All the thrills of a roller coaster, paired up with the natural beauty of the Rocky Mountain river canyons makes whitewater rafting a fantastic opportunity for a holiday adventure.
The Banff area has some of the best spots for rafting. The Kananaskis and Kicking Horse Rivers and Bow River Horseshoe Canyon are a few examples where you’ll find plenty of tour operators to choose from. A little farther north is the Mount Robson and Jasper areas, where you can get some rafting along the Fraser River. The Kootenay River is farther south, towards the border with the USA and there are several great rapid runs there.
One of the great things about these rivers is that they offer different levels of difficulty depending on where along the river you are rafting. When you book a tour, you’ll see that runs are given grade ratings so you can get a sense of how wild the whitewater is going to be. Grades 1 and 2 are the easiest, with a little rough water and you’ll want to have some paddling skills though even a total novice could raft a Grade 1 run.
Grade 3 is more strenuous and will have some rocks and a few drops along the route. You should have some intermediate paddling experience for these areas. Grades 4 and 5 are really only for folks who have advanced skills maneuvering in whitewater. Rivers that are classed as Grade 6 are considered to be too dangerous to raft.
The higher grades (4 and 5) are only for adults, but you can definitely take the kids on any trips that are classed in the 1 and 2 range. Grade 3 rivers are better for older kids, though it can vary.
Rafting tours come in many shapes and sizes. You can arrange for a few hours of rafting for just an afternoon, or book a longer trip that will include overnight camping as you take several rafting runs over the course of a few days. Add in some hiking or horse-back riding when you are on dry land for a little change of pace.
You won’t need to bring any equipment or supplies with you except possibly a bathing suit. Tour operators will provide all the safety equipment you’ll need, such as helmets, life jackets, and wetsuits. Any trips that involve camping as well as rafting, you might be required to provide more of your own supplies.
Most whitewater rafts hold 8 to 10 people and are usually inflatable which gives them lots of rubbery bounce as you hit the rapids. Depending on your skill level, you’ll be expected to help out with the paddling though you can just sit and enjoy the ride if you prefer.
While you don’t necessarily have to have paddling experience to go whitewater rafting, it is a good idea to know how to swim. On the rougher water, people do get dumped out of the rafts occasionally and you should be prepared for anything. The life jackets make a world of difference, but it’s prudent to be able to take care of yourself while in the water.