Kicking Horse River

Location: South East British Columbia
Region: Outside Ontario
Character: Heritage River

Kicking Horse River
By The Canadian Heritage Rivers System

Athabasca, Kicking Horse and North Saskatchewan Rivers, Canadian Rocky Mountains National Parks, Alberta and BC
Out of the Ice

Rising out of the glaciers of the Rockies, the swift silt-laden waters of these rivers ripple over braided gravel flats, tumble over rapids and plunge over thundering waterfalls on their way to three different oceans - the Arctic, Hudson Bay (Atlantic) and Pacific. Passing below the glistening snow-covered peaks of Jasper, Yoho, and Banff National Parks, their turbulent, icy waters challenge skilled white-water enthusiasts. Although crossed by roads and railways, the valleys of all three spectacular river environments are essentially unchanged from the time when native people hunted and camped along their banks.

Each year, more than 800,000 people visit Yoho National Park and enjoy panoramic views of the Yoho and Kicking Horse River Valleys. Many of these visitors enjoy a range of recreational pursuits such as canoeing and kayaking, backpacking, camping, and, in winter, cross-country skiing, winter camping, and waterfall ice-climbing. Just outside the park, in the scenic lower Kicking Horse Canyon, kayakers and white-water rafters challenge spectacular rapids.

The Kicking Horse River valley provides visitors with an exceptional opportunity to discover more about the natural and historical features and events which shaped much of present-day western Canada. Draining the glaciers and forests of the Canadian Rocky Mountains on the western slopes of the Continental Divide, the Kicking Horse is a classic example of a glacier-fed mountain river, displaying a range of characteristic fluvial and glacial features. The river valley also played a major role in the exploration and development of the Canadian West. Today it serves as a corridor for both the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Trans-Canada Highway.

For these reasons, the Kicking Horse River was nominated to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System by Environment Canada's Parks Service in 1986. With the completion of the Yoho National Park Management Plan, the Kicking Horse River in Yoho National Park was officially designated in 1989 as a Canadian Heritage River - the first river that flows within the provincial boundaries of British Columbia to be designated.

The Yoho river, chief headwater of the Kicking Horse, originates in the Waputik and Wapta icefields on the west slope of the Continental Divide. Other tributaries flow from the famous Lake O'Hara area and other timberline valleys, joining their flow to that of the Yoho River at the Meeting of the Waters, a scenic viewpoint on the Yoho Valley Road north of Field, B.C.

The Kicking Horse flows through the Eastern and Western Main Ranges of the Rocky Mountains, leaving the park downstream from Wapta Falls to tumble through the spectacular lower Kicking Horse River Canyon to its confluence with the Columbia River. The section of the river system designated a Canadian Heritage River consists of the 49 km headwaters section which lies within Yoho National Park, along with the 18.5 km Yoho River, the Kicking Horse's primary upstream tributary.

True to the First Nations word "Yoho", used to express amazement or awe by the Cree people, the Kicking Horse and its tributaries drain a spectacular landscape of massive icefields, mountain peaks ranking among the highest in the Canadian Rockies, canyons, gorges, cliffs and avalanche slopes. The Kicking Horse River system is fed by glacial meltwater streams and small timberline lakes. It varies along its length from turbulent rapids and waterfalls to braided streams meandering through valley flats.

Natural Heritage
The Kicking Horse courses through one of Canada's outstanding natural heritage river environments, Yoho National Park. Its watershed contains features which offer evidence of the earth's evolutionary history over a period of 600 million to 800 million years. Most notable of these features are:

- the Burgess Shale, a geological feature containing internationally significant fossil sites with more than 140 species, dating back more than 500 million years;
- many of the highest peaks in the Canadian Rocky Mountains' Eastern and Western Main Ranges, 28 of which exceed 2,900 meters in height;
- "U" shaped valleys representing long periods of glacial activity;
- fluvial erosion features such as river terraces, gorges, hoodoos, alluvial fans, outwash plains, and a natural bridge;
- the Wapta and Waputik icefields;
- large waterfalls such as Wapta Falls, 27 meters high and 61 meters across, and the spectacular Takakkaw Falls, dropping 254 meters from the Daly Glacier to the Yoho River; vegetation representing the four major ecoregions of the Canadian Rockies -- Interior Western Hemlock, Montane, Subalpine and Alpine;
- mammals such as grizzly bear, elk, mountain goat, wolverine and porcupine; and,
- bird life which includes the American dipper, harlequin duck, bald eagle, osprey, barred owl, pileated woodpecker and many other mountain species.

Human Heritage
As the route chosen for Canada's first transcontinental railway - the Canadian Pacific - and later for the Trans-Canada Highway, the Kicking Horse River valley is rich in features of national historical significance. The most important are:

- the Kicking Horse Pass: explored by Sir James Hector of the Palliser Expedition in 1858 in search of the best transportation route through the Rockies, and later chosen as the main line route over the Great Divide for the Canadian Pacific Railway;
- the 2.5 km "Spiral Tunnels", representing one of the major feats in Canadian engineering history, tunnels that curve around, under and over themselves, dropping in elevation and changing direction - cut through the solid mountain rock early in this century to overcome the valley's steep slopes;
- plaques and monuments featuring the achievements of Canadian scientific explorers, mapmakers and surveyors, including Edouard Gaston Deville who pioneered the use of photogrammetry in mapping the Canadian Rockies at the end of the 19th century;
- a long association with Canadian conservation history, reflected in the establishment of Yoho National Park in 1886, and in the declaration of the park as part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

One of the Kicking Horse River valley's attractions is easy access for visitors. Of the 2.5 million travellers who pass through Yoho National Park each year, most confine their visit to the use of viewing areas, picnic facilities and interpretive displays along the Trans-Canada Highway and the Yoho Valley and Emerald Lake roads. A smaller number of visitors, however, take advantage of the wider range of outdoor activities that Yoho National Park, and the Kicking Horse River in particular, have to offer.

