About a month ago, I hopped on a bus to meet my family in Jasper. The reason for this trip was to take part in the Rocky Mountaineer voyage, a rather luxurious train/bus ride that really highlights the beauty of the Rockies and the BC Interior.
My family had started their journey from Vancouver, taking the GoldLeaf train traveling through Whistler, up through Quesnel, and over to Jasper. I arrived around 7pm, bumped into my parents immediately, and was quickly escorted over to the Moose's Nook. I mention this because this is where I sat down and feasted on one of the most delicious pieces of meat I've ever encountered in my life, a 32oz Tomahawk! Boy was it delicious!
It was a great start to a vacation, an evening with lots of laughs, great conversation with family, plus some impressive piano playing. We later finished the night by staying in the little cottage-style apartments at the Japser Park Lodges.
The next morning, we caught a bus from Jasper and had a spectacular day driving down Highway 93 (aka Icefields Parkway), with our tour guide, Mitch, filling us in on the details of what's around us. I had already driven down this scenic highway before, but with incredible blue skies perfect for taking pictures, it was an amazing day. There's so many beautiful things worth stopping for, including the Athabasca Falls, Tangle Falls, Columbia Icefields, Peyto Lake, Bow Lake, plus other beautiful falls and glaciers that you could see in the distance.
We stopped for the night at the prominent Chateau Lake Louise with a stunning view overlooking Lake Louise. After another exquisite meal at the Walliser Stube, I noticed the sky was still clear so I had to sneak out for a walk around the Lake.
The next morning, Liz and I woke up at 5:30am to catch the (famous) sunrise, which definitely didn't disappoint. Later my Mom, Aunt Gay, Liz, and I hiked up to the Lady Agnus Teahouse for lunch, passing by Mirror Lake and Agnus Lake. That afternoon, we hopped on another bus (with Mitch again), where he showed us the Spiral Tunnels near Field, and Emerald Lake before taking us to Banff. After another rich meal at the 1888 Chop House (where we saw an even larger 40oz Tomahawk!), we wondered around the luxurious Banff Springs Hotel before spending the night there.
On Saturday, Big E and her Mom joined us for the day as we spent most of it by the Hotel. It started off with a tasty brunch breakfast, followed by relaxing in the hot tub. (Even swimming at this Hotel is beautiful, with Tunnel Mountain overlooking you.) Afterwards, we caught a walking tour on the history of the Hotel, enjoyed some ice cream, and walked down to the Bow Falls. This was finished off by a nice meal at Castello Ristorante before Big E and her Mom had to drive back to Calgary.
After 3 days of touring around by bus, the next day at 7am, we caught a shuttle that took us over to the Train Station and I finally witnessed the Rocky Mountaineer trains! With the sun still rising, it was quite a view. We climbed aboard and were greeted by many incredibly welcoming staff and this was definitely not a "normal" welcome either. They even had the Canadian flags outside the steps of the train, and as we left the station, there were a dozen or so members waving us off on our voyage.
I can't say enough of the staff on the train. Gillian, Allie, Eric, and Ainsleigh were excellent. They really made the trip special for our family. For starters, there was a mix up and my family was split between 2 cars. Within an hour or so, the customer service manager (his name is escaping me) had it resolved, which wasn't terribly easy since the train was full. (Also, we had found out that we weren't at the same hotel that evening in Kamloops. Not a problem - the manager got a hold of the hotels and resolved the issue within a few hours, from the train.) The service, on the train, was also very well done. I supposed it helped that we were right at the front, but I was happy that they were prompt with my multiple requests of single malt scotch! I should mention that the food was also exquisite. So good that I ended up purchasing their cook book!
Then there was the view - Wow! The biggest selling part of the GoldLeaf train over the other trains was the view. The train was essentially a double-decker train, where you ate on the lower level and you had a clear glass dome on the top level. Not only did we get a multi-angle view of the incredible landscapes that we passed, but being 15 feet higher allowed us to look over many areas that had high trees. (Of course we were still looking through glass, so when I wanted a super clear picture, I would head down to the outside veranda area.)
Between Banff and Vancouver, it's incredible how the landscapes were both breath taking and diverse. When you think of the Rockies, you think of massive mountains, lush trees, and little rivers. We certainly saw that, but what you often forget is how this was all possible. The tour girls did a great job filling us in with some of the history of the different areas, the engineering feats (Spiral Tunnels), which made it that much more impressive as we followed the river, crossed over bridges, and traveled through blasted tunnels. I had driven many times to Revelstoke before and even to the Shuswap, but it's so much nicer when you can sit back and enjoy the view instead of worrying about the narrow windy roads.
However, once you get near Kamloops, the terrain changed immensely. The mountains were much smaller and the air was very dry leaving little vegetation to grow. It was very desert-like compared to the Rockies. (Not somewhere I can see myself living but still wild wild west and interesting in its own way.)
Eventually, the impressive overlooking mountains returned once we got close to Spences Bridge, followed by the neat mixing of the Fraser and Thompson Rivers, and later Hells Gate, before it opened up again to more agricultural lands near Chilliwack.
In all, I have to say this was one of my most favourite trips in Canada. I have been fortunate to have traveled to every province in this beautiful country, but this was special. Not only was I able to do it with family, which means a lot to me, but I got to learn more about this beautiful area as well. Of course, it doesn't hurt the weather was absolutely amazing, the accommodations were superb, the views were breath taking, and people that we met were rock stars.
While the Rocky Mountaineer is certainly not cheap, the value is incredible. That is why it is definitely a worthwhile bucket list item!
(All pictures are credited to Andrew D. Forbes.)