Columbia River: Radium to Nicholson (near Golden)

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photo: Bill Buxton

Opinion. This is an amazing trip that travels 106km on a very easy river (no rapids) that courses through wetlands replete with life. Expect to see birds of every type. We saw multitudes of eagles, herons, ducks, hawks, etc. At dusk, the beavers are out, with much tail slapping. Makes you realize what the fur trade was all about! Expect to be woken up early in the morning by a cacophony of bird sounds. A telephoto lens with an image stabilizer will turn this into a photographer's paradise.

We did the trip in 3 days, paddling about 6 - 7 hours a day in a Voyageur canoe under good weather conditions with an intermittent tail wind. Doing it in 4 days, or shortening it to end in Parsons, would make this more leisurely (although it was no big difficulty doing it in 3). Doing it in early season (mid-may) was great. There were no bugs (which could have been horrendous); camping was easy to find; route finding was trivial.

It would be a good family trip to do. Still, you should be comfortable handling a canoe on a river as there is the odd sharp bend, shallow waters, and obstacles to navigate around.

Fact. 106 km on the river. No portages required.

Shuttle: From Golden, B.C., drive South on Highway 95 for 7-10 km until you see the sign to Nicholson on the right (West). Turn into Nicholson. You will see the bridge. You can leave a car at the bridge (lots of spots for parking). Alternately, you can ask the folks at the nearby gas station if you can park there (we did not do this, so we don't know if they will say yes or what they would charge). With a 2nd car, drive to Radium along Highway 95 for about ~100 km. Alternately, you can try to do this by hitch-hiking, but...

Start: From the 4 way stop in Radium (intersection of Highways 93 and 95), it is ~3.5 km to the bridge where you put in. From the 4 way stop, go West on Forsters Landing road. Cross the tracks, turn left, and you will see the bridge shortly. Put in where convenient. Leave your car there, or if you would rather, up in Radium (but then you will have to walk back).

At Low Water (e.g., early May). The main channel of the river should be fairly obvious for the full length of the river. There are junctions, but if you follow the main flow you will probably be fine. The channels we took is on the enclosed maps (both GPS and PDF. However, it is possible that some channels will be blocked in various years, with others opening up, so don't follow this blindly. To access the wetlands around the river, you may find the odd channel into them and/or do short portages into them. There are many camping spots.

At High Water. I am told that high water changes things considerably. The route is more difficult to find as the distinctions between the river and the surrounding wetlands are obscured. I am also told that camping is much more difficult to find.

Takeouts. For shorter trips, or in case of emergencies, you can exit the river at various points, although not as many as you would expect. If you have a light canoe, you may be able to take out in various places where the river goes near the road (but be cautious of wetlands and steep hillsides between the river and the road. Better options are to go for the takeouts where the road meets or crosses the river. All these roads are short distances from highway 95 (i.e., within a kilometer or less).

The easy way: Kootenay River Runners offers an evening Voyageur Canoe Trip from the Radium to Edgewater, a great intro to the river. They have other trips as well.