Rafting on the Nahatlatch River thrills
We had the Fraser Canyon to ourselves last summer, on a hot few days in August when the rivers, tumbling and writhing over the rocks, promised a cooling respite. Between June and September each year, the water levels are plentiful from glacial snowmelt. Drive three hours northeast of Vancouver and you’ll find yourself in pristine wilderness, a landscape of soaring mountains, heavily forested slopes, and sparkling turquoise rivers that beckon with irresistible adventure.
I’d surfed the web in search of white water that would get our hearts racing, the adrenaline-pumping kind of ride that’s thrilling, unpredictable, and lives long in the memory. I didn’t want to spend all day in the car to find it, either—which is why a trip on the Nahatlatch River with REO Rafting Resort seemed a perfect fit.
With a trunkful of camping equipment, a swimsuit, and a change of clothes, my husband and I left the city in our dust, headed for the Fraser Canyon and a small town called Boston Bar.
The journey there is a magnificent one, with tunnels winding through the mountains and a highway on the precipice of a river gorge. On one side of the road a sheer, 200-foot drop leads to the Fraser River, while on the other a mountain towered above us, its mass of trees suggesting that the only ones to traverse its slopes were black bears. We passed a handful of small towns with ancient motels and a strong scent of history, places where locals set up spontaneous flea markets by the side of the highway selling family treasures alongside homemade jams and bannock. A few kilometres north of North Bend, we reached REO Rafting Resort, on the banks of the Nahatlatch River.
The force of the Nahatlatch, a Class 3 to 4 river (with some Class 4+ rapids in July), was what first piqued the interest of Bryan Fogelman, who founded the resort 30 years ago. He chose the site because it offered challenging white water coupled with a magnificent location. From its vantage point we could see the swirling, jade green water as it pummelled and smoothed the rocks beneath it, heavy with glacial silt. Ospreys and bald eagles circled on the thermals, and the only sound was the relentless yet soothing roar of the river.
Today, the resort has flush toilets, hot showers, a hot tub, and a series of 22 tent cabins—airy accommodations that range from rustic to luxurious. At full occupancy they can sleep 65, while the resort’s campground can fit 120 campers at any one time. We opted to pitch our own tent on a mossy embankment, thrilled to have the resort’s campsite to ourselves. We’d be lulled to sleep by the thundering roar of the Nahatlatch that night, but not until we’d challenged ourselves with its fearsome rapids.
That afternoon, we wrestled wet suits over our bodies and donned helmets and booties to protect ourselves. Together with our guides, our group launched its inflatable boats near Francis Lake. We spent a half-hour on safety briefings and practice drills to ensure we knew how and when to paddle, the best way to pull a fellow rafter out of the water, and what to do when our guides yelled “Get Down!”
While the icy water temperature of the Nahatlatch River may be a bit of a shock, wetsuits provide some comfort and the ride’s excitement makes it worthwhile
Then it was time for our first test. “Everyone in the water!” the guides yelled. With a yelp my husband dived in, and on surfacing, his face registered shock at the water temperature. I hovered on the edge of the boat, my head baking in the hot sun, before I gathered the courage to take the plunge. Cold water oozed into my wet suit.
As our guide hoisted us back into the boat, he nodded in approval. We’d passed the test, which meant we were qualified to tackle Meatgrinder, the first and fiercest of the white-water rapids. Others who’d lacked the courage to do the test jump would have to walk around the rapid rather than surf it in the raft.
Over the 90 minutes that followed, the Nahatlatch pummelled our boat, hurtling us over rocks and dancing around whirlpools. We tackled rapids with nicknames like Pinball, A-Hole, and Lose Yer Lunch, traversing 12 kilometres and marooning ourselves briefly on a boulder. With breathless excitement, we felt waves of icy water cascade over our heads and into the boat. It was white water like I’d never experienced it: wild, fast, both consistent and unpredictable, with rapid upon rapid of pure adventure. We had grins plastered on our faces from start to finish.
That night, as we curled up exhausted in our sleeping bags, the sound of the Nahatlatch reminded us of its odyssey downstream toward the Fraser River, an intersection at which its brilliant jade green colour merges with the Fraser’s muddy brown. Its voice was big yet comforting, a thunderous symphony that spoke of B.C.’s beauty, and of the unforgettable thrill of tackling a raging river.
Access: REO Rafting Resort is a three-hour drive northeast of downtown Vancouver on Highway 1. Rafting the Nahatlatch River takes up to four hours and can be done on a day trip; it costs $145 for adults or $95 for youth aged 10 to 18, including lunch and gear. A one-night getaway that includes a rafting trip and three meals costs $215 per person for adults and $165 per person for youth if you camp. Cabin tents range from standard to luxury, cost $60 to $180 per night, and can sleep up to five. For info, see the Reo Rafting website or call 1-800-736-7238.