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Everything You Need To Know About Rafting The Bow

Everything You Need To Know About Rafting The Bow

When it comes to rafting in the Calgary area, it doesn’t get much better than the Bow River. Not only does it flow right through the city for easy access, there are a multitude of put-in and take-out spots allowing for easily customized trips, both flatwater and whitewater sections, and a variety of tour companies and outfitters to choose from. When it comes to Bow River rafting, there isn’t much that isn’t on offer.

Whitewater rafting opportunities exist upstream of Calgary and are best enjoyed with a guided tour company. You’ll get incredible views of the nearby Rocky Mountain range, see wildlife along the shore and have a wild time in the Bow’s exciting rapids. There are also flatwater paddling sections upstream of Calgary, but by far the most popular flatwater routes are located within the city itself. In this case there are a range of options—choose from guided tours, self-guided trips where all you have to do is show up at the put-in, and self-guided trips where you have to transport the raft yourself and arrange for shuttles.

No matter what your preference, you’ll find out how to plan the perfect Bow River rafting adventure below.

[This article is part of our Ultimate Calgary Outdoor Adventure Guide. Find all the resources you need to plan an adventurous trip to the Calgary area.]


View from the back of a raft on the Bow River with mountain in background
Take to the Bow for some of the most beautiful views in the Rockies. | Photo: Banff & Lake Louise Tourism // Paul Zizka

Planning a self-guided rafting trip

Taking a tour isn’t the only way to experience the Bow River. Rafting the Bow on your own is easy, though it’s recommended you stick to the flatwater sections. Outside the city, you’ll experience a peaceful float in majestic surroundings. Within the city limits, you’ll often be joined by other rafters having a good time and see the city sights from a different perspective.

Bow River rafting routes

Below, we’ll outline some of Bow River rafting routes you can choose from for your self-guided adventure. With so many access points, though, customizing your own route is simple. Note that float times may vary depending on the season.

Ghost Reservoir to Cochrane

Put in at the Ghost Dam and paddle down to Cochrane on this three- to four-hour adventure. You’ll need to negotiate a steep hill to reach the access point, but once at the bottom there is a flat, rocky space for you to launch your raft. This section of river is mostly flatwater, but has a swift current. There are some small class II rapids that are quite manageable (and fun) in a raft.

Gaze up at cliff walls, look back to see mountaintops peaking over the trees, and keep an eye out for birds of prey and other wildlife. Just past the Gas Plant, you’ll come upon Wildcat Island—a natural area that some choose to camp on to split the trip into two days.

Eventually you’ll begin to see houses backing onto the river, indicating that you’re entering Cochrane. Look out for the Hwy 22 bridge—you’ll take out on river left. Always check flow rates before embarking on this trip as the Ghost Dam can greatly influence how much water is flowing through this section of the Bow.

Bowness Park to Prince’s Island Park

For a classic Bow River float trip, set out on this three-hour jaunt from Bowness Park to Prince’s Island Park (sometimes referred to as Sunnyside). You can put in at either Bowness Park on the south shore or West Baker Park on the north shore. You’ll take out on river left, just under the Bow River Pathway Bridge that connects to Prince’s Island Park. You’ll need to use this footbridge to cross over Memorial Drive NW to reach the parking lot.

On this route you’ll see a good chunk of Calgary from the water—and have the opportunity to pass beneath the Peace Bridge, which you’ll probably recognize from many advertisements for rafting on the Bow.

Shouldice Park to St. Patrick’s Island

For another great section of rafting through Calgary, put in at Shouldice Park and take out at St. Patrick’s Island. This two- to three-hour float overlaps with the previous route, starting you a little upriver from Prince’s Island Park. You’ll still pass under the Peace Bridge, around many islands and past beautiful parks.

The access point is a boat ramp located in Shouldice Park where the Trans-Canada Hwy passes over the river. At the end, you’ll get off on river left at the St. Patrick’s Island boat launch, just before the Calgary Zoo. You can also take out farther down on river right at Pearce Estate Park. Just be sure to get off the river before Harvie Passage!

Graves Bridge to Fish Creek Provincial Park

Looking for a less busy route that’s still easy to access from within the city? Put in underneath the Graves Bridge (on Glenmore Trail) on the west side of the Bow. You’ll paddle for about two hours and then take out on river right in Fish Creek Provincial Park, just before the Stoney Trail SE bridge.

