With scenic mountaintops on the horizon and crystal-clear waters close at hand, kayaking in Calgary is full of enchantment. Both lakes and rivers are easily accessible within or just outside the city, offering both flatwater and whitewater experiences that will please paddlers of a range of skill levels.

Bring your own equipment or rent from one of the many local outfitters. Take guided tours and lessons to get the most out of paddling in the area and improve your skills. With a wide range of paddling options and undeniably incredibly scenery, any kayaking trip in Calgary is bound to be unforgettable.

Read on to discover everything you need to know to make it happen.

[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.]

Many whitewater kayakers on Harvie Passage
Harvie Passage is a popular spot for whitewater kayaking, right in Calgary. | Photo: Mike Holroyd // @mholroyd

Places to kayak in Calgary

Find the perfect place to launch your kayak in or near Calgary among the pristine waters of the lakes and rivers below.

Lake kayaking Calgary

Lake and reservoir kayaking options are plentiful in Calgary, but even more expansive for those who are willing to travel a few hours outside the city. Regardless of your experience level, Calgary and the surrounding area has something to offer everyone.

Barrier Lake

Located an hour west of Calgary, Barrier Lake is worth the drive for the chance to kayak on tranquil, blue waters and be surrounded by towering mountain peaks. This is actually a man-made reservoir, created by the hydroelectric dam found at the northeast end of the lake.

There are two access points. The first is at the Prairie View Trail Parking area near the dam; however, this launch is not recommended as it requires descending steep terrain to reach the water. The second is a parking lot located at the mid-point of the lake—look for signs for Barrier Lake Day Use Area on Hwy 40 to find the turn.

Because the lake is so long, windy days can result in big waves on the lake. Be aware of the weather and conditions before setting out.

Barrier Lake kayak rentals
  • Kananaskis Outfitters
    • Tandem and solo kayaks, hourly and daily rental rates
    • (403) 591-7000
    • Located at the Barrier Lake Day Use Area
Front of kayak on a lake with buildings and shore in background
Take it easy on the Glenmore Reservoir. | Photo: Nonie Heinrich // @nonieheinrich5775

Glenmore Reservoir kayaking

Experience nature without even leaving the city limits by kayaking at the Glenmore Reservoir, located on the Elbow River. Paddling here is a calm and enjoyable experience—a great way to get out on the water for a morning or afternoon. There are a few bylaws to be aware of, however, including the following:

  • Approved PFD must be worn while on the water (which you of course should be doing anyways)
  • No pets allowed on boats
  • No inflatable boats permitted
  • No power motors permitted
  • Boats must only be launched in designated areas
  • No swimming permitted

There are three access points you can launch your kayak from: the Calgary Canoe Club, Heritage Park and the Glenmore Sailing School.

Glenmore Reservoir kayak rentals
  • Aquabatics
    • Rental kayaks available at the reservoir on Wednesday evenings, 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
    • (403) 288-9283

Chestermere Lake kayaking

You’ll find the calm waters and beach-like atmosphere of Chestermere Lake (or Lake Chestermere) 30 minutes east of Calgary. Don’t come here if you’re after quiet and seclusion—many houses back onto the lake and the beach area can get quite busy in the summertime. Instead, this a great urban paddling experience and will allow you to get some beach-time and paddling-time in during your stay in the area.

Launch from any of the lake’s three beaches: Cove Park BeachAnniversary Park Beach and Sunset Park Beach. Powerboats are permitted on the lake, however north of the bridge they must travel under 12 km/h.

Chestermere Lake kayak rentals
  • Hyperactive Watersports
    • Tandem and solo beach kayaks, solo sit-inside kayaks
    • (403) 277-9118
    • 109 E Chestermere Dr, Chestermere
An overview of Chestermere Lake, a watersports hotspot
Chestermere Lake offers leisurely paddling in an urban environment.

Sibbald Lake

Take an hour drive west of Calgary to reach Sibbald Lake, a small mountain lake that is a great spot for a half-day paddle. There’s a campground located on-site, but it’s located so far off the beaten path you should be able to experience relative seclusion paddling here.

There’s no boat launch or beach located here, so you’ll need to scout for the best place to launch your kayak along the shore yourself.

Sibbald Lake kayak rentals

There are no kayak outfitters located at Sibbald Lake. See rental section below for outfitters in Calgary.

Ghost Reservoir

Located just west of Cochrane on the Bow River, the Ghost Reservoir is a great location to go for a lazy afternoon paddle. It extends for 10 km and is approximately 1.5 km wide, allowing you to spend quite a bit of time exploring its waters and gazing at the not-too-distant Rockies.

There are two access points to the reservoir, on either side of the Bow Valley Trail on the west side of the Bow River: south launch and north launch.

Be aware that it can get quite windy here and waves may make paddling unsafe. As well, it’s worth noting that this lake has a lot of motorboat and sailboat activity.

