Riding the rails in the West

Riding the rails in the West

Author: Canadian Living


Riding the rails in the West

When it comes to vacations, they say that “getting there" is half the fun. This sentiment certainly rings true when your journey is by rail. Once you step onboard, you enter another world: one that's both exhilarating and serene. Life chugs along at a leisurely pace, you forget your cares and explore corridors of the countryside you'd likely never visit -- or simply can't get to -- by plane or car.

This is the experience I had aboard the new Rocky Mountaineer Fraser Discovery Route that launched in May. My trip started in Vancouver, where I boarded the train for a three-hour trip up to Whistler along the famous sea-to-sky region of British Columbia.

Off we go!
The adventure began in earnest when we set off from Whistler a few days later aboard a handsome dome coach (talk about surround sightseeing!) on the inaugural 12-hour trip up to the quaint town of Quesnel in what's known as the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Region of BC (see Family Fun in British Columbia and Alberta for more information).

The journey was dotted with picture-perfect mountains, desert-like stretches of land, valleys and lakes as green as polished jade. The highlight of this leg of the trip was winding along Seaton Lake at a languid pace. This glacial-fed gem, nestled peacefully amidst sheer cliffs with not a soul to be seen, seemed to stretch on forever.

The view from Lillooet to Kelly Lake was also breathtaking as we crossed the Fraser River Bridge (242 metres long and almost 60 metres high) gaining almost 1,000 metres in elevation as we climbed.

Local charm
About 200 residents from the town of Quesnel (including a handful of local beauty queens vying for attention) were eagerly awaiting our arrival when we pulled into this overnight spot. The town (a fur trading post come gold rush site that is now a logging community) has been hard hit by the beetle plague and is hoping the new train route will result in more tourism.

The journey from Quesnel up to Prince George and down into Jasper, Alberta was equally impressive but more masculine in nature. The rails run between two mountain ranges: The Premier and the Rockies -- which offer vast stretches of spectacular sightseeing. In fact, you can actually become complacent by the abundance of natural beauty (ho hum, there's another unbelievably majestic mountain).

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Still, the anticipation built as we jockeyed for spots to see the first glimpse of Mount Robson on the open-air platform at the end of our car. I soon discovered that there was no need to rush. For close to 20 kilometres you can see this crowning jewel -- the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. Mount Robson, known for her moody disposition, is often cloaked in clouds but she shone brightly for us that early May afternoon.

Beauty at your leisure
Throughout the entire trip we traveled at what the onboard guides referred to as “Kodak speed&" -- which was a bit tedious at times but did allow for wonderful photos. The train staff were first-rate. The guides were well informed and enthusiastically pointed out landmarks, wildlife (“big-horned sheep on the right;&" “deer on the left;&" “there's a bear&") and shared quirky facts and tales about the towns we passed. As for the food, well, my only complaint is that there was simply too much of it. (We joked about the need for an onboard liposuction service).

When the trip was over in Jasper, I had mixed feelings about leaving the train and staff behind -- that's when I realized that getting there really can be a lot more than just “half the fun&" of a great vacation.

For more information on the new Fraser Discovery Route, visit Rocky Mountaineer Vacations at

Go west for the holidays!
Looking for a magical Christmas experience to remember? Rocky Mountaineer Vacations offers a Christmas train for a limited time in December. It travels to Vancouver with an overnight stop in Kamloops and then on to Banff. (The reverse route is also available.) The trip features a kids' car with crafts and entertainment by children's artist Jim Raddish. Strangely, Santa seems to also be stranded in the same spot along the tracks each year, allowing the train to come to his rescue. There are presents for all the kids onboard.

(Rekindle romance in one (or two!) romantic rendezvous in Western Canada!)

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Riding the rails in the West