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All about the Spiral Tunnels in Canada

All about the Spiral Tunnels in Canada

The Canadian Rockies are like a never-ending gift, not just for their natural beauty but also for the surprise of spotting trains sneaking in and out of the mountains with perfect timing to avoid any mishaps.

This man-made feat is called the Spiral Tunnels. Plus, these tunnels aren’t just hidden engineering gems; they’re also a tourist hotspot. 

Now, before you get overwhelmed by train schedules and finding the best angles for the ‘gram, take a breather. Let’s dive into what you need to know about the Spiral Tunnels in Canada and when is the best time to take a photo — read on!

Best Time to Go

pinetrees
Image source: Dulwich

For the best photos of the Spiral Tunnel, you have to take note of when’s the best time to go. And timing the train schedule here can be quite tricky.

Alright, here’s the deal; the lower tunnel viewpoint does its thing from around mid-May to mid-October. As for the upper viewpoint and the Yoho Valley Road route, they’re in action from around mid-June to mid-October.

When the weather’s nice and warm, trains are all over the place — sometimes running every 15 minutes on certain days.

But just a heads up, these trains are a bit like free spirits because they don’t stick to a set schedule. Frankly speaking, there are times when tourists or viewers go home without seeing the trains weave through the tunnels — so patience also plays a crucial role.

Know when to take the perfect shot

  • Sunrise and Sunset

You know those hours just after sunrise and before sunset? Well, photographers practically give them a standing ovation. 

That soft, warm light? It’s like pure magic, turning the already jaw-dropping scenery into something that belongs in a fairy tale. 

The Spiral Tunnels, with the Canadian Rockies, doing their majestic thing in the background, become even more spellbinding under this dreamy light.

  • Crystal Clear Days

When it’s all about the blue skies and zero clouds, that’s your cue. Clear days let the sun work its magic on the Spiral Tunnels and their surroundings. 

Picture this, sharp details, popping colours, and contrasts that practically jump out of the frame. It’s like the engineering feat of the tunnels gets a standing ovation in an open-air theatre, eh?

Get your timing right

  • Regular Train Schedule

The Canadian Pacific Railway operates a regular train schedule through the Spiral Tunnels. Typically, freight and passenger trains traverse these tunnels multiple times a day. 

This consistent train traffic gives you the window and opportunity to snap trains emerging from or disappearing into the tunnels.

  • Varying Train Speeds

Keep in mind that train speeds can vary. Some trains might zip through the tunnels quickly, while others may maintain a more leisurely pace. 

This variety in train speeds adds an element of unpredictability to your photography, allowing you to experiment with different compositions and techniques — p.s. filming it doesn’t count as cheating, eh?

  • Patience Pays Off

When photographing the Spiral Tunnels, patience is a virtue. Position yourself at a vantage point, set up your equipment, and be ready to wait. The anticipation of a train’s arrival can be just as stimulating as capturing the moment itself.

  • Time-Lapse Techniques 

This might be a good idea for some; why not give time-lapse photography a shot? It’s like a magic trick that captures trains moving through the tunnels in super slow-mo, one frame at a time.

The results? These totally fascinating videos showcase the rhythm of rail traffic against the backdrop of the mountains, adding that extra touch of wow.

Pro tip:
On a normal day, you’ve got around 25 to 30 trains passing through the Spiral Tunnels. But they’re not exactly following a tight schedule. 

The trains slither in and out of the tunnels quite fast, and you can easily miss them if you’re not ready. So, it’s best to have backups by asking your family member or friend to also take a video or photo — just to increase your chances of a nice shot!

The trees have grown quite a bit over the years, so getting the perfect snap can be challenging. A tripod or some sort of selfie stick can give you a little boost in getting past the tree peaks and actually capturing the trains.

Things To Know

two men in front of a train
Image source: Parks Canada

The Spiral Tunnels are a pretty cool engineering feat located in the Canadian Rockies near Field, British Columbia. 

For a quick History 101, they were built in 1909 to reduce the steep grade of the Kicking Horse Pass, which made it difficult for trains to climb. The tunnels are 1.6 km long and are connected by a series of switchbacks. 

The Big Hill was a dangerous stretch of track for trains, with many derailments and deaths. To make the trip across the Rockies safer, engineers built a spiral track that allowed trains to travel on a much flatter grade. 

This new track made it much easier for trains to cross the Rockies; it’s still in use today.

And as time goes on, this has become a tourist attraction; in fact you can view them from the Kicking Horse Canyon scenic railway. They’re a National Historic Site of Canada, and for good reason — it’s like something ripped out from a fairytale book.

Pro tip:
The Lower Spiral Tunnel viewpoint is a neat little spot to visit on the side of the Trans Canada highway. There are numerous placards that recount the history of the Spiral Tunnels and their importance to the history of the railroads in Canada.

You can actually view this engineering masterpiece from different viewpoints. Stay tuned!

In most cases, there are washrooms and enough parking spots. But cell signals may be limited depending on the carrier. 

