For a fun, scenic and relaxing paddle adventure in British Columbia’s Kootenay Rockies region, look no further than the Invermere to Radium float.
This lazy novice-friendly 17km long paddle trip on the Columbia River takes around four hours to complete and features spectacular mountain vistas and wildlife watching opportunities.
We paddled between Invermere and Radium in July 2023, when the Horsethief Creek wildfire was burning just to the west.
Consequently, the skies were a little hazy with smoke. Nonetheless, we still had a blast on the river and would recommend the experience to anyone!
In this post, I’ll share all the details you need to know to plan a DIY Invermere to Radium float. I’ve included a FAQ section at the end as well, so be sure to check that if you have any lingering questions after reading the main guide.
Published August 2023. There are affiliate links in the text ahead. If you make a purchase via one of these links, we may receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you.
What is the Invermere to Radium float?
The mighty Columbia is the largest river in the Pacific Northwest region of North America.
The river’s source is located just south of Fairmont Hot Springs in British Columbia, Canada. It travels a total of 2,000 kilometres before flowing into the Pacific Ocean in Washington, USA.
The Columbia connects the small communities of Invermere and Radium, which sit inbetween the Rockies and the Purcell mountains.
Invermere and Radium are located on the traditional territory of the Ktunaxa and Secwepemc peoples, as well as the chosen home of the Métis.
With the absence of rapids and a slow current, this section of the Columbia River offers a wonderfully relaxed paddling experience. Since only a little paddling is required, it is usually described as a ‘float’ rather than a paddle.
Depending on your own time constaints, you can paddle as much or as little as you like. Of course, the more you paddle, the shorter the trip will be. The less paddling, the longer the trip.
For most river explorers, the Invermere to Radium section of the Columbia is a four hour experience. I would estimate that we spent about 30-45 minutes paddling total.
Invemere to Radium float experience
The 17km journey starts at the northern end of Windermere Lake. There is a large boat launch and parking lot here.
The Columbia River Bridge looms above the launching area. Beyond the bridge, the river enters the Columbia wetlands, an ecologically important area home to hundreds of bird species as well as beavers, painted turtles and more.
We personally recorded as many as fourteen different birds on our Merlin app and also saw osprey, bald eagles and great blue herons.
This area of the river has no current at all, so some paddling is required. The water temperature is lovely and warm.
Cliffs rise above the water on the right, with a beaver lodge (house) sitting just below. Gaps through the weeds on the left lead to a huge lagoon area.
The water is incredibly clear in this section and it is possible to look down and spot fish swimming below. Try to slow down and enjoy this section to the fullest – it is remarkably different to the rest of the journey.
Just before the 2km mark, the river starts to narrow. There is a great sandy beach on the left. If you want to swim, this is a good place to stop.
After this point, the river is joined by Toby Creek. A swift, but not fast, current begins and the water turns cloudy and becomes much colder (2°C).
Toby Creek to Horsethief Creek
Shortly after Toby Creek, a train bridge crosses the river. Paddle under the right hand side, below the arrow, using steady strokes. When the water level is high, paddleboarders may need to kneel down to safely pass below the bridge.
There is an eddy (circular movement of water) on the right hand side of the river, immediately following the bridge. If you get caught in it, don’t panic. Go with the current and then paddle out when you can.
The remainder of the trip follows the oxbows of the winding Columbia River, with unobstructed views of the Rockies and Purcell Mountains above.
High bluffs come and go on the right hand side, with the left mostly featuring forest. Listen to the many bird species in the foliage and watch as they fly in and out of their cliff nesting holes. Watch for trains on the bordering railway line.
Sand bars appear in the middle of the river, offering many places to stop and rest on land. We stayed in our canoe the entire time as we enjoyed the leisurely float.
The river occasionally splits – when in doubt, stay to the right (one exception as noted below). Some sections are faster than others, relative to the overall slow speed.
Horsethief Creek to Radium takeout point
Horsethief Creek joins the Columbia around the halfway point. About 2km later, the river passes a pumping station. It’s hard to miss – it’s both noisy and bright blue in colour.
Upon reaching the pumping station, you are approximately one hour from the Radium takeout point (average float time).
Large bluffs appear about 30 minutes before the takeout. Look for the impressive column-like hoodoos. Also try to spot golfers on the cliff top course above.
The third and final bridge marks the end of the Invermere to Radium float. Paddle under the right hand side and then make a right turn to the boat launch. There is a large parking lot here with outhouses and picnic benches.
Important note – before reaching the last bridge, there is a channel on the right hand side. The entrance is obscured with sweepers. Do not take this channel! It is the only exception to the ‘if in doubt, stay right’ rule.
Planning a Invermere to Radium paddle trip
Like the sound of the Invermere to Radium float? In this section, I’ll share how to plan your own trip.
Start and end locations
The launching point is located below the Columbia River Bridge in Invermere (Google Map directions).
Turn left onto First Ave (by the Centex gas station) and then make another left onto an unpaved road. This leads to the boat launch and parking area.
The takeout point is just off Forsters Landing Road, 3km west of Radium (Google Map directions). The latter half of the road is unpaved. The condition varies according to recent maintenance but it was pretty good on our visit. I wouldn’t recommend super low clearance vehicles to use it, however.
The distance between the starting location and takeout point is only 18.5km. It takes around 20 minutes.
Shuttling between the takeout and launch
With the Invermere to Radium float being a one-way journey, it is crucial to work out how you will return to your starting location.
- If you have your own paddleboats (canoes, kayaks or paddleboards) and two vehicles, you’re all set! Before you start, park one vehicle at the Radium takeout and then drive to the launch point in Invermere.
