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Your Ultimate Guide to Rafting in Calgary

Riding the Rapids: Your Ultimate Guide to Rafting in Calgary

Once summer hits, you’ll spot plenty of folks in Calgary having a blast with the hottest activities: swimming, kayaking, biking, sunbathing, hiking, and, of course, rafting. 

Oh yes, rafting – imagine chilling on the rivers, catching some rays. It’s fun and thrilling, and it’s a breeze for the seasoned pros, but what about those new to this sunny day fun? 

Don’t worry: our guide has your back on all things rafting in Calgary – where to start, where to go, and some rafting hacks. Keep reading, and you’ll get the lowdown on it all!

How to Plan a Rafting Trip in Calgary

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Calgary has both the Bow and Elbow rivers flowing right through it. These are the ideal spots for folks who want a taste of both nature and city vibes on a single trip –  rafting sure is one of the coolest ways to soak in the beauty of these waterways!

Here’s how to plan a rafting trip in Calgary to one of these two rivers:

  1. Choose your river

First things first, decide which river you want to conquer. If you’re up for a scenic float with some mild rapids, plus stunning views of the city skyline and distant mountains, the Bow River is your go-to. 

On the flip side, if you fancy a more laid-back experience with mostly flat water, then the Elbow River is the way to go. It’s perfect for a relaxing float or picnic on the riverbank. 

  1. Assess your experience level

Consider your expertise. If you’re a beginner or simply want a hassle-free experience, a guided tour is your best bet. 

Through this, professional guides will handle the rapids, provide safety instructions, and share interesting tidbits about the river and the surrounding area. 

On the other hand, if you’re a seasoned rafter with your own gear, you can navigate the river at your own pace.

  1. Buy or rent equipment 

Once you’ve made up your mind, the next step is to book your trip or snag some equipment. Luckily, several reputable rafting companies in Calgary offer guided tours and equipment rentals

If you have cash to spare, you can even invest in new gear and a new rafter. It all depends on what you need at the moment, but it’s best to keep your budget in check at all times.

Check out these cool outfitters we found for you!

  • Sports Rent – Sports Rent is conveniently situated just three minutes away from popular launch sites along the Bow River, such as Edworthy Park, Shouldice Park, and Bowness Park. But, you have to handle picking up, moving, and bringing back the raft to and from where you start and finish.

They’ve got rafts for four, six, eight, and ten people, and you can rent them for one to seven days. The good news is when you rent a raft here, they throw in safety gear like a bailer, whistle, and throw bag!

  • Rocky Mountain Paddling Centre – This place has rafts for four, six, eight, and ten people, and the pumps are part of the deal. If you want, they’ve got this handy raft package that includes paddles, a throw bag, PFDs, a pump, and a bailer.

Just a heads up, if you’re eyeing those eight- or ten-person rafts, you’ll need a truck or an SUV to haul them around. 

  • The Paddle Station – At the Paddle Station, they have all sorts of rafts for you to rent: small, medium, large, and round. They also offer riverside service at the put-in and take-out, which includes having your raft inflated and ready to go, along with safety training from their staff.

There’s also a self-serve option for those who prefer to raft at another location. If you choose this, make sure to pick up your rental at Shouldice Park after 10:00 AM. and return it by 6:00 PM on the same day.

  • Lazy Day Raft Rentals – Lazy Day Raft Rentals offers four-, six-, eight-, and 10-person rafts from June to mid-September. 

You have two choices here: grab a deflated raft from their downtown shop, return it in 24 hours; or start your adventure at West Baker Park Boat Ramp, and they’ll set you up with a pre-inflated raft at their downtown shop.

  1. Pack for your trip

Finally, pack for your adventure. Make sure to gear up for the weather conditions, as temperatures can change rapidly on the river. 

Also, don’t forget to double-check your booked trip details, if you’ve opted for one. Make sure that you have the number of the company of the guide himself so you have direct contact for any unexpected changes. 

The City of Calgary recommends the following doing the following for a safe trip:

  • Choose an appropriate vessel for river use that meets the weight capacity of your group.
  • Ensure everyone on board has properly fitting life jackets or personal flotation devices. Take note: For adults, the chest size determines the correct size; for kids, the weight determines the appropriate size.
  • Carry a complete water safety kit in your watercraft. You can find these kits at most general goods and outdoor recreational retailers. Your kit should have water-bailing devices, a sound-signaling device (e.g. a whistle), at least 15 metres of heaving rope, and a waterproof LED flashlight.
  • Additional supplies include your phone, water, hat, sunscreen, and some sunglasses.

The Top Places to Go Rafting in Calgary

If you’re looking for a little excitement, you will find it just west of Calgary, with vast rafting options to fill your heart’s desire. Here are some of our top picks.

Bow River Rafting

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When it comes to easy access and a relaxed rafting experience in Calgary, the Bow River is hard to beat. Within the city limits, it offers numerous entry points through a gentle current and a range of outfitters – straightforward choice for a leisurely paddle!

