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HomeNL-2012-09 Kananaskis River

Whitewater on the Kananaskis River
August 5th, 2012
by Charles Zipprian 

Whitewater on the Kananaskis (Kan-a-nas-kis) River

Less than an hour west of Calgary, Alberta Canada, the Kananaskis flows out of the Canadian Rockies traveling north until it forms the man-made Barrier Lake. Barrier Lake, 4,400 ft. above sea level, was formed to provide hydroelectric power. As the river is dam-controlled, the water levels are predictable, and TransAlta generally posts the release times and flow rates on their website. Once the water is released from the lake the Kananaskis flows through a series of man-made rapids laid out in a water course. The river flows on until eventually flowing into the Bow River. 

Warning!! This water was snow yesterday! 
Barrier Lake 

  The Widow Maker
The put in starts just above the first rapid called the Widow Maker, which is a class III pool drop that is notoriously tippy. It is easy to put in below the Widow Maker if the paddler is looking to avoid the feature. 

All of the kayakers
wear dry suits
Past the Widow Maker starts a series of play rapids and man-made eddies. The first play feature is a small hole on river left called Hollywood. The second feature called Point-break, which is considered the river's best hole for play boating. Downstream is the river's largest wave, called Santa Claus, with an aggressive hole 30 yards below it. The section finishes off with Canoe Meadows Campground on the right hand shore. The campgrounds are very clean with convenient trails to the river. A large "V" wave popular with river surfers called the Green Tongue.

The Green Tongue is the start of the slalom course. The kayak shown below was doing multiple 360 degrees spins while in the Green Tongue rapid.


A slalom course with most rapids on this stretch of river created or manipulated by man-made boulder placements. The exit of the river to get back to the take-out is anywhere on the right hand shore after the last gate of the slalom run.


The Kananaskis River is a popular site for training of rescue teams and group expeditions. A group from England was training to go on an expedition trip.

    A practice run ends up
on to the rocks

Kayaking on the Elbow River and Elbow Falls

A short 30 minute drive south of the Kananaskis River is the Elbow River. The Elbow is another popular canoeing/kayaking location.

The Elbow River is aptly named as it has many twists and turns. The river has an almost continuous mile long series of class I rapids before coming to the falls.


When running a river for the
first time, it is always beneficial
to scout the river.


You never know what
could be up ahead.

   The adjoining park has several
signs documenting that there
have been multiple drowning at
these falls
I visited the Elbow Falls Park on a Canadian holiday. The park was a main attraction for visitors to come and spend the day cooking out and enjoying the beautiful weather. Though amazingly there were not many people in the water.

The provincial parks have many cattle guards on the highways. Just about every cattle guard has multiple loose hubcaps lying around on either side of the cattle guards. Of course cattle guards are the name given to them here in Texas. In Canada, they have a different name for them. 


The author, Charles Zipprian