Elk River - Upper

What It's Like
A short, stout run with challenging rapids and a clean 35 foot waterfall.
Scouting / Portaging
Easy scouting. The biggest rapid has a tough but doable portage route.
2 hours.
When to Go
Low water - early spring and late summer/fall.
13.2cms↓ (Mar 22 17:40)
The Elk River is a classic East Kootenays run with great whitewater that runs through an interesting low-slung bedrock canyon. While an endless stream of photos of the near perfect waterfall called Leap of Faith found at the end of the upper run have raised the profile of this river in recent years, it's the collection of clean and challenging rapids upstream of that really make the Upper Elk shine. It is a very nice piece of whitewater. The only downsides are that it's quite short, and there aren't many other runs of similar difficutly close by at the times of year it's running.

The closest town to the Elk is Elko, which is a small town about 15 minutes west of Fernie on highway 3. The river essentially flows behind the large sawmill in town. Use this map to get your bearings - the directions on Paddling Maps are also good. The put in is located either in Elko at a bridge over the flatwater above the diversion dam at the start of the run, or right at the dam. It's possible to finish the run off with a steep hike out of the canyon below the Leap of Faith waterfall, but it's easiest and more fun to just paddle down through the Middle Elk to get a few more rapids in. There's still a hike out but it's not as steep.

The Upper Elk is runnable at low flow times of year (spring and fall seasons). There is an old BC Hydro run-of-river power facility that can partially dewater this section of river, but as of 2016 it is out of service indefinitely. 20-25 cms on the Elk gauge is in the medium range. With the power project out of operation, it won't have an impact on the river flow.

The Upper contains about half a dozen pool drop style rapids and some class IV boogie. Just below the dam is a cool slide, which is shortly followed by the first class V rapid, a ledge called Horseshoe. A few smaller things lead to the biggest rapid on the section called Caveman (or rather un-originally, Triple Drop). Here, two ledges lead in to a powerful river wide hole where some of the outflow feeds into a cave eddy. There is a hard portage down river left, with a permanent chain ladder installed to help with some down climbing. This rapid appears to have changed and gotten easier sometime before the 2020 season.  Almost directly below Caveman is a portage around a dangerous/unrunnable rapid that's worth scouting before putting on if you've never done the run before, and then you're at Leap of Faith and the start of the middle section. Enjoy the freefall!

Horseshoe drop.

Caveman, the biggest rapid of the Upper Elk. A few different lines all lead to a river wide hole with a cave on the side.

Classic free fall on Leap of Faith, the end of the upper/start of the middle.