On our June road trip we found ourselves in Revelstoke for 24 hours with no sightseeing plan. It was early June; not quite warm enough to swim and still too much snow on the mountains to go hiking at higher elevations or drive to the top to see wildflowers.
We visited a park, rode scooters along the waterfront, had milkshakes, marvelled at how different Revelstoke was in spring and … ran out of ideas! We started research what else there was to do at this time of year. The Revelstoke Dam Visitor Centre kept popping up on different ‘Great things to do in Revelstoke’ lists. The kids had never seen a dam that large so it was decided – our next stop would be Revelstoke Dam.
Revelstoke Dam is a 5-10 minute drive from the centre of town. After passing through a security check we drove up to a carpark sitting atop the powerhouse, high above the spillway and river below.
Even though you are already high up, the giant dam wall with it’s 5 generators (and space for a 6th) rises 175m above the carpark, leaving you feeling rather insignificant. It’s the largest dam on the Upper Columbia River and the second largest power generating facility in BC.
The first section of the visitor centre contains a range of information displays on the history of this dam, basic dam mechanics, the benefits of hydroelectricty and what efforts that have been put in place to ensure daming doesn’t have a negative effect on the Columbia River. The presentations are a little one sided, but it does provide a good explanation of how the dam and the power grid works. And there are some really interesting personal accounts from some of the people that built the dam.
Colin and I found the information fascinating and wanted to read every word. The kids were more interested in the various hands on displays and a video documenting how they transported generator five from Brazil to Canada. If you think planning a family holiday is hard, try moving a several story high, 7m wide, 130+ tonne generator from Brazil to Canada!
The best part of the visit was taking the trip up to the viewing platform situated on top of the dam wall. In order to reach it you walk outside on a pathway to the base of the dam wall and through a tunnel in the dam wall itself. It’s shockingly cold inside the tunnel. Millions of litres of snow melt water and thick concrete walls make a great air-conditioner. An elevator inside the tunnel takes you to the top.
The view from the top looking back towards Revelstoke and down onto the river below is gorgeous. Particularly in June when the peaks are still covered in snow and everything is green.
Unfortunately you can’t exit the viewing platform to walk along the top of the dam wall or see the 130km long Lake Revelstoke on the other side. At least you couldn’t when we visited. There is a door leading to the outside but it was locked and there were no signs to indicate it was opening anytime soon. The walk under the dam wall and through the cold tunnel was probably the most exciting part of the experience rather than the viewing platform itself.
Back down in the visitors section is a final room with hands on activities for the kids. There are electrical circuits to complete, colouring, bookes to read, computers, lightbulbs of different energy ratings to try and a bicycle to ride that generates power.
One of the best parts of our visit to the dam was the gift shop – everything was reasonably priced. It’s not often that you visit a tourist attraction and find a gift shop with cheap, quality souvineers.
We couldn’t resist buying some cheesy Canada note pads with slogans like “Text Moosage” and “I can BEARLY remember a thing” … quality puns!!!
Revelstoke Dam Visitor Centre is open from mid May to mid September each year.
The Dam is located five kilometers from Revelstoke. Just east of the main turn into town on Highway 1 you will see the turn for Highway 23 heading north. Take that and follow the signs. Don’t take the south turn for Highway 23 just before town, or the road heading north of this – Highway 23 splits at Revelstoke.
Just before the dam you will need to pass through security. You will have to show photo ID. Once through, you can drive up to the car park outside the visitor centre.
Allow at least an hour for your visit. Check BC Hydro’s website for discount entry. When we visited they had a ‘kids free’ offer if you mentioned the website.