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.
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 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.
If you stop at the Rest Stop and Tourist Information at the bottom of the hill, you can look east toward the Park Bridge and see the old highway route in the Kick Horse River valley below the bridge. And you can see the trans-continental railway tracks just across the river (trains typically come by every 1/2 hour).
Field and the Visitors Centre
The town of Field, with lots of services (there’s a convenience store right on the Trans-Canada, across from the Alberta Travel Information Centre (with BC info as well). Just west of Field, on the north side of the highway is the exist for Emerald Lake (sorry, in the summertime, you need both parking and bus reservations long in advance to get to the Lake itself, as well as accommodation reservations if you wish to stay there!).
East of Field you have a very wide valley and the highway seems surprisingly low above the riverbed, given what you may think is Spring flood stage… but remember, (a) its a very wide valley, and (b) they’ve been monitoring the Spring runoff for 150 years, and (c) the road bed is not as low as you think!
East of Field, as the highway starts its long climb up, you see the railway tracks across the valley, already higher than the highway, and they will pass through concrete avalanche tunnels and you will see a wide avalanche path, with the sides protected by high concrete embankments to steer avalanches away from both the highway and the railway.
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 (a few!). 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 now the 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.
Visit 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
Kicking Horse Pass
As the highway reaches to the top of the Kicking Horse Pass, you will pass three small lakes on the south side west of the border, and one east of the border. Just east of the first of the lakes you will pass under an unusual animal bridge, that spans all four lanes of the Trans-Canada… this is unique because, further east in the scenic Bow River valley, you will pass under several animal bridges but their arches span 2 lanes of roadway at a time with the earth, bushes and trees on top span the whole roadway to provide the wildlife a comfortable and safe way to cross the highway. The pass is marked at the Alberta-BC border by large signs (many folks stop and take pics in front of them, but be observant of the busy traffic at this point).