There’s far more greenspace along this route, allowing for a more secluded feeling as you float down the river.

Bow River rafting entry points

Don’t fancy any of the suggested routes above? With so many access points on the river, it’s easy to plan your own. Consider the following for the put-in and take-out spots for your adventure.

Ghost Dam

From the Bow Valley Trail, head south on an unnamed road when you see a sign for the Ghost Lake Cottage Club. Follow this road to where it ends at the dam. You’ll have to walk your boat down to the water from here.

GOOGLE MAPS

Wildcat Gas Plant

Drive south on Range Road 54 from the Bow Valley Trail, toward the Wildcat Gas Plant. Park off to the side before the road turns into the gas plant itself. You’ll have to walk your boat down to the water from here.

GOOGLE MAPS

Cochrane

This access point is located underneath the Cowboy Trail bridge over the Bow, on the north side of the river.

GOOGLE MAPS

View of Bow River from above with rafts
Get out of town. | Photo: Travel Alberta

West Baker Park Boat Ramp

The West Baker Park boat ramp is easily accessible from Stoney Trail NW, on the north side of the river. There is a wide boat ramp here and plenty of parking. Washrooms, picnic tables and garbage cans are all located on-site.

GOOGLE MAPS

Bowness Park Public Boat Launch

Located just downstream of the West Baker Park boat ramp, but on the south side of the river, the Bowness Park boat launch is accessible from 48 Ave NW. There is plenty of parking available and washrooms, picnic sites and a tea house are located on-site.

GOOGLE MAPS

Shouldice Park Boat Ramp

The boat ramp at Shouldice Park is located beneath the 16 Ave NW bridge on the east side of the river. There are a couple small parking lots nearby and lots of street parking along Monserrat Dr NW. There are portable toilets on-site.

GOOGLE MAPS

Edworthy Park Public Boat Launch

Located on the south side of the river within Edworthy Park, this is a hand-launch site only. There are washrooms, picnic shelters and plenty of parking available on-site.

GOOGLE MAPS

Parkdale Public Boat Launch

This is a small hand-launch site on the north side of the river, located at the corner of 37 St NW and Parkdale Blvd NW. There is a small parking lot located on-site.

GOOGLE MAPS

Eau Claire – 8 St SW Boat Launch

There are few facilities available at this launch, but you’ll be able to make do if you don’t need to use a vehicle to launch your boat. Only paid street parking is available nearby.

GOOGLE MAPS

Sunnyside Boat Launch

Launch your raft by hand along the rocky shore across from Prince’s Island Park. Parking is available in the lot across Memorial Drive. Use the footbridge to cross Memorial Drive when launching.

GOOGLE MAPS

St. Patrick’s Island Public Boat Launch

Located just across from where the Elbow River enters the Bow, St. Patrick’s Island is home to the Calgary Zoo, a park, walking trails, picnic areas—and a public boat ramp. You’ll find parking and washrooms on-site.

GOOGLE MAPS

Pearce Estate Park

If you’re looking to get off the river right before Harvie Passage or access Harvie Passage itself, you can do so at Pearce Estate Park. There are a number of paths you can take from the parking lot to the shore. There are picnic areas, washrooms and walking trails located within the park.

GOOGLE MAPS

View of Calgary from above with Bow River running through it
Find adventure right in Calgary. | Photo: Travel Alberta // Dave Lieske

Ogden Bridge

You’ll find a boat ramp on the east side of the river, accessible from Ogden Road SE. Washrooms, garbage cans and other site enhancements to be added in 2021.

GOOGLE MAPS

Glenmore/Graves Bridge Boat Ramp

This boat ramp is located on the west side of the Bow, beneath the Graves Bridge (on Glenmore Trail). You’ll find parking, washrooms and picnic tables on-site.

GOOGLE MAPS

Carburn Park

This is a hand-launch location on the east side of the Bow. There is a parking lot with a short walk down to the water, and washrooms and picnic tables on-site. It’s accessible via Riverview Drive SE.

GOOGLE MAPS

Ivor Strong Bridge Public Boat Launch

Hand-launch beneath the Ivor Strong Bridge on the west side of the river. There are portable toilets on-site and nearby street parking is available.

