Tuesday, August 10, 2021

SUP Calgary! The Best Places to try Stand Up Paddleboarding in and around Calgary

I've been stand up paddleboarding for nine years now, and when I first discovered this sport, it was only common on very warm lakes in BC. I definitely got some strange looks when I took my board out to Lake Louise, where I was probably one of the first people to brave stand up paddle boarding on a glacial lake in the Rockies.

Try stand up paddleboarding near Calgary this summer (Featured: Bow River, Banff)

Since my early beginnings with stand up paddleboarding, the sport has exploded in popularity, inflatable boards are the vessel of choice, and you don't have to travel hours into BC to try stand up paddleboarding. Rivers have also become very popular with stand up paddleboarders who want more of a challenge or who prefer SUP touring.

Over the years I've found great enjoyment in this sport and I've even managed to convert both my husband and son from kayaking to stand up paddling so we can travel lightly with inflatable boards on all of our trips.

Peaceful paddling in Bowness Park, Calgary

Stand Up Paddleboarding in Calgary 

If you live in south Calgary, you can try stand up paddleboarding at Carburn Park, but my favourite place to paddle in the city is Bowness Park in the NW.

Learning to SUP on the Bowness Park Lagoon and Creek

You'll need to rent or buy a board before visiting Bowness Park, but once you get that part sorted, this is the ultimate beginner-friendly place to try stand up paddleboarding. The water isn't exactly "clean" so I'd recommend avoiding a full plunge, but if you were to fall in, it would not be the end of the world. The water isn't freezing, and you can just take a shower when you get home.

Stand up paddleboarding on the creek in Bowness Park

There's an easy boat ramp into the water and then it's very pleasant touring around the lagoon. We also love paddling up and down the creek. There's no current to speak of so you won't struggle with paddling up stream. Make sure you bring bug spray if you're going to be heading down the creek.

And yes, the City of Calgary is totally fine with you bringing your own board down to the lagoon.

Equipment Rentals: If you don't have equipment and want to rent, check out SUP & Flow (located in Carburn Park, SE Calgary.) They are open Thursday evenings and all day Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Visit their website for more info.

Stand up paddleboarding along the creek through Bowness Park, Calgary

Taking it up a notch on the Bow River 

For experienced paddlers, we like to put in at the Baker Park boat launch in NW Calgary for a one-hour leisurely paddle down to Shouldice Park (the link goes to the take out spot on Google Maps.) 

Obviously you'll have to set up a vehicle shuttle for this one or get somebody to pick you up, but we enjoy it for a short evening paddle.

Padding the Bow River through Calgary

To extend your outing, you can take out on the south side of the bridge at Edworthy Park where there's a rocky beach (park on the north side of the river by Angel's Cafe,) or you can go all the way downtown. 

If going downtown, you want your second vehicle parked at the West Zoo Parking Lot. (link shows the Google Maps location.) You'll be taking out at the cove on St. Patrick's Island. And if you have zoo membership passes, it's free to park here. Otherwise, make sure you pay for parking.

Stand up paddling the bow River through Calgary

Safety disclaimer
: The Bow River is not beginner-friendly paddling. You'll need to know how to handle some rough water with small waves, how to navigate around rock bars and shallow sections of the river, how to avoid getting sucked into corners when you go around a bend, how to get back up on your board if you fall off, and most importantly you have to be able to steer around bridge pillars and steer to shore to take out.

I highly recommend taking a river lesson before jumping on the Bow River. (Check the bottom of this guide for recommendations on where to take lessons.)

My son first did the Bowness to Shouldice section when he was 11 years old on a special river board designed to be extra stable. Unfortunately these paddleboards aren't manufactured anymore.

Equipment rentals: Check out the The Paddle Station  They're conveniently located on the river in Shouldice Park if you want to paddle downtown.

Family paddling on the Bow River from Bowness Park in Calgary 

Stand Up Paddleboarding near Calgary 

Paddling on the Ghost Reservoir

If you live in North Calgary, the Ghost Reservoir, west of Cochrane, is a great place for a short evening paddle. There are no rentals on site so plan ahead from one of the companies in Calgary (See the list below at the end of this guide.)

