White water paddling towns - Western Canada

Written by: Tim Shaw       Photography: Tim Shaw

A couple of good friends of mine are coming to Canada from New Zealand and asked where they should go for a paddling season. The options offered by Western Canada are endless and almost impossible to distinguish from each other. This is not a top 10 or anything silly like that but my real experiences of paddling in all these locations over the last 4 summers in Canada. This is all based on my opinion and sometimes one-off trips so please take it with a grain of salt and go and explore for yourself! 

I have used towns or cities to represent each area, I have chosen areas that have quality whitewater within 1 hr of the town or city. 

Calgary – My Home Base 

Calgary is not what you might expect, however boasts one of the best paddling communities I have ever experienced. We have quality class 2 and 3 white water close to and within town.  

Pros  

  • I am here... haha just kidding 
  • Great place to learn to paddle 
  • A lot of class 3 options 
  • Good Freestyle features 
  • Amazing local creeks 
  • A good staging ground for road trips 
  • Work is easy to find 
  • Lots of other outdoor pursuits on your door step 

Cons 

  • It’s a city 
  • Local to Calgary means 2hours away 
  • Short spring melt 
  • By July, one must drive a minimum 3 hours to go creaking 
  • The rock here is hard on your kayak 

Golden 

This is a great place to be if you like big water paddling. The main river is the Kicking Horse. Golden is a good central location for going east, west, north or south. 

Pros 

  • The Kicking Horse runs all season  
  • Bigwater awesome from class 3 to 5 
  • Lots of raft guide jobs 
  • Within range of both the Eastern Rocky creeks and the abundant creeks of the Kootenays 
  • Small town 
  • Mountain biking is good 
  • Take out in town 

Cons 

  • Most of the paddling is class 4 or above 
  • Gas is expensive 

Invermere 

With Toby Creek right there you would feel you don’t need to go anywhere. But within an hour of driving the options are many. If you paddle class 4-5 and like creeks this is a good spot to be. 

Pros 

  • Paddling is really close 
  • A really neat small town 
  • Lots of great options within an hour of driving 
  • Great mountain biking at Panorama  

Cons 

  • There are not a lot of local paddlers in town 
  • Raft guiding is on a class two section 

Revelstoke 

With a great community, fantastic mountain biking and some of the best whitewater I have ever paddled you would wonder why I am not there. 

Pros 

  • number of class 3-5 options with 20mins of town 
  • A long season 
  • Great paddling community  
  • Even better in winter for skiing 
  • Super central for road trips in all directions 
  • Really neat art and food culture in the town 

Cons 

  • Good outdoor jobs are hard to get 
  • Accomodation can be tricky  

Smithers and Terrace  

It’s a long way up there, but this is a place with so much good paddling I don’t know where to start. There are warm class twos to scary multi day class 5s. The community is great, but not a huge amount of people paddling at grade 4 and above.  While Smithers and Terrace are 2.5 hours apart I have made this one area, as being in either town is ideal and 2.5 hours isn't that far haha. 

Pros 

  • There is so much good paddling close that driving 2 hours seems silly 
  • Creeks and big water options 
  • Great Freestyle paddling 
  • Warm 

Cons 

  • A long way from paddling anywhere else! 

Squamish/Whistler 

I never actually paddled in this area, but thought I would include it as I have heard a lot. This is the place most people flock to. And for good reason, from what I can tell it is a class 5 boaters paradise. But if you don’t like crowds and spending an insane amount on rent then maybe look elsewhere. 

Pros 

  • Lots of people to paddle with 
  • Not just good paddling, but great climbing and biking too 
  • Close to Vancouver Island for winter paddling 
  • Lots of classic class 5 
  • Close to Washington  

Cons 

  • Rather expensive 
  • Lots of people 
  • A lot further from paddling further east 
  • I am unsure of how easy work is to find 

 Winter - Vancouver Island 

 One of the only places you can paddle in the Canadian winter! This is a winter paradise. Bring your drysuit and your raincoat and chase the rain and enjoy!