These are the human-powered versions of water sports. Kayaking is popular on both whitewater and lakes, and in coastal areas, sea kayaking is popular. Canoeing is popular on lakes, rivers, even on whitewater. Whitewater slalom kayaking and canoeing have been Olympic sports for several years. Rafting is usually reserved for fast-flowing rivers and whitewater experiences, where the raft provides an extra measure of safety and control, expecially for beginning watersport enthusiasts.
With a kayak, uou move using a double-bladed paddle. You reach forward with each blade and pull, twist your torso to reach and pull with the opposite blade, to balance the forces and keep your kayak moving forward. Kayaking is an excellent sport for building leg, abdominal, chest and back muscles. Rookies need to learn to moves: the "eskimo roll" to right the craft when you are inverted and submerged, and a "wet exit" to get out of the skirt while inverted.
Canoeing has evolved from the main means of transportation for Indians and early explorers and fur traders. Canoeing is a low-noise way to explore the area's beautiful and rugged geography, letting you get surprisingly close to wildlife on land, water or in the air. Canoeing is a great form of exercise, whether canoeing on a lake or canoeing downstream.
Your propel a canoe in the sitting position, either sitting on the seats, or kneeling and resting your buttocks against it (lower centre of gravity and lower wind profile). You hold the paddle with two hands, one at the end of the handle, the other gripping the shaft just above the blade, and pulling toward you. The person at the front of the boat sets the pace (it works best when every body paddles in unison), while the person at the back does the steering, by paddling with a "J" stroke.
Kayaking has evolved dramatically from the sealskin-covered shells that Eskimos used for hunting seals in the Arctic. Kayaks today are durable and lightweight fibreglass or plastic shells with built-in flotation, and provide a waterproof spray skirt to keep you and your pack dry during in a roll-over. Whitewater kayaks tend to shorter, and can turn on a dime. Sea kayaks and longer, with a sleek v-shaped body for stability in rough seas. You sit in a moulded seat, and your feet sit on footrests (which control the rudder, to help with steering). Most kayaks have two bulkheads fore and aft for storage, and have deck lines and bungee cords to keep key items handy. Things like a spare paddle, map, munchies, water bottle, and camera. Kayaks can cost $3000, with paddles costing $50 to $200 (you should always carry a spare). You will also need to wear a lifejacket, which are required by law.
Canoes come in a number of materials: aluminium, cedar-strip, fiberglas and even Kevlar, all with different benefits and a range of costs. There are many places you can rent canoes and other equipment, especially around the popular canoeing areas, which is handy when you do not canoe often. Canoes all have built in flotation, so in case of a capsize, stay with the canoe.
When rafting or kayaking, you will need a bathing suit, shorts, T-shirt, and a Polar fleece, acrylic or wool top (warm when wet), a wind-proof rain jacket and pants, running shoes and wool socks, sun screen, a brimmed hat and sunglasses (with retainer or string), and a complete change of clothes for end of the trip (in a waterproof plastic bag). If you are paddling on open water, dress colourfully so large boats can see you. For overnight trips, you'll need a sleeping bag and tent, and a warm jacket.
There are a number of places to go canoeing or kayaking, particularly the Glenmore Reservoir (it's the city water supply, so you're not allowed to swim in it, or capsize!). The Calgary Canoe Club boathouse is on the north shore, accessed from Crowshild Trail south.
The Elbow River is beautiful above the reservoir, in the Weaselhead natural area. The Elbow River from the Reservoir down to 4th Street is popular for rafting and "tubing" and you pass many large luxury homes (be sure to have a life jacket or you'll get ticketed). The stretch between 4thStreet and Fort Calgary (at the Bow River) is generally too flat and slow to be much fun. On the lower Elbow, below the dam, the water levels are highest in June and the first half of July.
The Bow River is also popular from below the Bearspaw Dam to Princes Island (with Bowness Park and other popular put-in spot). The Bow River below Inglewood is also popular (and home to the Bow Waters Canoe Club), but YOU MUST AVOID the weir, just below the Zoo, where the Bow River meets Nose Creek and the Irrigation Canal to Lake Chestermere. Many people have drowned at the weir, which aerates the water for the river trout, and therefore makes floatation impossible. The best portage is on the right (south) bank.
West of town, you can canoe/kayak or raft on the Elbow at Bragg Creek, or on the Ghost River, above the Ghost Dam, and in Kananaskis Country. East of town, the Red Deer River around Drumheller is a very leisurely trip.