Park at the Ghost Reservoir dam in the large parking lot. From here you can either paddle out on the open reservoir or go under the bridge and paddle the narrower section towards the Ghost River. Just watch the direction of the wind!! It's really not fun to reach the mouth of the river, only to realize you have a head wind and can't make it back to your vehicle!! (yes, been there.)

The other challenge with the Ghost Reservoir is the number of motor boats on the water. I'd suggest early morning or evening to avoid sharing the water with them.

Equipment Rentals: Check out Cochrane Water Sports. This company rents and delivers paddleboards to Ghost Lake making for easy paddling on the reservoir. 

Also in Cochrane, Ghostek North rents paddleboards. They also have an agreement with the Ghost Lake Marina and will be onsite renting boards starting in August for 2021.

Stand up paddling on the Ghost Reservoir near Cochrane

Paddling on Chestermere Lake 

I've actually never paddled on Chestermere Lake, but if you live in South Calgary, or in the east part of the city, this is a great location for a short evening outing. There are also beaches on the lake if you want to make a day trip of it with the kids. 

Equipment RentalsHyperactive Watersports is located in Chestermere at the marina which is ideal for getting out onto the lake.

And if you've ever wanted to try SUP Yoga, check out Wild Spirit SUP Yoga, located on Chestermere Lake. 

"We also hold weekly classes at Lake Bonavista and Auburn Bay Lake as well as having our Alberta Parks permit to teach SUP Yoga in Kananaskis Country.  We offer a full fleet of top of the line Standup Paddleboards along with an amazing, experienced Instructor who is dedicated to providing safe, exciting and fun classes for all levels and encourages a healthy happy and adventurous lifestyle." - Wild Spirit SUP Yoga 

Also recommended from a reader: if you start from Sunset Park in Chestermere, you can paddle down the lake to the Dockside Bar and Grill for lunch or dinner before paddling back to your vehicle. Now I'm sold on visiting Chestermere! 

See directions for this SUP to Pub route here. 

Sunset SUP Paddling is an amazing experience!

Stand Up Paddleboarding in Kananaskis and Canmore

There are many places to try stand up paddleboarding in Kananaskis and the general rule of thumb is that if you see a nice lake, you are free to paddle it. There are no rules on lakes that allow or don't allow stand up paddleboarding other than the Glenmore Reservoir in Calgary (where you can not use a paddleboard!)

Popular options include Barrier Lake, the Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes, Spray Lake, and Quarry Lake. Many of them can be windy though (Upper K and Barrier in particular,) and you'll have to pay for parking at Quarry Lake (and show up ridiculously early to get a parking spot!)

Remember that a conservation pass is required to visit Kananaskis. Visit the Alberta Parks website for more information

There are no shortage of beautiful lakes to paddle on in Kananaskis (Photo: Upper Kananaskis Lake)

Below are my two favourite places to paddle as a family:

Paddling on the Lower Kananaskis Lake

This lake is a bit more sheltered than Upper Kananaskis Lake and I love starting from the protected area around the Peninsula Day Use Area. It's a nice area to practice with children with safe little coves, and there are picnic tables here as well.

My son's first attempt at stand up paddleboarding on Lower Kananaskis Lake

Padding on Lower Kananaskis Lake from the Peninsula Day Use Area 

Paddling on the Canmore Forebay Reservoir

The Canmore Reservoir is an insanely busy place to access and parking is discouraged in the small area in front of the reservoir. I recommend dropping your stuff off by the water and then going across the road to park at the Canmore Nordic Centre. You'll also want an early start if you're going to get anywhere near the water to drop off boards and gear.

And please, please, if you're inflating boards at the Canmore Nordic Centre and walking them across, remember, this is a highway you're crossing! Only cross the road when it is safe to do so and don't cause a traffic jam.

The highlight of paddling here though, and why it's worth the parking hassle, is because you'll get to enjoy a "river-like" experience paddling down the reservoir on flat non-moving water. It's usually fairly calm here too and great for novice paddlers. Expect it to take up to an hour to reach the far end of the reservoir if you want to paddle end to end.

I'm afraid it was a smoky day when I last paddled here so the photo below is the best I have. 

** For information on where to rent stand up paddleboards, proceed to the bottom of this post.

Paddling along the Canmore Reservoir 

Stand Up Paddleboarding in Banff

Similarly to Kananaskis, if you see a beautiful lake that you'd like to paddle, go for it! Just remember that the mountain lakes are glacial in temperature and you should be prepared with warm clothes nearby in case you fall in. You'll also want to make sure you can get back on your board quickly if you take a sudden swim. (I suggest practicing this in a lesson or in warmer water.)

