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Five places to paddle in and around Calgary

On a calm, clear day there’s no better place to be than on the water! As your canoe glides through the water, away from busy beaches, all your worries are forgotten. Whether you paddle to a secret fishing hole, watch wildlife, or simply enjoy the scenery, it’s easy to relax on the water – as long as the weather cooperates. Fortunately for us, there are several lovely places to paddle in and around Calgary that are perfect for families!

Don’t have a boat? Many lakes have onsite canoe/kayak/stand-up paddleboard (SUP) rentals that include life jackets and safety gear, so all you need to bring is sunscreen, water, and snacks!

Here are five places to paddle in and around Calgary:

  1. Glenmore Reservoir, SW Calgary

Glenmore Reservoir is one of the best places to paddle because it’s the largest ‘lake’ in Calgary, almost 4km² in size. Since it is actually a reservoir, however, there are some restrictions: no inflatable boats, no swimming, no stand-up paddleboarding, no pets on boats, and designated access points: Calgary Canoe Club, Heritage Park, and Glenmore Sailing School. Pulling up on shore elsewhere is not permitted.

There’s good trout and pike fishing here, as well as bird watching. It’s fun to watch the sailboats and dragon boats too!

Calgary Canoe Club provides hourly and half day (three hour) canoe rentals. AQ Outdoors offers kayak rentals on select weekday evenings (6 to 8:30pm) at Heritage Park Marina. For a cool nighttime experience, rent a clear, glowing kayak from Calgary Kayaks.

  1. Bowness Lagoon, NW Calgary

With flat water and onsite rentals, Bowness Lagoon is perfect for beginners. See if you can spot the resident beaver as you paddle around the ponds, then paddle past the Bownessie mural, and head up the creek for a change of scenery. The creek is shallow and slow moving, so there’s no current to fight. Afterwards, get an ice cream at Seasons of Bowness Park or have a picnic! Many of the picnic sites have fire pits and picnic shelters.

Canoe, kayak, and pedal boat rentals are available at the boat dock. The lagoon and near side of the creek (far side is too shallow) are also suitable for stand-up paddleboarding.

  1. Carburn Park, SE Calgary

Carburn Park is a good place to learn to SUP or kayak if you have inflatables you don’t mind carrying a short ways. The second pond, 300m from the parking lot, has calm water and is surrounded by deciduous trees and shrubs. Keep an eye out for kingfishers and great blue herons! If you’d like to stay a while, there are pretty picnic areas and paths around the ponds.

Rent SUPs from University of Calgary Outdoor Centre, Aquabatics, Sports Rent, or The Paddle Station.

  1. Johnson Lake, Banff

For spectacular mountain views and easy paddling, head to Johnson Lake in Banff. With warm, shallow water, a small sandy beach and picnic area, the lake is sure to be a family favorite. It’s only 1.1km across, so you can take your time (we love to just float in the middle of the lake), then hike to the swing and old hermit cabin.

Rent SUPs, canoes, and kayaks from Banff Canoe Club.

  1. Lower Kananaskis Lake, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

Lower Kananaskis Lake is a gorgeous paddling and fishing spot that tends to be less windy than nearby Upper Kananaskis Lake. Start at Canyon Boat Launch or Interlakes Boat Launch and go as far as you like. You could easily spend hours here since the lake is so long (8km)! Fish for giant rainbow trout, look for bald eagles, and scan the shoreline for deer, moose, and bears.

Lakeside canoe and kayak rentals are available from Boulton Creek Rentals (pre-pay at the rental shop and pick up at the boat launch). You can also rent canoes and SUPs from Kananaskis Outfitters in Kananaskis Village.

More Lakes to Paddle: Barrier Lake, Chestermere Lake, and Ghost Lake

These lakes have onsite rentals and are close to Calgary, but tend to be quite windy, so save them for a calm day. For the best conditions, head out early in the morning (this way you can also beat the boat traffic).

Know Before You Go

  •     Required equipment: A personal floatation device (PFD), whistle, bailer, and paddle/throw bag (containing at least 15m of buoyant rope) are mandatory when paddling. We recommend bringing a rope when paddling with kids as it’s easier to hold onto a rope than paddle if they fall out.
  •     If paddling at night, you must also use a light (headlamp or flashlight).
  •     Learn a few paddling strokes before you go so you can steer with confidence.
  •     The weather can change quickly, especially in the mountains. Stay off the water during electrical storms, and stay close to shore when it’s windy so you can pull the boat up on shore if needed.

Paddling is a wonderful lifelong hobby that kids of all ages will enjoy. Have fun and stay safe!

Karen is a mother and a lover of maps, mountains, and mochas. With her geography degree and experience leading hikes and backpacking trips in the Rockies, she is full of ideas on where to go and what to do. The mission of her blog, Play Outside Guide, playoutsideguide.com, is to provide everything families need to know to get outside and have fun.

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