- Have paddleboats but only one vehicle? We had that issue too! Luckily, Columbia River Paddle runs a shuttle service between the Radium takeout and Invermere launch point. More info below
- Don’t have paddleboats or a second vehicle? Columbia River Paddle offer boat rentals with shuttle service included. More info below
Columbia River Paddle shuttle
Columbia River Paddle operate shuttles between Radium and Invermere from May to early October.
During the height of the paddling season (1st July to 20th August), there are three shuttles every day – 1pm, 3pm and 5pm. Reservations are recommended. We booked our weekday shuttle the afternoon before.
Depending on water levels, Columbia River Paddle will suggest when to ‘check-in’ at their office at the Invermere starting point. This is usually around 4-5 hours before your chosen pickup time.
Payment (if outstanding) is required at check-in. The 10 minute check-in session features a safety briefing and overview of the trip. Guests requiring rentals will also be outfitted at this time.
Keep in mind that it can be very busy at the Columbia River Paddle HQ in the morning (9-10am) with guided tours and children’s summer camps starting. If leaving around this time, arrive a bit early.
At the Radium takeout point, Columbia River Paddle will be waiting with a bus. The staff attach all boats to the trailer (rentals and non-rentals). If you are using your own paddleboard, you may need to deflate it (ask staff before launching).
The journey back to Radium takes only 20 minutes.
When to go
Columbia River Paddle runs shuttles from May to early October. The river float is faster when the water is high (May, June) and slower when the water level is lower (August, September, October).
July and August are the most popular months to float between Invermere and Radium as the weather is more likely to be warm and sunny. June and September can be warm too, but the weather is less consistent.
When considering what time to launch or which shuttle to choose, I would suggest starting early in the day during July and August.
We chose the 1pm shuttle so we could start early (9am) and avoid the heat of the day. Keep in mind that there is no shade on the river. Winds can build up during the day as well, so an early morning float lessens the chance of having issues.
Essential items to bring
- Sunscreen and sun hat
- Lunch and snack food
- Water (I’d suggest at least 1.5l/person)
- Shoes that you don’t mind getting wet
- Dry bag (Columbia River Paddle have some to rent)
- Clothing appropriate to all possible weather conditions (avoid cotton)
- Cell phone and camera
During July and August, keep in mind that it can be pretty hot (30°C) in the Columbia Valley and there is no shade on the river.
Invermere to Radium river float FAQs
Here’s some quick answers to the most common questions asked about the Invermere to Radium float.
How long is the Invermere to Radium float?
The total distance is 17km. While the exact time varies on water levels, the ballpark is around four hours with limited paddling.
Of course, it is possible to finish the trip faster with more paddling. The four hour estimate prioritises plenty of floating time with little to no paddling.
With this paddle trip being such a relaxing experience, I’d recommend allowing four hours.
Is the Invermere to Radium float suitable for beginners?
A four hour paddle adventure may be a bit ambitious for absolute beginners. While it’s not a super remote area, it would be difficult to get assistance (emergency or otherwise) immediately. Paddlers need to be self reliant.
Personally, I’d say that the Invermere to Radium float is suitable for novices who have some paddling experience.
If you love the idea of the Invermere to Radium float but haven’t ever been in a canoe or kayak before, I would suggest joining one of Columbia River Paddle’s guided tours.
Can I float down the river on a raft or inflatable?
While technically it may be possible, I don’t think you would want to. The temperature of the water along the Columbia River is a freezing 2°C!
Needless to say, the cold temperature would not make for a comfortable float on an inflatable and could be very dangerous in the event of equipment failure!
Headwinds can also mean that it is necessary to paddle, which is much easier from a kayak, canoe or paddleboard.
Can I use a paddleboard?
Yes. Columbia River Paddle recommends paddleboard users to allow more time (up to an hour extra) to complete the trip.
If you are not a confident paddleboarder, I would suggest considering a canoe or kayak instead. Keep in mind that the Columbia River is very cold.
Do I have to use the shuttle service?
No. If you have two vehicles and your own paddleboats, there is no need to use the services of Columbia River Paddle.
Are there any fees to pay?
No, unless you rent boats and/or use the shuttle. It is free to paddle the Columbia River between Invermere and Radium. It is also free to use and park at the Invermere public boat launch and Radium take-out point.
Where can I stay nearby?
We camped at Redstreak Campground in Kootenay National Park. It is only 20 minutes drive from the starting point in Invermere and less than 10 from the Radium takeout.
Radium and Invermere each have a collection of hotels and motels, with Radium offering the biggest choice. We have enjoyed staying at Radium Chalet on previous visits. This property is perched on top of a hill behind Radium, providing guests with amazing panoramas of the Purcell Mountains.
Invermere to Radium float: Final thoughts
An easy and quick way to escape into nature, the Invermere to Radium river float is an ideal addition to any Canadian Rockies trip.
In an area with so many iconic hiking trails, this paddle adventure provides a great contrast. Better still, it is low cost (less than $100/person) and only takes half a day.
I loved how the slow current of the river forced us to slow down and appreciate the beautiful views around us. It will undoubtedly be one of my most memorable trips of 2023!
Other amazing things to do in the Kootenays
Floe Lake Trail: Complete Hiking Guide
Via Ferrata at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, British Columbia
Rockwall Trail: Complete 2023 Hiking Guide
Where to Find Golden Larches in British Columbia
Valhalla Provincial Park: Complete Adventure Guide
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One half of the Canadian/British couple behind Off Track Travel, Gemma is happiest when hiking on the trail or planning the next big travel adventure. JR and Gemma are currently based in the beautiful Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada