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The Canadian Rocky Mountains are an outdoor paradise and one of our favorite areas to take on some adrenaline-pumping activities. Top among them is whitewater rafting in and around Banff National Park!
Rafting through the glacier-fed rivers in this part of the Rockies delivers some epic views, plenty of excitement, and a day you will never forget. Banff is one of the most popular destinations in Alberta and therefore a great base to take some amazing day trips.
We’ve gone whitewater rafting lots as a couple and with groups of friends and had a TON of fun every time. Make sure to read the sections below on the best whitewater rafting tours in Banff for families, couples, or thrill seekers to find the top recommendation if you fit into one of those groups.
One of the best spots to go rafting is down the Kananaskis River, which is a 40-minute drive east of Banff. In the other direction, about a 75-minute drive west of Banff, just outside of Golden, BC, you will find the Kicking Horse River which also offers many great rafting tours.
It’s important to note that you will require a car in order to go whitewater rafting in Banff. Either your own or a rental vehicle is needed. None of the tours on our list include transportation and they’re all located outside of the city.
So let’s get into all the best whitewater rafting tours around Banff, Alberta!
Our Overall Favorite Banff Whitewater Rafting Tour
This 4-hour river rafting adventure is a unique, small-group experience of up to just 9 people. With the epic views of the Kananaskis River and the best guides you could ask for, it’s a clear favorite in our eyes!
You can grab tickets for this tour online here for just $129 CAD per person – it’s such a fun experience for beginners who are new to whitewater rafting, and children as young as 5 years old can join in!
What are the whitewater rafting tours in Banff?
When you’re choosing from all the amazing tours around Banff, there are four main ones that offer whitewater rafting. All of them are action-packed, but here are the ins and outs of each to help you choose.
Kananaskis River Rafting Adventure
This half-day whitewater rafting tour on the Kananaskis River is suitable for rafters 5 years of age and older. You will spend about 2 hours paddling down the beautiful Kananaskis River and even get an optional swim at the end (you’ll be wet already, so why not!).
While this is the closest rafting tour to Banff, it will still require a drive to the Kananaskis region as the meetup point is around 60 km (37 miles) east of Banff along Highway 1A. While the tour leaves at 1:30 pm, you will want to make sure you arrive at least 15 minutes ahead of time to sign waivers.
Wild Water Adventure
You can choose between a morning or afternoon departure time with this Wild Water rafting experience. This one is for adults and older kids as you must be at least 12 years old to book. You will spend between 1.5 to 2.5 hours rafting along the Kicking Horse River passing by incredible scenery as you navigate through rapids. You can even choose to add on a yummy BBQ lunch!
This whitewater rafting experience is just outside of Golden, BC, about 113 km (70 miles) from Banff. You will meet at 2750 Beaverfoot Road located just off the side of the Trans Canada Highway.
Extreme Whitewater Rafting on Kicking Horse River
This one is for all those adrenaline lovers out there! This extreme whitewater rafting tour will have you taking on the Class 3 and 4 rapids along the Kicking Horse River just outside of Golden, BC. Any mini-thrillseekers need to be at least 12 years old for this one (and super brave!).
Kootenay River Runners offers this tour and has been in business for 45 years, so they know what they are doing! This is a smaller group tour with a max of 15 people allowed. The meetup point is 115 km (71.5 miles) west of Banff at the Kootenay River Runners base camp.
Kicking Horse River Rafting Mild Family Adventure
Good for the whole family, this family-friendly whitewater rafting experience takes you on a morning paddle down a mild section of the Kicking Horse River. This tour is intended for families with kids ages 8 and up or anyone looking for a more “relaxing” rafting experience on calmer waters.
This tour starts bright and early at 9:15 am. You will travel 115 km (71.5 miles) west of Banff to meet at the Hydra River Guides base. You’ll get to try out Class 1 and 2 rapids and then finish the experience with a BBQ lunch and beach volleyball.
What to expect on these whitewater rafting tours in Banff
Kananaskis River Rafting Adventure
The only tour on our list that keeps you in Alberta, this rafting adventure will have you taking on the stunning glacier-fed Kananaskis River. With a maximum of 9 guests on this tour, we found this to be a really personalized experience and the guides make sure you’re having fun.