Which Viewpoints to Visit

pinetrees and a train
Image source: Field

Website: https://parks.canada.ca/pn-np/bc/yoho/culture/kickinghorse 

Contact details: Mid-May to mid-October: 250-343-6783; [email protected]; Year-round: 1-888-773-8888; [email protected] 

Hours of operation: Open year-round

For those eager to witness the captivating sight of trains making their way through the Spiral Tunnels, several viewpoints provide an unparalleled view of this engineering marvel — let’s check them out!

Spiral Tunnels Viewpoint

people looking at the pinetrees
Image source: Orana Travel

Directions

If you’re ever in the town of Field, be sure to check out the Spiral Tunnels viewpoint, you can choose between the Upper or Lower viewpoint. 

It’s a great place to see the trains as they navigate the tunnels, and there’s also an informative display about the history of the tunnels and their significance to Canada’s rail network. You can’t miss it – it’s just off the Trans-Canada Highway.

To fully appreciate the grandeur of the Spiral Tunnels, visiting both the Lower and Upper Spiral Viewpoints is highly recommended. Here’s how you can get to each viewpoint:

Upper Spiral Viewpoint
LocationLocated within Yoho National Park, it offers a higher perspective.
DirectionThere’s also a pull-off 2.3 km up the Yoho Valley Road on the way to Takakkaw Falls from Field.
ParkingThere’s a parking lot at the Upper Spiral Viewpoint; it’s relatively smaller than the one at the Lower Spiral Viewpoint. If the lot is full, you might need to wait for a spot to become available.
TrailFrom the parking lot, a short hike of around 1 km (0.6 miles) leads you to the viewing area. The trail is well-maintained, and while it involves a slight uphill walk, it’s manageable for most visitors.
Lower Spiral Viewpoint
LocationLocated near the town of Field, British Columbia.
DirectionFrom the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1), take the Field turnoff onto Stephen Avenue. Follow the signs directing you toward the viewpoint. The road is paved and accessible for most vehicles.
ParkingThere’s a designated parking area at the viewpoint. During peak tourist seasons, the parking lot can get busy. So, it’s advisable to get there early.
TrailThe viewpoint is easily accessible, with paved pathways leading to the viewing platform. This makes it suitable for visitors of all ages and mobility levels.

And when in doubt, you can always rely on your GPS for safe and accurate navigation to the viewpoints.

Kicking Horse Pass Overlook 

spiral tunnels
Image source: Adams Van Adventures

Directions

This overlook, located along the Trans-Canada Highway, provides a wider view of the Spiral Tunnels against the backdrop of the beautiful Yoho National Park. The view is stunning during sunrise and sunset when the light bathes the landscape in a warm glow.

Jump on the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1) and keep your eyes peeled for the Kicking Horse Pass Overlook signs. You’ll be heading east if you’re coming from the town of Golden and west if you’re rolling from Lake Louise.

When you see the overlook sign, it’s time to ease into the parking area. Keep in mind that the spot can be popular, so patience might be your co-pilot in snagging a parking space.

It’s also important to know that the park has annual closures and restrictions. Specifically, the Spiral Tunnels Viewpoints are closed from mid-October to mid-May, with all activities not available during the season.

You can also take a look at the admission fees in Yoho National Park:

Daily
Adult$10.50
Senior$9.00
Youthfree
Family/Group$21.00
Commercial Group, per person$9.00
Parks Canada Discovery Pass
Adult$72.25
Senior$61.75
Family/Group$145.25

And just to let you know, admission to Yoho National Park for youth 17 and under is free! 

Pro tip:
At the lower viewpoint, you’ll find a cool commemorative monument, handy info plaques, and even restrooms for your convenience. On the flip side, the upper viewpoint keeps it natural with no frills.

Both spots are totally wheelie and stroller-friendly, so everyone’s good to roll!

Comfortable walking shoes or hiking boots are recommended, especially for the Upper Spiral Viewpoint trail.
Before heading out to the viewpoints, check the weather forecast. The Canadian Rockies are known for their changing weather patterns, so be prepared for sudden changes in temperature and conditions.

At the end of the day, the Spiral Tunnels aren’t just some fancy train tracks — they’re legit engineering masterpieces that turned rail travel into an art form. 

And guess what? People from all over the globe are totally falling for their charm. 

Plus, catching those mind-blowing Spiral Tunnels shots takes a bit of timing, a sprinkle of patience, and some photo know-how. Scoop up the golden hours, aim for those cloudless days, and tap into train schedules — that’s your recipe for capturing pics that shout “epic.” 

With each train that rolls by, you’re basically freezing a moment that screams “nature and engineering at their finest,” ready to be shared with the world.

And now that we’re on the subject, you might also want to go on a train trip (What Is The Best Train Trip In Canada) yourself. You could also extend your road trip itinerary to see some of the best scenic places in Canada. (Best Scenic Places to Drive in Canada) 

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