Friday, August 09, 2013

Touring the Canadian Rockies on a Stand Up Paddle Board

We made lots of goals this summer and started a few projects.  To name a few, there's our First Summits Project - bagging first peaks with our 4 year old son Noah, there's our Camping Project - camping 40+ nights this summer across Alberta and British Columbia, and there's the Kids on Wheels mission that I've been pushing hard - encouraging all families to get out on bikes together with their children.

Of all our summer projects and goals, the one that has been most dear to my heart is my goal to SUP my way across the Canadian Rockies this summer.  I discovered the joy of stand up paddle boarding last August and it has quickly became a "not so secret" love affair that has driven most of our summer plans this year.  Every camping trip was planned with paddling in mind, we bought a tandem kayak for my husband and son, and I bought  a brand new board to replace the second hand one I purchased at the beginning of September last year.

People have asked me what it feels like to SUP.  To that, I have to say that it feels like you are balancing on water (which you are) and floating on clouds (often reflected in the water beneath you).  My favourite paddles are the ones where the water is calm and it feels like I'm skimming across a sheet of glass.  I love to float over mountain peaks that reflect in the water below me and I laugh as I chase loons, anticipating their eerie call when I get too close.

Below are some of the highlights from our summer thus far as we've made our way from Waterton Lakes National Park in the south to Jasper National Park in the north.

Skimming across a sheet of glass on Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park

Waterton Lakes National Park

We went to Waterton on the July long weekend and the highlight was going to be Cameron Lake, accessible to human powered boats only and one of the most beautiful lakes in the park.  Unfortunately it was closed due to road repairs en route to the lake and so we had to find other options.  Given that the park is called Waterton LAKES National Park, it wasn't hard to find other places to SUP and kayak.  We spent three glorious days paddling on Upper and Middle Lake, and even did a short stretch on the Waterton River.  We were blessed with calm water, no winds, and few motor boats on the lakes.  All in all perfection!

 "All non-motorized watercraft from outside of the park are prohibited from entering water bodies in Waterton Lakes National Park."

Paddling on Upper Waterton Lake
Paddling with my friend on Middle Waterton Lake

Banff National Park

We spent a week camping in Banff and Jasper National Parks in July with the goal of paddling every major lake in the parks.  While we didn't get to do a few on our list, we did tackle the following lakes in Banff:
  • Johnson Lake
  • Two Jack Lake
  • Vermillion Lakes and 40 Mile Creek
  • Lake Louise
  • Moraine Lake

Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park

I had wanted to SUP the beautiful Lake Minnewanka but the public boat launch was closed due to the spillway being open on the dam.  Walking to the next boat launch was a bit of a hike and we weren't up for the effort.  The town of Banff isn't exactly far from Calgary so we'll be back.

Johnson Lake

I also really wanted to paddle on Bow Lake and do a SUP/Hike combo trip to reach Bow Falls at the back of the lake.  Luck wasn't in our favour with this one though and the water was too rough both times we tried.  Waves and white caps are not typically your friend when trying to cross a mountain lake, with freezing cold glacial water, on a stand up paddle board.  Guaranteed we would have had a head wind one direction and I feared cross winds as well which are brutal on a board.

Moraine Lake - one of the big lakes on my list to paddle

Fortunately, the lakes we did get to paddle were some of the highest priority paddles on my list and I was thrilled to check off both Louise and Moraine.

Lake Louise, Banff National Park
Lake Louise and Mt. Victoria in the background - definitely a paddle to repeat!

Probably the most enjoyable paddle was the one we did from the first Vermillion Lake to the town of Banff on 40 Mile Creek.  There was a slight current on the creek but it wasn't terribly hard to paddle up stream to get back to our truck at the end. This was a great family paddle and I'd definitely repeat it again.

Vermillion Lakes with Mt. Rundle in the background
Paddling up 40 Mile Creek

Jasper National Park 

Two lakes stood out for us in Jasper that we had to paddle.  Pyramid Lake and Patricia Lake have always impressed me with their reflections of Pyramid Mountain and still calm water.  We knew we'd find loons if we paddled in the morning, and I wanted to paddle around the island on Pyramid Lake.

Paddling on Pyramid Lake, Jasper National Park
The bridge to the Pyramid Lake island (which I floated under on my belly)

Noah's favourite paddle was on Patricia Lake because of the warm water.  We found a secret little cove that you'd never know existed from the road, and let him play in the bath tub warm water.  He had a lot of fun, and yes, we did find loons.

Playing in the warm water of Patricia Lake

We paddled both lakes the same morning and stopped for  breakfast in between at the Pyramid Lake Resort.  This worked well and allowed us to get the best light, water, and conditions for paddling.

Loons on Patricia Lake

The third lake that I SUPed was Lake Annette near the Jasper Park Lodge.  It failed to impress but did have a nice beach area that was very popular.  While pretty, Lake Annette was just too busy for our taste.

