Nestled in the Cascade Mountains, Hell's Gate is located two and a half hours away from Vancouver it is well worth the journey. If you start out early in the day, you can arrive easily by opening at 10 a.m. and even have time for a coffee and snack in the picturesque town of Hope on your way up the Trans-Canada Highway.
In terms of a view (and the resulting photos) this location is awe-inspiring; more water carves its way through this narrow Fraser River canyon than goes over Niagara Falls each day.
The main attraction is the air tram spanning the river, and as you board you can hear the thundering water. The sound isn't all that surprising, considering 200 million gallons of water per minute crushes between the sides of the gorge. On the day I visited, the river's water level was 120 feet deep, and this was at the end of July when high water is already down considerably.
At the other end of the air tram is a quaint and very informative interpretive centre. There are things to see and do for all ages, which kept my family occupied nicely while I devolved into my natural shutterbug state.
I made a point to wander out over the river on the suspension bridge and made full use of the late morning lighting to photograph the river and the fish ladders (see right). These fish ladders are designed to help salmon make their journey up the Fraser to their spawning grounds; they're designed to slow the water down so the fish can have an easier time getting through the gorge, where the water gets a little rough and rowdy as it pushes through.
After I finished with the suspension bridge I wandered through the displays. I found the Chinese history exhibit (dedicated to all the workers that helped build the bridge and the bordering rail lines) particularly interesting. While my family wandered around, I took advantage of the fact that we were the only ones there to get down and dirty and take some interesting shots of the artefacts. This is one of the benefits of starting out early and on a weekday: you can sneak shots in without getting in anyone's way or having to wait for a passerby to get the heck out of your shot.
Other than these photo opportunities, I have to wax poetic on lunch. I had an amazing bowl of salmon chowder, which was the best I have ever eaten, and a very large cheeseburger and fries that tasted like they had coerced a master chef into the tiny kitchen. Even if you're not a chowder kind of a person, just trust me and order a bowl. It was creamy, well-seasoned, and they weren't shy about adding the salmon. Perfect!
After lunch, I took some time with the family to check out the fudge factory. Yes, you heard me: a fudge factory. They had 23 different kinds when we were there, and I cleaned them out of the last of their espresso crunch fudge (which I can't stop eating, and now my wife has instituted a lunch-before-fudge rule).
Anyway there are many other things to check out and see, and a ton of great photo opportunities. Sometimes you don't have to go very far to find a completely new location and snap some dramatic pics, and I recommend you check out your own nearby tourist locations. Even if you roll your eyes at the thought of playing tourist, you shouldn't discount the opportunities waiting for you in your own neighbourhood. Tourist attractions draw tourists for a reason, and you can up your game by playing tourist with an SLR instead of a point-and-shoot or camera phone.
If you find yourself heading to Hell's Gate, I recommend bringing a wide-angle lens to grab more of that great landscape, a telephoto lens to zoom in on details that other tourists are likely to miss, definitely a tripod to help steady your shots and maybe set up some timed family portraits (including you), and last but not least, a big appetite for fudge.