Ghost Reservoir kayak rentals

There are no kayak outfitters located at Ghost Reservoir. See the kayak rental section below for outfitters in Calgary.

View from kayak of river
Find otherworldly paddling on Ghost Lake. | Melanie Levesque // Photo: @darkscenephotography

River kayaking Calgary

With the Bow and Elbow rivers running right through Calgary, you’ll have great flatwater and whitewater river paddling options at your doorstep. However, the surrounding area is home to many lesser-known rivers, which also provide ample river running opportunities.

Elbow River kayaking

Flatwater paddling on the Elbow River extends from the Glenmore Reservoir to the confluence with the Bow River. In the summer, this section is often congested with inner tubes and rafts enjoying this slow-moving waterway. Spring or early summer is the best time for kayakers to go for an excursion, as water levels will be higher.

There are several access points along the river, depending how long of a trip you want to take. Find them below:

Another option is to continue onto the Bow River, where you can take out at either St. Patrick’s Island Public Boat Launch or Pearce Estate Park (just be sure to get off the river before Harvie Passage).

Bow River kayaking

Choose from flatwater sections of the Bow River within or outside Calgary city limits. Sections through the city will give you a great urban paddling experience, allowing you to glimpse a variety of neighborhoods and greenspaces. Beyond the city, the best paddling sections are located upstream. Take your pick from a variety of access points, and plan a trip that’s the right length and difficulty level for you.

Find popular routes below:

Find access points within the city below:

Bow River kayak rentals
Kayakers on river going under a bridge crossing the water
Kayak right through Calgary on the Bow River. | Photo: The Paddle Station

Whitewater kayaking Calgary

Highwood River kayaking

Originating in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in the Rockies, the Highwood River flows east until joining with the Sheep River and then entering the Bow River southeast of Calgary. Along the way, there are several exciting sections for whitewater enthusiasts to enjoy.

Find information on four class II to IV routes below:

Highwood River whitewater kayak rentals

There are no kayak outfitters along the Highwood River. See rental section below for outfitters in Calgary.

Bow River whitewater kayaking

The best whitewater kayaking along the Bow River (that’s in the Calgary area—there’s more on offer in the Banff area) is at Harvie’s Passage, located in the middle of the city. There are two channels paddlers can choose to take. Beginner and early level intermediate paddlers should take to the right channel, where they’ll find class II rapids.

The left channel has class III/IV rapids and should only be paddled by experienced whitewater kayakers. Park at Pearce Estate Park and walk the trails to the put-in at the top of the channels. The take-out is just after the channels on river right, where you can walk the trails back up to the put-in and parking area.

Bow River whitewater kayak rentals
  • Rocky Mountain Paddling Centre
    • Whitewater paddling package includes kayak, PFD, paddle, throwbag and bailer
    • (403) 202-8490
    • 1975 26 Street SE, Calgary
Child kayaking through slalom gates on a river with two adults in background
Enjoying the slalom course on the Kananaskis River. | Photo: Nolan Hindmarsh

Sheep River kayaking

Experienced whitewater paddlers are in for a treat in both rapids and scenery along the Sheep River. Choose from a class II run through a canyon or a class IV/V run (note that the class V rapids can easily be walked and in between are fun sets of class II/III) with waterfalls and ledges.

Find out more about these sections below:

Sheep River whitewater kayak rentals

There are no kayak outfitters located along the Sheep River. See rental section below for options in Calgary.

Kananaskis River kayaking

Enjoy class II and III sections of whitewater on the Kananaskis River. The class III route has great variety for river runners, creek boaters and playboaters. There is also a racecourse section with a national level slalom training course.

Find more information about these sections below:

Kananaskis River whitewater kayak rentals

There are no kayak outfitters located along the Kananaskis River. See rental sections below for options in Calgary.

Three people whitewater kayaking on river
Whitewater fun on the Kananaskis River. | Photo: Natacha Labonte // @misslollipopthevan

Elbow River

While the Elbow River runs at a lazy pace through Calgary, there are many fun class II to class IV sections west of the city. You can choose to go for a short paddle or link several of the sections together for a longer run.

You can find more information about the sections below:

Elbow River whitewater kayak rentals

There are no whitewater kayak outfitters along the Elbow River. See the rental section below for options in Calgary.


Photo of kayakers from above along the Bow River
The Paddle Station rents kayaks and rafts for easy paddling trips along the Bow River. | Photo: The Paddle Station

Kayak rentals in Calgary

For those looking to try kayaking for the first time or those who are unable to transport their boat to the area, there are ample kayak outfitters in and around Calgary. Find a list of all of them below.

Aquabatics

Aquabatics‘ Calgary location offers a range of kayak rental packages, including solo recreational, tandem recreational and whitewater kayaks. Their knowledgeable staff are also able to help with trip planning and provide paddling advice for the area. You’ll need to pick up and drop off rentals at the store. However, Aquabatics does provide kayak rentals on Wednesday evenings at the Glenmore Reservoir.

