Into British Columbia: Yoho National Park, Spiral Tunnels


Fortunately, Day 5 would be my last gloomy day.  Unfortunately, it would be the cloudiest and rainiest of all the days of the trip, leaving me with a lack of appreciation for some of the stunning Rocky Mountain sights in Canada’s Yoho National Park.

From Banff, take Trans Canada Highway 1 westbound.  The highway heads north at first, to the Lake Louise area, then turns west and crosses into British Columbia.  Yoho National Park begins at the BC/Alberta provincial border.

My plan was to make a two night detour into British Columbia, before heading on up the Icefields Parkway to Jasper.  On Day 5 I drove from Banff to Golden, BC, on Day 6 I drove to Revelstoke and back to Golden, and on Day 7 I returned to Alberta for the drive past the Icefields of Banff and Jasper National Parks.

As I left Banff, I was driving up the same road that I covered on the previous day, during my trip up to Lake Louise, so I didn’t stop and take any pictures until reaching the Alberta/British Columbia line at Kicking Horse Pass (1627 meters, or 5339 feet) — the dividing line between Banff National Park and Yoho National Park.  The provincial line is also the Continental Divide, but other than that, it’s an uneventful spot.

Not far beyond the entrance into BC, I stopped at the side of the road for a look at Sherbrooke Creek.  It’s just a pretty little creek at the side of the road, but it’s not worth more than a moment’s pause, on the way to bigger and better things.

This is the view back uphill, towards the Continental Divide, at Sherbrooke Creek.  I think this is Pope’s Peak, one of the mountains you could also see from the Lake Louise area (on the opposite side).

Spiral Tunnels

The first legitimate tourist stop on the drive through Yoho National Park is the Spiral Tunnels.  The name explains it all: these are two tunnels that make a gigantic loop inside the mountain.  You can see one of the two tunnels in this picture.  A train headed uphill would enter the tunnel on the lower right, and exit on the upper left, then cross over the lower track on a trestle.  The spiral tunnels were necessary to decrease the slope of the track, as it made its way up to Kicking Horse Pass.

The Spiral Tunnels opened in 1909 (which means I visited on their 100th anniversary — and I have the t-shirt to prove it).  Before then, the tracks up to Kicking Horse Pass made a rapid ascent up a 4.5% grade — making it the steepest railroad in North America.  Frequent accidents, and the added expense of “helper” engines made the Spiral Tunnels a necessity.  Portions of the old, steep grade were later used as part of Highway 1.

There are also a few relics from the early railroading days at this stop along Highway 1.  This is a “steam dome” that failed on its way up the steep hill in 1894.  When the CPR’s engine 314 blew up on its way up the hill, the dome went flying, and came to rest 50 meters away.

The Spiral Tunnels stop will likely be more fun for railroad buffs than other visitors.  Unfortunately, you don’t get a good view of the other tunnel, on the opposite hillside, and you can’t get close to either tunnel, since they are still used by the railroad.

The Spiral Tunnels took 20 months to construct, along with 1,000 men, and 75 carloads of dynamite. Crews blasted from both ends, and remarkably, they met in the middle of the mountain with near-perfect alignment.

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