9 Family-Friendly Paddling Locations

Category: Plan B's + Local Outdoor Adventures

Paddling locations? But… Isn’t This A Hiking Page?  

Well, yes, however, here at Three Mountain Family Hikes®, our motto is “Getting families closer to Nature, one step at a time.”   If you have my book, Take a Hike With Your Children, you also know that I have a Plan B for when things don’t work out…like going paddling when you have a mutiny on the trail!

Trail Mutiny Alert!

Picture the scene: it’s a typical summer day in the Canadian Rockies. The sun is shining, there are a few puffy white clouds dotting the stunning blue Alberta sky. A light breeze is ruffling the pine needles of a lodgepole pine tree. We’re on our way up the trail, and close to reaching the destination, which was “just one step more.” I look back and notice a small, but feisty, black cloud following me up the trail. But this cloud is no act of nature, but my youngest, 13 years old at the time, grumbling mutinously up the trail.  I got “the look,” which was followed by “I’m so SICK of the hiking trails in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. What’s that? Another tree? Another flower? WHOOP DE DOO.  I have seen it all before!” 

The WHOOP DE DOO look that launched a few boats.
Castle Mountain Lookout trail, Banff National Park, Summer 2017

I imagine many of you are finding, as I am, that the older the children get, the less time we spend together as a family: summer jobs, friends, homework, sports and well, just wanting to create their own space as teens. It’s apparent that the family hikes we have been doing for so many years are not floating his boat anymore, so I asked him what he would want to do instead. For me, the most important thing is for us to get together and spend quality time outdoors as a family: My youngest no longer felt that hiking was quality family time.  

My Teenager’s Alternative to Hiking?- Kayaking!

So I found two used Pelican Kayaks to buy, and the rest, as they say, is water under the bridge. 

Places We Have Paddled

Here are our suggestions for great, flat water family-friendly places to kayak in the Canadian Rockies. Disclaimer – I received my canoe certification a looooonnnnggg time ago, and it is equivalent to the Paddle Canada Level 1certification. I am not an instructor, nor am I an expert. This is us sharing our experiences in the hope that it will give you some great Plan B, non-hiking alternatives.

1 – Vermillion Lakes, Banff National Park

Before you even buy a kayak, why not rent some from the Banff Canoe Club

From here, you can either slog your way up the Bow River to build up your paddling strength and enjoy a leisurely float back to the docks or practise steering by navigating your way through the narrow waterways that lead into Vermillion Lakes. These lakes are so shallow; if you stepped out of the kayak, you’d likely only go up to your waist, so it’s a great place to get familiar with paddling with your children.

I grew up spending summers in Muskoka, I always need my canoe fix.
Before becoming Kayak owners, we would rent a canoe when we had the chance.
Summer 2007
two people kayaking on Vermillion Lakes, Banff National Park
Vermillion Lakes, Banff National Park
Summer 2018

2 – Johnson Lake, Banff National Park

This beautiful mountain lake, with a beach and picnic area, is ideal for first-time paddlers. Before owning kayaks, we spent a lot of time here when the boys were younger. There is generally a pair of nesting loons on this lake, as well as a rope swing for the more adventurous type. Whirling disease was first found here in 2017. Follow all proper protocol when removing and before transporting your gear, shovels and pails included, to another body of water.

Watching the loons from a distance. Johnson Lake, Banff National Park
Summer 2018

3 – Two Jack, Banff National Park

Located just up the road from Johnson Lake on the Minnwanka Loop road, Two Jack is a little bit of a step up from Johnson as it’s much bigger and has more of a prevailing wind. This lake would be an excellent place to practise paddling into the wind with your family. The Parks Canada Two Jack campground borders on this lake and I have observed many kayaks or SUP’s ready to be launched for a paddle on the lake. 

Now that is a happy non-hiker!
Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park,
FYI – he now enjoys hiking again, sometimes you need to switch it up.
Summer 2017

4 – Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park

As far as iconic Canadian Rocky Mountain photos go, kayaking on the stunning green waters of Emerald Lake is right up there with Moraine Lake and Lake Louise, but with fewer crowds! You could even manage a multi-sport day with a short hike around the lake, followed by a kayak. Check out the water rushing through the cool features of the natural bridge on the way home!

Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park. Hubby with his back to the view!
Summer 2019

5 – Lower Kananaskis Lake – at the Driftwood Picnic Location

Located on the Spray Lakes road, this location offers picnic tables, a boat launch and some great paddling on Lower Spray Lakes. We go in the evening, put up the hammocks, have dinner and go for a sunset paddle. A word of caution, this location can get very windy. Cyclists enjoying the High Rockies Trail also use this parking lot. 

6 – Goat Pond, Kananaskis

The damning of Upper Kananaskis Lakes created Goat Pond. 

