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Ever since Rocky Mountaineer took over a historic Canadian railway nearly 30 years ago, it has redefined luxury train travel, making it not just a thing of the past, but part of the future, too. The world’s largest privately owned luxury train company is famous for its clear-domed roofs, which offer plenty of opportunities for nature and wildlife viewing between bites of gourmet food. Plus, with onboard commentary, guests might learn a thing a thing or two — that is, if they don’t get too distracted by the views.
Train travel appeals to a variety of ages and backgrounds: All that’s required is an ability to gaze out the window for hours without losing interest. Good thing that it’s easy to remain spellbound while gliding through the awe-inspiring Canadian Rockies.
I recently had the chance to experience Rocky Mountaineer's six-day “Journey Through the Clouds” itinerary, which included a two-day railway ride east from British Columbia to Alberta, with overnight stays in Kamloops and Jasper, followed by an add-on option that included a scenic bus ride to Banff. It was an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experience — the kind that should be found at the top of any dedicated traveler’s bucket list.
A lone bagpipe-player kicked off our journey in Vancouver, with the Rocky Mountaineer crew providing a warm early-morning send-off while we boarded the train. As we made our way from the city, the vistas became wider and more all-encompassing, ranging from industrial to lush to arid. We passed Hell’s Gate and traversed the scenic Cisco Bridges, where two separate Canadian railways cross over Fraser River, the site of Canada’s largest salmon run. The train stopped in the town of Kamloops, which takes its name from a First Nations Shuswap word that means “meeting of the waters.” The name couldn’t be more accurate, as Kamloops is at the confluence of both the southern and northern branches of the Thompson River, the Fraser River’s largest tributary.
After spending the night in Kamloops, we passed Pyramid Creek Falls Provincial Park, which features a 300-foot waterfall that’s fed by glaciers and pours into the North Thompson River. We also caught stellar views of “the great white fright,” aka Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. Next came Moose Lake, where we had glimpses of bighorn sheep imported from California, grazing alongside a diverse habitat that includes wolves, grizzly bears and, of course, moose.
Our next overnight was in Jasper, followed by a bus ride to the Columbia Icefield, where we had the unique opportunity to ride inside the customized Ice Explorer vehicle to the Athabasca Glacier, one of North America’s most-visited glaciers. Then it was on to Banff National Park via the Trans-Canada Highway, with a stop at the shimmering green-blue waters of Lake Louise. Our overnight stay in Banff included a ride on the Banff Gondola to the newly renovated station atop Sulphur Mountain, which offers breathtaking views of half a dozen surrounding mountain ranges. Finally, it was onto Calgary International Airport, where we made our way back home.
Rocky Mountaineer has several customizable packages, and the countless options might make things seem a little daunting at first. However, the Rocky Mountaineer booking process is actually pretty simple. Travelers choose a rail route, whether it’s west from Vancouver or east from Calgary (or anywhere in between). Then they pick the dates of the trip, as the train only runs from April to October, with the freedom to make modifications while selecting a service package.
The GoldLeaf Service coach has two levels, with fully domed windows and guest seating at the top and a dining area downstairs, along with an exclusive outdoor vestibule. The SilverLeaf Service coach, meanwhile, is one level with partially domed windows, outdoor viewing between coaches and comparatively modest hotel accommodations and meal styles.
Both coach styles feature comfortable, reclining, pre-assigned seating, as well as complimentary alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages and snacks throughout the journey. There’s also onboard storytelling, but by all appearances, passengers tend to tune it out in favor of absorbing the magnificent, unspoiled scenery.
On our trip, we saw bald eagles soaring over sagebrush and river rapids, while we passed intriguing ghost towns along the way. Aside from the views, perhaps the most memorable thing about riding aboard Rocky Mountaineer is the fact that just about everyone waves at the train.
In the end, it’s all of these small details that prove that sometimes, the journey is just as important as the destination.