Friday, February 25, 2011

Traveling with kids in British Columbia, Canada: Hell's Gate

If you're looking for a good destination for a daytrip with kids from the Vancouver area, heading out to the Fraser Valley and into the Fraser Canyon is a good bet. And if you do the trip April to October, Hell's Gate is a pretty spectacular spot to visit and it features a ride that is sure to wow your kids.

Hell's Gate is the name of a very narrow part of the Fraser River: the passage is only 35 m (110 ft) wide and steep cliffs plunge into the rushing waters below. The big attraction here is the air tram which takes people across the gorge to the restaurants and exhibits on the other side.

You can bring a picnic lunch or snack to eat out on the observation deck, or there's a cafeteria-style restaurant with a good view of the river and the train track on the other side. If you're lucky a train will go by right when you're sitting there (my train-crazy son almost fell out of his seat when that happened when we were there last time). You can take pictures from the observation deck, take a stroll on the bridge that goes across the river, or visit the gift shop for some souvenirs.

There are lots of exhibits and information about the gold-rush era in the Fraser Canyon throughout the Hell's Gate area, including some information about the various spirits and ghosts supposedly haunting the facilities. There's also a shop selling about a zillion flavours of fudge, an exhibit about the salmon that pass up through the gorge here every year, using the fishways built especially for them.

But really, for kids, the main event here is that ride back and forth across the river. My children were about equal amounts freaked out and loving it: perfect kids' entertainment! The drive through the canyon is also quite an experience and the scenery is spectacular. If all you've seen of British Columbia is Vancouver, then visiting the Fraser Canyon provides a glimpse of small-town BC and a taste of the wilderness.

There are lots of tunnels (count them and try to remember all their names!), and there are many places to stop for short or long hikes. Alexandra Bridge makes a nice stop, and if you're traveling here in the warmer months, there are camp sites both in Hope (the main town in the area) and at other spots along the river. If you want to stay in the Canyon for a few days, there are lots of activities including white water rafting, fishing, and hiking. And if you or your children are interested in rock hounding, you can also stop near Lillooet, Lytton or Boston Bar and try to find some agate or jade.

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