Hell’s Gate is a spot on the Fraser River where it narrows a becomes a crazy, whitewater, roaring, rush of water. If you visit, you can take the Airtram (it’s basically a gondola) down into the canyon to see Hell’s Gate up close. Then, if that’s not close enough for you, you can cross a suspension bridge and look down right into the madness.
This is a fantastic stop-off when you’re driving along Highway 1 in BC, Canada. I must admit, I had never heard of it until I saw on our map that we were driving past a place called Hell’s Gate. However we were all really glad that I looked it up, and that we were able to take a peek!
Hell’s Gate – the basics
Location: On Highway 1, 69km North of Hope
Cost: $30 for adults (print a $2 discount coupon here)
What’s included: Tram ride, exploring the bridge and observation deck as well as a museum
Facilities: The Car park and ticket office is at the top of the canyon.
There are shops, ice-cream (and fudge) stands, a restaurant and toilets at the bottom of the canyon by Hell’s Gate.
Can you visit for free? You can hike down (or up) the canyon for free.
Pets: Pets are welcome on the airtram, as long as they are on a leash.
Hell’s Gate Airtram
Normally when we explore, we climb up mountains, so it is a bit novel to start at the top of a cliff and take the airtram down into a canyon!
This is apparently the steepest non-supported tram in North America, with an average incline of 51% (dropping down 157m over a distance of 303m). You can see how steep it is in the photo above. I took that out of the airtram’s window.
Fraser River views
The gushing water looks impressive from the top of the canyon, but look how amazing it is up close! This is the deepest and narrowest section of the Fraser River. The suspension bridge crosses a space where the canyon is just 33m wide. 200 million gallons of water surge through this gap every minute; A sign said it’s double the amount of water that flows over Niagara falls!
Hell’s Gate Suspension Bridge
You can explore the area and cross the suspension bridge. There are holes in the bridge, so you can look right into the white waters. Don’t look down if you are not keen on heights or afraid of water! We spent quite a long time staring at the churning river.
History of the area
Most of the history on the signs at Hell’s Gate is about the time after Simon Fraser first traversed this area in 1908. He first explored on bridges and ladders that were built by local Nlaka’pamux people.
When the Canadian Northern railway was being built on the edge of the canyon, the construction of a tunnel caused a rockslide. This rockslide narrowed the (already narrow) canyon at Hell’s Gate in 1914. The rockslide also created an impenetrable barrier to the salmon, so people had to carry salmon up the river in baskets to get them beyond the raging waters. You can read a story about what happened to the salmon and the Nlaka’pamux people here.
There are signs to teach a bit about this history, as well as the haunted stove and other battles that were fought in this area. You can also have a go at panning for gold.
The most impressive part of seeing this section of the Fraser River is that salmon manage to swim up it! This area has a long tradition as a fishing site for the Nlaka’pamux people. Salmon have to rest at the edges of the river or in back eddies while they get ready for their epic swim. This meant this area was a perfect place to catch tired salmon!
After the rockslide narrowed the river, the salmon population was decimated, so far fewer salmon could make it upstream. To try to fix that, the government built fishways at the edge of each side of Hell’s Gate. These slow the flow of the water slightly, so make it easier for the salmon to swim up against the Fraser River’s current.
Canyon Day – visit Hell’s Gate for free!
When we visited, we actually didn’t have to pay for our amazing trip on the Airtram. It turns out British Columbia has a Canyon Day, and Hell’s Gate allows everyone to ride for free on that day. We visited on Sunday 26th of May 2019, so if you visit on a Sunday in May, you may be able to visit Hell’s Gate for free. I can’t find anything about this online, but it seemed like it happens every year.
I hope you like the look of Hell’s Gate as much as we did. It’s a really fun attraction to explore; Especially if you’re on a road trip and fancy a little excitement to break up your journey.