And good luck getting anywhere near the water for Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, the Holy Grail for most stand up paddleboarders! I paddled these both back in the day before the sport became popular when I was the only person crazy enough to SUP on glacial water.

One tiny stand up paddleboarder in the middle of Moraine Lake (me!)

And know before you go
: All water equipment needs to be cleaned and dried for at least 48 hours before entering any lake, river, or stream in Banff National Park. This also applies to paddlers wanting to visit more than one lake in a day (which is no longer possible.)

A self-certification permit is required before you launch your stand up paddleboard in Banff. 

Read more about the new rules, regulations, and permits implemented to protect park waters from harmful aquatic invasive species here on the Parks Canada website.

And note that use of personal non-motorized boats in both Yoho and Kootenay National Parks is NOT allowed for the 2024 season. Read more here.

Also, for Waterton Lakes National Park "all non-motorized watercraft from outside of the park are prohibited from entering water bodies in Waterton Lakes National Park effective immediately for 2024 going forward." Read more here.

I love stand up paddleboarding on the Vermilion Lakes in Banff

Paddling on Johnson Lake (the best option for novice paddlers) 

Johnson Lake is one of the best lakes near Calgary for stand up paddleboarding. The water is warmer than most of the mountain lakes, there's a great sandy beach area for the kids to play at, there's a rope swing you can paddle across to (if you were walking you'd walk counter clockwise around the lake from the beach,) and the lake is usually protected from strong winds.

This lake is very popular so I recommend arriving early to find parking.

Stand up paddleboarding on Johnson Lake in Banff 

Paddling on Two Jack Lake

Further along on the Lake Minnewanka Loop Road, Two Jack Lake  has a canal that I love paddling down. Similar to the Canmore Reservoir, you'll be able to enjoy a river-like experience on flat non-moving water. This lake is also generally well protected and a good choice for paddlers without a lot of experience.

If you've tried Johnson Lake and did well, try Two Jack next. 

There's also a campground here and if you're lucky enough to score a lakefront site, you'll enjoy peaceful sunrise and sunset paddles.

If you're not camping here, make sure you show up early for a paddle. The parking lot is not very big for this one.

Gorgeous mountain paddling on Two Jack Lake in Banff

Taking it up a Notch on the Bow River

We love paddling the Bow River from the 1A intersection back into the Town of Banff. It's a leisurely trip and a great introduction to river paddling. Most of the trip is purely a float with no technical difficulties as soon as you pass the first few corners and cross under the highway bridge.

Strong youth will enjoy paddling the Bow River into the Town of Banff

You can read all about the trip in my blog post here, complete with directions on where to put in and take out:

Read: Easy Family Paddling Day Trip on the Bow River through Banff 

The Bow River near the Town of Banff is very family-friendly!

Once you arrive in Banff you can extend your trip by paddling up Echo Creek from the Banff Canoe Club into the first Vermilion Lake. 

Alternately, to avoid setting up a vehicle shuttle, start your trip by the Canoe Club and paddle up the river as far as you want before floating back down. From the Canoe Club you can also paddle up and down the creek so you have several options for exploring.

Paddling the creek from the Banff Canoe Club into Vermilion Lake

Note for this one, pay attention to the wind!! It can be very hard to paddle up creek or up river if there's a strong wind.

It's also hard to find parking near the Canoe Club. We sometimes choose to park along Vermilion Lakes Road instead where you can paddle down the creek into town from the first lake.

** For information on where to rent stand up paddleboards, proceed to the bottom of this post.

Paddling along Echo Creek from the Town of Banff

Paddling up Echo Creek from the Town of Banff towards the First Vermilion Lake

The Best Weekend SUP Getaways near Calgary

Similarly to "where to paddle in Kananaskis or Banff," if you choose a nice campground with a lake, chances are it's a good place to try stand up paddleboarding.

A few of our favourite places though are below: 

1. Travel to the Columbia Valley to paddle the Columbia River 

This one is super easy because you can rent equipment and set up a shuttle from the Columbia River Paddle Company. And it's a very "lazy river." My son has been paddling this river on a paddleboard since he turned 11.

