Between the Rocky Mountains and the mountain ranges to the west is the Rocky Mountain Trench, source of two major rivers that flow to the north from their respective sources, the Fraser River and the Columbia River. Paddling down the Rocky Mountain trench in water that is amongst the clearest in British Columbia, flanked by the Canadian Rockies, is an inspiring near-wilderness experience. The area abounds with waterfowl and wildlife, the fishing is superb, and the tranquility is difficult to match.
Relaxing guided canoe floats on the bird watching paradise of the upper Columbia River provide easy trips with no rapids or portages. The river braids and meanders for 235 km from the put-in on Columbia Lake to the take-out at Donald Station Bridge, north of Golden, requiring at least a week for the trip. Above Donald the river is dammed at Mica creek to create Kinbasket Lake. Campsites can be found on the many islands and gravel bars in the river, and fresh waters is readily available from the side creeks. Easy access to the Columbia River is facilitated by Highways 93, 95 and Trans Canada Highway 1 which flank the river for the entire stretch described.
The Kicking Horse River cuts a wild swath through the Yoho Valley before spilling through a narrow stretch of canyon east of Golden. Along the way it displays both a gentle and a ferocious side, offering the most popular and exciting river adventure in the Canadian Rockies on one of Canada’s premier white water rivers. As an introduction to rafting, calmer scenic floats in the area – some with just a taste of whitewater – allow meandering trips through the breathtaking scenery of the upper Kicking Horse River. This wilderness experience can be combined with horse riding or mountain biking trips for a full day of outdoor activity.
If you have the time, take a trip down the Elk River from Elkford to Elko, a weeklong journey of about 120 miles (193 km). There’s excellent paddling throughout the East Kootenays, including the North and South Fraser drainages, and paddlers can explore the hundreds of miles of lakeshore surrounding the larger lakes in the BC Rockies, amongst magnificent scenery, with access to stunning pristine wilderness. Weather conditions on these lakes can change very quickly and with little warning, so whenever possible, stay close to the shoreline.
For a detailed account of these and other routes, consult Canadian Rockies Whitewater and Canadian Rockies Whitewater/The Central Rockies by Stuart Smith.