With both the Bow and Elbow rivers running right through the city and still others close at hand, Calgary is the perfect destination for those who want to experience both nature and city life in one trip. One of the best ways to enjoy the area’s waterways is by raft.
There are many different types of rafting trips on offer in the Calgary area—it all depends what you’re looking for! Choose between thrilling whitewater adventures and leisurely floats down the river. Go with a knowledgeable guide or rent a raft to independently explore at your own pace. Paddle through the heart of the city, or drive a little farther afield for a wilderness experience.
To find the best rafting rivers, tour companies, routes and outfitters read on—you’ll find all this information and more to help you take advantage of rafting in Calgary.
[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.]
Where to go rafting in Calgary
Bow River rafting
The Bow River is undoubtedly the most accessible waterway for those looking to experience rafting in Calgary. With a multitude of access points within city limits, a gentle current, and an abundance of outfitters, getting out on the water for an afternoon of easy paddling is simple.
Popular launches within the city include Bowness Park, Shouldice Park and Edworthy Park. It’s best to take out no later than St. Patrick’s Island, as Harvie Passage is just around the next bend. The section of river from the Ghost Dam to the western edge of Calgary is also flatwater—you’ll just need to transport the raft there yourself and arrange for shuttles.
Those wanting a little more action on their Bow River rafting trip should look farther upstream. Whitewater trips run through Horseshoe Canyon, the section of river just exiting the Rocky Mountain range.
For more details on how to plan a memorable trip, read our Guide To Rafting The Bow River.
Elbow River rafting in Calgary
Slow and steady is the name of the game on the Elbow River. Floating the Elbow River as it passes through Calgary is a popular activity in the summer months. Many choose to make the trip on pool floats or inflatable inner tubes. Be aware that this river can get very shallow later in the summer—you can check flow rates here.
There are currently no rafting companies that run tours on the river—instead, you’ll need to rent a raft from one of the reputable companies below, transport the raft to the put-in, and then arrange for a shuttle at the take-out.
Elbow River rafting routes in Calgary
Flatwater paddling on the Elbow River extends from the Glenmore Reservoir to the confluence with the Bow River. There are many access points along this route, allowing you to customize your trip to the length of time that suits you.
Access points on the Glenmore Reservoir are located at the Calgary Canoe Club, Heritage Park and the Glenmore Sailing School. Other put-in/take-out locations are located at Sandy Beach and Stanley Park. You also have the option of joining up with the Bow River and taking out at St. Patrick’s Island.
For reference, the stretch from Sandy Beach to Stanley Park alone requires about three hours.
Elbow River rafting maps
View a map of the Elbow River and access point locations on The City of Calgary website. You can also view paddling route suggestions on PaddlingMaps. Lastly, you can load the Calgary River Access Map on your Google Maps on your phone to take with you on your trip.
Whitewater rafting Calgary
Those looking for a little excitement will find it just outside Calgary. The best way to experience the class II to IV rapids on nearby sections of the Bow and Kananaskis rivers is by going on a guided trip offered by a reputable tour company. For information about whitewater rafting on the Bow River, see the article linked above.
The Kananaskis River provides thrilling whitewater rafting opportunities west of Calgary. You’ll experience class II to III whitewater, incredible scenery and other optional exciting activities such as cliff jumping and swimming. Find the best tour companies below.
Chinook Rafting offers a fun, two-hour whitewater rafting run on the Kananaskis River. There are plenty of ways to get wet on this route, from the class II to III rapids, to the optional swim during the scenic float near the end of the trip.
Trips run from May to September. You’ll meet at the Nakoda Lakeside Lodge at 1:15 p.m. for the 1:30 p.m. departure and finish your trip by 5:30 p.m. (this timeframe includes everything from orientation to running the river to transportation). All rafting tours include complimentary photos, wetsuits, PFDs, helmets, rain jackets, booties and gloves.