This is an ideal rafting adventure for beginners and younger kids with the minimum age requirement being less than any other tour on our list at only 5 years old. Plus, you’ll get FREE photos of your rafting experience – perfect, since you can’t really bring a camera onboard!
An absolutely beautiful area of the Rockies, rafting here has those breathtaking nature views Banff is famous for. Keep an eye out as you’re also likely to see some of the wildlife around Banff including bald eagles, deer, and bears.
The guides do a great job of setting the mood for the trip, pointing out any wildlife along the way, and going out of their way to make the experience enjoyable. In total, you will spend about 2 hours floating down the Kananaskis River, the majority of the time enjoying a leisurely float. Towards the middle to end of your journey, there will be faster sections of the river to navigate which provide a good amount of adventure.
This tour ends on a quiet section of the river that makes for the perfect opportunity to jump in and take a refreshing swim in the cold, glacier-fed water. While the swim is optional, we opted to jump in since we were soaked anyway! Once you are done rafting, some snacks will be offered to help you refuel before you drive yourself back to Banff.
Wild Water Adventures
Meeting at the base of the river, you will start your Wild Water tour with a safety briefing before gearing up with your top-of-the-line gear including wetsuits and lifejackets. A huge luxury (trust me!) is the heated change rooms here – especially after your adventure ends!
The best part of this tour is the guides who take you out on the river. Dedicated to a good time, they offer lighthearted and fun commentary setting the mood for a great day on the water. In total, you will enjoy between 1.5 – 2.5 hours on the river navigating the different levels of rapids.
This whitewater rafting tour has the perfect mix of calmer sections where you can take in the stunning views as well as heart-pumping whitewater rapids.
Once you are done paddling you will either be treated to some non-alcoholic drinks or a delicious grilled meal of salmon, chicken or veggie burgers, fresh fruits, and salads. Make sure you book the tour that includes lunch if that’s what you’re after!
Extreme Whitewater Rafting on Kicking Horse River
This whitewater rafting tour is called extreme for a reason and is one of the best options for experienced rafters or those looking for some good old-fashioned adrenaline.
This tour takes you down faster sections of the Kicking Horse River taking on Class 3 and Class 4 rapids. Your guides are experts on this river and know all the best spots to go. We especially enjoyed the upper and middle canyons where you’ll find the biggest rapids.
Even though this is an “extreme” tour, we felt safe the whole time. The guides are fun-loving, but make sure you feel safe while providing an action-packed experience.
You will start your trip just as any other, with a safety briefing at the base camp along the river. You will get suited up in your gear before heading to the water and piling into your rafts. This tour has small group sizes which we really appreciate since it makes the entire tour feel a lot more personalized.
While the area you are rafting down is absolutely gorgeous, your attention will likely be more focused on the challenging rapids rather than the scenery around you! It’s definitely an epic adventure though.
Related Read: Since you’re in the Golden, BC area, after this tour make sure to visit the Golden Skybridge!
Kicking Horse River Rafting Mild Family Adventure
For anyone looking to slow things down a bit or have kids along, this family-friendly rafting tour is our pick. You can expect a kid-focused and fun-filled day. While this is a “mild” tour, we still had a blast going as adults. Because the tour is calmer, you can enjoy the views around you more and really soak in the experience.
Your day will start at the base camp where you will meet your guides and go over a safety briefing. Once suited up in all the gear that’s included in your tour, you will board your raft and begin the leisurely journey down the Kicking Horse River.
As this tour is geared towards kids, your river guide will be very friendly and do a great job of keeping the commentary entertaining for younger audiences. There’s even a fun water fight near the end of the experience that will be sure to bring out your competitive side!
This rafting adventure tackles a calmer section of the river where you will get lots of opportunities to enjoy the scenery and spot any local wildlife in the area. There will be sections of faster water to navigate as this tour tackles Class 1-2 rapids, but overall this is a gentler experience perfect for families.
To cap off your day, you will be treated to a delicious free BBQ. Warm up with drinks, burgers, salads, and dessert served up riverside. Vegetarian options are available.
Why We Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:
- Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
- Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
- Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
- Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.
