If you've started doing some research about rafting the Kicking Horse River in Golden, BC, or searching for some of the best whitewater in British Columbia, chances are you've come across the term 'heli rafting'.
What's the big deal with heli rafting you might be wondering? We're happy to explain.
What makes heli rafting so special and why is it an experience you’re going to want to have?
1. You’ll get to raft the famous Lower Canyon - something very few people get to do!
The Lower Canyon is a famous stretch of whitewater on the Kicking Horse River in Golden, BC. It’s a 12 km run that offers some of the biggest and best whitewater rafting in all of British Columbia and Western Canada.
Because there's no road access into the Lower Canyon, flying in a helicopter is the only way to get there. It’s only offered 3 days/week, and a maximum of 32 people can go per day. Given the limited access very few people get to experience this amazing stretch of river - we hope you can be one of them!
Check out a review from one of our guests who's happy he was one of them.
Heli Rafting Trip- Can't Stop Talking About It!
Had an absolute blast with my buddies for my bachelor party! I don't know how many rivers there are where you can both helicopter and have non stop class 4+ rapids all day! On the note of the helicopter, I highly, highly recommend it... It's fun and honestly the privilege of rafting the lower canyon is the best part! If you have done the middle canyon and thought it was cool (which it is), then you're in for a treat! I can't wait to go back - it's absolutely an experience worth going for again! I can speak on behalf of the other 5 guys I was with that it was a perfect day, and we will be returning!
TripAdvisor, Dillbark1, August 2019
2. You get to fly in a helicopter
This probably doesn’t need much explanation. You get to fly in a helicopter! If you’ve never been in a heli before, that’s okay. It’ll make the experience even more special. The heli can fly 6 people at a time so you’ll pile in with your friends or family and be carried up, up and away.
What makes it even more exciting is that at the end of the heli flight, the excitement isn’t over. It’s just the beginning of your run down the famous Lower Canyon. You’ll get out of the heli and into your raft - ready to experience some of the best rapids of the day.
3. You’ll experience one of the longest stretches of continuous whitewater of any Canadian rafting trip
While it’s true there are a lot of amazing whitewater rivers in B.C., it is unusual to have such a long stretch of continuous whitewater. The Lower Canyon starts off with a 4 km stretch of continuous rapids, followed by a number of rapids spaced throughout the rest of the Canyon.
Most rivers have a fun rapid or two, followed by a calm stretch. It follows the pattern of rapid, calm, rapid calm. Not so with the Lower Canyon. The Lower Canyon is rapid, rapid, rapid, rapid. Woohoo!
4. You get to float through the town of Golden
Maybe you’ve seen the photos of whitewater rafts floating under the iconic Kicking Horse Pedestrian Bridge, the longest freestanding timber frame bridge in Canada. The only way to raft through town and under the bridge is to raft the Lower Canyon.
Wave to the people enjoying a drink or meal on one of the many patios lining the Kicking Horse River. You’ll get to take in the town from a totally different perspective and it's a lovely sight to see.
5. You’ll be creating a memory you’ll never forget
The comment we hear from our guests over and over again is that their day of heli rafting is something they will never forget. People come rafting for different reasons and to celebrate different events, but the messages we get are all generally the same.
They’re so happy they decided to try heli rafting and it’s a memory they’ll hold on to for a very long time. They’re happy they got to share such a unique experience with their friends and family.
You don’t have to take our word for it. Here are a couple heli reviews we received recently.
You helped make our 30th wedding anniversary an epic day! We had so much fun on the half day adventure and asked if we could stay on for the heli and lower canyon section. Our request was granted and wow........so worth it. We are already recommending this tour to our family and friends!
TripAdvisor, Suebishopcanada, August 2019
Such a blast. A must try!
My wife and I booked the full day rafting experience but ended up upgrading to the heli rafting adventure. What an amazing experience. The full day would have been good, but the water that you get access to with the short helicopter ride made this a memory that will stay with me forever. Stunning views, great guides, delicious lunch and exhilarating white water.
TripAdvisor, CalebE7, August 2019
What makes the Lower Canyon so good?
The Kicking Horse River starts west of Golden as melt water coming down from the Icefields in the Canadian Rockies. It picks up water from a number of river tributaries and flows downstream, including through Yoho National Park across the valley bottom. It begins as a wide, meandering river which means calmer class 1 water.
As it works its way downstream, the grade becomes steeper and the river begins to narrow.
The Kicking Horse narrows significantly as you enter the Lower Canyon which means the volume of the river is forced to flow through a more constricted area.
What does this mean? Our calm class 1 river is transformed into a big class 4 - 4+ whitewater river. It means fast river flow, lots of rapids, seriously big whitewater and continuous excitement.
