Saturday, April 23, 2016

Family Paddling on the Kananaskis River

If you've ever checked out the rapids between the Widow Maker day use area and the Canoe Meadows day use area along Highway 40 in Kananaskis you wouldn't say this was a particularly family-friendly stretch of river. Rafting companies like to guide clients down this stretch of the Kananaskis river and it's not exactly something you'd send your 7 year old down alone in his own little boat. (and don't worry - we didn't!)

Fortunately, we discovered a safe calm stretch of the Kananaskis River that's as family-friendly as it gets for river paddling. We felt completely safe sending our son down the river in his own kayak and I was very comfortable on my stand up paddleboard. The river was so calm we actually spent most of our time paddling UP stream.

Family-friendly paddling on the Kananaskis River

Where to Put in for Paddling the Kananaskis River with Kids

Park at the dam at Seebe along Hwy 1X just past the Willow Rock Campground in Bow Valley Provincial Park. Highway 1X is the first exit you will come to after you pass the Hwy 40 turnoff (coming from Calgary on the TransCanada Hwy,) and it is the same exit you'd take if going to Exshaw. You'll know you've reached the dam because you'll cross over the Bow River and will see a very small reservoir to your right. This is where you park.

From the reservoir, you have three options. Paddle around the small reservoir as a short practice session, paddle up stream on the Bow River (though you might not get very far,) or paddle up stream on the Kananaskis River - our focus here.

The start and end of your paddle at the Seebe Reservoir

Paddling Up Stream on the Kananaskis River

While the Bow River is big and wide, the Kananaskis River is much more narrow, making it ideal for paddling as a family. You won't get separated from one another or feel intimidated when you are in the middle of the river far from a bank. We were never more than a few paddle strokes away from a river bank at any given time and there were huge gravel banks to pull up at every twenty metres at most. We didn't get very far because my son kept wanting to pull over to the side to throw rocks and play - another reason to take the kids here. (You could spend two hours here and never paddle more than 500 metres.)

Gravel banks in abundance for the kids to stop and play

Note if you are going to paddle on the Kananaskis River that the flow rate is highly dependent on whether TransAlta has their nearby Barrier plant on or off, and whether water is being released from the Barrier Dam upstream. You can check the schedule for the Barrier Dam here to find out when TransAlta turns their plant on and off for the day.  It also shows flow rates. We chose to arrive at the Seebe Reservoir around 1:00pm so that the Kananaskis river would have had plenty of time to fill up without having a fresh flow from a morning release.

There was virtually no flow at all on the section we did from the Seebe Reservoir and it was actually harder paddling into the wind going down stream. Water was unfortunately a bit shallow so we had to be careful with rock islands (especially a concern on my board.) My son grounded his kayak a couple of times as well (not really a concern though in the ankle deep water where he got stranded.)

If I can paddle a stand up paddleboard both up and down stream you know it's a slow moving river!

We didn't get very far on the river before it became too shallow and narrow. At this point we were more than happy to turn around though since it was my son's first time out for the season and his arms were tired.

Easy paddling on the Kananaskis River

Family-friendly Paddling on the Kananaskis River

Children with previous paddling experience should have no problems in their own boat on this section of river. We let our son use a child-sized sit-on-top beach kayak because he has done a lot of kayaking and knows how to steer to reach a bank, knows how to keep the bow of the kayak going straight, and has the balance to stay afloat on calm stretches of water without going for a swim.

Family-friendly paddling on the Kananaskis River

If you have younger children or enjoy paddling together, you could certainly use a canoe or tandem kayaks. We chose to each paddle our own vessel though and it was a lot of fun.

Pack a picnic lunch for one of the gravel banks, load the boat with sand toys, and head out for a pleasant half day outing on the Kananaskis River! 

Paddling down the Kananaskis River

Safety Notes

The Kananaskis River is glacial in temperature. Go prepared. I wore neoprene booties on my board and my son was wearing long underwear under his rain pants (despite the temperature of 20+ degrees this day.) I also made my son wear a rain jacket just in case he fell in.

Starting him Young
Fortunately, you are never very far from the parking area should somebody fall in. There are also plenty of opportunities for pulling boats over to change clothes. Pack extra dry clothing in the boat in a dry bag and you'll be fine.


Bonus Reading and Resources

Paddling the Bow River in Banff with Kids

Paddling and Camping on the Columbia River with Kids

 Easy Overnight Paddling Trips for the Whole Family

Paddling in Waterton Lakes National Park

Family Canoeing and Kayaking in the Canadian Rockies

Touring the Canadian Rockies on a Stand Up Paddle Board

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