Canoeing and Kayaking in West Kootenay

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Canoe trips in BC that understandably get the most publicity involve paddling down the Rocky Mountain trench. Flanked by the Canadian Rockies, this inspiring near-wilderness experience abounds with waterfowl and wildlife. The fishing is superb and the tranquility is difficult to match. Likewise floating through the bird-watching paradise of the upper Columbia River as it meanders for more than 120 miles from Columbia Lake to the take-out at Donald Station Bridge north of Golden. Another renown canoe trip follows white-water Kicking Horse River as it cuts a wild swath through the Yoho Valley. Canoers also have heard many glorious stories about long trips down the Elk River in the East Kootenays.

Much less heralded (thank goodness), West Kootenay is home to the Columbia and the Kootenay river systems. The lakes that form in their steep river valleys are great places to kayak and canoe. In the middle of the Selkirks is 30-mile long Slocan Lake, drained by the Slocan River which enters the Kootenay River half way between Castlegar and Nelson. Slocan Lake is a real kayaking gem that fits perfectly into the West Kootenay environment: a wonderful climate with winters that are relatively mild and yet heavy snowfall with some of the best powder skiing in the world; spring melt starts in May and brings a huge abundance of flowering plants; and wildlife thrives. Perhaps the best part of the West Kootenays, its river systems and Slocan Lake are not overhyped or overrun with enthusiasts. Often there’s no one else on the canoer’s water. Few people live on the shores of the lakes. The lakes have large sections with no road access and thus pristine wilderness.

Adventurous visitors to New Denver Lodge might decide to canoe the entire length of Slocan Lake during their vacation. It can take as long as 5 days following shorelines with many sand and cobble beaches. Twenty miles of pristine western shoreline follows Valhalla Provincial Park. Paddlers have several other appealing alternatives easily reached from New Denver Lodge. The small Slocan River, for example, offers occasional rapids, none especially difficult, but requiring some whitewater experience. Intermediate-level paddlers might want to try the 50-mile river between Slocan and Crescent Valley that takes about one long day but shorter trips of one to three hours provide lots of fun for kayakers and canoers.

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