Launch location: Nakoda Lakeside Lodge, Seebe
Canadian Rockies Rafting and Adventure Centre
Enjoy rolling class II to III rapids on the Kananaskis River with Canadian Rockies Rafting. You’ll spend two hours on the river, playing in rapids, viewing wildlife and taking in the beautiful surrounds. There’s an optional swim at the end of the trip, allowing you to soak in the pristine water of the Kananaskis. And why not? You’ll already be soaking wet!
They also offer a Kan Plus Whitewater trip, putting a bit of a twist on the traditional Kananaskis River adventure. On this tour, you’ll have the opportunity to surf on the biggest rapids on the river.
Tours depart from the Stoney Nakoda Resort at 1:30 p.m and run from May to September.
Launch location: Stoney Nakoda Resort, Kananaskis
White Wolf Rafting Inc.
Take White Wolf Rafting’s Kananaskis River Adventure tour for a family-friendly, super fun experience on the Kananaskis. You’ll spend two hours on the river, for a total time of four hours including transportation and orientation. Surf, splash and relax on this incredibly beautiful and exciting river.
The tour includes a USB stick of professionally taken photos, a snack and drink at the end, a custom White Wolf Rafting drawstring bag and White Wolf Rafting stickers.
Tour groups meet at the White Wolf Rafting office in downtown Canmore at 1 p.m. Tours run from June to September.
Phone: (587) 807-6885
Meeting location: White Wolf Rafting office, Canmore
Learn how to raft
There are plenty of easy flatwater sections of river in the Calgary area you can safely raft independent of a guiding company and with little paddling experience. However, if you’re looking to step things up a notch and experience some faster moving water with perhaps low-level rapids mixed in, without having to rely on a guided trip every time you want to get out, there are courses you can take.
University of Calgary Outdoor Centre
Contact the Outdoor Centre at the University of Calgary to customize a rafting lesson with their knowledgeable instructor. Your group will learn the basics, and then will have the choice between a float down the river or more instruction on rescues, obstacle avoidance and picking the safest river channels. All gear is provided.
Chinook Rafting offers extensive Guide Courses—meant for both those who are interested in making a career out of being a river guide and those who simply want to learn about rafting for recreational purposes. This 10-day course includes all the necessary equipment and training manuals, and will allow paddlers to earn their Rescue 3 International Swiftwater Rescue Technician Level 1 Certification and Professional River Outfitters Association of Alberta Guiding Certification.
Raft rentals in Calgary
If you’re looking to do a self-guided rafting excursion in the Calgary area, there are various outfitters to choose from. Find the best options below.
Lazy Day Raft Rentals
Whether you want to pick up a raft and head out on a self-planned adventure or want a hands-off experience with help launching and taking out, Lazy Day Raft Rentals has you covered. Option one is to pick up a deflated raft and equipment at their shop downtown and return it 24 hours later (though note that the rafts are not recommended for whitewater).
The second option is to raft right on the Bow River, starting at the West Baker Park Boat Ramp and ending at their shop downtown. Staff will be on-site at the put-in with your raft already inflated and will help you get on the water. They’ll also be waiting at the take-out to help you get the raft off the water and will look after getting the equipment back to the shop. This is approximately a three-hour float.
The company rents four-, six-, eight- and 10-person rafts from the beginning of June to mid-September.
Phone: (403) 258-0575
Address: 720 3rd Street NW, Calgary
Sports Rent is located three minutes from popular launch sites along the Bow River, including Edworthy Park, Shouldice Park and Bowness Park. However, you’ll be responsible for picking up, transporting and returning the raft and equipment to and from your put-in and take-out locations.
They offer four-, six-, eight- and 10-person rafts which can be rented in one-, two-, three-, four-, five-, six- and seven-day increments.
