Paddling Paradise: SUP the Canadian Rockies

It’s not only moving that creates new starting points. Sometimes all it takes is a subtle shift in perspective, an opening of the mind, an intentional pause and reset, or a new route to start to see new options and new possibilities.

~ Kristin Armstrong

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Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park

The Canadian Rockies are known for endless miles of spectacular back country trails. With snowy peaks, hanging glaciers, roaring falls, hidden lakes, and windswept meadows, Banff, Jasper, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks easily earn their reputation as backpacker heaven.

These mountains have called to my husband and me for years, tempting us with scenery and solitude only found off the beaten path.

But when we planned our summer vacation to the Rockies, we knew the most isolated and challenging trails would have to wait. This was a family vacation, and while our daughters (4 & 6) are accomplished hikers, dragging them deep into the back country would be anything but a Zen experience (although loud, excessive whining is 100% guaranteed to keep the bears away).

Instead we planned our trip around short day hikes, front country campgrounds, cabins with playgrounds, and even two nights in hotels with indoor water slides. We wanted to create fun memories the entire family would treasure for years.

But, knowing we still needed our daily adrenaline rush, my husband and I looked for other family-friendly activities that would satisfy our endorphin quota without causing monumental meltdowns from the girls.

As we pored over guide books and trip reports, a common theme evolved: the pristine glacier- and spring-fed lakes in the Rockies are paddling paradise. That meant one thing for us: SUP.

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Canoe rentals are readily available in the National Parks, but SUP rentals are harder to come by. Thankfully, the stars aligned for us in the town of Canmore. The gateway to the Canadian Rockies and a destination itself, Canmore is home to Bow Valley SUP, the only full service SUP company in the area.

We made arrangements to rent a board for the duration of our trip. After explaining we’d be exploring Banff, Yoho, the Icefields Parkway, Jasper, and Lake Louise – and that our daughters would be riding with us – the friendly and knowledgeable staff recommended an inflatable board.

I don’t know if we’ll ever use another board again. Easy to inflate, a breeze to deflate, and super stable, the Badfish MCIT Board was perfect for us. Made with multiple chambers for stability on rivers, the girls couldn’t capsize us, even when they launched themselves into the water.

We paddled every day.

Two Jack Lake was only steps away from our camp site in Banff National Park. For two days, I woke before the girls and stole away in the morning light. As I paddled across the smooth water, I marveled at the mirror images of the surrounding peaks.

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Mt. Rundle reflected in Two Jack Lake

On Johnson Lake, my eldest daughter and I watched clouds roll in over the surrounding mountains. I dug deep, battled the wind, and slowly and surely paddled back to shore. When the wind died down, my daughter took a turn paddling and was hooked.


TIP: Paddle in the morning or evening for the smoothest ride. Winds pick up in the afternoon and create choppy conditions.


My husband and I took turns on Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park, playing on the shoreline as the other glided across the dreamlike water.

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Emerald Lake Shoreline, Yoho National Park

In Jasper National Park, the girls launched themselves repeatedly from the board into Annette Lake. Relatively shallow, Annette Lake is one of the few lakes in the Canadian Rockies that warms up enough for swimming. Giggling and shivering, we paddled back to the sandy beach so they could bask in the sun.

At Moraine Lake and Lake Louise, we fled the teeming crowds and found serenity on the tranquil waters.

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Moraine Lake, Banff National Park

On our last day in the parks, I paddled my way up Lake Louise. Victoria Glacier loomed above, mostly hidden by clouds. The chatter along the shoreline faded until the only sound was my paddle slicing through the silt-laden water.

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Lake Louise, Banff National Park

Surrounded by reflections, I reflected on the unique perspective SUP had given me and my family on this trip. From our board, we had seen and experienced the Canadian Rockies in a whole new light.

We didn’t need to trek deep into the wilderness for solitude. We simply pushed away from shore and left the crowds behind. We didn’t need to scale the highest peaks for the best views. Instead, we paddled across the water and the summits came to us.

By shifting our perspective, both literally and figuratively, we opened ourselves to new adventures.

We realized the path to nirvana doesn’t always lay at our feet. Sometimes it’s held in the palm of our hands.

Thanks to KÜHL for outfitting me! The Splash Roll-Up Pant was perfect for chilly morning paddles. It’s a snap to roll-up them up and stay warm and dry. The Anika Convertible Pant was great on the board and the trails. 

Nicole Goodman

Nicole Goodman is an avid runner and forever outdoor enthusiast. Her idea of a fabulous vacation involves lots of GORP while backpacking in the National Park system, although trail running and SUP-ing in Hawaii, Costa Rica, Croatia, and the Canadian Rockies are close seconds. She writes about travel, running, parenting, and her obsession with outdoor apparel for KÜHL.