Track beauty - a journey on the Rocky Mountaineer
Canada | December 11, 2017
From rugged mountain ranges to crystal-clear streams, the scenery in the Canadian Rockies is stunning. Hollie-Rae Brader explains why it's best seen on board Rocky Mountaineer
My hands are bitterly cold and my eyes ache from staring at a
carpet of green alpine forest. I’m two hours in to what I like to call Bear
I’m standing at the back of the Rocky Mountaineer train in a
rattling open-air viewing vestibule, eagerly waiting and hoping for a bear
Just hours earlier over a sumptuous smoked salmon breakfast I was
grilling Canadian guests on the likelihood ofa grizzly sighting. Some laughed
at the prospect and shot down my hopes; others smiled politely and in true
kind-Canadian fashion said it was a possibility. Of course, I sided with the
locals who kept my dream alive.
Well-fed and happy, I left the dining car and headed to my seat on
the upper floor of the dome carriage – one feature of Rocky Mountaineer’s
GoldLeaf Service – for a relaxed morning of scenery watching.
I hit the recliner button to slump me back, followed by the foot
rest switch, leaving me almost horizontal.
Next, I played with the seat temperature gauge to ensure my bottom
was warm and toasty. “Perfect,” I sighed, and it really was.
There were stunning sights from all angles – looking up through the
transparent roof of the dome I enjoyed endless vistas of mountain tops merging
with fluffy clouds; to my side were views of quaint Canadian towns and villages
dotted along streams and rivers. Everything was peaceful and still.
But the serenity of doing nothing changed the moment our guide
informed passengers that we were rolling into bear territory. My heart skipped
a beat (I’m not being overdramatic – I have a little heart condition which
flares when I’m excited).
I was captivated by our guide’s tales of an infamous grizzly called
Boss, aptly named because he ferociously rules his kingdom, roaming the area
and killing other bears who dare to cross his path. With a team of fellow bear
spotters (other eager young journos) by my side, we’d left the comfort of our
seats and headed to the open-air platform. The brisk Canadian May winds brought
an instant chill to my bones and the effects of that warm seat faded far too
“BEAR,” I shout, scrambling for my camera. News of a possible sighting
quickly spreads through the dome.
But it’s a false alarm, our guide quickly informs us, as it
transpires my so-called bear was actually a bush (although I still firmly
believe it was a bear). Other sightings don’t disappoint. As the train cuts
through picturesque mountain ranges we spot bald eagles, elks and ospreys.
After what feels like a lifetime of waiting to spot a bear, I
retreat to the comfort of the dome car to warm up.
It’s here I realise there was no need to leave my seat in the first
place, as the glass dome surrounding me is perfectly adequate for bear
Noticing I’m a little deflated by my unsuccessful bear mission, a
member of staff rushes over with a Baileys
on the rocks; she’d remembered I’d ordered one on the train the previous
day. “Need to drown your sorrows a little?” she asks with a smile.
Thanking her, I take a sip and stare wistfully out the window.
Peace returns to the Rocky Mountaineer for a few moments.
“Bear on the left, bear on the left!” shouts our guide as she runs
to grab the mic. Everyone on board jumps to the left side of the train and we
gawp in anticipation.
As excited exclamations echo from the front of the train it becomes
clear that this time it’s not a false
alarm – after hours of straining my eyes to filter through the
foliage, I’m finally about to see a bear.
This enormous and hugely impressive creature is perched on all
fours just metres from the train track. Cheers erupt from passengers young and
old; the bear, completely unperturbed, turns his head as if to check what all
the fuss is about.
Emotions come flooding in (can I blame the Baileys for this?) and
I’m slightly overcome at what I’ve seen.
My journey on Rocky Mountaineer started a day earlier in Vancouver.
From the moment you pitch up at the station, you know something special is in
store. Bagpipes blast as guests chime glasses to toast the adventure that lies
The journey to Banff lasts two days, and unlike many train journeys
around the world, passengers don’t sleep on board. Instead they disembark every
day and head to a local hotel.
The scenery is starkly different on each day. On the first stage of
the journey, between Vancouver and Kamloops (where we make an overnight stop),
it is dryand desert-like, almost barren, but still incredibly pretty.
The second day is the highlight. The dusty red plains of the
previous day make way for lush green forests filled with gigantic spruces all
fighting to be the tallest. Snow-peaked, majestic mountains merge into one another,
providing the perfect backdrop as we criss-cross through the Rockies. We follow
streams through the mountain range, the water so clear that the
adrenaline-filled kayakers appear to be floating on air.
I automatically reach for my phone, keen to share photos on social
media as the train zips through the country into more remote areas. It’s only
then I remember there’s no Wi-Fi, no phone signal, no interference from the
outside world. It’s just you, the train and your surroundings. And it’s
actually a breath of fresh (mountain) air. Time to sit back and enjoy the
experience – social media can wait.
The beauty continues through to our final stop in beautiful Banff
National Park – a haven for outdoorsy types, who can get close to nature by
canoeing along the beautiful blue waters of the Bow River, or head to the peak
of Sulphur Mountain for sweeping views across the park.
Then there’s heavenly Lake Louise. Just a 40-minute drive from
Banff, this place is worth a visit at any time of year. Nestled between
mountains, the lake, when thawed, is famed for its glistening blue and emerald
waters and is a playground for kayakers.
But I visited in the spring, when the water was still just frozen
enough to walk from one side of the lake to the other.
With the lake edges thawing a little, I felt like a daredevil as I
sprinted across and posed for pics jumping in the air, ignoring the thought of
falling into the freezing waters below.
Spending two days in Banff I fell in love with my surroundings, but
quickly realised that I missed the service and comfort of Rocky Mountaineer.
Train travel – with beautiful scenery, mouth-watering breakfasts
and lunches, and the most exquisite service – has tobe the most romantic form
of travel. I certainly left a piece of my heart in the Canadian Rockies.
Rocky Mountaineer’s First Passage to the West Classic
itineraryleads in at £1,633 per person in GoldLeaf Service. rockymountaineer.com