GOOGLE MAPS

Douglas Park Public Boat Launch

Located by the ball diamonds on the east side of the river, this hand-launch site has stone steps leading down to the water. There are portable toilets and parking on-site.

GOOGLE MAPS

Bankside Public Boat Launch

Hand-launch on the west side of the Bow from Bankside. Portable toilets are located on-site at the parking lot.

GOOGLE MAPS

Fish Creek Boat Ramp

Make use of the double boat ramp and large parking lot at Fish Creek Provincial Park, on the west side of the Bow. You’ll find washrooms and picnic tables nearby. Day use is free.

GOOGLE MAPS

Johnson Island Boat Ramp

Launch from the Johnson Island boat ramp, located within Wyndham-Carseland Provincial Park and accessible off Range Road 260. Washrooms and garbage cans are located on-site.

GOOGLE MAPS

Policeman’s Flats Boat Launch

Located just south of Calgary, this boat launch is popular among fishermen. There are portable toilets and parking on-site.

GOOGLE MAPS

Bow River raft rentals

Need to rent a raft to embark on your self-guided Bow River rafting adventure? See the local rental shops below and get fully outfitted.

Lazy Day Raft Rentals

Whether you want to pick up a raft and head out on a Bow River rafting route of your choosing, or want a hands-off experience with help launching and taking out, Lazy Day Raft Rentals has you covered. Option one is to pick up a deflated raft and equipment at their shop downtown and return it 24 hours later.

The second option is to raft their predetermined and staffed route, starting at the West Baker Park Boat Ramp and ending at their shop downtown. Staff will be on-site at the put-in with your raft already inflated and will help you get on the water. They’ll also be waiting at the take-out to help you get the raft off the water and will look after getting the equipment back to the shop. This is approximately a three-hour float.

The company rents four-, six-, eight- and 10-person rafts from the beginning of June to mid-September.

Phone: (403) 258-0575
Address: 720 3rd Street NW, Calgary

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Sports Rent

Sports Rent is located three minutes from popular launch sites along the Bow River, including Edworthy Park, Shouldice Park and Bowness Park. However, you’ll be responsible for picking up, transporting and returning the raft and equipment to and from your put-in and take-out locations.

They offer four-, six-, eight- and 10-person rafts which can be rented in one-, two-, three-, four-, five-, six- and seven-day increments.

Phone: (403) 292-0077
Address: 
4424 16 Ave NW, Calgary

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People in yellow raft on river with Calgary buildings in background.
Paddle right through the heart of Calgary. | Photo: Travel Alberta // Caitlyn Giorgio @caitlyngiorgio

The Paddle Station

Float down the Bow River with ease with the help of The Paddle Station. You’ll receive riverside service at the put-in and take-out, including your raft inflated and ready to go and safety training from their knowledgeable staff members. The raft run is from Shouldice Park to St. Patrick’s Island, which is about a 2.5-hour float.

There’s also a self-serve option, for those who would prefer to raft another section of the Bow. The rental must be picked up at Shouldice Park after 10 a.m. and returned by 6 p.m. the same day.

They offer small (two- to six-person), medium (two- to eight-person), large (six- to 12-person) and round (two- to six-person) rafts, in addition to the Hot Tub Time Machines Raft (four- to eight-person) and The Blue Monster Raft (eight- to 20-person). We’ll let you look up those last two for yourself.

Phone: (403) 456-2418
Address: 5227 13 Ave NW, Calgary

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Rocky Mountain Paddling Centre

Choose-your-own adventure when you rent from the Rocky Mountain Paddling Centre. Pick up a raft at their store and head out on one of the amazing Bow River rafting routes above. They offer four-, six-, eight- and 10-person rafts with pumps included. You’ll also have the option of purchasing a raft package that includes paddles, throwbag, PFDs, a pump and a bailer.

Note that you will need a truck or SUV to transport their eight- or 10-person rafts. They also rent trailers.

Phone: (403) 202-8490
Address: 1975 26 Street SE, Calgary

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Bow River rafting maps

The City of Calgary has made it incredibly simple for anyone to enjoy the Bow River. Access points are all listed online and are updated regularly with information on restrictions, hours, parking availability and fees. Find the river access map here.