Check out the Viator website here!
What does it cost to go whitewater rafting in Banff?
Overall the whitewater rafting tours around Banff are reasonably priced for the experience you get. You can expect to pay an average of $125 CAD – but I’ll break down all the specific costs below.
Kananaskis River Rafting Adventure – This 4-hour rafting adventure tour costs $129 CAD for adults with children 5-15 years of age costing $81 CAD each. Included in this cost is all necessary rafting gear such as helmets and lifejackets as well as some snacks for when you are done and even some photos from your adventure.
Wild Water Adventures – Choose between a morning or afternoon rafting tour. The basic tour which includes some hot or cold non-alcoholic drinks afterward is $135 CAD per person. You can upgrade to a BBQ lunch on certain days (typically weekends) for $197 CAD each. Both tour prices include all your rafting gear, but souvenir photos of your experience are extra.
Extreme Whitewater Rafting on Kicking Horse River – This action-packed rafting experience costs $133 CAD per person. It’s an adrenaline-pumping tour that takes on intense rapids which guarantees you will get wet! All rafting gear, including a wetsuit, is included in the price.
Kicking Horse River Rafting Mild Family Adventure – This family-friendly rafting experience costs $118 CAD per adult with kids 8-11 years old costing $107 CAD each. This price includes all your rafting gear as well as a tasty BBQ lunch. If you’re wanting to document this fun adventure day, I recommend budgeting a bit extra and purchasing the photo packages that are available at the end of your trip.
Related Read: Splurge on one of these rafting tours and then check out some of the top free activities in Banff!
Which whitewater rafting tour in Banff is best for families?
For the best family-friendly whitewater rafting tour in Banff, I recommend heading towards Golden for the Kicking Horse River Rafting Mild Family Adventure. You will take on a mild section of the Kicking Horse River with Class 1 and Class 2 rapids.
The tour is geared towards families with pre-teen kids who are at least 8 years old and weigh at least 50 pounds (23 kg). You will be able to take in some beautiful sights and maybe even spark up a water fight while on board. Once you are done, you will enjoy a riverside BBQ where you can fuel up and bond over your experience before you leave.
Which whitewater rafting tour in Banff is best for thrill-seekers?
For some good heart-pumping adrenaline, I recommend choosing the Extreme Whitewater Rafting on Kicking Horse River tour. You will head towards Golden, BC for this rafting experience and take on some of the most rugged parts of the Kicking Horse River.
The guides on this tour seek out adventure looking for the best routes to take on Class 3 and Class 4 rapids. Some physical fitness is required for this rafting tour with paddlers needing to be at least 12 years of age and a minimum of 90 pounds (41 kg).
Which whitewater rafting tour in Banff is best for couples?
For us, nothing says epic date day like an adrenaline-pumping activity on the water. If you’re looking for the best rafting tour for couples, I recommend the Wild Water Adventures tour. You can choose between a morning or afternoon start time allowing you to have some flexibility in your day.
Your day on the water will be a perfect blend of stunning Rocky Mountain views and rugged rapids allowing you plenty of bonding time. Once you are done on the water, you can enjoy a delicious riverside BBQ and some drinks to cap off your bonding date day.
Do you need to book a whitewater rafting tour in Banff in advance?
Yes! Because Banff is a super popular destination, I always try to book as much as I can in advance.
Due to the location of Banff National Park, whitewater rafting is a seasonal activity only offered in late spring, summer, and fall in Banff from the months of May to September. This shortened season creates a good amount of demand so I highly recommend booking your rafting tour in advance. This is especially important if you are booking for a large group or are looking to go during peak season (June to August).
We always love booking through Viator as there is a reserve now, pay later option allowing you to secure your spot before you pay. There is also a 24-hour cancellation policy through this site allowing you to confidently book your trip in advance and cancel if your plans change.
What should you wear to go whitewater rafting in Banff?
No matter what tour you choose, I highly recommend wearing a bathing suit as your base layer. All the tours on our list will include all necessary rafting gear including helmets, life jackets, and varying degrees of waterproofing.
For advanced tours where you are guaranteed to get wet, wetsuits, neoprene booties, and gloves will be provided. For more leisurely tours, spray jackets will be provided and should be enough.
