avenue‘s Ultimate Summer Challenge. During July and August 2021, we’re challenging our readers to try a different fun activity every week to make the most of the summer. Plus, we show you how to take that activity to the next level. Click here to see the rest of the challenges.

 

Don’t be one of those people staring wistfully at a fun-loving crew floating down the Bow on a sunny day. Make this the summer that you get out there, too. To float the Bow, you’ll need a decent-sized raft that you’ve pumped up in advance to ensure there are no holes, life jackets for everyone in the raft, paddles (ideally three so that if you lose one you still have two to manoeuvre the raft), an emergency whistle and provisions.

Plan your trip by first thinking about where you want to end up — popular landing spots include the Prince’s Island lagoon and the beach near the parking lot at St. Patrick’s Island — then backtrack to determine a launch spot based on how long you want to be on the river. The West Baker Park boat ramp provides easy river access and an extended ride. To shorten the journey, put in at Shouldice Park or Edworthy Park instead.

A few other tips for happier rafting: check the weather report before you go to avoid being on the water during one of those charming hailstorms we get around these parts. Keep your phone in a Ziploc bag. Wear an old pair of sneakers that you don’t care about getting wet so that if you need to jump out and pull the raft to shore you’ll have sure footing on the river rocks. And keep your eyes on what’s up ahead so that you can safely pilot your raft past bridge structures and around shallow sections. If this is all way too much, book a trip with one of the local rafting tour companies like Lazy Day Raft Rentals, Calgary River Experience or The Paddle Station, and let someone else handle the logistics, leaving you to handle the fun.

 

Level Up: Run the Harvie Passage Rapids

Rafting the Bow used to mean never, ever going further than the zoo on account of the weir that once forded the river where it rounds the bend near the intersection of Memorial Drive and Deerfoot Trail. Infamously known as the “drowning machine,” the weir created a churn of water that was a death trap for paddlers. Construction to remove the weir began in 2009, and it has since been replaced with a series of man-made channels that double as a water park for kayakers and other paddling enthusiasts — recreational rafters included.

If you want to finish your journey down the Bow by running the Harvie Passage rapids, keep right and follow the shoreline for the easier Class 2 passage (rather than the more difficult Class 3 passage to the left). Then hold on tight and enjoy a real-life version of the Niagara Falls log ride at the Stampede.

Want more suggestions for the best things to do in Calgary? Sign up for our Weekender Newsletter.

This article appears in the July 2021 issue of Avenue Calgary.

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