It was 2016 when a first-of-its-kind rafting experience was born in British Columbia. The Canadian Pacific Railway had just closed access across its tracks to the famous Lower Canyon of the Kicking Horse River, and rather than be deterred, the owner of Glacier Rafting saw an opportunity to incorporate helicopters into their adventures. Thus the birth of regular heli-rafting excursions at the foot of the Rocky Mountains in BC. From May to September, Glacier Rafting employees a Bell 407 helicopter to ferry paddlers and 16-foot-long yellow rafts onto the Kicking Horse to enjoy 36 kilometres of consistent class III-IV whitewater.
The Kicking Horse is only one of many whitewater experiences that make British Columbia one of the best rafting destinations in the world. From guided expeditions down exhilarating glacier-fed rivers near Squamish, mild and wild rafting near Fernie, and plenty of choose-your-own-adventure trips in the province’s north, there is something for everyone in the province. This article will explore some of the many options for whitewater rafting in BC to help answer the question: “Where to first?”
Guided Rafting in the Kootenays
Kicking Horse River
Situated near Golden and originating in the ice fields of the Canadian Rockies, the Kicking Horse River starts with a slow through a U-shaped valley before descending into the Kicking Horse Canyon and eventually joining the Columbia River. The Kicking Horse is one of the most popular waterways in Canada for whitewater enthusiasts, offering a range of class two to four rapids.
Between May and June, this little mountain river flowing through an uninhabited canyon in the heart of the Rockies near Fernie transforms into a feast of roaring whitewater. The river builds up to a climax as it enters the Lower Bull Canyon full of sustained stretches of class 4 rapids.
Just a short trip from Fernie, the Elk River offers everything from Class 4 rapids and options for cliff jumping in the geologically unique Elk River Canyon to mild rafting in the Upper Elk River with unique views of the Lizard Range and plenty of refreshing pools to swim in.
Tucked between the Valhalla and Kokanee Mountain Ranges, the Slocan River is one of the best-kept secrets in the province. The views are stunning, the crowds are nil, and the locals are stoked to see you. Plus, the relatively mellow Class II rapids are perfect for family fun.
Guided Rafting in the Squamish
Situated within the pacific coastal temperate rainforest, and located just a short drive from Vancouver, the turquoise waters of the Cheakamus River are the perfect place to experience whitewater rafting. This lush environment offers thrilling rapids, views of the iconic Mount Garibaldi, and the opportunity to see wildlife such as black bears.
Rafting Trips in the BC North
In comparison to options in Squamish and the Kootenays, the remote wilderness of British Columbia’s north is a lesser-known destination for guided and self-guided rafting trips.
The Babine flows through the coastal mountains in a narrow canyon full of fun rapids. Its largest, “Grizzly Drop,” is suitably named as there have been up to a dozen bears seen there at one time during the salmon spawning season. The Babine can be navigated as part of a multi-day trip connecting to the Skeena.
The Skeena River, from headwaters to estuary, is the second-largest river in the province that exists solely within provincial borders. Downstream from the confluence with the Babine, the Skeena offers rafters 55 kilometres of Class III-IV. Enjoy the lush environment filled with coastal cedars and unique geology while rushing through epic rapids.
Flowing past the Earth’s largest non-polar ice cap, the Tatshenshini is a notable destination for multi-day beginner-friendly guided rafting trips that flow through extremely remote, lush valleys and meadows beneath rugged glacier-capped mountain peaks.
For experts seeking an extreme multi-day trip, the Stikine River is home to world-famous class five big water rapids in a section of river referred to as the Grand Canyon of the Stikine. For those less inclined to death-defying adventure, there are options for trips with class two and three rapids on the upper and lower Stikine. The upper Stikine flows from the Sacred Headwaters of the Spatsizi Plateau to the upper end of the canyon. The lower Stikine starts at the bottom of the canyon and flows through a lush coastal environment that is home to a plethora of wildlife including grizzly, salmon, eagles, and more.