This body of water is often quite windy and chilly. But, when the sun goes down, the wind often miraculously dies down, and in the quiet evening air, the mountains come to life. One end of the pond is grassy and an easy launch spot for kayaks, watch out for the semi-submerged tree stumps sticking out at the other end. Keep an eye out for Ospreys and Eagles as they look for a meal. 

A warm September day – Goat Pond, Kananaskis
Summer 2018

7 – Rundle Reservoir, Canmore

The reservoir is located at the base of Ha Ling and across the road from the Canmore Nordic Centre. There is a decent parking area here to unload, with quick and easy access to the water. It is another excellent spot to practise your skills with your family, and have a shoreline picnic. The main body of water is usually well protected from the wind, but that can change once you get around the corner and start paddling up the channel. The reservoir is a favourite spot for introductory SUP lessons, so expect to share the water with other newbies!

Rundle Reservoir, Canmore
Summer 2017

8 – Pyramid Lake, Jasper National Park

A calm mountain lake with a beach and a panoramic view of the Pyramid Mountain Range. After your paddle, have a family picnic, go for a swim or an easy family-friendly walk on the Pyramid Island loop. You can get ice cream at the Pyramid Island Lake Resort and also rent canoes.

Pyramid Lake, Jasper National Park,
Summer 2018

9 – Columbia River Float, Invermere to Radium

A leisurely flatwater paddle through

“one of the world’s living natural treasures and as such, they have been recognized as a Ramsar site, a wetland of international importance. With more than 260 bird species recorded, as well as numerous fish, reptiles, amphibians, mammals species and countless invertebrates, the Columbia Wetlands is a hotspot of biodiversity. source: wildsight.ca.”

Columbia River Wetlands, summer 2019, Invermere British Columbia.

My youngest son and I did this paddle summer 2019. He LOVED this paddle and was most impressed with the Bald Eagle that swooped into the water and successfully grabbed a fish. 

Check this map out before you head out on the river – read on to find out why!

We set off by the public launch site in Invermere, British Columbia and spent an hour exploring the wetlands and then headed under the railway bridge along the Columbia River, where my husband met us four hours later at the Radium pickup.  

You can paddle through the channels that weave among the wetlands if you don’t have the time or stamina for a four-hour float. If this is your plan, make sure you DON’T paddle past the wooden diving board. The current is STRONG past this point; if you go past the diving board, you may have to continue to Radium.  

Plan and Prepare – Don’t make my mistake!

The first time I paddled here was with a friend visiting from Ontario, and I didn’t bother to do my research – I didn’t look at the Wetlands Scenic Paddle map. We quickly learned that the current gets very strong past the diving board, the one mentioned above. Thankfully, we make it to the shore, pulled out our heaving lines, attached them to our kayaks and pulled our kayaks behind us as we walked along the river edge back to the other side of the diving board. 

Safety Gear

Of course, it’s not quite as simple as “finding kayaks and going out in them.” We also invested in the appropriate safety gear. Anyone considering moving into the water sports realm, such as paddling, should have the following mandatory equipment:

  • PFD (personal flotation device) – the water is COLD in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, and no matter how good a swimmer you are, it’s unwise to underestimate the power of nature. Opt for a brightly coloured one so you can be seen in the water (and for more “pop” in your pics!)
  • Sound signalling device– a pealess whistle works well, and most PFDs come equipped with one. I have one in my hiking kit, so this was easily transferable.
  • Heaving Line – these are not mandatory on sit on kayaks or SUPs, but we recommend having one anyway. You never know when someone might need a tow!  
  • Bailer – Also not mandatory on sit on kayaks or SUPs, but very important for getting water out of your vessel in choppy water (or if you have a small leak)
  • Lights – you put lights on your bikes, so put lights on your kayak! Especially if you’re going to be paddling at dusk, it’s essential that other boats, particularly motorized boats, see you at night. It also helps people find you if you are lost. Wearing a headlamp also works well.

Whirling Disease Alert

In the Canadian Rocky Mountains, it is imperative to clean, drain and dry all boats, SUPs, water toys, fishing gear after time spent in a body of water. Check out my blog on Whirling Disease so you can help stop the spread.

Rentals and Guided Tours

Several of the paddling locations I have mentioned offer rentals and guided tours.

Columbia River Paddle offers kayak & SUP rentals, lessons and guided tours of the wetlands as well as a shuttle service that picks you up in Radium. 

You can rent canoes at the water’s edge from the following: The Boathouse Trading Co., at Emerald Lake, the Banff Canoe Club. We have yet to paddle on Lake Louise or Moraine Lake, but you can rent canoes there.

The Boathouse Trading Company, Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park.

Grab and go a canoe, kayak or SUP from any of Calgary rental locations

Bow Valley Stand Up Paddle Board in Canmore has rentals and offers lessons. I took a SUP lesson with them, and it was terrific – I now have SUP!

We covered a lot of ground in this blog, and only kayaking! Tell us in the comments below what your favourite family-friendly Plan B + Local Outdoor Activities are in the Canadian Rockies!

Happy Hiking !

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