The Rocky Mountaineer Rail and River Tours

Angela Youngman


Over a century ago, many thought that creating a train route across the Rockies was impossible but the Canadian Pacific proved otherwise. Passing through long canyons carved by rushing water, crossing dramatic gorges high above the valley floor and watching wildlife moving through forests – this is now one of the most famous rail journeys on the planet. The Rocky Mountaineer has become a by word for luxury and intensely memorable train travel passing through landscapes inaccessible by car.

From the moment travellers board the Rocky Mountaineer, they are guaranteed a travel experience beyond anything they could have imagined. Key to the Rocky Mountaineer’s success are the superb glass domed carriages providing 360 degree views of the surrounding countryside. There is even an outside viewing area at the end of the carriages, perfect for standing and admiring the majesty of the snow capped mountains. Alongside the stunning views, passengers stay overnight in luxurious hotels and enjoy gourmet food throughout the journey. All the menus are inspired by Western Canadian produce such as omelettes filled with Canadian cheese or Braised Alberta short ribs from cows raised in the Okanagan Valley as well as wines and beer from British Columbia.

The staff are intensely proud of the train, and enjoy sharing stories, historical information and above all pointing out key features and wildlife along the way. As the train passes through particularly scenic spots such as Hells Gate or the Cisco Crossing, it deliberately slows down to ensure everyone has time to appreciate the amazing views. As the train approaches the Pyramid Falls where water spreads out in a pyramid shape across a 300ft drop, the crew members always announce its approach so that passengers can get their cameras in position. The journey offers some flexibility in that passengers book round trips, add in sight seeing tours for example at Lake Louise or Banff or use it as a way of taking a short holiday in Jasper.

Several routes are available on the Rocky Mountaineer but by far the most popular is the journey from Vancouver to Banff or Jasper. The route from Vancouver to Banff & Lake Louise has become legendary over the years. The two day journey takes passengers through a series of spiral tunnels enabling the train to reach ever higher levels amid the mountain peaks. The train winds its way through mountain passes, forests and dramatic canyons. It passes across double bridges high above swirling water in deep canyons, past the pretty Kinbasket lake and over the Kicking Horse River. Castle Mountain’s craggy peaks rear high above glacial lakes. On the first day, the train travels from Vancouver to Kamloops, while the second day involves a journey from Kamloops to Banff.  

The Vancouver to Jasper is often referred to as a ‘journey through the clouds’ reflecting the height reached by the railway as it passes through a UNESCO World Heritage site. Other spectacular sights include the scenic Fraser River Valley, the wildness of the Shuswap region and the awe inspiring Kamloops pyramid falls. Birds of prey are often seen flying high above Moose Lake as moose take a dip in the water, or in the vicinity of Mount Robson the highest mountain in the Rockies. Hells Gate is a formidable gorge marking the spot where the Fraser River is abruptly forced through a gap only 35 metres wide between towering cliffs. The Cisco bridges once included the largest cantilever span in North America taking the train into a tunnel within an almost vertical cliff face.  

At Kamloops, travellers can discover the history of this amazing railway and its heritage railway stock, as well as various museums, art galleries, shopping facilities and try out skiing, hiking and biking trails. Banff and Lake Louise is a premier resort, offering endless opportunities for outdoor adventures amid waterways and mountains. Jasper began life as a wilderness trading post, and has been attracting tourists keen for adventure and to admire the mountain beauty for over a century.

Among its attractions are the Jasper Sky Tram which takes visitors to the peak of Whistler’s mountain, and the Planetarium with opportunities to discover the stars within the world’s second largest Dark Sky Preserves. A special Dark Sky festival is held every autumn. Shimmering glaciers, alpine hikes, winter sports and extensive wildlife including bears, caribou, elk, moose and wolves can be found within the massive expanse of the Jasper National Park.  

Two hours north of Vancouver, Whistler is renowned as a winter sports location with visitors able to enjoy skiing, skating, sleigh rides and dog sledding. One of the most spectacular activities is the guided tour of the Maligne Canyon ice walk. This is the deepest canyon in the park. Each winter, the raging river waters turn to thick ice, and vertical sheets of ice hang from the canyon walls. Walking on ice cleats with special boots through the canyon along routes led by trained guides is an unforgettable experience.

It also has championship golf courses, hiking trails and superb shopping along with world class facilities within its mountain bike park. From 2021 onwards, the Rocky Mountaineer will also offer a link to Whistler, via the Vancouver, Quesnel and Jasper route.

Vancouver itself is equally worth a visit. Visitors can enjoy a ride in a traditional horse drawn carriage, explore art galleries and museums, admire the beauty of the the first authentic classical Chinese garden built outside china as well as extensive Botanical gardens. 

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