History of Kicking Horse section of the Trans-Canada in British Columbia
Kicking Horse Canyon & Bridge
From 2009 to 2014 the area from the Golden junction was improved with 4-laning, median barrier, improved drainage, wildlife fencing and crossing (though not as fancy as in the National Parks), re-vegetation, retaining walls, grade reduction, access consolidation, an overpass at Golden Donald Upper Road (location of the Golden Visitor Center), cyclist/pedestrian pathway and Intelligent Transportation System signs. The project to widen and straighten the Trans-Canada Highway to 4 lanes with a design speed of 100 km/hr, involved 21 kilometres of improvements costing $327 million
Kicking Horse Canyon Phase Four, at an estimated cost of $450 million will involve a significant realignment of more than four kilometres of the Trans-Canada Highway through the Kicking Horse Canyon to improve traffic operations, safety and reduce rock fall and avalanche hazards.
This dangerous stretch between the Kicking Horse Visitor Centre and the Ten Mile Hill east of Golden has many sharp curves and a reduced speed limit of 40 km/h in sections.
Golden area project updates
Yoho (5 Mile) Bridge - 3.2 km New Yoho Bridge, rock debris protection wall and 4-laning completed in fall 2006. This bridge is adjacent to the Kicking Horse Visitor center just west of the Park Bridge.
Phase 3 East: Brake Check to Yoho National Park - 8.8 km Construction took place 2008-2011 and included 4-laning with concrete median barrier, a new crossing of Mt. Hunter Creek, an overpass arrangement at Wapta/ Beaverfoot Rd., widened shoulders to accommodate cyclists, 3 wildlife crossings and fencing
The elegant curving 405 metre Park Bridge the highway travels on today passes was opened in 2010, and passes through an impressive 90 metre rock cut as deep as the canyon the bridge crosses over. The former route of the Trans-Canada Highway, way below and alongside the Kicking Horse River is now a recreational trail for hikers and cyclists, ending at a viewpoint on the site of the former Park Bridge.
Field and the Visitors Centre
Dropping down from the Spiral Tunnels, you pass some snowsheds and avalance control slopes, before hitting the flat riverbed of the Kicking Horse River. The highway looks like its only feet above the river level in summertime, so how could it be above any spring melt & flood level?
The riverbed is quite wide, so it does not take a lot of height to keep the roads above any potential high water levels. A few kilometres west of this gravel bed is the town of Field, which has lots of services as well as an Alberta Travel Information Centre (with BC info as well).
Kicking Horse Pass & Spiral Tunnels
This pass was discovered in 1858 by Dr James Hector, a geologist of the famous Palliser Expedition to map and explore western Canada for the British government. He was said to have received a disabling kick from one of his pack horses, and name the pass for the incident.
When the Canadian government, under its terms of union with British Columbia, agreed to build a trans-continental railroad, they chose the Kicking Horse Pass as the shortest route to the Pacific. The railway climbed up the east slope, from Lake Louise, and dropped down the west slope.
The western slope of the railway built in 1884 was called The Big Hill, and trains had to climb 1,070 feet (330 m) over a distance of 10 miles (16 km) from Field at 4,267 feet (1,301 m) climbing to the top of the Continental Divide at 5,340 feet (1,630 m), for a grade of 4.5%. Typically railroads steeper than 4% would only be workable with cog wheels to pull a train up the slope. The solution was adding extra locomotives to the train at Field, for the haul uphill.
The track was also too steep for safe braking, and there were accidents. The CPR added three safety switches (runaways) on the way down to protect against runaway trains. In 1907, the track grade was modified with two spiral tunnels, one 3200 feet long and one 2800 feet long, which were cut through Mount Cathedral and Mount Ogden, and dropped the slope down to 2 percent.
The steep pathway of the abandoned track is today's roadway for the Trans-Canada Highway. You can see an abandoned bridge to the south side of the highway just east of the Spiral Tunnels.
Travelers can stop at the Spiral Tunnels Viewpoint & Rest Stop, to watch a train leave the tunnel over/under the other of the train entering it (depending on the train's direction of travel). The Spiral Tunnels are best accessed on a westbound leg of a cross-Canada trip). Due to snow accumulations along the highway, the Spiral Tunnels are not accessible during winter months
Travel Tip: Visti the Spiral Tunnels on your westbound leg, if possible, the left turn from the eastbond lanes in summer is not an easy one in traffic. When you continue westbound you may see a train above you to the left/south, heading back into the mountain to approach the Spiral Tunnels from above!
Spiral Tunnel Photos
More Trans-Canada Highway History← West
← Prev TCH Provincial History ↑ East →
Trans-Canada Highway Itinerary Map
use mouse to drag/move map. Click on "+" or "-" to zoom in or out. "Satellite" combines map & photo.