Noah and I at Lake Annette

While it would have been nice to paddle Maligne Lake, it's quite a drive out there from the town of Jasper and we chose to give it a miss this time.  It was quite windy while we were in Jasper too so we only had a few good hours of paddling each morning.

Paddling when the water was calm in the morning

Yoho National Park

Yoho wasn't on the list for parks we planned to paddle in this summer but when we couldn't find a campsite near Lake Louise, we ended up camping across the border in British Columbia.  And since we were there anyway, we HAD to paddle Emerald Lake.  It was a beautiful lake to SUP with clear reflections in the water, loons, and absolutely nobody else on the water when we started.  We chose to arrive early before tearing down camp to beat the winds that always bothered us later in the day.  We were lucky and finished up our paddle just as the rain started to fall.  We managed to seize the best part of the day on this one!

Note for the 2024 season:
"Until March 31, 2025: All waterbodies are closed to watercraft and angling to prevent the spread of whirling disease. This closure is necessary to protect vulnerable fish populations and sensitive ecosystems from aquatic invasive species."

Paddling on Emerald Lake (which really is emerald coloured on a clear day)


  1. You've been paddling in some beautiful places! Now I want to try SUP. :)

  2. Just don't fall off your paddle board into those frigid waters. I wouldn't be doing it with my kid, that is for sure. Hypothermia would set in quite quickly in glacial cold waters.

    1. Thanks for your concern. Trusting it is concern rather than judgement. ;)
      I am confident that I will not fall off my paddle board while paddling on a calm lake and take special care to not paddle on windy or choppy days in cold water. If you read my story for Highline Magazine at the end of this post you will see where I've addressed that very subject, special precautions such as making sure you are ready for the big paddles before you attempt them, and that you know the risks associated with paddling in glacial water.

      As for kids, I've never taken my son out with me in cold water and never would. Again, I've made sure to mention in all of my writing where you can safely paddle with kids. Johnson Lake in Banff for example has warm water. You will not see photos of me on this blog paddling on the cold mountain lakes with my son. I believe I did mention that we bought a kayak for my husband and son so that they could accompany me, did I not?

  3. Fantastic!!! I'm planning my own SUP adventure through our Canadian mountain parks, thanks for the inspiration to get started!

  4. Great pictures Tanya! I love to SUP as well and am dying to get out paddling in the Rockies. I was just discussing with a friend (who is 8 months pregnant) about continuing her outdoor lifestyle once she has a child. I love that you have continued to make the outdoors a priority even with your kids. So awesome!

    1. Thanks Alison. It's not always easy to get out with kids but it is worth it. Let me know if you come out this way to paddle.

  5. This blog is awesome! I hope to get a paddle board next spring and travel through the Rockies! Thanks for sharing!!!

  6. Thanks for sharing! So these lakes are open to the public for paddleboarding? I had concerns louise and moraine might have restrictions on them. Did you encounter and lakes where you were not permitted to SUP? Thanks!

    1. It's shockingly easy to paddle in the Rockies Lyndsay. No rules. You can paddle anywhere on any of the lakes. Try in Calgary though and complete different story! It's prohibited to bring a board on 90% of the ponds and lakes in the city. But yay for Banff and the mountain parks!!

  7. Absolutely awesome! We drove into Canada during the fire season (we were getting smoked out) and tried to paddle Lake Louise last summer, but couldn't get to it with the traffic/tourists. Did hit Bow Lake and Two Jacks and am thinking about staying at the Fairmont as a place to launch from next summer. Any ideas/suggestions?

    Keep it up!
    Ed Stark
    ~Stark Raving Paddleboard and Fitness Coaching

    1. The Fairmont will be an amazing place to launch from. Moraine Lake is another amazing place to paddle in the area. And if you use an inflatable, try hiking it up to one of the upper lakes to paddle such as Lake Agnes.

  8. Absolutely incredible shots, Tanya. Looking at all of your stunning photos has me seriously considering a summer 2017 Canada trip...

  9. Incredible pictures Tanya. I will be skiing in Lake Louise this winter. Looks like I have to come back in summer.

  10. Great Pictures Tanya, there is nothing like our canadian rockys. Seeing them on a SUP is truly amazing. Thanks for the article.

  11. I'd love to paddle around here one day, it looks so beautiful on your pictures. Unfortunately I just had to abruptly break off my paddling trip in South America due to the whole COVID-19 :(

    1. I hear ya. We had to cancel our trip to Mexico.

  12. These photos are awesome! I really like the first one where it looks like you are paddling on emerald glass. I'm jealous. I've never paddled in the mountains, never even thought about it. I've only paddled on the beaches in Florida and here in North Carolina. Unfortunately, they won't even let us paddle on my local lake right now. How can I get a virus if I'm by myself on a lake? Anyway, great pics, now I have a new goal to paddle in the mountains.

  13. Wow, these pictures of paddleboarding in the Canadian Rockies are absolutely breathtaking! The serene lakes and majestic mountains make for the perfect backdrop. I'm inspired to try stand up paddleboarding in this beautiful location. Thank you for sharing your adventures! SUP Boad Gear SUP NOOB