Hells Gate

Looking for an easy day trip from Vancouver filled with history, gorgeous views and natural beauty? Hell’s Gate Airtram is a two-and-a-half hour drive from the city, ideal for a spring break adventure.

Hells Gate

At this spot in the Fraser Canyon, TransCanada Highway passes 244 metres (800 feet) above the Fraser River.

Hells Gate

“The Fraser River’s entire flow of water, from its 135,185 square km (84,000 square miles) watershed, roars through the narrow gorge at 757 million litres (200 million gallons) per minute. At 40 km (25 mph), twice the volume of Niagara Falls roars through it during high water.”

Hells Gate

A 25-passenger Swiss-built tram descends above the rushing Fraser River to the main area, leading to observation decks, a salmon exhibit and a gold panning station, all on the site of former Canadian National Railway workmen housing.

Hells Gate scenery

“A place where no human being should venture, for surely we have entered the gates of hell.”

This famous quote is echoed in the Hell’s Gate brochure and is inscribed in Simon Fraser’s 1808 journal. Fraser and his crew made their way here in search of an alternate fur trading route to the Pacific Ocean. Fraser and other fortune seekers/opportunists hadn’t yet experienced a pass as challenging as this one in the Fraser Canyon.

Hells Gate Goldmine

Hell’s Gate is filled with legendary tales of mysterious events that to this day are left unexplained. Whether the area is actually haunted continues to be researched by the BC Ghosts and Hauntings Society, a Vancouver-based organization that conducts searches for apparitions.

I spoke with a woman at the gift shop who’s witnessed a few strange, unexplainable things happen here. Doors have locked from the inside. Drawers with sturdy latches on the inside have opened on their own — the list of oddities continues.

1941/Catching the sockeye for tagging
[Catching Sockeye salmon for tagging, 1941]

Apparently 1 in 10 visitors have felt or seen something out of the ordinary at Hell’s Gate.

There was a slide here in 1913 caused by Canadian National Railway workers that devastated the area and destroyed one of the world’s biggest sockeye salmon migrations.

Salmon fishway
[One of two salmon fishways]

The salmon exhibit explains the construction of the International Fishways, a Canada-U.S. Commission collaboration that since 1944 has helped migrating salmon return here. At 28 metres (28 feet) deep, the two structures are some of the largest of their kind in the world.

The exhibit includes an entertaining short film that explains the life cycle of spawning salmon.

Hells Gate

We eat lunch with a commanding view of the surging river below on our right, while hummingbirds feed on our left. We also spot other colourful birds in the trees. Bring your best zoom lens along.

Hummingbird Hummingbirds at Hell's Gate

Hells Gate Airtram is located in the Fraser Canyon off the TransCanada Highway 1 and opens for the season in April. Visit Hell’s Gate Airtram online for opening hours.

Hells Gate

My husband and I were guests of Hell’s Gate Airtram. Opinions, as always, are our own. All photos © Ariane Colenbrander.


  • Comment by Debbie McKinney — March 9, 2017 @ 11:35 am

    Incredible photos Ariane.
    Great job!

  • Comment by arianec — March 9, 2017 @ 2:15 pm

    Thanks, Debbie! We really felt like tourists in our own backyard. My in-laws from Europe visited last year and were also wowed by the scenic beauty. What a location!

  • Comment by VCMBC — March 10, 2017 @ 8:31 am

    Great photos and what a fun post about Hell’s Gate … One of our favorite spots and an awesome way to get up lose and personal with the mighty Fraser River.

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