One of the highlights of our North American trip was taking the famous Rocky Mountaineer train from Vancouver to Banff. This route is one of the company’s most popular and its name, “First Passage to the West” aptly describes its links with the past. Following in the footsteps (well actually on board a luxury train) this route helps you to understand the building of modern Canada. At Craigallechie we saw the memorial where the “Last Spike” was placed to finally join up the rail tracks coming across from the east to the west.
A few key points to note:
The Rocky Mountaineer is a privately-run railway company. In fact, no other passenger trains go along the tracks we took though there are plenty of large cargo trains (who usually get precedence for passing rights).
It is run with great precision and organisation. Our rail coach had a couple of hosts and a cook. Our hosts not only acted as wait staff but provided a full commentary on the many points of interest. We learnt about the First Nations people, the traditional owners of the land, who still retain fishing rights along the salmon runs, the early colonial explorers who charted unknown territories such as the Fraser River (named after Simon Fraser) and the famous Kicking Horse River and Spiral Tunnels (the latter an engineering feat designed to cope with the problems of negotiating the steep inclines of the Rockies).
It is not a cheap option. Our 2 days and 1 night (you get bussed to a hotel at the mid point in Kamloops) cost about 60% of the cost of our 7 day cruise up to Alaska.
You will be plied with food and drink at every available opportunity. By day 2 we had learnt to pace ourselves!
Taking photos from a moving train, albeit one going fairly slowly, is not that easy though they do “slow downs” at some of the exceptionally scenic spots.
On balance I would recommend travelling during the cooler months at either end of the season (it runs from April to October). It was unfortunate that our 2 days coincided with an incredible heatwave and by the time we reached Kamloops on the first day the outside temperature was around 38 degrees centigrade and the air conditioning in our carriage was struggling to cope.
We took the Silver Class option, which although very comfortable, means you don’t have access to an outside viewing deck like they do in Gold Class but you can still take photographs from the open windows between the carriages.
On our return journey a few days later, we drove from Banff back to Vancouver (this time via Kelowna). We retraced our steps for the first part of the journey as the road runs alongside the train line. Therefore I’ll cover some of the locations we passed through in more detail in later posts.
In the meantime here is a pictorial overview of our train ride. We passed through lush verdant countryside nearer to the coast, crossed the Coast Mountains and headed into a semi-arid rain shadow area, saw amazing rock formations, gorges and gushing rivers and passed through some places with interesting names such as Salmon Arm, Golden and Revelstoke.
On Day 2 as we headed up the Kicking Horse River into the Rockies we also began to see some wildlife: some fine-looking horned sheep were the only ones I managed to photograph, but we did see a black bear scampering behind a rock to hide from the train and a handsome elk munching away on some bushes in the early evening sun.
By the time we arrived in Banff (in Alberta an hour ahead of Pacific Coastal Time) we were naturally pretty tired but it had been a memorable couple of days!
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