We always wanted to paddle Canmore to Exshaw on the Bow River. We love canoeing in Canmore, and we had done much of the trip in broken segments, but never as a whole. It kept getting pushed to the bottom of the the to-do list! We finally had a sunny and hot day after what seemed like an eternity of rain. So one Monday after work we decided to give it a shot!
We were armed with a canoe and a kayak. We'd heard some advice about the trek: “Right is right. You always want to keep right unless the left is obviously better – then take the left.” Cryptic. But surprisingly accurate.
There is nothing quite as lovely as paddling along a calm river in the stunningly beautiful Bow Valley in the Canadian Rockies. Despite living here for years, we always find new things to explore. We were speechless with the scenery that surrounded us. Being on the water provides a unique way to view the mountains.There are no buildings of any kind to interrupt the view and the reflections of the mountains on calm water add to the splendour of the place. Beautiful.
It was also busy! It seemed everyone was feeling cabin fever from the long spell of damp days. People were everywhere – walking, biking or running along the many trails that flank the river. Some people were fishing and some were just basking in the sun, delighted to finally feel its heat. The whole place seemed to come alive with the summer weather.
The water was relatively high and calm, both typical conditions for this time of year. We had no trouble paddling to the resident log jam, which is well-known to anyone familiar with this stretch of water. The jam changes with the freeze-thaw cycles of the seasons as well as the fluctuations of the water levels throughout the spring, summer and fall. As we approached the log jam, we took a moment to assess the water. There was a consistent channel through the logs that wrapped around the sharp corner. We decided to put the boats ashore and portage it. We likely could have made it, but the chute was more intense than we wanted to attempt on this sunny evening paddle. Better to play it safe.
The portage was relatively easy, with one quick paddle at the end to get around the last of the log jam. We carefully planned the maneuver and were able to execute it with confidence. The only casualty was my flip-flop, which tore on a rock on the bottom of the river while I launched my kayak back into the water. I should have known better. Flip-flops are not adventure footwear!
After navigating the log jam, we were once again in calm, easy canoeing and kayaking waters. We stopped for supper, which consisted of pre-made sandwiches, a few homemade snacks, and coffee and tea. We always travel with a gas camping stove for boiling water and cooking food. It’s just one of the ways we stay prepared for the outdoors!
The rest of the voyage was wonderful. Calm waters, stunning scenery, a beautiful sunset and a few rising fish completed our evening. We were delayed a couple of times to chase those fish, and as a result, we ended up paddling late into the evening to reach our parked getaway car. Fortunately, we know that section of the river so well, we had no troubles finding our way in the fading light of dusk.
The paddle between Canmore and Exshaw was a lovely excursion with mostly easy waters. If you’re taking your time and stopping for meals and fish, the trip will take several hours. If you’re a strong paddler and are pushing straight through, you can get it done much quicker. Just remember to wear your PFD and pack the bear spray!