Rafting in the Canadian Rockies has become very popular, with a range of experiences on offer, from mellow, relaxing float trips to whitewater odysseys that require you to be a strong swimmer. Either way, no previous experience is generally required, but it’s handy to know how rivers are graded: Class 1 water is gentle, Class 6 basically a waterfall. The season runs from May to mid-September, with the “biggest” water generally in June when snowmelt swells rivers. Operators should supply you with everything you need, and will probably also provide a shuttle from the main regional towns. On any trip it’s a good idea to have a change of clothes, wear shoes you don’t mind getting wet, bring a towel and have a bag for valuables.
In the Banff region, the main whitewater river is the Kicking Horse, on the edge of Yoho National Park, an hour from Banff. Its Class 4 sections (including one called “Man Eater Hole”) in the upper sections and stretches of the Lower Kicking Horse Canyon give even seasoned rafters pause for thought. More tranquil is the Kootenay River, in Kootenay National Park, two hours from Banff, a Class 2–3 river; meanwhile, Banff’s stretch of the Bow River is a haven for mellow float trips through pretty scenery.
Jasper National Park
In Jasper National Park, the Class 2 Athabasca River (from Athabasca Falls, 35km south of the town) is scenic and provides gentle rafting, with one or two harmless whitewater sections, from May to October. The Class 3 Sunwapta River, 55km south of Jasper, offers some thrilling stretches of water, magnificent landscapes and good chances to spot wildlife. The Class 2–3+ Maligne River, 45km from town, includes a lively 1.6km stretch of rapids and is used for a variety of trips from July to September. The Fraser River, an hour west of Jasper in Mount Robson Provincial Park, is Class 4 in places but also has some gentle sections where the chance to watch salmon spawning at close quarters from mid-August to September provides an added attraction.
Operators can be found in Banff, Lake Louise, Canmore, Golden, Radium and Jasper.