As I look in the mirror to wash my face, car loaded, kayak on roof, ready to embark on the drive to Gold River, I think back on some of my first trips to this community. For paddlers of canoes, kayaks, and rafts, trips out here are a bit like finding gold at the end of the rainbow.
Getting to Gold River, a town amid the woods near the western edge of Strathcona Park, involves a bit of a twisting, turning drive that follows lakes and then the Heber River near town.
The area is a true whitewater paradise with multiple sections on the Gold River (which flows through town) and numerous creeks that converge onto the Gold. There’s the Heber, Upana, Ucona, Pamela, and the Quatchka, as well as some other runs possible for more adventurous and skilled paddlers. The season here is mainly during the fall and spring—fall for the rain and spring for the snow-melt during which a number of rivers and creeks have good steady flows as late as mid-late June.
We tend to meet up at the local gas station to sort out plans; there’s only one. These connections, and tracking each other down, has been easier as of late because Gold River and other communities in the north of the Island now have mobile service. To choose our sections we look at water flow on the RiverApp which uses data off the BC hydrometric website. There is also a new guide book for Vancouver Island, written by Heather and Garrett Quinn, that showcases many of the rivers in this area and throughout the Island.
Paddling down the Gold River proper provides a fantastic set of 21 kilometres of whitewater situated throughout a variety of canyons. If you can visit when the flow is around 120, or so, cubic metres of water then it’s a pretty perfect flow level for the whole run.
Crossing the bridge at the Mutchulat River, we put in before joining the Gold—dropping down a number of small wave trains before getting to the bigger rapids. Tombstone and Guillotine are two of the main events in the upper.
Floating around one corner you come to the Amphitheatre, a very cool formation that allows the water to flow between two narrow walls before opening into a wide overhanging cavern. From there we float down through the middle section past the town of Gold River—with rapids named Boulder Garden, Caution Corner, Trestle, Peppercorn, Headwall, Yard-sale, and Big Rock; there is plenty to keep you on your toes. As we head downstream, the canyon walls start to rise once again, and we drop into the first rapids of the lower canyon.
Waterfalls channel in from the sides and, even though we are only a few minutes from town, it feels like a whole other world. We draw nearer to Big Friendly Rapid (BFR), one of the larger rapids on the Gold river. A waterfall comes in from the river, on the right, and there are large waves and holes as you paddle through this rapid. Afterward, the river has a few more rapids and scenic sites before it meets with the Ucona River. The river opens up here with the canyon walls dropping away as the river flattens on its final journey to the ocean.
This river brings so much joy and, as I think back to the many times I’ve shared it through teaching kayaking at Strathcona Park Lodge and paddling with friends, I look forward to many more adventures in its deep river canyons.