10 Interesting Facts about the Kicking Horse River

Kicking Horse River Rafters on a Wild Water Adventures Rafting Trip

10 Interesting Facts about the Kicking Horse River

& Everything You Need to Know About the History of the Kicking Horse River.

The mighty fine Kicking Horse River offers breathtaking views, spectacular whitewater, and is the special home of Wild Water Adventures. It is our privilege to help share the history of the River with every one of our rafters. Whether you’re joining us on the river for a whitewater adventure, or simply travelling in the area, you may learn its secrets. Here are just a few things you’ll discover about the Kicking Horse River on our white water rafting trips as our guides regale you with the stories of the river’s history.

1. There Really Was a Kicking Horse

The Kicking Horse River first earned its name in 1858 during the Palliser Expedition. As the story goes, James Hector had taken am unscheduled plunge into the river while on his horse during his journey. In attempt to re-catch his loose horse and push it from the chilly river, he took a kick to the chest, which rendered him senseless and resulted in a delay of the trip for a few days while he recovered.

A calm on the Kicking Horse River
2. Where the Kicking Horse River Starts

Wapta Lake is the starting point from which the Kicking Horse River begins flowing. Flowing southwest it receives the Yoho River.  After reaching Wapta Falls, it makes a turn. It then begins to flow northwest until joining the Columbia River in Golden, BC, which then goes all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

Wapta Falls on the Kicking Horse River
Photograph by Keith Young, 2006
3. There are a Few Rapids We Don’t Always Raft

The Kicking Horse features three waterfalls. Wapta Falls, which is one of the largest waterfalls in Canada, is located a short 10 minutes from The Wild Water RiverBase (30m high and 150m wide). The two other falls on the river are known as the Kicking Horse Cascade and Natural Bridge Falls.

4. A Tale of Train and Gradient

In the 1800s the Kicking Horse Pass which connects the Rockies to the valley of the Bow River was the route chosen by the Canadian Pacific Railway through the mountains. The Kicking Horse River drops 350 meters (1,150 feet) as it descends 6km (3.7 miles) west of the highest point. This exceeded the maximum gradient for train travel at that time. Several runaway trains challenged the railway until the completing the Spiral Tunnels.

A train passes beneath the Park Bridge by Banff
Train on the Kicking Horse River Passing Under itself on the Spirals
Photograph by David R. Spencer, 1986
5. The Train that Passes Under its Own Tail

The famous Big Hill and Spiral Tunnels for the railway were required because of the steep rate of descent of the river and its valley. Spiral railways are a technique to assist trains in descending steep gradients. Notice in the picture how this train is passing beneath itself? All part of the science! These gradients are great for our rafts through as they create some incredibly fun rapids!

6. Every Kicking Horse River Rapid has a Story

In the late 1970s a landslide at the “Portage and Shotgun” rapid narrowed the river, allowing paddlers to run the rapid and not portage around it.

The Park Bridge Passes over the Kicking Horse River
7. Train? Road? How about a River Float!

The Kicking Horse Canyon Bridge (aka Park Bridge) was completed in 2007. It is 90m high and cost $139 million to build. The Trans-Canada Highway traverses the river at several points. From there many visitors look upon the river and dream of what it must be like to see it up close. That’s when you paddle by on your white water rafting trip cheering with excitement!

8. You’ll Hear the Tale of Palliser Round These Parts

“Palliser” is the name of the old abandoned town that runs along the Kicking Horse near the Wild Water Adventures put-in location. Remnants of the old lumber camp can be found , including an old cable car visible on our Whitewater Exciter and Tradition Trip.

9. Canada’s Largest Timber Frame Bridge Runs Over It

The Kicking Horse Pedestrian Bridge is Canada’s largest authentic covered timber-frame bridge. It was a planned community project that was made possible by the help of many local volunteers. The 150ft long bridge was completed in 2001.

The Bridge over the Kicking Horse River
Photograph by Simon Pielow, 2008
The Mighty Rafters of the Kicking Horse River in Banff
10. The Kicking Horse River is one of Canada’s Best White Water Adventures

The Kicking Horse is home to many whitewater enthusiasts that share their passion for the sport with thousands of seasonal adventurers travelling in the Canadian Rockies. It features fantastic rapids and is one Canada’s best whitewater rivers. So, when you’re ready to experience the thrill of this mighty Canadian river, we’re ready for ya!