The mountain man isn’t always the most graceful traveler in the Canadian Rockies. I’ve fallen off of rafts, crashed on my skis, gone over the handlebars on my mountain bike, and even fell of a cliff on a golf cart one time.
So I naturally gravitate toward canoeing. Not that this is easier, or always completely safe and adrenaline free. The rivers of the Rockies can move fast and have plenty of rapids. But all in all, canoeing in the Canadian Rockies can be a great way to relax, kickback and enjoy some of Banff National Park‘s great scenery.
Before heading out on your canoe, be sure to scope out Banff and the weather with the free Banff webcam. Afterward, come back to town for great restaurants, hotels and brewpubs. Below you’ll find a guide to one of my favorite Banff canoe trips.
Castle Junction to Banff
This portion of Alberta’s Bow River lies on the east side of the Trans-Canada Highway and the west side of the Canadian Pacific Railway line and Highway 1A (Bow Valley Parkway). The Bow River runs steadily down the valley, with islands and side channels you’ll want give yourself time to explore. There are plenty of riffles and Class 1 rapids, along with one Class 3 rapid at Redearth Creek, some tight corners, sweepers and logjams, that will keep it interesting. Be sure to take care when canoeing this section.
Put in at the parking lot below the bridge over the Bow River at Castle Junction. After 6km of river you’ll reach Johnston Creek, flowing in from river left. On the downstream side of Johnston Creek you’ll find 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.
This landmark indicates you are nearing Redearth Creek Rapids. As you paddle 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.
If you have any doubts, portage the rapid. There is no marked portage route. But from the 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)