Whitewater Rafting Down the Chilko River

Mj 618_348_running the canadian rapids
Photograph by Justin Bailie

In British Columbia’s backcountry, the piercing blue Chilko River tosses thrill-seekers through some wildly diverse terrain. Spanning more than a hundred miles, it’s the longest stretch of commercially run whitewater in North America, dropping 3,000 feet in altitude from a dense mountain forest to a silty desert canyon. “There are 14 different geoclimatic zones in B.C., and this river trip has seven of them,” says Brian McCutcheon, the founder of Rivers, Oceans, and Mountains adventure-travel company, the only outfitter that takes groups on the Chilko. “If I took a picture every day of the trip, you would swear they were of different rivers.” Along the way, rafts clock in at 25 mph in multiple sections of Class IV rapids. “It’s a quick river, and there are lots of blind corners,” says McCutcheon. “The largest rapids are actually toward the end of the trip. It’s not for everybody.” Bighorn sheep prowl the rocky shores, while grizzly bears and bald eagles feast on a huge stock of sockeye salmon. The water is flawless, with clear visibility to 20 feet, and McCutcheon insists it’s drinkable. “You don’t see any other people,” he says. “The river is as it was 3,000 years ago.”

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