Banff National Park may be best known for its crystalline-blue glacial lakes, but its rivers are where some of the best Rocky Mountain adventures can be found. From flatwater floats to exhilarating trips down rapids, there are excursions to suit all skill levels. Getting on Banff’s rivers isn’t just about getting wet—it’s also a chance to see the area’s wildlife, including elk, deer, grizzlies and mountain goats.
Family-friendly flatwater trips typically drift down the Bow River in Banff and Canmore. And while guided whitewater rafting trips technically aren’t available directly within the national park boundaries, you won’t have to go far from Banff’s townsite to experience the rushing class II, III and IV rapids of the Bow, Kananaskis, or Kicking Horse rivers.
Here’s your guide to the best whitewater rafting Banff has to offer.
[This article is part of our Ultimate Outdoor Adventurer’s Guide To Banff. Find all the resources you need to plan an adventurous trip to Banff National Park.]
Whitewater rafting Banff
Best rivers for whitewater rafting
The Bow River is a waterway you’ll become intimately familiar with when you visit the national park, whether or not you head out on a Banff whitewater rafting adventure. It flows through Banff’s township and its waterfall near the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel is a favorite photo backdrop.
Flatwater floating through Banff and Canmore is available, while the best whitewater rafting is located near Canmore in Kananaskis Country. With up to class IV whitewater, this is a river for those who want to get more than their toes wet. Rafters will travel through Horseshoe Canyon, which is known for its cliff jumping and spectacular surroundings.
A tributary of the Bow River, the Kananaskis offers up class II and III rapids, making it a family-friendly but still very wet option, with some of the best rafting in the Banff area. Tours typically depart from a location midway between Calgary and Banff.
Kicking Horse River
Just over the border in British Columbia, the Kicking Horse River is located within Yoho National Park, which has some of the most exciting whitewater rafting near Banff. With tours departing 40 minutes west of Lake Louise, the Kicking Horse River lives up to its name, offering up 22 km of continuous rapids with names such as Shot Gun, Man Eater and Roller Coaster. Rapids can be up to class IV, but it’s not all about adrenaline—calmer family-friendly sections of the river exist as well.
Whitewater rafting tours in Banff
Wild Water Adventures
Operating tours on the Kicking Horse River, Wild Water Adventures is one of the oldest Banff rafting companies. Its Whitewater Exciter tour ($115 CAD) is its most popular. Offered up to twice daily with tours departing in the morning and afternoon, you’ll spend three hours experiencing the Kicking Horse’s rapids.
A 4.5-hour Maximum Horsepower tour ($199 CAD) is also available, as is the family-friendly “Gentle,” which still offers up some fun splashes for “reluctant rafters” (adults: $89 CAD; youth 8 to 11 $79 CAD).
For multi-day adventures, Banff whitewater rafting packages are also available.
Chinook Rafting bills itself as “the” family rafting company and has 35 years of experience on the rivers in the area. It’s based at the Nakoda Lakeside Lodge in Kananaskis, about 45 minutes east of Banff, and guides trips on the Bow River’s Horseshoe Canyon, the Kicking Horse River, and the more family-friendly Kananaskis River. The guided trips are all between three and four hours in length and start at $110 CAD.
Canadian Rockies Rafting
Offering wild tours through Horseshoe Canyon and on the Kananaskis River, Canadian Rockies Rafting also stands out for including cliff jumps, short hikes, body surfing and even water fights in its itineraries. Get picked up in Banff or Canmore and experience a fully outfitted tour with their knowledgeable and entertaining guides. The half-day tours start at $93 CAD.
Hydra River Guides
Located between Field and Golden, B.C., Hydra River Guides caters to people looking for rafting trips on the Kicking Horse River. They offer a three-hour tour (with two hours on the river) that allows you to experience all the rapids on the upper and middle sections of the river. The Kicking Horse Classic tour departs daily at 9:15 a.m. and 1:15 p.m., while the Last Waltz tour departs at 3:45 p.m. Tours start at $115 CAD per person.
Located in Golden, B.C., Alpine Rafting offers half-day and full-day trips on the Kicking Horse River. What makes it unique is its heli-rafting tours, which fly rafters into the river’s lower canyon. This area’s 4-km-long stretch of class IV rapids is legendary in the rafting world, but it’s only accessible by helicopter. All this equates to an adventure that’s worth the $299 CAD price tag for half a day of rafting, or $349 CAD for the full-day version.
White Wolf Rafting
White Wolf Rafting is owned and operated by a pair of siblings, born and raised in Canmore, who also run a multi-generational dogsledding company. The choice is yours: spend the morning rafting down Horseshoe Canyon ($110 CAD for ages 12 and up), including two cliff jumps, or head out in the afternoon on the Kananaskis River, with views of Mt. Yamnuska ($105 CAD for those aged 16 and up; $70 CAD for ages 5 to 15).
Whitewater rafting Banff prices
If you’re using price to help guide your decision as to what company to book a rafting trip with, you may have trouble narrowing down your options—most guiding companies are comparably priced. You’ll need to budget around $100 CAD for a half-day whitewater rafting experience (which may or may not include transport from Banff).
Wild water rafting in Banff not your thing? If you just want a scenic float down the river, they’re available starting from $40 CAD for an hour-long experience.
Whitewater rafting Banff reviews
Whitewater rafting in Banff vs. Jasper
Technically, rafting isn’t available within the Banff National Park boundaries (save for the scenic floats down the Bow River). However, you don’t have to drive far for a guided tour on class II, III and IV rivers, including those near Canmore, Kananaskis or in Yoho National Park. The benefit is that you can whitewater raft without paying national park entry fees.
If being directly within a national park is important to you and you want to stay in Alberta, that’s where Jasper wins out: it offers whitewater on the Athabasca and Sunwapta rivers, which have class II and III rapids.
Float trips in Banff
For Banff family rafting trips, both the Kananaskis River and the Kicking Horse River have calm flatwater sections, with plenty of chances for splashy fun. But if you want to stay entirely dry, there are a couple of options:
Rocky Mountain Raft Tours
Want to get out on one of Banff’s rivers, without even getting your shoes wet? Rocky Mountain Rafts Tours is the answer. Operating directly within the national park boundaries, this is more of a sightseeing tour on the water, rather than a whitewater rafting adventure. Launching from the base of Bow Falls in downtown Banff, you’ll spend one hour on the river taking in the sights of the surrounding mountains. Multiple tours depart daily and cost $60 CAD for adults and $20 CAD for children ages 2 to 15.
Canadian Rockies Rafting
On Canadian Rockies Rafting’s Nature Float, you’ll drift down the Bow River, where you’ll have the chance to spot eagles, osprey, elk and beavers. The one-hour morning tour ($40 CAD adults; $30 CAD youth aged 4 to 15) floats through the town of Canmore, while the 90-minute evening tour ($55 CAD adults; $45 CAD youth aged 4 to 15) runs from Canmore to Dead Man’s Flats.
White Wolf Rafting
This Canmore-based company offers an evening two-hour float trip down the Bow River. Including transportation to and from Banff, it costs $60 CAD per person for those aged 10 and up ($50 CAD for ages 5 to 9).