The Kicking Horse River courses through an outstanding Canadian mountain environment, Yoho National Park. The river’s watershed contains features that provide evidence of the earth’s evolutionary history over a period of 600 million to 800 million years. The section of the river designated to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System consists of the 49 km headwaters section within Yoho National Park, along with the 18.5 km Yoho River, the Kicking Horse’s primary upstream tributary.
The word “Yoho” is a Cree expression of amazement or awe, and it is an apt description for the spectacular landscape of massive ice fields and mountain peaks that rank among the highest in the Canadian Rockies. Impressive canyons, gorges, cliffs, and avalanche slopes dominate the river, which varies from turbulent rapids and waterfalls to braided streams meandering through valleys as it flows through this extensive mountain range, where 28 of the peaks exceed 2,900 meters in height. The spectacular Takkakaw Falls drop 254 metres from the Daly glacier to the Yoho River.
Kicking Horse Pass was the route chosen for Canada’s first transcontinental railway, the Canadian Pacific, and later for the Trans-Canada Highway. The pass was 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 railway line route over the Great Divide. It is also the site of one of the most significant feats in Canadian engineering history, where the 2.5 km “Spiral Tunnels” were cut through the solid mountain rock in the early 1900’s to overcome the valley’s steep slopes.
The river itself has a long association with Canadian conservation history, reflected in the establishment of Yoho National Park in 1886.
The Kicking Horse River offers easy access for visitors. Of the 2.5 million travelers who pass through Yoho National Park each year, most enjoy the viewing areas, picnic facilities and interpretive displays along the Trans-Canada Highway, the Yoho Valley, and Emerald Lake roads. Takkakaw Falls, which drops 254 metres from the Daly Glacier to the Yoho River, the “Natural Bridge,” and Wapta Falls are popular scenic spots along the river. The wide range of outdoor activities offered in Yoho National Park include canoeing, kayaking, rafting, hiking, camping, and fishing.
The river and pass were named for an incident in which Dr. James Hector was kicked by a packhorse while traveling with the famed Palliser Expedition.
The Kicking Horse River is managed by Parks Canada. The designated section flows through Yoho National Park.
The Kicking Horse is a classic example of a glacier-fed mountain river and was designated a Canadian Heritage River in 1989 in recognition of its outstanding natural heritage, its recreational and cultural features. The designation includes the 49 km section of the Kicking Horse River and 18 km of the Yoho River within Yoho National Park, in British Columbia.
The Canadian Heritage River plaques offer a brief glimpse into why a river has been designated to the System. They are often located nearby one of its historically significant locations, and highlight some of the most important natural, cultural and recreational values of the river.
Kicking Horse River Plaque Text
The Kicking Horse River - Named for an incident in which James Hector of the Palliser Expedition (1857-60) was kicked by his horse, the Kicking Horse River is a classic example of glaciated river environments on the west slope of the Continental Divide. With its tributary, the Yoho River, it contains some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the Canadian Rockies. Its valley was chosen for Canada’s first trans-continental railway and today provides spectacular views for visitors travelling by rail or road, and for experienced recreational canoeists. For these outstanding features, the Kicking Horse River in Yoho National Park has been proclaimed a Canadian Heritage River.