Some stand-up paddleboard (SUP) riders are content to meander around a pond, but, for those craving more action, it’s all about going with the flow. Taking a SUP down a river brings the possibility of spills as well as thrills, however, with a little know-how, it’s a total blast. There are numerous spots in the region — some are right in our city — that offer superlative SUP experiences. Here are five riveting river rides, as recommended by Robyn Bell, a Canmore-based Paddle Canada SUP instructor. Not ready to do a self-guided river adventure? Look up Aquabatics Calgary (aqoutdoors.com), a provider of lessons, guided paddling trips, gear and more.
Put in: Baker Park, Calgary
Take out: Shouldice Park, Calgary
Approximate length: 4 km
Difficulty level: Beginner
“A short, straightforward trip to get the feel for paddling on a river,” says Bell. If you want a longer ride, there are many take-outs further along.
Put in: Banff, below Bow Falls
Take out: Canmore Boat Launch
Approximate length: 22 km
Difficulty level: Intermediate
“Although this is a relatively easy stretch of river, there are often sweepers and strainers [wood hazards above and below water] so it’s recommended to have some basic knowledge of how to mitigate them,” says Bell. Once you pass the Banff Springs Golf Course, there aren’t any exit points, so be prepared for a four- to six-hour adventure.
River: Lower Kananaskis
Put in: Canoe Meadows (use the eddy below the race course)
Take out: Seebe, just past the railway bridge
Approximate length: 8 km
Difficulty level: Intermediate
“A great trip for intermediate paddlers,” says Bell. “The difficulty doesn’t exceed Class II, however, there are plenty of wood hazards on this run.” Always check TransAlta river flows (transalta.com/river-flows) first to ensure the water is on.
Put in: Lake Louise Village (near the old train station)
Take out: Castle Junction
Approximate length: 5 km/28 km
Difficulty level: Advanced for the first five; intermediate afterward
This trip offers an initial advanced-level section of rapids, mostly fun, rolling waves, though in high water the final rapid near the bridge over the Trans-Canada Highway, just south of Lake Louise, can be as high as Class III. “Be aware of the log jam just after this rapid,” says Bell. If you’ve had enough, there’s a take-out spot at the 5-km point. Otherwise, you can continue at a more leisurely pace all the way to Castle Junction.
Put in: Kootenay River Day-use Area, Kootenay National Park
Take out: Various locations
Approximate length: 1-4 days
Difficulty level: Advanced
This beautiful and remote stretch of river features numerous springs and waterfalls along its banks. “With many take-out options, it’s a bit of a ‘choose your own adventure’ trip,” says Bell. “There are quite a few riverside campsites along the way.” Although the rapids can be challenging, Bell says the most difficult part can be navigating the active logging roads to set up a shuttle — there’s no cell service and flat tires are common. And she recommends investing in quality dry bags: her favourites are by NRS and jaylife13.