Rafting on Calgary’s Bow River

Rafting on Calgary’s Bow River

When the snow on the mountain peaks begins to melt in early spring, the Bow River becomes a ferocious beast of fast moving frigid water; one that you would want to stay away from. However, as summer approaches the river will tame itself enough for locals and tourists to enjoy a lazy float down the Bow.

Bow River, Calgary, Alberta

I can’t believe that Curtis and I have lived in Calgary for over 10 years and this was the first time we have rafted down the Bow! It was a fun and relaxing day out with some friends, we highly recommend you do this if you’re spending time in Calgary.

There are lots of options for where to get in and out of the river, the most popular being the route from Bowness Park to Prince’s Island Park. Being locals, we hate to fuss with parking and opted with the less popular option of floating from Hwy 22x (now called Stoney Trail) to Mckinnon Flats. This route takes about 5 1/2 hours (not including drive time) and has free, no hassle parking!


For your launch location you can either park directly under Hwy 22x (taking the Mckenzie Lake turn off and turning towards the Mckenzie Meadows Golf Club) or you can take Bow Bottom trail down to Fish Creek Park and park at their boat launch area. We parked in Fish Creek but I would recommend parking under Hwy 22x simply because the drive time to and from Mckinnon flats is 15 minutes shorter from that parking lot. From either of these location you’ll need to find your way to Hwy 22x and drive east to Range Road 274. It’s about a 30 minute drive once you’re on Hwy. 22x. RR 274 will take you straight down to the parking lot at Mckinnon Flats. Easy peasy.

Bow River, Calgary, Alberta
If you’re like us and have never floated down the Bow River, here’s what you need:

The must-have:

– 2 vehicles
– A big comfortable raft
– Life jackets (PFD personal flotation device)
– Paddles
– Bailer
– Tow rope

Calgary city by-laws:

– You must wear a life jacket (PFD- personal flotation device)
– Consuming liquor in public, penalty $ 115
– Littering on/into/under water or ice, penalty $115
– Urinating or defecating in Public penalty $300

Optional but handy:

– WATER! (The kind you drink)
– Snacks
– Sunscreen
– Sunglasses
– Hat
– Towel
– Water shoes
– Waterproof camera
– Ziploc bag for phone, wallet and other valuables.

Bow River, Calgary, Alberta

Handy Dandy Tips:

– Don’t go rafting with cheap paddles! Curtis managed to break 2 of our paddles.
– Don’t tie your rafts together! If you’re rafts go on different sides of the bridge pillars, you could find yourself needing to be rescued
– Bring a cooler for food and water
– Music is nice to have
– The river is COLD!

If you’re in Calgary and want to go float down the Bow but you have no raft,  no problem! There are a number of locations that rent rafts in Calgary!

University of Calgary Outdoor Center – 403-220-5038
Lazy Day Raft Rentals – 403-258-0575
Sports Rent – 403-292-0077

Dragon fly, Bow River, Calgary, Alberta

Raft hitch-hiker. He was cool! There were lots of dragonflies flying about

Jill Patterson
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1 Comment

  1. Sand In My Suitcase 10 years ago

    Wow! A headstand on a raft! Great balance :-). We lived in Calgary for many years before moving to Vancouver – and we don’t believe we’ve ever rafted the Bow River either. So it’s great you did this for us – we’ll have to live vicariously through your experience :-). It looks like loads of fun…

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