Lower Capilano River Packraft

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Distance: 5-6 km hiking, 4-7 km paddle
Difficulty: Class II-III
Time: 2-3 hours
Red tape/permits: None, but be ready for some really weird looks from people on the trail and tourists on the Capilano Suspension Bridge.

A classic North Van kayak run, the Capilano river is a great half day packrafting trip with mostly easy on-trail hiking, a little bit of road walking and anywhere from a barely-runnable splashy II+-III descent to a pushy III+ high water run. Can be run in a packraft at any level above a 1 on the gauge, get's pretty gnarly above a 4, really fun around 3. The river has a visual gauge at the put-in (visible by webcam here).

The route: I parked in the lot for the Evergreen Squash Club/Klahanie Park. From there, you have a few options for routes to the put-in, the shortest would be to follow Capilano Road all the way to Cleveland Dam, but this is mostly boring and pretty ugly road walking.

 Blue = hiking. Red = paddling.

Blue = hiking. Red = paddling.

I tried to stay mostly on trails, starting on Fullerton Avenue north, and catching a trail north along the eastern side of the Capilano River where a two lane bridge crosses the river. I crossed the river on the Highway 99 bridge and then quickly got back onto a wide gravel road north through Hugo Ray Park. From there, I connected with the Capilano Pacific Trail near the suspension bridge and followed that until I started to see signposts to the Cleveland Dam. From here you can hike up over the damn, or down to the pipeline bridge over the river. The put-in is just below the fish hatchery. 

 Looking up at the Capilano Suspension Bridge.

Looking up at the Capilano Suspension Bridge.

I hopped the fence and walked down to the bouldery beach just below the fishing weir to inflate and put in. You can either put in below the rapid immediately in front of you or put in above. There is no beach above so you either need to seal-entry or mount your boat from a small drop. 

From here it’s a fun run through class II and class III rapids, with the biggest rapids in succession near the top. Lower down there is a mix of rapids and river looks a lot different depending on the water level. Almost all the rapids have large recovery pools below them so this is a good run to push your skills, at higher water though, many of these pools flush quickly. Keep an eye out for people fishing in the river, especially in the upper third of the run.

The first rapid below the put-in rapid is called House Rock and splits the river after the short canyon just below the put-in. Below this is Dogleg, a rapid that drops you into a sharp left turn, and then Big Mother. You can find detailed beta on these rapids and the entire run here and in Whitewater in Southwest BC (available at MEC). At low water, the run gets pretty bony and can be hard to stay moving just above and below the Highway 99 bridge.

About halfway down the run, you'll pass “Capilano Classic”, a 5.10 trad climb on river left. There is also tons of potential for deepwater soloing in some of the higher canyons and at least half a dozen beautiful, secluded swimming holes along the run.

 The take-out at Klahanie Park.

The take-out at Klahanie Park.

Take out below the Fullerton Avenue bridge on the left, about 200-300 meters. Be careful not to take out too early or you might end up in some thorny brambles (like I did).

The classic kayak run continues further down the river all the way to the ocean, there are a couple more significant rapids down this segment.

For a longer run, just look at Google Maps to find trails or sidewalks up to the route from Klahanie Park.