My blog post below has all the information you need. 

Read: Easy Family Day Trip on the Columbia River (Invermere to Radium Hot Springs) 

Serene paddling through the Columbia River wetlands outside Invermere, BC

2. Camp at Kikomun Creek Provincial Park near Fernie BC to paddle Surveyors Lake 

We love stand up paddleboarding on Surveyors Lake where you can see painted turtles. The water is also very warm and so falling off your board is a good excuse for a swim.

You can also rent stand up paddleboards on the campground beach. If you aren't camping here, just park at the day use beach and follow the lakeshore trail over to the campground beach.

Read: Camping in British Columbia: Kikomun Creek Provincial Park 

Read: Another Great Camping Trip to Surveyor's Lake, BC 

Paddle across Surveyors Lake searching for painted turtles 

3. Travel north to Jasper National Park 

You'll find no shortage of beautiful lakes to paddle in both parks.

Read: Our Ten Favourite Things to do in Jasper

Paddling across Pyramid Lake in Jasper National Park

Equipment Rentals

In Jasper, you can rent stand up paddleboards at the Jasper Park Lodge at the boat house on Lac Beauvert.

Also check out Translucid Adventures, a local Jasper company. They have beachside rentals at the Lake Edith public beach to make things very easy. 

You can also rent paddleboards from Pure Outdoors downtown Jasper or at the Pyramid Lake Resort, conveniently located right on Pyramid Lake. 

4. Travel south to Dinosaur or Writing on Stone Provincial Park

If you camp at Dinosaur Provincial Park, you'll be right on the Red Deer River. For a short half day paddle, we like to drive to the Steveville Bridge Campground to put in. From there it's only 14 km on the river back to the Dinosaur Provincial Park campground which is very doable as a family. It's an easy relaxed paddle and great for a first river trip on a stand up paddleboard.

Read: Paddling the Alberta Badlands 

Stand up paddleboarding down the Red Deer River near Dinosaur Provincial Park

If you camp at Writing on Stone Provincial Park, you'll be right on the Milk River. For a short half day paddle, we like to drive to the Weir bridge above camp for a 10 km paddle back to our campground. Alternately, you can start at camp and paddle down to the Deer Creek Bridge in an 8 km outing.

This is a great river for easy floating and is very novice friendly. For the best conditions try to time your trip for late June to early July. Later in the season, the river becomes too shallow to paddle.

Everything is in the story below with full details.

Read: Find us in the River - Camp Life at Writing on Stone Provincial Park 

There are no stand up paddleboard rentals in either park so you'll have to rent in Calgary for the weekend.

Stand up paddleboarding down the Milk River through Writing on Stone Provincial Park

The Best SUP Backcountry Trips near Calgary (Barefoot Backpacking!)

I've fallen in love with barefoot backpacking where I can paddle into a backcountry campsite for the night or float down a river, camping on a beach. The biggest challenge is transporting gear, and for that, I recommend traveling with a mixed group of paddlers. My husband always brings our large tandem kayak as the gear barge, and then I can travel light on my board.

The other challenge with SUP backcountry trips is that stand up paddleboarders struggle more with head winds than other paddlers in canoes or kayaks. For this reason, we like to start our trip early in the day when the wind is the calmest. We also try to choose rivers rather than having to cross a giant lake (potentially into a head wind.) Multi-day lake traverses are better done in canoes or kayaks.

And if you're worried about head winds, I'd recommend again, traveling with a mixed group and bringing a tow rope along for any stand up paddleboarders who require some assistance. You'll always want a tow rope with children anyway in case they get tired and need a break from paddling.

Barefoot backcountry camping at its finest on the Columbia River in BC

River Backcountry Trips near Calgary 

Mentioned above, both the Columbia and the Red Deer Rivers are excellent beginner float trips and ideal on stand up paddleboards. They work very well for overnight trips as well.

On the Columbia River, we've paddled from Radium Hot Springs to Brisco in a 2-day trip, camping on a beach between Edgewater and Brisco for a night. The only challenge is that the beach can be very hard to claim if other groups are also on the river. To solve this problem, start in Edgewater for a very short paddle (less than two hours) where you'll definitely reach the beach first.