Phone: (403) 292-0077
Address: 4424 16 Ave NW, Calgary
The Paddle Station
Float down the Bow River with ease with the help of The Paddle Station. You’ll receive riverside service at the put-in and take-out, including your raft inflated and ready to go and safety training from their knowledgeable staff members. The raft run is from Shouldice Park to St. Patrick’s Island, which is about a 2.5-hour float.
There’s also a self-serve option, for those who would prefer to raft at another location. The rental must be picked up at Shouldice Park after 10 a.m. and returned by 6 p.m. the same day.
They offer small (two- to six-person), medium (two- to eight-person), large (six- to 12-person) and round (two- to six-person) rafts, in addition to the Hot Tub Time Machines Raft (four- to eight-person) and The Blue Monster Raft (eight- to 20-person). We’ll let you look up those last two for yourself.
Phone: (403) 456-2418
Address: 5227 13 Ave NW, Calgary
Rocky Mountain Paddling Centre
Choose-your-own adventure when you rent from the Rocky Mountain Paddling Centre. Pick up a raft at their store and head out to one of the many amazing rafting rivers in the area. They offer four-, six-, eight- and 10-person rafts with pumps included. You’ll also have the option of purchasing a raft package that includes paddles, throwbag, PFDs, a pump and a bailer.
Note that you will need a truck or SUV to transport their eight- or 10-person rafts. They also rent trailers.
Phone: (403) 202-8490
Address: 1975 26 Street SE, Calgary
Where to buy a raft in Calgary
If you decide it’s time to invest in a raft of your own, there are a few different stores in the Calgary area that sell new and used rafts. Consider checking out the following when searching for your vessel:
Aquabatics‘ Calgary location has a wide range of rafting gear for you to choose from. You’ll find rafts, outfitting, safety equipment, PFDs, pumps, repair kits, apparel—and just about anything else you’d need on a rafting adventure.
Phone: (403) 288-9283
Address: #300 – 8435 Bowford Road NW, Calgary
While they don’t have a ton of selection when it comes to rafts, you’ll find plenty of other outdoor gear at Cabela‘s. Choose between a few raft models and browse their boating section, including PFDs, oars, safety kits, accessories and more.
Phone: (403) 910-0200
Address: 851 64th Ave NE, Calgary
Rocky Mountain Paddling Centre
Look to the Rocky Mountain Paddling Centre for used equipment sales. They often sell off their older rafts, which come in multiple sizes.
Phone: (403) 202-8490
Address: 1975 26 Street SE, Calgary
Calgary rafting rules
Before you head out on the river, there are some Calgary river rafting rules to be aware of. The City of Calgary encourages everyone to be aware of river conditions before setting out. You can find information on flow rates here and the weather forecast here. As well, check their Facebook and Twitter pages for advisories or closures beforehand.
It’s important to know that it’s mandatory to wear a PFD when on any of Calgary’s waterways. You’ll face a court appearance and $500 fine if you’re caught without your life jacket on.
As well, safety kits are required on all types of non-powered watercraft—that includes rafts. This kit must contain: a bailing device, paddle or oar, sound-signalling device, heaving rope or towing line that floats, and navigation or safety light. In addition, it’s a good idea to bring the following: water, hats, sunscreen and a cell phone (in a waterproof bag or container).
Lastly, note that intoxication on the water is not only dangerous, but also illegal. You could receive a fine for consumption or transportation of alcohol and drugs on Calgary’s waterways.
For more safety information, visit the City of Calgary’s website.
Time of year to go rafting in Calgary
Most raft rental and tour companies are open from the middle of May to the middle of September. The best time to raft within this timeframe depends on what type of trip you’re looking for. For wilder rides, head out in the spring as this is when flow rates will be higher. For more leisurely runs, the summer months are best as the weather and water will be warmest and the river at a lower level.
While the shoulder seasons are colder, rafting companies do provide the appropriate attire such as wetsuits and booties, ensuring you’ll still have an enjoyable time.
The beauty of the float sections rival the fun of the whitewater on the Kananaskis River. | Photo: Chinook Rafting