Canoeing, Kayaking, and Rafting: Slightly more than 30 km of the river's lower reaches within Yoho are considered navigable from late June to early August. The river system provides exceptional opportunities for experienced canoeists and kayakers on water ranging from intermediate difficulty to very difficult, depending on water levels. It is also one of 7 rivers in British Columbia which has been designated by the province for use of commercial rafting operators. Because it is a glacier-fed river, water levels are highly variable, with peak flows during hot periods in summer. Those interested in a river trip on the Kicking Horse should first obtain a copy of the Kicking Horse River guide, available at no cost from Parks Canada staff at the Field Visitor Centre.

Hiking: Yoho is a hikers' park, and the trails that probe the headwaters of the Kicking Horse are noted for their beauty. Trails range from short nature walks such as the 2.4 km (each way) stroll toWapta Falls, to extended backpacking routes. There is limited mountain bicycle access into specifically designated backcountry areas. The Backcountry Guide to Yoho National Park is also available at the Field Visitor Centre.

Camping: Four developed campgrounds are located along the river system - Kicking Horse, Hoodoo Creek, Monarch and Takakkaw Falls Campgrounds - providing 285 developed sites. Camping along backcountry trails is also available at designated primitive campsites. Random wilderness camping is in a few remote, select areas. Wilderness campers require overnight permits which may be obtained at the park information centre at Field.

Fishing: Fishing is generally poor, due to the cold, turbid water conditions associated with the swift, glacially-derived mountain streams. Native bull trout and introduced brook and rainbow trout are found in the river. A national park fishing permit, available from the park information centre, is required.

Visitor Information
Access: Being near the Trans-Canada Highway, the Kicking Horse River system is easily accessible. From northern Alberta and British Columbia, the highly scenic Icefields Parkway (Highway 93), brings visitors 240 km from Jasper to Lake Louise, situated only 12 km east of the river's headwaters. The area may also be reached by road from Edmonton (483 km) and Calgary (210 km), and most major centres in British Columbia, including Vancouver (771 km), are within a long day's drive. Several roads and trails, and a number of pull-offs along the Trans-Canada provide direct access to the Kicking Horse and Yoho rivers themselves. Greyhound bus service to Field is also available, call 1-800-661-8747 for fare and schedule information.

Accommodation and Services: Although Yoho National Park is open year round, many visitor services, facilities, and interpretive programs are available only during the summer months. Services and accommodation are provided by the communities adjacent to and within the mountain parks. Golden and Field in British Columbia and Lake Louise, Banff and Canmore in Alberta are the primary service centres for visitors to the area. Golden is the preferred staging area for white-water rafting and kayaking.

Field, located on the Kicking Horse River in Yoho National Park, offers services year-round: volunteer ambulance and fire service, accommodation, food, groceries, gifts and gas station. Park information is available year-round at the Visitor Centres in Field, Lake Louise and in Banff. The Tourist Information Centre in Golden, operated by the Golden and District Chamber of Commerce is also open year round.

Within Yoho, West Louise Lodge, located on the Trans-Canada, 12 km east of Field; 16 approved accommodations and Kicking Horse Lodge located in Field; the Emerald Lake Lodge and Conference Centre located at Emerald Lake; and two backcountry Alpine Club of Canada huts provide accommodation year-round. Lake O'Hara Lodge, the Twin Falls and Cathedral Mountain chalets, and the Whiskey Jack Hostel are open seasonally. In all, overnight commercial accommodation for more than 500 visitors is available during the summer within the park.

Topographic Maps: The Kicking Horse and Yoho Rivers, are covered at the 1:50,000 scale by the Yoho National Park Topographic map and maps 82N1, 82N2, 82N7, 82N8, 82N9 and 82N10 in the National Topographic Series, and at the 1:250,000 scale by map 82N (Golden). There is also an excellent National Parks map at the 1:200,000 scale that includes Yoho, Kooteney and Banff National Parks. Maps may be obtained from the Canada Map Office, 615 Booth Street, Ottawa, K1A 0E9 (, or from The Friends of Yoho, Box 100, Field, BC V0A lG0. ( (

Further Information
"Ten-Year Report on the Kicking Horse Canadian Heritage River", available from the Parks Canada Board member (see "Contact Us")

Park Services, Permits and Regulations: Superintendent, Yoho National Park, Box 99, Field, British Columbia, V0A lG0 ( )

Tourism British Columbia, Parliament Buildings, Victoria, B.C. V8V 1X4; Golden Tourist Information, Box 677, Golden, BC, V0E lH0 (

Travel Alberta, Box 2500, Edmonton, Alberta, T5J 2Z4 .

Golden Chamber of Commerce, Box 677, Golden, British Columbia, V0A 1H0

Banff/Lake Louise Tourism Bureau, Box 1298, Banff, Alberta, T0L 0C0

Canadian Heritage Rivers System: National Manager, Canadian Heritage Rivers System, c/o Parks Canada, Ottawa, Canada K1A 0M5. Tel. 819-994-2913, Fax 819-997-0835. E-mail address:

Visit ( and for more information on this awe-inspiring area.