Be you a fisherman, a paddler, or simply an admirer of the aquamarine, the fresh waters of the Columbia Valley can draw you into wild, unforgettable adventures. Golden’s collection of rivers, lakes, and wetlands can be enjoyed all throughout the non-winter months. But, with snow melts and bird migration, spring is one of the best times to get the most out of your experience. You can watch the wetlands fill up and come alive after a long hibernation, or get a jump start on the early rafting season.
The Columbia River Wetlands
Credit: Dave Best
Golden sits at the confluence of two historic rivers, the Columbia and the Kicking Horse, who meet graciously at the western edge of town. The Columbia River is the largest river in the Pacific Northwest region of North America, and it’s the fourth largest river by volume in North America. Its headwaters lie south of Golden, in an area known as Canal Flats. Here the river drains north from Columbia Lake and circumnavigates up the Columbia Valley through Golden and Revelstoke. Then winds its way back down south through lower interior BC into Washington before emptying into the ocean off the Oregon coast.
It’s a snow-charged river system and the volume of the river fluctuates seasonally. High volumes typically occur between April and September, and the lowest is from December to February. This means springtime on the Columbia is prime paddling season.
The Kicking Horse, too, is a paddler’s delight with its high water in the spring and early summer. The rafting season kicks off at the beginning of June and carries thrill-seekers over class II, III, and IV rapids. Rising from the ice-cold glacial waters of Wapta Lake, it’s joined by the tributaries of the Yoho, Emerald, Amiskwi, and Ottertail Rivers. The Kicking Horse River descends swiftly from the ice fields of the Canadian Rockies east of Golden and then plunges wildly to its Columbia River confluence. The Kicking Horse is a river of contrasts: wild and free, it flows untamed and unobstructed through some of Canada's most spectacular mountain terrain. It’s this reckless beauty that makes it such a beautiful ride for rafters and kayakers alike.
Rafting the Kicking Horse River with Kootenay River Runners
Credit: Dave Best
If you prefer a quieter, but just as meaningful experience, the Columbia River system makes for outstanding bird watching. In fact, Golden is on the BC Bird Trail, which is a collection of must-see birding locations throughout British Columbia.
You can see this bird action close to town from Confluence Park or Reflection Lake. But to get a closer look, head south of town to the Columbia Wetlands Outpost where you can rent a canoe or kayak and paddle the wetlands.
The wetlands, which stretch from Invermere to just south of Golden, are home to over 260 bird species, plus reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and countless vertebrates. This stretch of the Columbia River is protected and has received international recognition as a site of ecological importance. Preservation of these wetlands since the 1990s means that it’s a hot spot for biodiversity and animal activity. From eagles to swans, to frogs, you can get lost in the abundant nature and beauty of this stretch of wilderness.
The K'tunaxa, who have inhabited these lands since time immemorial, have a deep connection to the land and the waterways of what we call the Columbia Valley. Their Creation Story speaks to their history here and its significance. See episode two of their Creation Story Series which is dedicated to these waterways. You can view the entire series here.