Ride the rails into Western Canada’s pristine interior with a Rocky Mountaineer Circle Journey.
By Amity Moore Joyce
T he Canadian Rockies deserve your attention. In fact, they command it. To look away is to deny yourself a horizon etched with sky-piercing peaks and a foreground painted with forest green and vibrant emerald. To look away is to miss a soaring bald eagle or a moseying moose. So, don’t avert your gaze. Appreciate the region, from the sparkling shores of Lake Louise to the snow-streaked summits surrounding Whistler, by the best option — luxury rail.
Why by train? Because you don’t want anything to distract from the wildness that spreads before you. You want your eyes free to dart left to see a bear lumbering through a lush meadow dotted with blue and red wildflowers. You want your hands free to snap a postcard-worthy panorama. You want the option to stand on a viewing platform and breathe in the pine-tinged air. Traveling aboard the Rocky Mountaineer gives you those freedoms while also offering an immersive and educational experience.
This award-winning, luxury train travels three rail routes through British Columbia and Alberta, whisking passengers into the heart of Western Canada’s pristine wilderness. It operates only during daylight, so you don’t miss any of the scenery, wildlife encounters or railroad engineering marvels along each route. Two- and three-day options offer a sample of the region; Circle Journeys broaden the adventure by stringing together multiple rail routes. More time onboard and in the destinations along the routes means richer, more all-encompassing exploration.
After time in vibrant, progressive Vancouver, where most of the rail packages originate, sink into reclining spacious seats beside oversized picture windows and prepare to depart on the longest loop: 13-day Grand Rail Circle. It combines Rocky Mountaineer’s Rainforest to Gold Rush and First Passage to the West routes — and thus the region’s highlights — in one amazing journey. Pass through the verdant Fraser Valley, home to B.C.’s largest agricultural region. Here, tidy farmsteads nestle among fields of corn, berry patches and even fields of tulips. Meals served on the train reflect the flavors of the region. Think salmon cooked to perfection and paired with Okanagan wines. Bon appetit!
Before the sun sets, you’ll have observed Hell’s Gate, where the Fraser River churns through a narrow passage of rock walls, and noted a desert-like landscape near Kamloops. Spend the evening in this up-and-coming riverside town, known for its fishing and mountain biking. A stop here whets the sightseeing appetite for what follows: three days in Banff.
Known as much for its ski runs and national park as its relaxing hot springs, this resort town is where the benefits of a Circle Journey first become evident: You get to stick around in a gorgeous place for more than a night and take advantage of extra activities. Grand Rail Circle as well as Golden Circle, Canadian Rockies Getaway Circle and Canadian Rockies Circle each features a Banff sightseeing tour, including a ride on the Banff Gondola. The half-day overview proves invaluable for longer stays that include a second or third day to explore this gorgeous mountain village and national park on your own. In addition, AAA Members who book a Circle Journey receive up to $200 CAD per adult merchandise credit* to use onboard the train. Choose from hats or sweatshirts, fine jewelry and more that capture the spirit of the journey.
An easy motorcoach ride connects Banff to another included excursion, Yoho National Park near storybook Lake Louise. This UNESCO World Heritage site dazzles with its manmade marvels, Spiral Tunnels at Kicking Horse Pass, that enabled rail travel across the Continental Divide. These engineering feats tuck into a natural background dotted with more notable treasures. Emerald Lake provides a quiet spot for reflection, while nearby Natural Bridge reveals how the Kicking Horse River has shaped the surrounding rock for eons.
The perfect ending to the perfect day comes when you’re ready to rest your eyes and enjoy the comfort and class of one of Rocky Mountaineer’s preferred hotels. Whether you choose SilverLeaf or GoldLeaf Service, you’ll awake well rested and ready to embark on a magical day.
Equally exquisite and refined, both levels of service emphasize awe-inspiring views and impeccable service. GoldLeaf Service presents bi-level seating on board the train, with full-glass dome windows above and dining below, an exclusive viewing platform, and three to four Hosts, plus a full culinary team. Both levels of service are available on shorter itineraries, including Canadian Rockies Escape Circle. Like the longer journeys, this seven-day loop also comes with a sightseeing tour of Jasper National Park via the Icefields Parkway. Here, an Ice Explorer transports you to the middle of the Athabasca Glacier to witness first-hand what It is like to step onto one of the largest and most accessible icefields south of the Arctic Circle.
In Jasper, board Rocky Mountaineer once again and head to Quesnel and Whistler, passing the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, 12,972-foot Mount Robson, and through the desert-like Fraser Canyon. The Cariboo Plateau catches your eye with vast ranchlands as does the breathtaking height of Deep Creek Bridge. Get your camera ready; your hosts are likely to recount tales of this 312-foot tall trestle and the facing waterfall. The train operator is kind enough to slow down at these scenic spots to ensure your eyes catch every inch of the majesty before you.
Enjoy a morning of leisure in Whistler, exploring downtown for souvenirs. The final segment to Vancouver follows the Sea to Sky Corridor and you want to be sure you have room for plenty more. The train descends from the mountains, chugging through the Cheakamus Canyon, and back down to sea level at the gorgeous Howe Sound. Keep your eyes open for orcas surfacing among the waves or sea lions reclining on the shores. From the water’s edge to the jagged peaks, Rocky Mountaineer’s Circle Journeys — and every route — bring the best of Western Canada into multiple amazing train rides.
*Restrictions apply. Contact your local AAA Travel Agent for details.
(Traveler Spring 2020)