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The Canadian Rockies are rife with wild, untamed rivers. Glacial fed rivers born high up in the Alpine, give way to adreneline filled whitewatar rafting trips and relaxing river floats.

Rivers bring all kinds of pleasure to all walks of life. Never been on a river adventure? Not a problem. All our adventures are suitable for first timers. Here we explain everything you need to know about rivers.

What is a River? 

We know, it may seem a little basic, but… A river is a natural flowing watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing towards an ocean, sea, lake or other river. In the case of rivers in the Canadian Rockies, they begin with a trickle high up in the glaciers and carve their way down into river valleys.

River Classification System – Class 1 to Class 5 

Before you set out on a river adventure with us, you might like more information on the types of rapids that you will encounter on your trip. To clarify and simplify this process, all whitewater rapids are rated on a scale of 1 to 5.  The rapids receive ratings based on a combination of difficulty and danger and the classification system for whitewater rivers is not an exact science. Most rivers are a combination of the classifications and have varying degrees of difficulties based on water levels. The most important thing to remember with the classification system: it has nothing to do with how much fun a rapid is. The system is based on difficulty, which do not always equate with the “fun factor” of a rapid. There are plenty of class III rapids that are more fun to raft than many class IV rapids. At Alpine Rafting, here is how we classify river systems.

Canadian Rockies Class 1 Whitewater:

Moving water with a few ripples and small waves. Few or no obstructions. Class 1 whitewater is found on all our trips.  From our Gentle River Trips to our Heli Rafting, there is always class 1 on the river. You will NOT get wet on class 1 whitewater. 

Trips That Offer Class 1 Thrills: 

  • All of our river adventures include class 1 whitewater, as class 1 means that the water is moving, with none of the white stuff.

Canadian Rockies Class II Whitewater:

Easy rapids with smaller waves, clear channels that are obvious without scouting. Some maneuvering might be required.

Trips That Offer Class 2 Thrills: 

Canadian Rockies Class 3 Whitewater:

Rapids with high, irregular waves. Narrow passages that often require precise maneuvering.. The middle canyon of the Kicking Horse River has lots of class 3 thrills. Nice, big rolling waves that will get everyone nice and wet and get the adrenaline flowing! 

Trips That Offer Class 3 Thrills Are: 

Canadian Rockies Class 4 Whitewater: 

Long, difficult rapids with constricted passages that often require complex maneuvering in turbulent water. The course may be hard to determine and scouting is often necessary. The middle canyon of the Kicking Horse River has a 1 km class 4 section.  There is also a 4 km class 4+ section on the lower canyon of the Kicking Horse River.

Trips that offer Class 4 Thrills are: 

Canadian Rockies Class 5 Whitewater: 

Extremely difficult, long, and very violent rapids with highly congested routes, which should be scouted from shore. Rescue conditions are difficult, and there is a significant hazard to life in the event of a mishap. We do not raft class 5 rapids on any of our adventures. Why not? The extremely continuous nature of our glacial fed rivers combined with the fact being immersed in the glacial waters for more than a couple of minutes can cause hypothermia. There is one class 5 section on the Kicking Horse River between the middle and lower canyons. Because it is a class 5 section, it is  impassable by raft, meaning a raft and its occupants would not be successful is navigating it successfully.  That’s why we offer heli rafting – we fly you over the impassable section to our lower canyon put-in.

The bottom line is that assigning numbers to rivers is inherently subjective.  Rivers are a natural force subject to change at anytime.  Luckily, that change doesn’t happen too often, allowing us to enjoy their whitewater more! Please call us at Alpine Rafting if you have any questions about which rivers are appropriate for your group, or you can view the trip appropriate FAQ on the trip page that you are considering.

What is a River Adventure?

A river adventure on our website refers to any trip taken on a river – whether thrilling or soothing. Alpine Rafting offers several forms of river adventures including whitewater rafting, gentle family rafting, float trips & kayak rental. All of these river adventures make their way downstream with the help of an experienced river guide. The client to guide ratio on most of our rafting adventures is 8 clients per guide.

