Canoeing the Columbia River from Invermere to Golden
We canoed from Invermere to Golden Aug. 29 - Sep. 3, 2001. We rented our canoe from Andy at Goldenwood Lodge in Golden. He has two 17.5' Hellman Duralites that are ideal for the trip, light and fast.
First Day - Andy put us in at the Provincial Park in Invermere at noon. The first section of river is very clear and shallow until the first stream joins. Take your time here, it is the only section where the fish are visible. We were advised not to go ashore on the Indian reservation on the right bank, but we saw no sign of life on the right bank until we got to Radium Hot Springs. We paddled about 4.5 hrs and camped on a left bank sand bar 10 minutes below the Radium bridge. There is another very good grassy camp site on the left bank about an hour below Radium. Then there is not much of any place to stop for another hour.
Second Day - A cabin behind a small left bank island is just above a split in the channel. We wanted to take the left fork but there is a wood dam that looked tricky (it would be no problem at a higher water level) so we took the right channel. There is not a good place to camp on the right channel until the channels join just above Spillimacheen. We were told that the left channel has camping spots in some of the big pastures on the left bank. We had a choice of sites where the channels join. Fraling Creek is crystal clear. We stayed a day to fish - no luck. Paddled 6 hrs.
Third Day - We passed a few good camp sites on our way to our objective at Wells Landing. We had a south wind pushing us but had been warned that no good comes from a south wind. We got blown off the river just short of Wells Landing. The wind had switched to north and was blowing so hard we couldn't make headway. The wind let up a bit but it was still blowing so hard that we couldn't set up camp at Wells Landing. The site is a sand bar in the middle of the river amid lots of old piling - very exposed to the wind. We had a report of good fishing in the pool where a small channel splits to the right. The landmark is the red roof of the Wells Landing B & B just downstream on the left. A very important landmark - we spent the night with Jan and Ron in total comfort. They even loaned us their VW for the 15 minute trip to the Timber Inn for dinner - German food and excellent. Paddled 6 hrs.
Forth Day - Ron suggested a small channel that split off to the left just downstream from the B & B. Lots of pilings and drift wood at the entrance. A very protected stretch. Bear left at the first split; the right branch goes right back to the main channel. The small channel rejoins the main channel at Carbonate Landing, another old riverboat landing. The ruins of buildings are visible and a new cabin. Posted "No Trespassing". We found our best campsite where two left side channels came together. I'll try to describe - the river comes right up to the railroad even with Kapistro Mt. There is a cabin between the railroad and the river just as the river swings left. Downstream is a very small channel with good flow that splits to the left at a right angle. This channel keeps getting wider and deeper and swings right up against the mountain. The sand bar is on the left side. This site is not on the main channel. Paddled 5 hrs.
Fifth Day - No more than an hour downstream near where Twelvemile Creek flows in we saw our candidate for best campsite of any on the river. At a narrows in the main channel there is a large gravel bar on the right bank and even larger sand bar on the left. Less than an hour later we were at the Nicholson Bridge where we called Andy and arranged for him to pick us up the Golden Airport. There are several options for pickup point in Golden. Paddled 4 hrs.
We were not paddling hard at any time that the wind was favorable. A lot of time was spent with one paddle rested while observing birds. Andy had the foresight to stop at the key bridges on the way up to the put in so we knew what to expect in the way of accessibility on our way down. We should have also looked at the takeout.
In trying to arrange the trip I got a bit of misinformation:
"It is not possible to navigate - the Columbia wetlands are a maize of channels - you'll get lost." There was never any doubt as to the main channel. Some care is required on the side channels as they may not have a clear way back to the main channel other than backtracking. Wells Landing to Horse Creek seemed to have the most side channels that do rejoin (or maybe we were braver in trying them by then).
"The wind funnels through the valley making it tough going at best" No doubt that a north wind slows things down. We had a couple hours of strong north wind but mostly no wind or a gentle north wind. All in all, the current more than made up for the wind. The advice we received was that the wind may come up by 2pm, so start the day early.
"The mosquitoes will eat you alive". Maybe some years, but we had no mosquitoes at all. We were told that this year was unusual for lack of bugs.
The main attraction was the birds. Cindy ID'd 35 species and saw as many more that she couldn't be sure of. Lots of bald eagles, osprey, hawks, etc. Not as much in the way of animals - two deer and two bears. Beaver everywhere.
The distant scenery is spectacular with Rockies on the right and the Columbia Range on the left. The near scenery is mostly heavily wooded river bank.
Maps - Andy provided a Parks Canada 1:200,000 map of Banff, Kootenay, and Yoho that worked fine. 1:50,000 quadrangle maps are available but may provide more info than you can use - you can't depend solely on the map for choosing small channels. I was never in doubt as to our location.
Water level would be a big factor in deciding when to take the trip. We were surprised to learn that air temp and the glacier melt determines the water level. A high water level would mean a different selection of campsites. Some of the grassy site would have been quite a climb. We camped on sand (or gravel) every night.
The kookanee were just starting to appear when we got back to Golden. I guess the bears were not far behind. A fisherman told us he had watched a grizzly fish from the exact site of our tent at Fraling Creek.
Drinking water - I had planned to filter from the side steams but most were as silt laden as the river. Once we went way into a slough and found clear water to filter. The one thing I would do different would be to carry more water. We only carried about one day's worth. A Federal game biologist told us that the river is "safe".
Take a look at the takeout and bridges on your way to the put in - very helpful on your way downstream.
On our way south leaving BC we passed Lakes Windmere and Columbia. Big water, glad we skipped.
It was a truly unique experience. Thanks for your assist, without it we might have been scared off by the misinfo.
Norm and Cindy Day
P.S. We saw some interesting water on our way, the Thompson and the Kootenay. I talked to one outfitter who had a two day trip on the Kootenay but didn't ever hear any mention of the Thompson. Maybe we saw the only class 1-2 section of the Thompson.