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Welcome to the Elk River in the heart of the Rockies!

The Elk River is located in southeastern British Columbia, Canada and is a non-motorized, undammed river that flows primarily south through the Elk Valley and town of Fernie. It is known for exceptional fly fishing, rafting and paddling with a mix of class 1-6 level rapids.  The Elk River watershed drains a total area of 4,450km2 and starts its journey from glaciers in Elk Lakes Provincial Park north of Elkford and is joined by over a hundred streams and creeks during its 220km path to the Koocanusa reservoir (aka Kootenay River).  From there the water flows through the Kootenay River and joins one of the largest rivers in North America, the Columbia River which flows out into the Pacific Ocean in Astoria, Oregon. 

The Elk River is a specially classified river for its fishery and requires two types of fly fishing licences.  No fishing is allowed between April 1 - June 14 every year.

View the Elk River Map - View map for details on river sections, distances, difficulties and more. New Map coming soon!

NOTICE - The Elk River is a freestone river which can change in flow patterns, hazards and intensity with spring run off and other weather events.  The Elk River has many dangerous sections and hazards such as log jams, rocks and strainers (fallen trees under water where branches can catch and drown you). Be an experienced river users or go with an experienced guide. Know before you go and be prepared.  For more information on river safety visit AdventureSmart.   See below for explanations of river difficultly classifications.

How to access the Elk River

By Foot

Many sections of the Elk River is accessible on foot, however much of the land along the Elk River is private so adhere to signage. Common places are within the communities, where walking paths and parks help provide access the river, off Forest Service Roads  Otherwise marked locations where paddlers and fly fishing boats enter are recommended.  Before you go ensure you know the section of river you are about to experience and are skilled in river activities, navigation and safety.

By Boat (non-motorized only)

There are two types of river access sites, Hand Launches and Boat Launches depending on the type of boat you have, and whether you can carry it by hand or not.

Hand Launches are common areas where paddlers can find parking nearby and walk their water craft to the river hand launch site (portage).  Many people will find random places along the Elk River (like By Foot details above), to start their activity on the river.  Boat launches can also be used as hand launch locations. Again understand the section of river and its difficulty level and where you plan to exit ahead of time.  

  • Local parks along the Elk River within communities can provide easy access for a hand launch and provide nearby parking.
  • Know land launch locations, in order of up stream to down stream, include:
    • Round Prairie - ~ 8km north of Elkford via Elk Lakes Forest Service Road
    • Sparwood - base of the Matevic Trail Pedestrian Bridge, located in the town of Sparwood
    • Fernie/Annex Park - located along the Fernie Valley Pathway between the North Fernie Bridge and Annex Park
    • Fernie/James White Park - located in James White Park at popular swimming spot
    • Fernie/Stanford-Riverside Area - rough dirt ramp with limited access due to new housing developments

Boat Launches (some are take-outs only) are day-use only and at locations where you can launch your non-motorized water craft (raft, drift boat, etc) into the river using a ramp for your vehicle and trailer.  Please respect other river users and do not camp overnight, block ramps or block turn around areas.