If you are someone who easily gets cold, fleece is a great material to bring along as it will keep you warm even if it gets wet. As you will need to organize your own transportation to these tours anyways, I highly recommend packing some water, a towel, and an extra set of dry clothes along with you to keep you comfortable.
Is whitewater rafting in Banff worth it?
1,000% yes! Whitewater rafting through the Canadian Rocky Mountains is one of our favorite activities.
This area is known for its epic nature views of mountains, rivers, and forests. If you are lucky, you may also see some great wildlife while you paddle. We saw bald eagles, and elk on our trip down the river but you also may see osprey, beavers, and even bears.
Both the Kicking Horse River and the Kananaskis River are glacier-fed meaning they have clean crisp water that is both beautiful to look at and swim in.
Other Things to do While You’re in Banff
Going whitewater rafting near Banff is just one of the many awesome things you can do in Alberta! If you’re staying in Banff, there’s lots to explore. To give you an idea, here are some of the other things you can do while you’re in Banff:
- Hike Johnston Canyon – There are tons of amazing hikes in and around Banff, but I especially loved hiking Johnston Canyon and seeing its spectacular waterfalls. You can drive to the trailhead on your own or book a tour. This e-bike and hiking tour is excellent for those who want to combine both activities. Or if you just want transport, take the hop-on-hop-off bus that stops here. If you visit Johnston Canyon in winter, this Icewalk tour will show you ice formations and frozen falls!
- Visit Lake Louise and Moraine Lake – If you want to see stunning lakes in the area, check out these two! Parking at Lake Louise can be tricky (and impossible at Moraine Lake!), so we’d recommend this Banff National Park Tour. You’ll get to visit Lake Louise as well as Moraine Lake in one go – with enough time to walk around, learn the local history, and snap postcard-worthy photos.
- Ride on a gondola – If you want the best vantage points around, take in one of the four gondolas around Banff! You’ll climb up high above the ground with tickets for the Banff Gondola, the Banff Sunshine Gondola, Lake Louise Gondola, or the Mt Norquay Chairlift.
- Look for wildlife – Banff is home to some pretty incredible wildlife. You might just spot elk, bears, deer, foxes, coyotes, bighorn sheep, and more! The best chance you have of seeing the most critters is on a wildlife tour in Banff. We really liked this small group tour where the guides tailor the itinerary to recent wildlife spottings and you get to see highlights of the national park along the way.
- Explore Banff town – While many nature-based activities are nearby, you shouldn’t neglect Banff town itself! Start your morning by visiting one of the cute local cafes, or grab patio drinks along Banff Avenue in the afternoon. To avoid traffic, check out the pedestrian-only Bear Street, with even more restaurants, cafes, and shops. And if that’s not enough, there’s also a Farmers Market every Wednesday in the summertime.
Where to Stay in Banff
Along with booking a whitewater rafting tour in Banff, finding a place to stay is one of the most important parts of your trip to the Banff area. The selection can be overwhelming and expensive!
There are lots of different areas to consider when it comes to deciding where to stay in Banff National Park. There are also plenty of great hotels in Banff town to consider. Below are some amazing hotels we recommend:
Samesun Banff Hostel – Budget-backpacker Hostel
A great budget hostel with dorm rooms. The Samesun Banff Hostel is perfect for those on a tight budget who want to stay in the heart of Banff town. This is only a backpacker place though, as there are no private rooms available. Dorms can be booked on either Booking.com or Hostelworld.com.
Banff Inn – Budget-friendly Hotel
The Banff Inn is the perfect mix of comfort and affordability. It has a budget-friendly price tag but also comes with lots of luxuries. The hotel is located right on Banff Ave and all rooms are air-conditioned. In the hotel, you’ll find a hot tub, steam room, and sauna, as well as a restaurant and bar. You should book the Banff Inn well in advance as this is one of the most popular hotels in Banff.
Banff Rocky Mountain Resort – Mid-range Hotel
Pushing up into the mid-range budget, the Banff Rocky Mountain Resort has a swimming pool, hot tub, gym, and all the rooms have kitchenettes or full kitchens. It is the perfect place for families since two and three-bedroom units are also on offer. The location is peaceful on Tunnel Mountain but yet only a 5-minute drive from Banff town. You can check availability and book Banff Rocky Mountain Resort online here.
