BY TAMARA MULDOON
Road trips are fine—they get you where you want to go and let you stop where you want—but driving, for some, can be stressful. Ditto with airline flights. Not fun. Train travel, however, is an entirely different experience where the journey may be as rewarding as the destination. You can relax and watch the scenery, read a book, savor a meal, enjoy a drink, get up and walk around.
The Rocky Mountaineer might just be the best sightseeing experience in Western Canada. Guests travel in comfortable railroad coaches by day through spectacular landscapes, while on-board guides impart commentary, stories and history that make passing views come alive. Passengers stay overnight in hotels along the way, so they don’t miss one moment of the stunning scenic panoramas.
Operating from late April through early October, the Rocky Mountaineer trains travel three different routes. First, Passage to the West runs from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Banff, Alberta, stopping in Kamloops. Rainforest to Gold Rush goes between Vancouver and Jasper through Whistler and Quesnel, and the Journey through the Clouds route runs between Vancouver and Jasper via Kamloops.
Nearly two dozen packages ranging from two to 12 days allow you to choose your perfect tour. Most are one-way by train with motorcoach connections. Circle Journeys combine two routes and end where they started. All include breakfast, lunch, snacks and beverages served on-board and hotel stays at overnight stops. Guests can opt for an add-on meal package for hotel dinners. The train offers spacious, comfy seating with lots of leg room and large domed windows for unobstructed views.
There are two levels of on-board service. GoldLeaf guests travel in a bi-level coach with a dome-windowed ceiling on the upper level for superb viewing and enjoy gourmet meals served in an exclusive dining room on the lower level with large viewing windows. SilverLeaf passengers ride in a single-level coach with large domed viewing windows. Hot meals are served to them at their seats.
For example, one First Passage to the West tour option includes a visit to Jasper National Park, (part of a UNESCO World Heritage site), the Columbia Icefield, Athabasca Falls, Yoho National Park where a natural stone bridge spans the Kicking Horse River, and an overnight stay at the famed Fairmont Chateau at Lake Louise. Enroute, travel through two spiral tunnels, an engineering marvel that makes passage through this rugged terrain possible. In Banff, explore Banff National Park and choose from optional activities like hiking, golf, a lake cruise or soaking in the Upper Hot Springs mineral pools.
Since its inception in 1990, the Rocky Mountaineer has hosted nearly two million guests. To start planning an unforgettable railroad experience, visit rockymountaineer.com.
Although the on-board experience is first-rate, it’s the scenery that is unparalleled. These routes traverse wild, undeveloped landscapes; run through valleys nestled between towering peaks; and pass mountain lakes, rivers and waterfalls. It’s not uncommon to see wildlife along the way.
The Alaska Railroad provides a vital transportation link across the state, carrying more than 500,000 passengers each year. It operates year-round with regularly scheduled passenger and freight service from Seward to Fairbanks and points in between over 470 miles of track, plus a 12-mile side spur to Whittier.
Alaska Railroad’s trains offer reserved, comfortable seating with large picture windows. With Adventure Class service, you can visit the Vista Dome car and purchase food and beverages from the Wilderness Café. Upgrade to GoldStar Service and you enjoy a full-service dining room and private bar with meals and beverages included. GoldStar-level cars feature glass-domed ceilings, an outdoor viewing platform exclusive to Alaska Railroad, plus an Alaskan tour guide providing commentary.
A good time to visit is mid-May through mid-September when Alaska Railroad offers more frequent departures, allowing day trips from Anchorage. One such excursion includes round-trip train transportation to Seward and a boat cruise in Kenai Fjords National Park with lunch. View tidewater glaciers and wildlife from a reserved seat in a heated cabin, enhanced by tour-guide narration.
These trips, lasting from two to ten days, include transportation, accommodations and adventures like flightseeing, glacier cruises, guided hikes, river rafting, tours of Denali National Park or Kenai Fjords National Park and more. You can choose the activity level that suits you, everything from sedate sightseeing to adrenaline-pumping thrills. For the truly hardy, winter packages are also available with experiences like dog-sledding and aurora borealis viewing.
Scheduled routes with names like Coastal Classic, Denali Star, Glacier Discovery and Aurora Winter make it simple to select your ideal Alaska adventure. For detailed tour information, schedules and fares go to alaskarailroad.com.
Amtrak has three different options for train journeys in the Pacific Northwest. The Amtrak Cascades route offers multiple daily departures running between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Eugene, Oregon, with stops at cities enroute. Spacious, reclining seats with tables and power outlets, plus a Bistro Car allow passengers to travel in comfort. While there are scenic sections with mountain and river views, this route is well suited for city-to-city journeys. Book a trip on Amtrak Cascades at amtrakcascades.com.
The Coast Starlight runs daily departures between Seattle and Los Angeles. The section between Eugene, Oregon, and northern California crosses the Cascades range, with views of dense forest, hidden lakes, streams and snow-capped peaks. Klamath Falls, Oregon, is a jumping-off point for outdoor activities like rafting, hiking, birding and golf. In California, the landscape varies from volcanic peak Mt. Shasta, to verdant farms fields, to the Pacific Ocean coastline. Reserve seats on the Amtrak Coast Starlight at amtrak.com/coast-starlight-train.
Amtrak’s Empire Builder route traverses the northern U.S. from Chicago to Spokane, where it splits and carries on to Portland and Seattle. The Portland section passes through the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area, while the Seattle route crosses the Cascades. Reserve a trip on the Amtrak Empire Builder at amtrak.com/empire-builder-train.
The Empire Builder makes two stops within Montana’s Glacier National Park, a destination in itself. Book an Amtrak Vacations tour package to combine train travel with activities at Glacier National Park. The four-day Getaway package includes a boat cruise through Two Medicine Valley, a guided tour of the park along Going-to-the-Sun Road and through Lake McDonald Valley, and three night’s accommodations at Glacier Park Lodge. Another option offers highlights of Glacier National Park together with a stay in the bustling ski-resort town of Whitefish, Montana, located just outside the park. To learn more, go to amtrakvacations.com.
Travelers on Amtrak’s long-distance trains can choose between comfortable coach cars, Business Class, or Superliner Sleeping Car accommodations. They also include a Dining Car and Sightseer Lounge Car. While coach seats are comfortable, upgrading to a Roomette or Bedroom for an overnight journey feels downright luxurious.
A Roomette offers two large seats, which the car attendant converts to two beds at night. A restroom and shower are located nearby in the sleeping car. Bedrooms are larger, with a sofa and armchair, sleeping berths for two, and an in-room sink, restroom and shower. Sleeping car passengers enjoy priority boarding, complimentary meals and lounge access.
Whichever you choose, these railroads offer a unique, fun and relaxing way to experience some of the Pacific Northwest’s amazing scenic beauty.