The Lower Canyon begins with a 4 km stretch of continuous class 4 whitewater and this is a very unique experience when it comes to commercial rafting. It’s not uncommon to have big whitewater with some serious splash, but to have such a continuous run with rapid after rapid is unique to the Kicking Horse River.
You’ll make your way through rapids such as Wave Train, Double Trouble, Room of Doom, Riptide and The Nozzle. Yes, they’re as fun as they sound!
What trip options are available to heli raft the Lower Canyon?
We offer two heli rafting trips - a full day and a half day experience
Ultimate Heli Adventure is the most complete rafting experience on the Kicking Horse, as it’s the only trip that rafts all 3 sections of the river. It starts out with the calmer Upper Canyon and builds into the big class 3 and class 4 whitewater of the Middle and Lower Canyons.
This trip includes our riverside barbecue lunch and it runs from 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
You can see more information on this specific trip by clicking HERE
Pure Heli White Water rafts the two biggest sections of white water on the Kicking Horse River – the Middle and Lower Canyons. If you only want big adventure this is a great choice.
This trip starts after lunch and it runs from 11:45 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
You can see more information on this specific trip by clicking HERE
For a sneak peak of heli rafting, check out this video of our inaugural flight.
Why is heli rafting more expensive than other Kicking Horse rafting trips?
1. You’re flying in a helicopter
Let’s face it, helicopters aren’t cheap machines to operate. The fact that you’ll be flying in one of these impressive vehicles does add to the price.
We don’t have our own helicopter so we partner with Alpine Helicopters to get everyone into the Lower Canyon. There are lots of expenses to make this happen, so it’s reflected in the price. That being said, we have done our best to keep our prices as low and fair as possible.
2. You’re rafting an additional 12 km of exclusive river
Helicopters are pretty darn cool but there’s no denying the Lower Canyon is equally as exciting. It’s big whitewater and an exclusive experience that isn’t available to everyone given the limited numbers we can take.
To raft this big, technical piece of river requires our guides to have extensive training, we need to fly in the rafts, we need to fly in the gear and we need to maintain our river access permits. All of this adds up.
3. You’ll be fed - again
We want to make sure you’re feeling top notch before flying into the Lower Canyon, so we’ll have snacks and drinks ready when you finish rafting the Middle Canyon. It’s true you’ll have finished lunch not that long ago, but we’ll have fruit, granola bars and cookies ready to go in case you want a quick snack.
4. You’ll be able to grab some dry gear if you want it
We want you to be warm and comfortable, so if you want an extra layer before flying into the Lower Canyon let your guide know. We have extra fleeces, neoprene jackets and mitts to bundle you up.
Why do you need to use a helicopter to access the Lower Canyon?
We use the helicopter to fly people from the take out of the Middle Canyon to the put in of the Lower Canyon. In between the Middle and Lower Canyons is a section of class 5 whitewater that is unnavigable by any raft. It’s not a place you’d want to be!
It’s a mandatory portage, and because there’s no road access into the Lower Canyon, flying you there is the only option.
We used to have road access into the Lower Canyon, but in the summer of 2016 (right as our rafting season was getting underway) CP Rail put a gate across our access road. They have not permitted any commercial rafting companies to access the Lower Canyon via road since that time.
When is the best time to heli raft the Lower Canyon?
The Lower Canyon can only be rafted at certain river levels. When the river is really high (early season when we have lots of meltwater coming down from the mountains), it isn’t safe for anyone to be rafting the Lower.
To avoid high water season, heli rafting starts mid-July.
There’s no guarantee the Lower Canyon will be open at this time as it’s all dependent on Mother Nature (affected by rain, temperature, weather etc.), but it is a greater likelihood.
So, heli rafting starts mid-July and here’s a month by month rundown.
July - heli rafting starts mid-month and this is typically when we see highest runnable river levels in the Lower Canyon. There’s a chance the river can still be too high, so late July may be a safer bet. July offers long days, hot weather, lots of sunshine and beautiful weather
August - more of a guarantee the Lower will be open based on rivel levels. Lots of water, big rapids, beautiful warm weather
September - Lower Canyon almost guaranteed to be open, lower river levels with beautiful bright blue water. Makes for amazing scenery and photos
So there you have it. Lots to know about heli rafting the famous Lower Canyon of the Kicking Horse River.
It’s an experience like no other - especially in British Columbia and the Canadian Rockies - and we hope you’ll be able to add it to your list of ‘Must Dos’ for this summer.
Cheers from all of us here at Glacier and we hope to see you on the river soon
Want a full day of rafting with lots of big whitewater, but no heli flight? Check out our White Water Discovery Trip
Want a half day whitewater trip without the heli? Check out our White Water Express Trip