What is considered a Gentle Rafting Trip? 

Gentle Rafting Trips occur on rivers that are generally moving water with no rapids. These trips can tackle up to a class 2 rapid, which means there might be a bit of a splash.  Gentle family trips are not only suitable for people who don’t have much interest in the adrenaline of whitewater rafting, but also those who are interested in getting outside and experiencing the beauty of a Rocky Mountain river. Spending a half or full day on calm waters is an excellent way to rejuvenate during a busy activity filled holiday in the Canadian Rockies.  Gentle family trips are also great for those with really young children as our gentle trip is suitable for ages 4 & up!

This is an overview map of the River Adventures that we offer. Click anywhere on image to enlarge




Whitewater Rafting

Whitewater rafting is a recreational activity that uses an inflatable raft to navigate rivers with rapids.  This is often done on whitewater, and generally represents a new and challenging environment for participants. In the Canadian Rockies, there are a multitude of river rafting options. For whitewater rafting in the Canadian Rockies, the Kicking Horse River is the biggest and best. In close proximity to Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper and Calgary, the Kicking Horse River does not disappoint! The Kicking Horse River offers Half Day Rafting, Full Day Rafting, Gentle Family Rafting & Heli Rafting

Here we explain the three sections of the Kicking Horse River that are used for whitewater rafting

Kicking Horse River Upper Canyon  – 12 KM 

  • Best described as a fast paced float. You’ll get splashed but not soaked. Suitable for ages 4 & up. Great for people with small children or those seeking a mild rafting adventure
  • Alpine Rafting’s upper canyon trip is unique in that we raft within Yoho National Park. We are the only whitewater rafting outfitter in Golden BC permitted to do so.  “Yoho” means awe in Cree.  Check out more info on Yoho National Park here
  • The views are awesome! Yoho National Park is known as the ‘waterfall park’ so there are views of waterfalls in the distance as well as sweeping views of Mount Chancellor
  • Usually once kids meet the 90 pound requirement for the middle canyon, we do suggest that if they are going to raft the upper canyon that they also raft the middle canyon, as once kids are above a certain age they do find it a bit ‘boring’ to just raft the upper canyon
  • INSIDERS TIP – There is a bonus section of the Kicking Horse River that lies within Yoho National Park offered exclusively by Alpine Rafting. It is not to be missed! Other companies run 10 km & we run 14 kilometres. Check out our Insiders Tips Post

Kicking Horse River – Middle Canyon

  • The middle canyon is a pretty awesome stretch of river. In that section, we see a couple dozen class 3, 4 and 4+ rapids. That means nice, big, fun rolling waves. The rapids are nice and continuous, and you will definitely get wet!
  •  The middle canyon is suitable for those who are 12 and 90 pounds

Kicking Horse River – The Lower Canyon 10 KM

  • The lower canyon is the third and final section of the Kicking Horse River. This section offers 4 kilometres of continuous class 4+ whitewater. The lower canyon is accessible via helicopter on our Heli Rafting Trip. If you want the biggest whitewater in the Canadian Rockies the lower canyon of the Kicking Horse River is where it’s at.

Which adventure is right for me? 

That is a question we get a lot. Here we try to give you some advice on what is the best river adventure for you

  • HAVE NEVER RAFTED BEFORE, we recommend all of our trips. They are all suited to first-timers!
  • A FAMILY WITH YOUNG CHILDREN, we recommend the Gentle Family Rafting
  • ARE ON A STAG/STAGETTE, we recommend the Full Day or Heli Rafting
  • WANT THE MOST COMPLETE RIVER EXPERIENCE, we recommend the Full Day Rafting or Ultimate Heli Rafting. If you want to experience more than whitewater rafting, we recommend hanging around for an evening or another day and giving our Kayak Rentals a try.
  • WANT AN ‘ALL AROUND’ RIVER EXPERIENCE, we recommend the Full Day Rafting Trips, a great balance of the upper and middle canyons, this is our most popular river experience

We hope you enjoyed our ‘Rivers Explained’ article. We hope to see you on the river soon!

Gentle Family Rafting FAQ's