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Explore The Hell’s Gate Airtram

Yesterday, we headed up the highway to visit the Hell’s Gate Airtram. My husband went there as a kid with his parents, so it’s been on our “bucket list” of things to do in Vancouver for quite a while. When he found out that they were hosting their annual free customer appreciation day on Sunday, we quickly planned a road trip. (Due to a rock slide that closed Highway 1 for part of Sunday, the customer appreciation day has been extended to this Sunday, May 31, as well.)

On our way out, we stopped in Hope to grab lunch at Sharon’s Deli. We’ve stopped there before, on our way back to Alberta, and really enjoyed the soup and sandwiches. Sharon remembered us from our last visit and, despite a tour bus group’s arrival, served up our hot soup and sandwiches pretty quickly. This little restaurant is located right across the street from the Memorial Park, so after we’d enjoyed our hot lunch, we took the girls across there to play for ten minutes before continuing our drive.

Another reason my husband was excited to head out to Hell’s Gate was to see the Fraser Canyon Highway Tunnels. The first tunnel is just after Yale (a small town just past Hope) and the seventh tunnel is just after the Hell’s Gate Airtram. The girls always get excited about the avalanche tunnels on the highway between Golden and Banff so we knew they’d enjoy this drive. Here’s the second tunnel:

Driving the Fraser Canyon Highway Tunnels

Most of the tunnels were short enough you could see right through them. A couple of the tunnels had curves, making it fun to enter and wonder where the other end was. Just before Hell’s Gate, two of the tunnels are close together, so that you can see through one tunnel to the next tunnel. The longest tunnel is the very last one, just a few minutes past Hell’s Gate. It’s worth the drive past the Airtram to go through the last tunnel, then turn around to come back to the main parking lot from the other direction.

Hell's Gate Tunnel on the Fraser Canyon Highway

Having seen the tunnels (and the remains of the rock slide just past the tram), we were ready to explore the canyon. Walking up through the parking lot, we could see a tram getting ready to leave—and peer down into the canyon to see where it landed, far below.

Hell's Gate Airtram

Trams leave every ten minutes, so we basically walked straight onto the tram when we got there. Sunshine quickly grabbed a space by the front window, with a view of where we were going. Lily (our most cautious girl) was a bit more uncertain and stuck to the middle of the tram, where she had a post to hang onto, until Daddy picked her up.

The Hells Gate Tram crossing the river

At the bottom, there was lots to explore. We found the museum and learned more about the fish ways installed along the canyon to help salmon return to their spawning grounds upstream. I’m amazed by how far up-river the salmon travel; it took us a couple of hours to drive up there and the salmon have to swim that whole distance—against the current. It was also neat to see the fish ways because my father-in-law’s dad had helped build some of them, decades ago.

We watched a couple videos in the little theatre. The first video was about the gold rush along the canyon and the second was a re-enactment of Simon Fraser’s journey from Prince George down the Fraser on the ocean. It was actually David Thompson who named the Fraser River for his friend, and Fraser named a different, nearby river for Thompson.

From there, we skipped through the cafe and crowds to cross the Suspension Bridge over the river. I could’ve just stood in the middle watching the churning water below us, but the girls were heading for the other side. There, we climbed up the hill to the railroad and looked back down at the tram and river. As we stood there, I wondered when a train would come along; we’d already heard one go past.

Then I heard a strange whistling. “What’s that?” I asked my husband and told the girls to get off the tracks. The whistling stopped, so I thought maybe it was just the wind in the trees. Then it started again, reminding me of the squeal of the train wheels on the tracks when we’d come down steep hills. Then, as we glanced up the track, we saw other people moving away from the tracks. We pulled the girls back down the hill a bit and watched the train come through the tunnel and fly past us.

Hell's Gate Canyon

We hiked back down the hill and across the bridge. The girls had heard “ice cream” mentioned and were set on getting some, though we decided to have some fudge instead. I mean, when it’s named for Simon Fraser, who can pass? We sat in the cafe and shared a piece of fudge and some water. Then we caught the tram back up to the top of the canyon.

Our trains and tunnels day wasn’t over yet, though. From there, we drove back through Hope and a bit further up the Trans-Canada Highway to hike the Othello Tunnels. But you’ll have to come back next week to hear all about that!

Kid-friendly: yes. The girls enjoyed the tram ride and all the stuff to see at the bottom. The museum was mostly print and picture displays, so my husband and I read quickly and pointed out a few things to the girls (mostly about the salmon, because they know about those from Goldstream). They enjoyed the movies and, of course, the treats. There are plenty of railings to keep kids safe around the canyon.

Baby-friendly: The washrooms are equipped with baby change tables and strollers were allowed on the tram (we rode up with a double stroller). There are lots of stairs at the bottom of the canyon, but also several ramps to improve accessibility.

Fees: again, a bit pricey; a family could cost around $100 and there aren’t any family rates. Kids under 5 are free. You can print a $2 off coupon from the website or wait for their annual customer appreciation free day, which happens every year in May. This year, due to a rock slide, May 31 will be customer appreciation day.

For more information about visiting Hell’s Gate, drop by the website or follow them on Twitter and Facebook (where they posted the customer appreciation day information). The Airtram is open from April until October and is about a two-hour drive outside of Vancouver.

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