Many of the featured rental companies listed above will provide maps of the Bow River for your excursion. You can view Bow River route suggestions and trip information on PaddlingMaps. For adventurers that are familiar with map reading, Backroad Mapbooks sells a topographic map of southern Alberta that will provide you with all the information you’ll need for trip planning.

Bow River rafting rules

The City of Calgary has outlined some straightforward rules for rafting the Bow River within city limits. The most important, is that you must always be wearing your PFD while on the river. As well, you may only launch your watercraft in designated areas, to ensure naturally sensitive areas are not damaged.

Safety kits are required on all types of non-powered watercraft—that includes rafts. This kit must contain: a bailing device, paddle or oar, sound-signalling device, heaving rope or towing line that floats, and navigation or safety light. In addition, it’s a good idea to bring the following: water, hats, sunscreen and a cell phone (in a waterproof bag or container).

Common infractions on Calgary’s waterways include public urination, littering, and intoxication. Note that transporting or consuming alcohol on the Bow River—or any of Calgary’s waterways—is not permitted.

Learn about all the City’s waterway safety recommendations here.

Bow River rafting advisories

Before heading out on any on-water excursion, it’s important to check the river conditions. Conditions could be unrunnable because water levels are too high and dangerous, or too low to be any fun (read: you’re going to get stuck, frequently). There may also be hazards on the river or closures to be aware of. Checking the weather is also a necessary precaution to take, to ensure you’re bringing the right supplies or aren’t putting yourself in a dangerous situation.

You can find information on flow rates here and the weather forecast here. As well, check the City of Calgary’s Facebook and Twitter pages for advisories or closures beforehand.

People hitting a big wave in a red raft
Beauty and thrills on the Bow River. | Photo: Canadian Rockies Rafting & Adventures

Bow River rafting tours near Calgary

Taking a guided rafting trip is a great way to safely experience rapids, glean information about the area, and improve your paddling. You’ll find both whitewater and floating guided trips in the Calgary area. No matter which you choose, you’ll have an enriching experience in one of the most beautiful parts of Canada.

Whitewater rafting tours

Those looking to experience the thrilling whitewater of the Bow River best head west of Calgary. There are a wealth of companies that run trips through Horseshoe Canyon, a portion of the Bow located just outside the Rocky Mountains that contains up to class IV rapids. You’ll see incredible scenery, take major waves to the face, and even have the opportunity to do some cliff jumping.

Find the companies offering Horseshoe Canyon trips below.

Chinook Rafting

Raft the Horseshoe Canyon with Chinook Rafting, offering daily runs from the middle of May until the beginning of September. You’ll meet at the Nakoda Lakeside Lodge for the 8:15 a.m. departure and return by 12 p.m. Time on the river amounts to 1.5 to two hours.

There’s a float section near the end of the trip, where you’ll have the chance to do a medium or big cliff jump and be able to swim in the river.

The company provides complimentary photos as well as light snacks and refreshments. All gear is included, including wetsuits, PFDs, helmets, rain jackets, booties and gloves.

Phone: 1-866-330-7238
Meeting location: Nakoda Lakeside Lodge, Seebe

BOOK ONLINE / CHECK RATES

Canadian Rockies Rafting and Adventure Centre

Canadian Rockies Rafting runs trips through Horseshoe Canyon’s spirited whitewater from the beginning of May to the middle of September. You’ll meet at the Stoney Nakoda Resort at 8:10 a.m. for a three-hour tour with two hours on the river.

Like other tours, you’ll have the option to do a cliff jump during the float section of the trip.

Rafters get a complimentary hot or cold beverage, access to secure storage lockers, and change room facilities. All gear is supplied, including PFDs, helmets, wetsuits, river shoes, splash jackets—and even strings for retaining eyewear.

Phone: 1-877-CAN-ROCK
Meeting location: Stoney Nakoda Resort, Kananaskis

BOOK ONLINE / CHECK RATES

White Wolf Rafting Inc.

White Wolf Rafting runs tours through Horseshoe Canyon from June to September. You’ll meet at their base in Canmore at 9 a.m. for a day full of adventure on the Bow. Time on the river is about 2.5 to three hours, though you should expect the entire tour to last four hours including orientation and transportation.

Your tour includes complimentary photos, a snack and drink, a custom White Wolf Rafting drawstring bag, and White Wolf Rafting stickers. All gear is included, such as PFDs, helmets, wetsuits and booties.