  • Elkford Boat Take Out
    • A take-out only due long-term logjams down stream that are impassable.
    • Once in Elkford, take Fording River Road over the Elk River, the site is on the upstream side of the bridge.
  • Line Creek Boat Launch
    • Located between Sparwood and Elkford. Take Hwy 43 north from Sparwood approximately 18km and turn right on Line Creek Mine Road, cross the bridge over the Elk River to access the boat launch site.
  • Olsen Pit Boat Launch
    • Located between Fernie and Sparwood.  Take Hwy 3 north from Fernie (or south from Sparwood).  Olsen Road is hard to see but is directly located across the highway from Ingham Rest Area.  Please note the highway is a multi-lane passing section here, please only turn right onto Olsen Road or pull into the Rest Area first to safely cross the highway onto Olsen Road.
    • The area to launch boats is a natural large flat rocky area along the river you can drive onto.  Do not leave vehicles parked on the rocky beach area, use the parking area away from the river. 
  • Hosmer Boat Launch
    • Located just north of Fernie and south of the small hamlet of Hosmer.  The boat launch site access road is not labelled and is hard to see off the highway.
    • If you're travelling south on Highway 3 from Sparwood/Hosmer, cross the bridge over the Elk River after you pass through Hosmer.  When crossing the bridge start your right turn signal and begin to slow down. About 400m past the bridge is a narrow dirt road on your right.  Take this SLOWLY down and right to the site, watch for other vehicles coming up from the boat launch.
    • If you're travelling north on Highway 4 from Fernie, it is hard to see the road and you can't turn left across the highway.  So continue over the bridge over the Elk River into Hosmer and find a spot to turn around and head back south on the Highway, over the bridge - see directions above.
  • Dogwood / Fernie Boat Launch
    • Located within the city of Fernie in Dogwood Park.  Ample parking, toilet, picnic tables on site.
  • Morrissey Boat Launch
    • Located 15km south of Fernie off Highway 3 along Morrissey Road.  Boat launch is within Morrissey Provincial Park (no services, limited parking).
    • NOTE - there is an Elk River Access Improvements initiative with plans to install a formal boat launch at this site in mid-late September 2024.  For more information email [email protected] 
  • Elko Boat Take-Out (take-out only - dam below)
    • Located within the town of Elko off River Forest Service Road on the down stream side of the bridge crossing the Elk River.
    • This is a TAKE-OUT ONLY due to the Elko Dam just down stream of the take out.
    • NOTE - there is an Elk River Access Improvements initiative with plans to install a formal boat launch at this site in mid-late September 2024 or 2025.  For more information email [email protected] 
  • Highway 93 Access
    • Located south of Elko along Highway 93.  Cross the bridge over the Elk River and there is a right hand turn onto a dirt road right after the bridge and has a steep narrow road down to the river.
    • This is where the rafting companies pull out before the river flows into the Koocanusa.
    • Public can access the river for walk-wade fishing, gentle paddling excursion towards the Koocanusa. Note this is a cow grazing area, please do not disturb any cows in the area.

For information on the section of the Elk River below the dam and above the Hwy 93 Access please contact Canyon Raft or Tunnel49 Rafting Co. There are no formal or easy access points for the public below the dam.  Both rafting companies offer one of North America's best full-day guided whitewater rafting trips on this section of the Elk River.  

River Classifications* - Understanding the difficult types of river sections and rapids

Class A - Lake water. Still. No perceptible movement. met. Even nor

Class I - Easy. Smooth water; light riffles; clear passages, occasional sand banks and gentle curves. The most difficult problems might arise when paddling around bridges and other obvious obstructions such as log jams.

Class II - Moderate. Medium-quick water; rapids with regular waves; clear and open passages between rocks and ledges. Maneuvering required. Best handled by intermediates who can maneuver their water craft and read the water.

Class III - Moderately difficult. Numerous high and irregular waves; rocks and eddies with passages clear but narrow and requiring experience to run. Visual inspection required if rapids are unknown. These rapids are best left to river users with expert skills.

Class IV - Difficult. Long and powerful rapids and standing waves; souse holes and boiling eddies. Powerful and precise maneuvering required. Visual inspection mandatory. Advance preparations for possible rescue work important.

Class V - Extremely difficult. Long and violent rapids that follow each other almost without interruption. River filled with obstructions. Big drops and violent currents. Extremely steep gradient. Even reconnoitering may be difficult. Rescue preparations mandatory. Can be run only by top experts in specially equipped whitewater crafts.

Class VI - Extraordinarily difficult. River users face constant threat of death because of extreme danger. Navigable only when water levels and conditions are favorable. This violent whitewater should be left to paddlers of Olympic ability. Every safety precaution must be taken.



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