Fairmont Banff Springs – Luxury Hotel
The Fairmont Banff Springs is easily the most luxurious hotel in Banff. It’s not cheap but the place is simply incredible – it seriously looks like a castle! Inside the hotel, you’ll find 11 restaurants, 14 shops, bowling, bars, a top-rated spa, a couple of pools, and so much more. It’s a luxury resort-like stay and the only one of its kind in Banff. If you’re visiting Banff on a honeymoon then this should be the hotel you choose! You can check prices and room availability for Fairmont online here.
Important info: Because of how popular Banff is, I suggest booking a place ASAP! Using Booking.com is great too because lots of hotels offer free cancellation so just lock in a place (or two) for now and make the final decision later!
Travel Insurance is more important than ever right now!
If you’re traveling during these uncertain times, be sure that you have travel insurance!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance when we are going on longer trips. They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $45 USD per 4 weeks!) and even have coverage in case you get that dreaded c-word. The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!)
It’s safe to say that travel insurance has saved us thousands over the years!
Renting a Car in Alberta
If you’re arriving in Alberta via plane then I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough. Canada is a large country and traveling between cities and even just getting out to some of the best places to visit in Alberta requires transport. Although you can use public transport, on some occasions, it means your trip will not only require more time but more planning.
Renting a car will definitely make exploring all of the fun things to see and do in Alberta easier.
Car rental in Canada isn’t super cheap, but it isn’t overly expensive either, especially if you get a budget car. The cheapest car with pickup and drop-off in different locations is around $100 CAD per day. The price does vary though depending on the time of year and the type of car that you rent. For car rentals, I use the website DiscoverCars.com. It’s a search engine with lots of deals with good customer service. In fact, I’ve used them all over the world including in Chile, New Zealand, and Australia.
Another popular option is to rent a campervan or motorhome (only for the brave in winter.) Using Motorhome Republic you can search hundreds of deals across multiple companies to pick a great vehicle and the cheapest price. Having a motorhome is a stunning way to see Canada, and using crown land and campsites, you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable!
Parks Canada Pass Quick Info
If you plan on spending time in Canada’s national parks (including Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, Kootenay, and more) then you’re going to have to pay for a Parks Pass.
Single Daily Admission:
This type of pass is valid for one person for one day. It is ONLY the best value if you are traveling alone and only plan to visit a national park for a couple of days.
- Adult (ages 18-64) is $10.50 CAD
- Senior (65+) is $9.00 CAD
- Youth/Child (17 or younger) is FREE
Group Daily Admission:
If you’re traveling in a group or with family, you can buy a single-day admission for your entire vehicle (up to 7 people in one vehicle.)
- $21.00 CAD gets your entire vehicle entry for one full day
Parks Canada Discovery Pass
The “Discovery Pass” is what Parks Canada calls their year-long (365 days from the purchase date), multi-park entry pass. This pass will give 365 days of access to all participating national parks in Canada. This includes the most popular parks like Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, Glacier, Mount Revelstoke, and so much more.
- Adult (age 18-64) – $72.25 CAD
- Senior (64+) – $61.75 CAD
- Group/Family (up to 7 people in one vehicle) – $145.25 CAD
Hot Tip: Although more expensive up front, if you plan on spending more than 7 days in different parks in Canada within a 12-month period, then the Discovery Pass is actually the better deal!
Parks Canada Passes can be bought online here or at one of the Visitor Centers or booths at the entrance to many national parks.
Thanks for reading!
Whether you’ve tried whitewater rafting before or are new to the sport, booking a tour in the Canadian Rockies is a great way to spend a day in Banff. Rafting tours around Banff showcase some of the most pristine beauty of the mountains, rivers, and valleys. There are tours available for every skill level, so hopefully one on our list caught your eye!
I hope this blog about the best whitewater rafting tours in Banff helped you plan your next trip to the Rockies. If you need more ideas for fun activities and destinations, make sure to visit our other Banff blogs or check out these recommendations below!