Phone: (587) 807-6885
Meeting location: White Wolf Rafting, Canmore

BOOK ONLINE/ CHECK RATES

People whitewater rafting in a red raft on the Bow
Hitting waves in Horseshoe Canyon. | Photo: Canadian Rockies Rafting & Adventures

Float tours

Rapids and cliff jumping not your thing? There are several guided raft tours on flatwater sections of the Bow as well. Your guide will act as interpreter, telling you about the history, wildlife and landscape of the area you’re traveling through. You can choose from natural or urban surrounds, some tours taking place outside city limits and others allowing you to drift right through the heart of Calgary.

Find what you’re looking for from the tour companies below.

Canadian Rockies Rafting and Adventure Centre

One of the draws of the Rockies is the incredible wildlife viewing opportunities. A float down the Bow River is a great way to improve your chances of seeing some of the resident elk, deer, osprey, eagles and beaver, to name a few. Canadian Rockies Rafting’s Bow River Nature Floats take place at dawn and dusk—the prime times of day for seeing wildlife.

The morning tours are at 8:15 a.m. and 10:15 a.m. and are an hour in duration. On these tours, you’ll float through the town of Canmore. The evening tour is at 6:30 p.m. and is an hour and a half. After floating through Canmore on this tour, you’ll continue on to Dead Man’s Flats.

Tours run from the beginning of May until the middle of September. Blankets, PFDs, binoculars, wildlife guidebooks, and photos are all provided. On the evening floats, you’ll be provided with a hot or cold beverage, depending on the weather.

Phone: 1-877-CAN-ROCK
Meeting location: Canadian Rockies Rafting, Canmore

RESERVE ONLINE / CHECK RATES

Mukwuh Rafting Tours

Mukwuh Rafting Tours’ Calgary River Experience will take you right through the heart of the city. The route goes from the Pump House Theatre to Pearce Estate Park and lasts 1.5 hours. The whole tour will last about two hours, including shuttle times. They also do custom trips, allowing you to stop at restaurants along the way or get food to go.

Trips run daily at 12:30 p.m from the beginning of April to the end of October.

Phone: 1-800-465-0144
Meeting location: Pearce Estate Park, Calgary

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Canmore Raft Tours

Canmore Raft Tours offers three scenic floats on the Bow River, west of Calgary. The Townie is a one-hour float through Canmore that will allow you to glimpse some wildlife, see the town from the water, and learn about the area’s history. Tour times are 10 a.m., 12 p.m., 2 p.m., 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.

The Explorer is a 2.5-hour float from Canmore, down the river and through the forests of the Bow Valley. You’ll have plenty of time to relax and enjoy the beautiful views of mountain peaks, not to mention learn about the area’s flora and fauna. Tours depart at 6 p.m.

Rafts & Crafts puts a spin on The Explorer tour, tacking on a Canmore Brewery & Distillery Tour. The float itself is one hour and departs at 4 p.m, for a total length of three hours. You’ll not only be able to take in beautiful views from the river, but try some of Alberta’s best beers and spirits.

Tours run from the middle of June to the middle of September, though opening and closing dates vary year to year. All tours meet at the public boat launch on the Bow River, just a five-minute walk from downtown Canmore.

Phone: (403) 688-1775
Meeting location:
 Canmore Public Boat Launch

BOOK ONLINE / CHECK RATES

White Wolf Rafting Inc.

White Wolf Rafting’s Float Trip will provide you with two hours on the river starting in the beautiful town of Canmore. You’ll have the chance to see elk, beavers, eagles, osprey and more in between staring in awe at the Rocky Mountains.

Tours begin at 6 p.m. and are available from July to August. With the tour you’ll receive a White Wolf Rafting sticker, a snack and drink, and complimentary bug spray.

Phone: (587) 807-6885
Meeting location: White Wolf Rafting, Canmore

BOOK ONLINE/ CHECK RATES

The Paddle Station

While not a formal tour, you have the option to add a guide to your raft booking with The Paddle Station. They run floats down the Bow River within Calgary from Shouldice Park to St. Patrick’s Island—a two- to three-hour excursion.

Phone: (403) 456-2418
Address: Shouldice Park, Calgary

RESERVE / CHECK RATES

Published at Sun, 28 Mar 2021 01:35:37 +0000