For whitewater kayakers, the rivers in the Lower Mainland are the gateways to some of British Columbia’s best adventures.
Tegan Owens, a Vancouver-based kayaker, is thrilled that her favourite sport is back in season. She explains that the sport offers access to some of the province’s most stunning scenery, which only kayakers can reach via smaller whitewater channels.
“There’s been some really spectacular gorges that I’ve been able to get into, and there’s no other way you’d see it other than whitewater kayaks. That’s a really special part of the sport.”
Owens lives part-time out of her Toyota Tacoma — an arrangement that she says suits her adventurous lifestyle.
“You have a lot of freedom, you can get out of the city and you don’t have to pay rent!” she laughs.
Prior to the Tacoma, she lived in a hatchback car which couldn’t hack it on the logging roads and rough terrain she was drawn to. In her pickup, she can go wherever adventure leads.
“I have total confidence that it’ll go wherever I need it to go,” she says.
While she’s based in the Vancouver area, Owens often treads north to Whistler and east to Chilliwack to experience the region’s best whitewater kayaking. We spoke with her about some of her favourite runs in the areas.
Vancouver: The Capilano, Lynn and Seymour Rivers
Owens identifies this trio of North Shore Vancouver rivers as the area’s best whitewater kayaking.
The Capilano River (affectionately known as “the Cap”) is the beginner-friendly run, with class two and three rapids.
“There’s nothing on it that’s super dangerous,” says Owens. “There’s no hard rapids, so if people do flip and swim, they’ll be alright.”
Kayakers put in at the Capilano Fish Hatchery off of Capilano Road, and Owens recommends taking out at Park Royal Mall.
Lynn Creek is the intermediate run, complete with crystalline waters and a waterfall. Kayakers put in around Lynn Canyon Park at Twin Falls Bridge and take out at Bridgeman Park.
“At normal flow, the rapids aren’t too hard. But there’s moves that you have to make, unlike the Cap,” says Owens.
Meanwhile, the Seymour rounds out the advanced side of the North Shore waters, with class four to five rapids and a steeper canyon run. Owens notes that this run is more complex and offers less flexibility for taking out.
“It’s really canyoned in — so if you had to get out, it’d be pretty difficult,” she warns.
To access the Seymour river route, paddlers should park near the north end of Parkside Drive and complete the 20-minute hike to the top of the short run.
Whistler: Upper Cheakamus River and Callaghan Creek
Whistler and its surrounding areas are home to many must-paddle routes for whitewater fanatics. Owens names the Upper Cheakamus River and Callaghan Creek as her top two picks.
“Those are the ones that everyone should do,” she says. “I could do them all day, everyday.”
Owens also notes that although the region has restrictively difficult rivers, these two are more accessible.
“[Upper Cheakamus] is kind of a shorter run, but it’s really good, continuous whitewater,” she says.
The river boasts class four rapids and, for the well-acquainted, the run can be completed in less than half an hour. Paddlers can put in past Whistler Village and up the west side of the river on a logging road, and they can take out at the Function Junction intersection.
Callaghan Creek features two stunning waterfalls, making it another Whistler classic. While kayakers will put in a few kilometres up Callaghan Road, while he take out is handily located just south of Highway 99 beside the bridge over the creek near Cal-Cheak Recreation Site. The creek’s rapids range between class four and five.
The Vedder River (Chilliwack River)
Though she’s based closer to the coast, Owens says the slightly inland Vedder (a.k.a. Chilliwack) River is where she learned to kayak. She explains that the river has beginner, intermediate and advanced sections, making it an easy choice for kayakers of any skill level.
The Vedder is open year-round for kayakers, whereas the Whistler area runs usually freeze over the winter. Additionally, Chilliwack Lake Road runs beside the river — so the water is easily accessible in case of emergency.
The recommended run of the Chilliwack is class three and should take a couple of hours. Paddlers can put in at the Chilliwack River Hatchery and should take out just before the Tamihi Rapids, about 10 kilometres downstream.
Seasoned kayakers and beginners alike can find suitably challenging runs throughout the Lower Mainland. From the urban rapids of Vancouver’s North Shore to the breathtaking waterfalls of Callaghan Creek, this region has no shortage of rivers that are ideal for kayaking — perfect for someone who considers themselves, as Owen puts it, a “water person.”