These are the human-powered versions of water sports. Kayaking is popular on both whitewater and lakes, and in coastal areas, sea kayaking is popular. Canoeing is popular on lakes, rivers, even on whitewater. Whitewater slalom kayaking and canoeing have been Olympic sports for several years. Rafting is usually reserved for fast-flowing rivers and whitewater experiences, where the raft provides an extra measure of safety and control, expecially for beginning watersport enthusiasts.
With a kayak, uou move using a double-bladed paddle. You reach forward with each blade and pull, twist your torso to reach and pull with the opposite blade, to balance the forces and keep your kayak moving forward. Kayaking is an excellent sport for building leg, abdominal, chest and back muscles. Rookies need to learn to moves: the "eskimo roll" to right the craft when you are inverted and submerged, and a "wet exit" to get out of the skirt while inverted.
Canoeing has evolved from the main means of transportation for Indians and early explorers and fur traders. Canoeing is a low-noise way to explore the area's beautiful and rugged geography, letting you get surprisingly close to wildlife on land, water or in the air. Canoeing is a great form of exercise, whether canoeing on a lake or canoeing downstream.
Your propel a canoe in the sitting position, either sitting on the seats, or kneeling and resting your buttocks against it (lower centre of gravity and lower wind profile). You hold the paddle with two hands, one at the end of the handle, the other gripping the shaft just above the blade, and pulling toward you. The person at the front of the boat sets the pace (it works best when every body paddles in unison), while the person at the back does the steering, by paddling with a "J" stroke.
Kayaking has evolved dramatically from the sealskin-covered shells that Eskimos used for hunting seals in the Arctic. Kayaks today are durable and lightweight fibreglass or plastic shells with built-in flotation, and provide a waterproof spray skirt to keep you and your pack dry during in a roll-over. Whitewater kayaks tend to shorter, and can turn on a dime. Sea kayaks and longer, with a sleek v-shaped body for stability in rough seas. You sit in a moulded seat, and your feet sit on footrests (which control the rudder, to help with steering). Most kayaks have two bulkheads fore and aft for storage, and have deck lines and bungee cords to keep key items handy. Things like a spare paddle, map, munchies, water bottle, and camera. Kayaks can cost $3000, with paddles costing $50 to $200 (you should always carry a spare). You will also need to wear a lifejacket, which are required by law.
Canoes come in a number of materials: aluminium, cedar-strip, fiberglas and even Kevlar, all with different benefits and a range of costs. There are many places you can rent canoes and other equipment, especially around the popular canoeing areas, which is handy when you do not canoe often. Canoes all have built in flotation, so in case of a capsize, stay with the canoe.
When rafting or kayaking, you will need a bathing suit, shorts, T-shirt, and a Polar fleece, acrylic or wool top (warm when wet), a wind-proof rain jacket and pants, running shoes and wool socks, sun screen, a brimmed hat and sunglasses (with retainer or string), and a complete change of clothes for end of the trip (in a waterproof plastic bag). If you are paddling on open water, dress colourfully so large boats can see you. For overnight trips, you'll need a sleeping bag and tent, and a warm jacket.
Since motorized boats are prohibited on most lakes and waterways in the National Parks, this is prime kayaking, canoeing and rafting territory. There are pristine lakes throughout the region. If you are doing recreational flatwater canoeing, care should be taken if it gets windy or gusty to prevent capsizing in the very cold water (most of the water here is glacial meltwater, and just above freezing).
There are great river rafting and (whitewater) canoeing runs along the Bow River between Lake Louise and Banff, on the Athabasca near Jasper, on the North Saskatchewan all the way to Rocky Mountain House, along the Elbow River near Bragg Creek, and anywhere along the Columbia River in the BC Rockies. There is limited kayaking in Kananaskis Country, below the Barrier Lake dam, when at certain times of day it discharges enough water to make it an exciting ride.
There is also some very good white water rafting along the Kicking Horse River, east of Golden, and also some great rafting on several rivers around Revelstoke.