Stand up paddleboarding down the Columbia River

Enjoy time chilling on the beach and then save your energy for the longer paddle to Brisco the second day. Both days are very relaxing though and this is the perfect trip for kids who'd rather spend more time playing on beaches and less time sitting in a boat.

Read: Paddling and Camping on the Columbia River with Kids 

If you need to rent boats in Radium Hot Springs, visit the Far Out Adventure Hub (and they can help you with shuttling too.)

The Columbia River is a beautiful paddle and it's very family-friendly

For paddling the Red Deer River, we've done two separate trips. Our first trip started at Emerson Bridge in Southern Alberta and we paddled to Steveville Bridge for the night. Then we finished the next day at Dinosaur Provincial Park.

In hindsight, the first day was very long and I wouldn't go all the way to the Steveville Campground in a day. We had stashed a tent at that campground ahead of time though and needed to make it there. Next time, I'd plan to camp along the river and we'd bring all our gear with us in our boats.

Our second trip was further north, starting at the Tolman Bridge Campground and ending at the Bleriot Ferry near Drumheller. We camped at the Starland Recreation Area for our night on the water. 

Easy floating down the Red Deer River

In the future, we'd plan to camp on the river for this trip too rather than aiming for an actual campground. We'd been worried about weather though with thunderstorms predicted and wanted the safety that an official campground would provide. 

All information on distances each day for both paddle trips is in the story below:

Read: Paddling the Alberta Badlands 

Lazy paddling down the Red Deer River

Lake Backcountry Trips near Calgary

There are several lakes near Calgary with backcountry campgrounds. For stand up paddleboarding however, I have two favourites in Kananaskis. Both require reservations through Alberta Parks and can be very difficult to get spots at. You'll want to book 90 days in advance as soon as the reservation system opens in the morning.

The PointLocated on Upper Kananaskis Lake, this lake can get very windy so get an early start. It's a short paddle when the water is calm and I believe it only took me an hour to get to camp on a paddleboard. My husband and son hauled our gear (and themselves) in a large tandem kayak.

Paddling across Upper Kananaskis Lake

As mentioned above, it can be a very good idea to have kayaks in your group in case the weather turns and you get stuck at camp unable to make it out on a paddleboard. Worst case scenario, you could deflate the board and hike out on the lakeshore trail, the kayak carrying the deflated board with the rest of your gear.

This campground used to allow fires, but as of 2021, the fire pits have been removed and it is illegal to start a fire at camp.

From camp there are many options for day hikes so bring your hiking boots if you want to stay for a couple of nights.

Backcountry camping at the Point

Jewel Bay - Located on Barrier Lake, this is another easy-to-reach campground from the Barrier Day Day Use Area. From here you should be able to make it to camp in an hour. Once it's open again, you'll also be able to start from the Barrier Lake Day Use Area which is directly across the lake from Jewel Bay.

When it's windy, I recommend starting from the dam and sticking to the far shoreline. Crossing the lake can be hard when there's whitecaps on the lake.

As with the Point above, there is an escape hiking trail as well that follows the shoreline so if you get stuck at camp with bad weather, you can always hike out while a canoe or kayak takes your deflated board out. (Again, a good reason to camp with a mixed group of paddlers.)

There isn't much to do from Jewel Bay but it's nice getaway for a night. If you stay for two nights, you can occupy yourselves exploring the lake on your boards/boats. Fire pits are also provided at this campground with firewood included.

Jewel Bay, Barrier Lake, Kananaskis

Renting Stand up paddleboards near Calgary

Below are some suggestions to get you started. It is not an exhausted list.

And make sure you call ahead or visit the company's website to reserve equipment ahead of time.

Calgary and area:

SUP & Flow (located in Carburn Park, SE Calgary, Thursday evenings and all day Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays)

The Paddle Station (located on the Bow River at Shouldice Park)

Sport Rent (located on 16th Ave in NW Calgary, conveniently situated on the way out of town)

The U of C Outdoor Centre (located at the University of Calgary) 

Rocky Mountain Paddling Centre (located in SE Calgary)

Cascade Pro (Affordable SUP Rentals in Calgary)

Hyperactive Watersports (located in Chestermere at the marina - ideal for getting out onto Chestermere Lake) 

Ghostek North (located in Cochrane - ideal for an evening paddle on the Ghost Reservoir. They also have an agreement with the Ghost Lake Marina and will be onsite renting boards starting in August for 2021.)