Popular launch spots like Bowness Park, Shouldice Park, and Edworthy Park make it convenient for city dwellers. But it’s advisable to wrap up your journey no later than St. Patrick’s Island to avoid the challenges of the Harvie Passage just ahead. 

If you’re up for a flatwater stretch from the Ghost Dam to the west of Calgary, bring your own raft and arrange for shuttles.

For those seeking a more exhilarating experience on their Bow River rafting adventure, explore further upstream. Take on the excitement of whitewater trips through Horseshoe Canyon, the section where the river emerges from the Rocky Mountain range.

Elbow River Rafting

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Elbow River Rafting offers a slow and steady pace, perfect for those looking to unwind while floating. Actually, many prefer using pool floats or inflatable inner tubes for this relaxing trip – just keep in mind that the river can become quite shallow later in the summer. 

Surprisingly, no tour companies currently navigate this river. So if you’re up for it, it’s best to rent a raft, haul it to the start, and sort out a shuttle for the finish.

From the Glenmore Reservoir to where it meets the Bow River, the Elbow River promises a smooth ride. Access points on the Glenmore Reservoir are situated at the Calgary Canoe Club, Heritage Park, and the Glenmore Sailing School. 

Other launch and take-out spots are waiting for you at Sandy Beach and Stanley Park. And if you’re feeling adventurous, merge with the Bow River and cap off your adventure at St. Patrick’s Island.

Kananaskis River

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If you’re looking for some excitement, consider whitewater rafting on the nearby sections of the Bow and Kananaskis rivers. 

The Kananaskis River (west of Calgary), in particular, offers thrilling whitewater rafting experiences. It features class II to III rapids, breathtaking scenery, and the option to engage in additional exciting activities like cliff jumping and swimming.

Top Rafting Tours to Check Out

If you want a hassle-free rafting experience in Calgary, we also have some options for you to explore. We picked the best activities that a group of friends can enjoy!

Chinook Rafting


Address: Booking Office, Sundance Mall, 215 Banff Ave, Banff, AB T1L 1E3, Canada

Contact details: +1 403-763-2007

Operating hours: Monday – Sunday: 6:30 AM – 9:00 PM

Chinook Rafting invites you to dive into a thrilling two-hour adventure on the Kananaskis River. Feel the rush as you navigate through class II to III rapids, and if you’re up for it, take a refreshing dip during the scenic float towards the end of the journey.

These trips are available from May to September, with a meet-up at Nakoda Lakeside Lodge at 1:15 PM for a 1:30 PM departure. Expect to wrap up your exciting excursion by 5:30 PM, including everything from orientation to conquering the rapids.

As a bonus, all rafting tours come with complimentary photos. Plus, they provide wetsuits, Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs), helmets, rain jackets, booties, and gloves. 

Canadian Rockies Rafting


Address: 909A Railway Ave, Canmore, AB T1W 1P3, Canada

Contact details: +1 403-678-6535

Conquer class II to III rapids on the Kananaskis River with Canadian Rockies Rafting. Spend a thrilling two hours on the water, navigating rapids, spotting wildlife, and soaking up the breathtaking scenery. 

Tours, which are available from May to September, start at the Stoney Nakoda Resort at 1:30 PM. To top off your adventure, consider the optional swim at the trip’s end, immersing yourself in the pristine waters of the Kananaskis for a refreshing finish!

White Wolf Rafting


Address: 829 10 St #109, Canmore, AB T1W 0C3, Canada

Contact details: +1 888-655-7238

If the entire family is ready for a rafting adventure, consider White Wolf Rafting’s Kananaskis River Adventure tour. 

This family-friendly tour includes two exciting hours on the river, including two thrilling rock jumps into glacial water, to get your adrenaline pumping. Afterwards, you’ll continue to navigate new rapids.

The tour package comes complete with a USB stick loaded with professionally taken photos, a snack and drinks at the end. You’ll even get a custom White Wolf Rafting drawstring bag and White Wolf Rafting stickers as small memory tokens.

Just a heads up, basic swimming skills are required for this adventure!

Rafting Rules in Calgary

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Before embarking on a river adventure, familiarize yourself with some important Calgary river rafting rules. The City of Calgary strongly encourages everyone to stay informed about river conditions before setting out. 

  • Mandatory Life Jacket Use: All individuals must wear a life jacket on Calgary’s waterways. Non-compliance results in a ticketed offense, with fines up to $500 and a mandatory court appearance.
  • Prohibition of Intoxication and Substance Transport: It is illegal to be intoxicated or transport alcohol/drugs on Calgary’s waterways since operating watercraft demands focus, concentration, and quick reactions to changing river conditions. 

You should know that police and bylaw officers patrol Calgary’s waterways, and any engagement in unsafe or disrespectful behavior on the water may result in fines by the authorities. Simply put, follow the rules and you won’t be in trouble!

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