South Thompson River Paddle

We definitely don’t recommend gunning for distance when taking two little ones on a road trip. For our outbound and homebound journey, we checked in at South Thompson Inn, 25km east of Kamloops, which breaks up the long drive from Vancouver to Lake Louise roughly into two 5-hour chunks.

I was very excited to stay here because of the proximity to South Thompson River, which I thought would make a great paddling experience.

The riverfront adjacent to the Inn was fairly grassy and muddy, with no easy access.

River shore at the hotel was grassy but made for a great foreground for a fantastic sunset. A sunset paddle at this location would have been magical.
Launching through this grass would be challenging.

Thankfully, there is a great launch site right at the parking lot of Rivershore Estate & Golf Links, which is only a 5 minute walk away from the Inn. However, since I just walked over from the Inn, I didn’t check with the golf course to see if they allow people to park there to launch their human-powered watercraft. Another popular launch/pull out spot seems to be right below the Lafarge Road Bridge, where several cars were parked for launching kayaks.

Marked launch site at the golf course.

I got up before 6am and got ready to launch after 6:30am. It was very quiet, and the sun was just peaking through some clouds over the rolling desert hills. The river was flowing steadily. My plan was to paddle upstream for 45 minutes, and paddle back downstream for 15 minutes. I pre-arranged a Plan B with my dad: if the river current proves to be too strong for me to paddle against, I was going to float down to the Lafarge Road Bridge and call for him to pick me up.

Because I was going solo, I wore the lifejacket instead of my inflatable PFD, even though the water was very much calm enough for the latter.

With everything in place, away I went!

Rising sun in the east.
The river was quiet in the morning. Not as single boat passed by.

The river current was quite manageable, easier than I imagined. I estimate it was flowing about 2km/hour, or about half of my average paddling speed. It was interesting to paddle in a flowing river. The paddleboard did not respond to the paddle strokes the way it usually did, with a bit more wavering and inertia to get going. It was also somewhat disorienting to look through the clear water at the rocks and grass on the bottom of the river, because it provided a much slower reference point compared with the surface of the river.

I saw a beaver swimming ahead, and when he noticed me, he made a big splash with his tail and dived. Because it was so quiet, save for some distant trucks on Highway 1 on the south side of the river, the splash sounded surprisingly loud. I thought the beaver was getting angry with me and I wondered if he would circle around and attack my board. He didn’t.

Train track and Highway 1 follows the entire length of South Thompson River, so traffic noise was noticeable.
Mr. Beaver’s home.

There were supposed to be more boat traffic on the South Thompson River, compared with the North Thompson River. I didn’t see a single boat — or anyone else for the matter — during the hour of weekday morning paddling.

I saw a bunch of floating objects that looked like balloon wine bottles. I went closer to investigate one of them. I think they are indicators for the strength and/or direction of river flow. South Thompson River flows in an east-to-west direction, so all the floating wine bottle objects were pointing west. I’m not sure why it was so important to precisely indicate the river flow though, since there are at least half a dozen of them just in the little stretch of river I paddled through.

Floating wine bottle thingy.

The paddle back was a breeze. What took 45 minutes to paddle upstream took less than 10 minutes on the return leg. I packed it up around 7:20 and headed back to the Inn. Some golfers were getting ready now, and a golfer greeted me and asked: “Have you tried standup paddleboard golfing?”

Huh, it could be an interesting combination. Every swing will probably end up in swimming though.

I got back to the Inn before 8am, before the kids even woke up.

I went again on a Saturday morning, following essentially the same route. I paddled 3km upstream which took 1 hour (3km/hour) and return journey took 25 minutes (7km/hour). The difference in speed should approximately be twice that of the river flow rate, so the river was probably flowing at about 2km/hour. There was still no boat traffic at all in this section of the river on a Saturday morning. The only downside to morning paddling upstream was that I was facing the rising sun directly the whole way, which was a little annoying.

Next time I visit, I may plan a downstream paddle to Kamloops, which would be about 20km or 3-4 hours from the Lafarge Road Bridge to Riverside Park. The launch site at Lafarge Road is pretty rugged with large potholes though.

  • Difficulty – just have to get used to the steady flow of river. If you paddle slower than 3-4km/hour, you should go downstream and arrange for a pick-up.
  • Boat traffic – very little on a weekday morning far enough away from Kamloops.
  • View – 9/10
  • Facilities – staying at the Inn and sneaking in a morning paddle is amazing!
  • Overall score – 9/10

Continue reading about our 2020 Rockies Road Trip!

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