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Discover paddling with your family

The great outdoors naturally lends itself to excellent activities for families, and when it’s hot outside, being on or around a body of water is the place to be. Getting outdoors improves physical, mental, and social well-being and teaches responsible environmental behaviors, inspiring those of all ages to want to protect that environment. Paddling is, hands-down, one of the best ways to get outdoors and experience the summer!

Paddle in our ‘backyard’

When people think about Calgary and the surrounding area, they don’t often think about all the great spots to get on the water. For flatwater paddling, some of the best locations are Bowness Park, Carburn Park, Glenmore Reservoir, Barrier Lake, and the Upper Kananaskis Lake. Bowness Park has a cozy lagoon that is perfect for families. If you don’t own your own watercraft, you can rent pedalboats, canoes or kayaks from the Bowness Boathouse.

If you own a watercraft, check out Carburn Park, which has both a doughnut pond and a larger pond that are fun to explore. Glenmore Reservoir is also another great option for flatwater paddling, especially for canoes and sea kayaks. Barrier Lake and the Upper Kananaskis Lake offer beautiful views and pristine water. These lakes can get too windy to paddle from time to time, but you can always hike instead. A Kananaskis Conservation Pass is required to visit these locations, but is well worth the price of admission.

Dip your paddle for more

For more experienced families, paddling the Bow or Elbow rivers is super fun. There are many great reaches (reaches are what paddlers call sections of rivers) for day or overnight trips. Rafting, canoeing, stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking are all good options depending on the age and skill set of those participating.

The Bow and Elbow rivers are littered with the remnants of water vessels that pop easily. When buying or renting a raft for navigating these rivers, look for a multi-chambered craft made from a highly durable material. You can rent these at the University of Calgary Outdoor Centre (

The City of Calgary has been working with the Calgary River Users’ Alliance to improve river access. More information on paddling these waters including a map of where to put in and take out can be found at

Overnight tripping is another great way for families to paddle. Tripping can be self-guided or through an organization. For example, a simple overnight trip to consider is paddling from Calgary to Carseland on the Bow River. On this reach you will often see a plethora of wildlife including pelicans, great blue herons, cormorants, beavers and deer as well as cows. The University of Calgary Outdoor Centre offers family-friendly guided overnight trips to places such as Milk River, which is a unique way to experience the prairies. The water attracts wildlife, which increases sightings. The hoodoos on the Milk River, including Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, are some of the best in the world.

Stay safe!

Learning what is required and how to safely navigate your craft is important, as there are hazards and risks associated with paddling on both flatwater and rivers. Luckily for Calgarians, many reputable organizations offer lessons and quality equipment rentals, including the University of Calgary Outdoor Centre, Rocky Mountain Paddling Centre, Aquabatics, Bow Waters Canoe Club and the Calgary Canoe Club. 

Some of the equipment that you will need is properly fitting lifejackets, paddles, a signal device, throw bag, bailer and helmets. Other items to bring with you are sunglasses with straps, waterproof/dry bags, a cellphone, water, your favorite snacks, sunscreen, bug spray, rain gear, shoes that tie on, and a hat. 

See you on the water! 

Logan Jones is the Youth Programs Manager at the University of Calgary. Learn more about University of Calgary Summer Camps by visiting

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