Canada by train

By Brenda Stanley
For the Journal

Traveling by train is one of the least common ways to travel, but I’ve found a train that is not only a way to get around, but is the best part of the trip. I have taken two train trips recently and feel there is no better way to really experience new places.
I went on board the Rocky Mountaineer train that travels through Canada. The first trip was in July and started in Vancouver and went north to Kamloops and onto Banff. During the trip we took a side venture to the stunning Lake Louise and hiked to lake Moraine and Beehive Mountain, which was the longest and highest hike I’ve ever taken.
The second trip I took on the Rocky Mountaineer started in Jasper with stops in Quesnel and Whistler. This trip was taken in September and featured the Canadian Rockies in their beautiful fall colors.
Both trips were with my 87-year-old father-in-law, who was born and raised in Canada and was the perfect tour guide for the journey. The trip to Lake Louise was particularly special because it was where he met his wife over 60 years ago.
The sites and views from the train are some that are exclusive to the train. There are no roads to many of these areas and from the natural and spectacular beauty; it is obvious these views are pristine.
The latter trip was considered “off season,” and according to the motor coach driver who took us from the airport to the train, the only people they see around this time of year are the “newly wed or nearly dead”. I laughed until I realized I was far from newly wed. Anyway, being one of the youngest on the train isn’t a bad thing. Traveling with people who have lived a long and full life is incredibly interesting and refreshing. At 86, Patricia Jones from Toronto was on this trip by herself. She said she enjoys her adventures on her own because it gives her the opportunity to meet new people, and she says when she brings younger relatives along, they try to take care of her and she “hates that.” She is a lively former dress designer who loves ballroom dancing and she is just one of the many remarkable people on this journey.
Our train car sat about 40 people. Approximately 10 were from Canada and another 10 were from the United States, and the rest were a diverse mixture from all over the world including South Africa, England, Australia and India.
The staff on our coach consisted of four women who not live in the region, but are experts on everything from geography, history, geology and wildlife. They give fun stories and facts about the areas as we travel through. They also make sure you always have a drink and snacks at hand. This is not just a mode of transportation; it is the vacation and they make sure you feel pampered.
Before each meal, the staff comes through with hot towels, and the meals are served in the dining car with linen table clothes and impeccable service. The menus are not filled with dozens of selections, but the five or six different options are all delicious and satisfying. Most of the food has some sort of tie to the area and even the wine and beer are locally produced. During the meals you are able to meet and socialize with others on the train, which was a highlight. Most were retired and had traveled extensively.

The trips are all done during daylight, which means the nights are spent off the train in nice hotels. It also gives you a chance to walk around the different cities where you stop. The best sights however, are on the train. The dome windows give you a panoramic view, and even though I brought a book along, I never wanted to take my eyes off of the scenery.
Being from Idaho and living near the Rocky and the Sawtooth mountain ranges, I wasn’t expecting to be as awestruck as I was at the massive rock cliffs and cloud touching peaks of the Canadian Rockies. Maybe it was because we were so close to the landscape as we wove our way through the canyons bordered by the Columbia Mountains on one side and the Rocky Mountains on the other. We crossed several rivers, including one stretch on the Deep Creek Bridge, which is one of the highest spans in North America, and into the rain forests where the Fraser River flows into the clear turquoise beauty of Moose Lake. And that was certainly not the only river and only lake on this journey. There were so many hidden gems along the way including streams, waterfalls, crevices and springs.
We were so close to the river at one point, we were able to witness hundreds of Salmon spawning. It was incredible to see clearly all those bright red fish during that moment in their life cycle.
The wildlife seemed to be cued as we rolled along. A baby black bear was playing in the shallow part of a lake while its mother watched from the shore. A wolf appeared and ran along the train for us to see its beautiful gray and white coat. And we saw over a dozen big horn sheep perched in the rocks and watching us as we passed by. There were also a number of birds, including bald eagles, osprey, egrets and great blue herons. The large glass dome over our seats gave us a view of the sky as well.
At the back of the train was an open-air vestibule that gives you a completely different experience with the rushing breeze and scenery without any barriers.
Most of the routes the Rocky Mountaineer travels have stops or pass through towns that were created during the gold rush. The train shares the route with a number of freight trains that carry lumber, coal and a number of agricultural products. It is a necessary thing, but it can cause some hold ups, as the trains need to pass each other. I gave the train staff the opportunity to emphasize the impact and importance the railroad has had on the entire region.
It was a man named Peter Armstrong along with a group of travel experts and former railroad executives that started the Rocky Mountaineer luxury train line 25 years ago. There was one train and one route. During the inaugural trip, Mr. Armstrong’s family worked the train and took care of the guests. Now the company is the largest luxury train company in the world and has 24 departures and numerous routes.
This is such a relaxing and interesting way to travel. And although I’ve done it twice, I would definitely do it again. For more information, visit www.rockymountaineer.com.

Brenda Stanley is a former television news anchor in eastern Idaho. She is the author of three novels and three cookbooks. She holds degrees in journalism and communications and recently received her MBA. She is the mother of five children including two sets of twins. She is now a grandmother to five. Brenda and her husband Dave, a veterinarian, live in Blackfoot. Brenda can be reached at www.brendastanleybooks.net.