Address: #300 8435 Bowfort Rd NW, Calgary
Phone: (403) 288-9283

Sports Rent

Sports Rent offers tandem and solo recreational sit-inside kayaks. You’ll need to visit their store to pick up and drop off equipment, located across the Trans-Canada Hwy from the Bow River.

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

The Paddle Station

The Paddle Station makes it easy to paddle the Bow River. They rent singe and tandem sit-on-top kayaks. Reserve your watercraft online, and simply meet them at the put-in at Shouldice Park. From there, you’ll paddle two to three hours down the Bow River, ending at St Patrick’s Island.

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

Rocky Mountain Paddling Center

Rocky Mountain Paddling Centre rents whitewater and recreational kayaks. Additionally, you can rent equipment such as sprayskirts, booties, and drybags. Book your gear online and pick up from their location on the Bow River.

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

Hyperactive Watersports

Hyperactive Watersports rents tandem and solo beach kayaks, and solo sit-inside kayaks. They are located on Chestermere Lake, making it easy to get out on the water.

Address: 109 E Chestermere Dr, Chestermere
Phone:
(403) 277-9118

Kananaskis Outfitters

Kananaskis Outfitters rents tandem and solo kayaks on Barrier Lake, making it easy to get out on the water.

Location: Barrier Lake Day Use Area
Phone: (403) 591-7000


Photo from a distance through trees of group of kayakers gathered on a river
It doesn’t get much more beautiful than paddling on the Kananaskis River. | Photo: Mike Holroyd // @mholroyd

Kayak stores in Calgary

If you take to kayaking in Calgary, there are plenty of places to purchase a boat of your own. Find a variety of types of kayaks from a range of brands at the retailers below.

Aquabatics

Aquabatics sells whitewater kayaks, fishing kayaks, sea kayaks, and recreational kayaks, including inflatable and hard-shell, solo and tandem, and sit-inside and sit-on-top models. Brands include Wilderness Systems, Old Town, Perception, Delta and more.

Address: #300 8435 Bowfort Rd NW, Calgary
Phone: (403) 288-9283

Campers Village

Campers Village sells touring kayaks, recreational kayaks, and fishing kayaks, with options for inflatable and hard-shell, and sit-inside and sit-on-top models. Brands include Wilderness Systems, Old Town, Aquaglide and more.

Address: 7208 Macleod Trail SE, Calgary
Phone: 1-888-231-4753

MEC

MEC sells touring, recreational, and whitewater kayaks, both inflatable and hard-shell. Brands include P&H, Riot, Pyranha and more.

Address: 830 10 Ave SW, Calgary
Phone: (403) 269-2420

TRAK Kayaks

Shop TRAK‘s line of touring kayaks and paddling accessories at their Airdrie location, north of Calgary.

Address: 2966 Main St S #105, Airdrie
Phone: (403) 723-0077


Two kids with their paddling gear on posing in front of river
Fun for all ages on the Kananaskis. | Photo: Mike Holroyd // @mholroyd

Learn to kayak in Calgary

Learn how to kayak or improve your skills while in Calgary. Choose from among the reputable operators below.

Aquabatics

Aquabatics offers a range of kayaking lessons and courses. Choose from rec and touring kayak courses and whitewater kayaking courses, for beginner, intermediate and advanced paddlers. Their expert instructors will teach you everything you need to know and craft an enjoyable experience that suits your skill level and goals.

Address: #300 8435 Bowfort Rd NW, Calgary
Phone: (403) 288-9283

University of Calgary

The University of Calgary offers recreational, river and sea kayaking courses taught by Paddle Canada-certified instructors. Introductory flatwater courses take place at Bowness Park, with whitewater instruction occurring at Harvie Passage.

Email [email protected] for more information.

Rocky Mountain Paddling Centre

The Rocky Mountain Paddling Centre offers introductory flatwater courses through to advanced whitewater courses on the Kananaskis, Bow, Elbow, Red Deer and Highwood rivers. They also provide rescue and instructor certification courses.

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


Front of kayak with cliff in background
Get out there. | Photo: Melanie Levesque // @darkscenephotography

Kayak tours in Calgary

Taking a guided kayaking trip can greatly enhance the experience, providing you with insight into your natural surrounds, the history of the area, and tips for better paddling technique.

The Paddle Station

The Paddle Station offers the option to add an experienced guide onto their paddling trips down the Bow River.

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


Best time of year to kayak in Calgary

Most rental outfitters will only be open from May to September in Calgary, the prime months for paddling. Be aware that flow rates will be higher in the spring and may not be suitable for beginner paddlers, depending on the river. Likewise, water levels will be lower in the fall, making some routes impassable for kayaks.

While lakes in the area freeze over in the winter, the Bow and Elbow rivers rarely do and some avid kayakers still paddle through the snowy months.

0/5 (0 Reviews)

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here