The giant north-south lump on any relief map of Canada is the Canadian Rocky Mountains, the crown jewels of Canada. They are the rightful magnets for visitors from all over the world. In the past, passenger trains were ill timed to traverse these towering beauties since most crossed the Rockies at night. Rather like going through Switzerland in the dark. One of the companies that eliminated this silliness is Rocky Mountaineer Railtours.
The journey starts in Vancouver, British Columbia, the Banana Belt of Canada, a very alive city with a locomotive of industry, sports, and runaway Hollywood production to keep its engine running. Do dinner in jumpy Chinatown. Or in trendy Yaletown. Try the Alaska Black Cod at Blue Water Caf?r excellent sushi at Tojo’s. Afterwards, hit the bars: Numbers at 1042-Davie, Odyssey at 1251 Howe St, and the Dufferin at 900-Seymour.
For accommodation, the Listel Hotel is particularly snazzy and centrally located, with prices starting at CAD$190 in summer (see www.listel-vancouver.com). For low budget rooms starting at CAD$75, try Howard Johnson (www.hojovancouver.com).
The Rocky Mountaineer departs Sunday morning from the Pacific Central Station. As you chug out of the city you explore the cars and get your train legs -“ there’s a well appointed club car, and a good dining room. After the initial adrenaline rush, squish into an oversized chair in the observation car and keep your camera handy for the raw and beautiful sights. All major scenery is visible in daylight hours.
As you glide through Fraser Canyon the landscapes become more dramatic and vivid. Hell’s Gate is the place in the Fraser River where 200 million gallons of water per minute charge through a 110-foot gorge. The awesomely constructed Avalanche Alley is designed to reduce the effects of an avalanche. You follow the wide Thompson River and the small, peaceful rural communities that line it as you unwind and settle into this unending series of nature’s constantly surprising gifts.
The food on board is a mixed bag. Generally speaking, the top Canadian chefs in the tourism business are very ambitious in their exotic food combinations (such as caribou in a raspberry/ asparagus sauce). Some are as good with these combinations as they are with the presentation. Unfortunately, our chef excelled only in presentation. But his desserts were a visual delight, resembling miniature Japanese bonsai gardens and other fancies. You didn’t know whether to eat it or frame it.
On late Sunday afternoon you de-train at Kamloops, a small university and tourist town. Motor coaches take you to your hotel accommodation for the night, and then to the Two River Junction revue and dinner show that is included in the package. The show is a home-hewn rustic entertainment with the usual jolly audience participation.
The next morning, climbing aboard the now familiar choo choo in Kamloops is like going back home after a too long vacation. Today you cross the Continental Divide and set your watch one hour ahead. At Rogers Pass, dramatic glaciers ease by your panoramic window. Waterfalls thunder down, rivers shoot by, rugged snowy mountains loom above, and wild life sightings are common. The dramatic natural delights and discoveries are enough to fill your memory and your photo collection for years to come.
Your richly visual journey through the incredibly impressive Canadian Rocky Mountains comes to an end late afternoon on the second day in Banff, the quintessential mountain town in Canada. De-train with delight after your relaxing and visual feast of nature.
There are two classes of service offered by the Rocky Mountaineer: Red Leaf and Gold Leaf. The Red Leaf service starts at CAD$499 low season, moving to CAD$669 during the high season from May to October. Gold Leaf service starts at CAD$999 and moves to CAD$1,299. Red Leaf amenities include oversize reclining seats, individualised attention and commentary by multi-lingual attendants. Gold Leaf service offers the same service plus 10 dome coaches with 360-degree views, more upscale hotel accommodation, and a private dining room.
Story courtesy of the Gay Canada Guide. The editor of this page, Dominic O’Grady, publishes the Gay Canada Guide and other titles in the Gay Travel Guides group.