Cochrane Water Sports (located in Cochrane, this company rents and delivers paddleboards to Ghost Lake! It doesn't get easier than that.)

Stand up paddleboarding in Bowness Park Calgary 

South of Calgary:

Rollick Co. (Based out of Black Diamond, this is a great rental option if you are camping in Southern Alberta or heading down to the Chain Lakes. Rollick Co. rents inflatable boards from the Cascadia Board Co. )

Banff and Canmore:

Bow Valley SUP  (With pick up options in both towns for off site transportation)

The Banff Canoe Club (Offsite rentals offered, meaning you pick up your SUP package and transport the board to a nearby lake.) 

Kananaskis Outfitters (Located at Kananaskis Village for off site transportation) 

Kananaskis Outfitters also has weekend rentals available at the Barrier Lake Day Use Area. Paddleboards can be rented by the hour and a reservation is not needed. 

SUP Banff! Paddleboarding on Two Jack Lake 

Stand Up Paddleboard Lessons near Calgary

Below are some suggestions to get you started.

Calgary and area:

Aquabatics - Options include beginner courses all the way up to river introduction and progression. Youth are welcome with parents or by themselves if they are 16+.

CANRVRSUP - Based out of Cochrane, this company offers a range of courses from introductory paddling up to river skills. They also offer whitewater courses for those looking to progress to more advanced river paddling.

University of Calgary, Active Living - The U of C offers a number of stand up paddleboarding courses that you can sign up for.

SUP NEXT - This company offers flatwater beginner and advanced SUP lessons as well as intro river lessons and a race conditioning program. 

Paddle Away Today - This company offers intro SUP lessons on Ghost Lake outside Cochrane. They also have kids summer camps. 

South of Calgary:

Sup to the Core - This company is based out of Black Diamond and offers lessons on the Chain Lakes.  Rental gear is available through Rollick Co. in Black Diamond.

Banff and Canmore:

Bow Valley SUP - Take an intro to SUP or an intro to Rivers course. You can also register for a sunset SUP Tour in Banff (no experience required.)

Radventures - Join a guided tour on one of the beautiful lakes around Canmore, Kananaskis, or Banff with rental equipment included. 

Take a lesson and learn to paddle beautiful lakes and rivers in the Canadian Rockies! 

SUP Yoga and Fitness Classes in Calgary

SUP & Flow - Intro classes taught in Carburn Park in SE Calgary. Other options include SUP yoga classes in Carburn Park, sunset river tours on the Elbow River, and youth summer camps. 

Wild Spirit SUP Yoga - Located on Chestermere Lake, this great company offers SUP yoga classes. They are a mobile floating yoga studio so you can hire them to come to many of the lakes around Calgary for group lessons. They also hold weekly classes at Lake Bonavista and Auburn Bay Lake.

H2Flow SUP Yoga - SUP yoga lessons offered at Mahogany in south Calgary. Also offered are day long yoga/SUP retreats. 

Stand up paddleboarding is great exercise for the entire body!

Where to Buy Stand up Paddleboards and Equipment

Newell Paddleboards - Buy local from this Calgary based company. All boards come with free shipping in Canada and prices are very affordable!

Kootenay Paddleboards - This is another Calgary based SUP brand with boards available at both Aquabatics and Bow Valley SUP.  They also hold weekly meetups with both flatwater and whitewater options where people can demo boards or just meet others in the paddling community. Visit their website for info on meetups and demo opportunities.

iRocker - This is another great company with affordable boards. Order online from their Canadian website where you'll get free shipping. 

Aquabatics - This is a great local store in Calgary where you can choose from a wide collection of boards and get help from experienced staff. 

Mountain Equipment COOP - Always a great place to get outdoor gear. 

Mountain Cultures - This store is located in Royal Oak, NW Calgary and they have a great collection of inflatable paddleboards.

Costco usually has good "entry level" boards as well if you can find one early season before they're sold out. 

We recently bought an iRocker board and have been pleased with it

Final Safety Notes 

This will not be an exhaustive list and I highly recommend taking a lesson if you want to get serious about stand up paddleboarding. I was shocked at how many important things I didn't know when I took my first lesson for flat water paddling. Since then I've taken a river course as well, and it gave me much more confidence on moving water.

