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Solstice Weekend Bikerafting Overnight on the Bow River

Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it


 Ferris Bueller

Where Can I Go Bikeraft Camping Near Calgary?

I got myself a couple of packrafts this year, and I’ve been itching to take them for a long trip. Since quick trips involving rivers are generally unidirectional, combining the rafts and bikes is a win as far as retrieving my car at the end.

The Bow River in Banff National Park offers enough current to keep things interesting, and a highway that Parks Canada claim is a cycle-friendly route to reach a put-in point. Add to that, just a few km down the river from the Castle Junction put-in point is a a water-access-only backcountry campground where we could book a spot.

Two Packrafts Means I Need to Bring a Friend

We aren’t quite ready to leave the kids behind for a weekend, so we generally split into parent/kid pairs, or go as a family. Fiona is usually my best bet for adventures, she loves to sleep outside and try new things. She also has been really keen on the packrafts in general and has been out on the Elbow River near our house a few times. So it was that Fiona signed up for this trip. I booked the site on Friday afternoon.

Give’er

We drove out to Banff Saturday afternoon, got the bikes out of the van, and hit the road. The Banff Parkway is less-bike hostile than the Trans-Canada highway, but it has narrow shoulders and enough rental RVs on it to make it scary, even if the speeds are low by car standards. Even if 98% of people give you lots of space to pass, that leaves you with some near misses on a ride like this.

With a long break at the Johnston Canyon trailhead, we got to Castle Junction and put in by 7:45. I knew the paddle wouldn’t be long, there was a good chance to see wildlife in the evenings, and the sun doesn’t set until after 10pm, so I wasn’t in a hurry.

The paddling did not disappoint. We saw a herd of elk, and many cool waterfowl. The current was fast, and there were many rifles and waves to keep things interesting. Fiona was pretty good at spotting the sweepers that were waiting for us on every bend. One bend had a herd of elk. We also saw many different types of waterfowl.

Sleep, Repeat

Our burrito dinner was its usual delicious, and after some reading, we settled down to sleep.

We learned an important lesson in the morning about inflating rafts, the bikes need to be removed, unless you really like the inflation by mouth part, in which case, if you leave them on you’ll get lots of it. Turning the boat upside down so the bike is at the bottom seems like it would work, but the inflation valve is then under the boat. I did have some good luck with propping the bike up with stuff.

The second day’s paddling featured the rapids at the Redearth Creek Junction. We pulled into a large eddy to scout the rapids. I was pretty confident that Fiona could handle them, and so we opted to paddle them rather than take the portage.

Fiona loved them. I was a little tense as I followed closely, prepared to rescue if needed, but Fiona navigated well, and the water was high enough to cover most of the rocks that might be a hazard at lower levels. The boats handled quite well. I had installed spray decks on them in anticipation of the rapids. Even without skirts, the decks prevented the waves from filling up the boats and making them handle like, well, like they were full of water!

For future trips, I might try for an earlier takeout point since getting to the bridge required getting through a long stretch with almost no current. Packrafts are not ideal at covering distance on flatwater. Fiona was not happy about how tired her arms were for the “very boring” flat segment. Either way, we both had a great time.


2 thoughts on “Solstice Weekend Bikerafting Overnight on the Bow River

  1. Tell us more about these cool vessels!

    1. They are packrafts from diypackraft.com The kits are well designed, but they need careful assembly. I’m not yet ready to speak about their longevity, but if I’d been worried about sudden unexpected failure, I’d have portaged the rapids.
      They are the budget option, but the trade seems to be sweat equity rather than boat quality. They are not designed specifically for carrying bikes and the general-purpose intent means that they could use a bit more volume in the front tubes to keep the nose up when running rapids with a heavy load. That said, they were at least good enough.
      Packrafts in general are slow on flat water, and these are no exception. Steady sedate paddling is way more efficient than hard, fast paddling.
      I looked seriously at the other models, the Tekwa wasn’t out yet, and this one seemed well suited to hauling a bike on moderate whitewater. I wasn’t confident the 2-person could carry 2 bikes, and the Ultralite apparently tracks better on flat, but I don’t really feel I can limit myself to flat water.
      Full review to come.

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