The via ferrata offers the thrills of climbing without the risks

Meaning “railroad” in Italian, via ferratas were originally developed during World War I to help troops cross the Dolomites safely with supplies.


“If people go that far, they usually agree,” says my guide, Krista Gooderham. As I let my harness support me, I lean back off the cliff and gaze down the vertiginous 200-meter drop to the lush Great Bear Rainforest below. Gooderham tries to persuade me to try the forward section at the end of the two hour via ferrata at Tweedsmuir Park Lodge, a climbing route that uses the help of wire ropes and bars anchored in the rock face.

Meaning “railroad” in Italian, via ferratas were originally developed during World War I to help troops cross the Dolomites safely with supplies. These trails were later adopted by mountaineers, and now they offer travelers the thrills and scenic views usually reserved for experienced climbers with very little risk. It doesn’t take much to attempt the vertical feat: just a helmet, belt harness, and a bit of adrenaline. Climbers clip onto a metal cable threaded along the mountain using carabiners attached to the harness by two short ropes.

Nestled in a secluded stretch of coastal temperate rainforest on British Columbia’s west coast, Tweedsmuir Park Lodge draws most visitors with its iconic grizzly game drives. But they’ve also developed a strong outdoor adventure program, including heli-hiking, electric biking and via ferrata.

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“Guests love the sense of accomplishment that comes with doing something outside of their comfort zone that they’ve never done before,” says Tim Wilkinson, Lodge Marketing Director. “It’s the perceived sense of risk, when the activity is actually quite safe.”

Demand is increasing for these types of adrenaline-pumping outdoor experiences – perhaps because they are the perfect antidote to the domestic boredom of the pandemic. According to a recent G Adventures Global Consumer Panel, 71 percent of Canadians want to be physically active on their next vacation, and 33 percent want to get out into nature. A 2021 trend research report from the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) showed that more travelers are booking trips that offer a challenge and an adrenaline rush, with an increased interest in rock climbing in particular.

The novelty could also play a role in the growing popularity of via ferratas. The same ATTA study cited new experiences as the # 1 motivation to embark on an adventure trip, and although via ferrata may be familiar to Europeans – where roads wind through mountains in Italy, Austria and Switzerland – their appearance in North America is still quite recent. When I mentioned my recent experience to friends and family in Vancouver, I was greeted by faces that turned into question marks, followed by “a via-whata?” “

As my own climbing experience reaches its crescendo, I decide to brave the advanced option at the end. Legs wobbly, I tightrope along a cable suspended through a narrow gorge while holding onto another directly above me and doing my best not to look down. Deep breathing may have been involved. Another steep cliff climb and I reach the viewing platform at the end of the road. I am elated and breathless. An endless emerald forest unfolds before me, punctuated by the milky blue Bella Coola River and the towering snow-capped Mount Stupendous.

It’s not just British Columbians who hang on and climb. Via ferrata routes have sprung up all across Canada, from Alberta to Quebec, offering some of the best views to be had on destinations. Here’s where to see the leaves from the top of the trees this fall.

The region surrounding Mont-Tremblant includes six rivers, 400 lakes and streams and more than 40 species of mammals.

Photo courtesy of Palissades de Charlevoix / Les Palissades de Charlevoix

Mount Norquay, Banff, Alberta.

There are six routes to choose from at Mount Norquay, two of which will be added this summer – Mountaineer and Mountaineer. About a 10-minute drive from downtown Banff, the routes all start at the top of the mountain tourist chairlift at an elevation of 2130 meters. So whichever you choose promises stellar views of the city and the spectacular Rocky Mountain skyline.

Mont-Tremblant National Park, Mont-Tremblant, Que.

This vast wilderness includes six rivers, 400 lakes and streams and more than 40 species of mammals. It was protected in 1895, making it the first park in Quebec. Three via ferrata routes begin by crossing a bridge over the Devil’s River. Choose the most difficult, the Grand Virée, and you’ll spend five hours climbing and climbing over bridges, beams and trails that run alongside the meandering river, all thrown against the Laurentian mountains.

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Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, Golden, BC

A scenic gondola ride up the mountain takes visitors on a short ridge trail that leads to one of the most exhilarating via ferrata networks in the country. Three variable length runs provide varying degrees of exposure and use a unique “Aeroline” carabiner system that stays connected to the cable system at all times without having to clip and unclip along the way. A 465-meter climb on the Ascension Road ends at Terminator Peak, with mesmerizing views of the Rocky Mountains on one side and the Purcell Range on the other. Make sure to stop by Eagle’s Eye restaurant for a pint after the climb.

The Palissades de Charlevoix, Saint-Siméon, Qué.

The Palissades de Charlevoix adventure park, just east of Quebec City, takes its name from the steep cliffs that dot the region, making it an ideal location for via ferrata. The three routes offered here combine hiking and climbing, and focus on making maximum use of natural rock for grip, with fewer metal rungs along the way. A 200-meter-high suspension bridge offers climbers a breathtaking view of a pine and spruce forest, where it is not uncommon for an eagle to escort you.

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