River rafting in British Columbia has a long and well-established history. Companies offering both multi-day wilderness expeditions and action-packed day trips have run guests down a multitude of BC rivers for close to 50 years. The first commercial rafting outfit in British Columbia, in fact, Canada, was Canadian River Expeditions, founded in 1972 by Big John Mikes. CRE specialized (and continues to specialize) in multi-day wilderness rafting expeditions in remote pockets of the province and territories.
The first-ever day-tripping company was none other than Kumsheen in 1973, setting up shop on the banks of the Thompson River. This rafting destination remains a popular whitewater escape for those near Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.
Kicking Horse River History
Closer to the Rockies, near Golden and Lake Louise, the Kicking Horse River and valley has its own cultural and rafting history. Because of the steepness and dramatic elevation changes of the Kicking Horse River, Indigenous Stoney (Nakoda), Piegan and Kootenay (Ktunaxa) tribes chose to seasonally cross the mountains at gentler and more accessible locations. McArthur Pass, near Lake O’Hara, and Lake Minnewanka, near Banff, offered much less challenging routes from one side of the mountains to another.
In 1858, the Canadian government announced the building of a railway to connect together eastern and western Canada. The Palliser Expedition was commissioned to locate the best possible route. The obvious choice was Yellowhead Pass, near Jasper. It had the least amount of elevation change through the mountains. The Kicking Horse Pass, historically known by First Nations as Wapta Pass, was not recommended at all. The government, however, decided for two reasons that the treacherously steep Wapta Pass was the best option. It was the shortest route through the mountains (so likely would be the least costly); and, it was the most southern option, closest to the American border.
How Did The River Get Its Name?
During the Palliser expedition, Dr. James Hector was kicked by his horse and knocked unconscious (see where this is going?). Given the national significance of the expedition’s mission and the doctor’s astounding recovery, both the river and pass were re-named from Wapta to Kicking Horse to commemorate this near-death event.
Rafting The Kicking Horse River
100 years or so later, in 1983, the Kicking Horse was rafted for the first time (modern rafting that is, compared to Huckleberry Finn style of rafting). Local whitewater rafters, Linda and Daryl, made the actual first descent proving that certain sections were commercially runnable.
About 10 years later, in 1992, Wild Water Adventures popped onto the scene. The river quickly became known for its big whitewater action with Class 2 through Class 4+ waves and rapids. Besides the whitewater, guests also had the chance to see the river just as the early explorers did. With a wild and free-running river and largely untouched wilderness, guests experienced history first hand. Nothing much had changed in the past 150 years. The only new feature was the railway!
Over the past 30 seasons, our rafts have run thousands upon thousands of guests down the Kicking Horse River. Many guests, known as Frequent Paddlers, return year after year to experience the true ‘kick’ of this river.
Wild Water Adventures extends a heartfelt invitation for enthusiastic guests to step back in time and create their own Kicking Horse history.
See you soon on the river!