By Maggie Romuld
I’ve canoed in different countries, and through some spectacular landscapes, but I think my all-time favourite paddling experience was an early morning paddle on a glass-like Bow River upstream from the heart of Banff.
I’d been staying at the Banff Centre for Ingenuity for almost two weeks as part of an immersive science communication program, and my brain was hurting. The facilitators were brilliant and charming and kind, but I needed a break. When a former student of the program offered us a guided canoe trip on the Bow River, I eagerly signed up to swap my pen for a paddle.
August in Banff is slow water season, and as we headed upstream from the canoe docks to a broad, gentle stretch of the river, we glided along at the equivalent of a leisurely stroll. We were gently reminded that if we saw any wildlife we should move away and float quietly by, but nothing stirred on the banks that morning. It surprised me that we didn’t see any wildlife because it was still early, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. We were undoubtedly being watched through the thick streamside forest, and once we passed by, the wild things probably resumed their morning rituals. Chad, our new friend and guide, said he has seen everything from beavers and bears to herons, eagles, and osprey when he has passed that way before.
One of the reasons Chad asked us to join him on the river was to have us try out a new webbed paddle he designed. Yes, webbed! According to Chad, the Shearwater Paddle story started when he was “paddling beside seabirds on the Atlantic Ocean in Northern Ireland. Inspired by the webbed feet of swimming birds nearby…the idea was born. Research and prototyping began; followed by a patent and the involvement of engineering students at the University of Calgary.” After trying out the Shearwater Paddle, we were all hooked. Cleverly designed, it is light and comfortable, collapsible for travelling, and, perhaps best of all, locally made.
The official Banff website describes canoeing on the Bow River as the “quintessential Canadian activity; a peaceful paddle offers some of the most beautiful scenery in the park and excellent opportunities for viewing wildlife.” While my outing was just a brief interlude in an otherwise jam-packed stay in Banff, there are lots of opportunities for longer paddling trips in the park. You can cast off from the dock and spend a few hours exploring Vermilion Lakes, or if you are more adventurous, take on one of the three most popular sections of the river for experienced canoeists. Lake Louise to Castle Junction takes approximately three to four hours; Castle Junction to Banff takes five to six hours, and from Bow Falls to Canmore takes four hours.
If you aren’t one of the thousands of annual visitors who show up in Banff with a canoe or a kayak strapped to the roof of your car, you can still enjoy the river. Head to the dock right in town at the end of Bow Avenue. Paddlers of any skill level can rent a boat and launch it there. If you’re lucky, Chad might be somewhere nearby, maybe he’ll let you try out his paddle.