Below are just a few important things I want to highlight because I have seen personally what happens when things go wrong in these areas.

What to bring with you on a tour

  • Always have a PFD, personal flotation device, with a whistle with you on your board. It is recommended that you wear it at all times and mandatory that it be on your board. Children under 16 can not use the inflatable PFD belts that some adults prefer to use. 

  • A leash is recommended for flat water paddling. Do not wear a leash on moving water unless you have a quick release one that attaches to your PFD instead of your ankle. Ankle leashes can get caught on logs under the water.

  • A throw rope is recommended and I always recommend some kind of towing device when paddling with children.

  • If we're heading out for a longer tour or going on a river, I always have a dry bag with a change of clothes for each person, at least one towel, rain jackets, warm socks, and a first aid kit. I often bring a pump on my board if we're heading out for a long day trip on a river as well - just in case!

  • Lunch, snacks, water 

  • The basics: sun glasses, a hat, sun block, etc.

  • Make sure you put your valuables (keys, wallet, phone) in a dry bag and even double protect them in a ziplock bag. If you have a waterproof case for your phone make sure it's around your neck at all times and that it won't fall off if you end up in the water.

  • Dress for the temperature of the water and the weather. You don't want to fall into glacier water while wearing your bikini unless it's a scorching 35C day! On cooler days my son wears rain pants when stand up paddleboarding and I've been known to paddle in a toque in shoulder season! I've learned the value in packing some dry wool socks in a dry bag as well for spring river trips. They could save a person's feet.

  • I like to paddle barefoot, but you really should wear river shoes or sandals on rivers. You never know when you'll hit a shallow rock bar and end up pushing your board into deeper water (over sharp rocks!) Shoes also make it easier to take out at the end.
Spring paddling in a rain jacket and a toque (wool socks packed just in case!)

Paddling with children and pets 

  • Make sure you are solid in your skills before bringing children or pets on your board. This is especially important on rivers and moving water.

  • Test pets out in a safe place where they can jump off if they don't like the SUP experience. A river isn't the spot to find out that your dog is terrified of water.
  • When buying a board, make sure it will be wide and long enough for the weight of everybody/thing you plan to have on your board. That includes your dog, your child(or children,) and gear you might bring on an overnight trip.

  • Choose a location with warm water when first teaching children to paddle. And while that's pretty hard around Calgary, at the very least choose a warm day with a nice beach and plan for swimming. (Johnson Lake in Banff for example is a great place to let the kids try your paddleboard.)
This dog is no stranger to stand up paddleboarding (and see the PFD on the dog too!)

Safety in numbers 

  • Travel with a group on rivers and moving water. There's safety in numbers in case somebody falls in or gets into trouble. I can't stress this enough if you're bringing children along! You do not want to do a solo trip down a river with your children and no other adults along.
Safety in numbers for a river tour 

Before you hit the water 

  • Always check the wind report unless you're just paddling around a beach! Head winds are extremely challenging on a paddleboard, and even a strong tail wind can be scary for novice paddlers.

  • Make sure you can return to your vehicle at the end of your paddle. Don't get stuck at the far end of a lake and then realize that the wind was actually blowing you down the lake (and that you can't paddle back.)

  • Check the weather report for afternoon thunderstorm risk, changing wind direction or speed, storms coming in, etc. We usually like to get an early start because the weather often becomes more unpredictable by mid to late afternoon.

This story was not sponsored. All links were placed to provide valuable information, and to promote local businesses for the love of this sport and our community.


  1. Very helpful! Thanks for sharing, can't wait to get paddling this summer!

  2. Thanks for taking the time to put together this blog. Very helpful and much appreciated :)

  3. Great list! Ghost lake is a great place to go. But I do not recommend going with your paddle board or kayaks because this is one of the few bodies of water that allow motor boats. So there are also of boaters, sea doers and people surfing. Not ideal being on your paddle board and then being knocked down by a boater and it’s also not very calm and therapeutic. While your surrounded by beautiful cliffs and trees. There’s way nicer places to go.

    1. I'm actually with you. I don't love paddling on the Ghost. I didn't originally have it in this guide but added it later because it's so popular with many people. On a "good day" I do enjoy paddling up the narrow river part under the bridge, but you have to go early morning before the motor boats come out.

  4. Great article and very thorough!