Planes, Trains and Automobiles – Vancouver to Banff, Canada

As you may have noticed I’ve been absent from the blogosphere recently.  Once again, blogging and reading friend’s blogs must take a back seat.  Our days here in Alberta, Canada have been a marathon of fun, and tapping keys on the computer just hasn’t been happening 🙂

I’ve taken many pictures of the stunning Canadian Rockies for all to view and enjoy in my future posts.  For now let’s take a train ride!  

While perusing the exhibits at a railroad museum in Winnipeg, Manitoba last year (that story here), Steve saw a picture of a beautiful passenger train chugging through the stunning Canadian Rockies.  He couldn’t quit talking about it, and a year later here we were in the Rockies taking the dream trip that he had booked several months ago.

I wasn’t that excited about the trip at first, as I had ridden passenger trains to work hundreds of times during my working life.  But when he showed me the route and the promise of indulgence and relaxation, I was “all aboard” with the idea.  And it gave him a break from driving and cooking for a while!


The Plane

We left Betsy parked at Bow RiversEdge RV Park (Steve’s review here) in Cochrane, Alberta, and boarded a plane to Vancouver where our getaway would begin.

West Jet Airplane
Steve’s first commercial flight in quite a while

We had visited Vancouver in 2012 – those blog posts are here and here.   With only a few daylight hours left when we arrived, we hustled to Harbour Center, where we used our voucher to see the city from 553′ up.  At the observation deck we had a 360° view, and although it was already twilight I managed to get some decent pictures.

Harbour Center
An outside elevator took us up to the Vancouver Lookout
Burrad Inlet
Burrad Inlet and a hazy view of West Vancouver
Historic Gaston
Historic Gastown
Canada Place
Built to resemble a ship sitting in Vancouver’s harbour, Canada Place has five iconic white “sails”

The Train

Rocky Mountaineer
He’d been waiting a long time for this moment!

The excursion we chose was a two day, one way First Passage to the West aboard the Rocky Mountaineer.  This route retraces the historic Canadian Pacific Railway’s route famous for uniting Canada by connecting it from east to west.  Boarding the train in Vancouver, we made an overnight stop at Kamloops and completed the trip at Banff on the 2nd day.  We chose the Gold Leaf Service so we could enjoy the luxury and comfort of a glass-domed coach with full-length windows. For the hotels we downgraded to the Silver Leaf Service, which saved us quite a bit of money and still provided very nice hotel rooms.

The awesome service began the moment we checked our luggage and hopped on the bus that took us to the train station.  This was our first experience having luggage transferred directly into our room at our next stops, and we liked it a lot!  They even gave us our room keys on the train so we didn’t have to check in at all.  Loved it!


We were sent off in a festive mood


Gold Leaf Service
Gold Leaf Service – this is the way to experience the Rockies!

The trip was superb, thanks to our coach hosts Pete and Shino.  They totally spoiled everyone, and also provided a colorful narration for the natural drama unfolding outside the windows.  In addition, we got a copy of the Rocky Mountaineer Mile Post, which featured a route guide listing points of interest along the way – referenced by mile posts.  It also explained information about the train, the history of the route, and the wildlife that we might see along the way (and we did see a bear, a couple of Bald Eagles and many Bighorn Sheep).

Pete and Shino
Pete and Shino were amazing

Downstairs in the dining car, Candace and Lynn made sure our tummies were always filled with yummy food and drinks.  Between meals we were plied with all the drinks and snacks we wanted.

Fill it up, I’m not driving!

Here’s a sampling of our excellent main courses freshly prepared in the kitchen and served on real china:

Cheers to our new friends, Rocky and Marsha
Cheers to our new friends, Rocky and Marsha.  Rocky is a pilot, so he and Steve had lots to talk about

Day 1 – Vancouver to Kamloops

The first day of our journey took us from Vancouver to Kamloops in British Columbia.  The scenery unfolded from the lush green fields of the Fraser Valley through forests and winding river canyons surrounded by the peaks of the Coast and Cascade Mountains.  We also traveled through the desert-like environment of the British Columbia Interior.


Pete or Shino would advise us in advance of any major photo opportunities, and the train would slow down a bit for us to get a good shot.  The downside was that taking pictures from within the glass dome showed reflections in many photos, and the common vestibule outside the car was always packed with people taking shots from there.

Hells Gate
The steep walls of the infamous Hell’s Gate Canyon on the Fraser River
Rainbow Canyon
Rainbow Canyon
Avalanche Alley
Rock sheds and slide detection fences protect the rails from unstable areas above – this area is called Avalanche Alley

Frazer River

Our greeting party as we completed the first day

Once off the train we walked around Kamloops to burn some of the calories we had ingested during the day.

Golden Gate
Golden Gate – a monument honoring the vital role played by Chinese workers in building the railway
Concert at River Park in Kamloops
Kamloops Courthouse
A town in Alberta or British Columbia would be incomplete without lots of beautiful flowers!

Day 2 – Kamloops to Banff

On the second and final leg of our journey we continued east to our final destination at Banff.  We passed many more sparkling lakes and rivers, and an historic area.



We passed through the spot where the last spike of the CP Rail Line was driven in 1885 at Craigellachie.  If not for the construction of the railway – built between 1881 and 1885 to connect Canada east to west – this dream-filled landscape would have remained hidden to the world.



Kicking Horse River
We crossed Kicking Horse River seven times

The final section was an area full of railway history, tunnels, bridges and snow sheds. The most interesting part of our journey was when we entered the “Big Hill.”  In 1907, unique spiral tunnels were constructed that took 1,000 men 20 months to complete.  It allowed the climb to be reduced to a manageable 2.2 percent from the dangerous 4.5 percent that existed.  It’s described as a perfect maze, the railway doubling back upon itself twice, tunneling through mountains and crossing the river twice in order to cut down the grade. Pete narrated the entire 8-mile stretch as we traveled in the darkness.

Spiral Tunnel
The white dotted line is the route the train took through the Spiral Tunnel

Once out of the tunnels we had crossed the Continental Divide, the highest point on our journey.  This was the boundary between Banff National Park in Alberta and Yoho National Park in British Columbia.  We began seeing glaciers, high mountains and glacier-fed rivers.


Bow River
Glacially fed Bow River
Rocky Mountaineer
A happy rocky mountaineer gives a thumbs-up to this trip!

We were among 625 passengers aboard 16 coaches.  On board we were surrounded with a team that ensured we had a wonderful journey.  There was a lot of interaction among passengers, especially during the lively commentary from Pete and Shino.  It was a luxury experience that definitely exceeded our expectations.


Arriving in Banff, we extended our stay for two days so we could experience what the town is all about.  Since this post is already long, the automobile portion (actually a rented automobile) will be up next.

Steve grudgingly gets back into the driver’s seat…




  1. What a wonderful experience. I knew you had enjoyed it, you were so excited every time the Rocky Mountaineer went by during the last few days.

  2. Some great photographs from a wonderful journey. When at home we see the train frequently, but have never been on it, although it is one of Judi’s bucket list items.

    Pity we weren’t at home or we could have shown you some of the sights of Vancouver, other than the downtown core. Don’t hit the BC border for a couple of weeks,

  3. Wow. What a great way to see a huge area and not have to worry about a thing. I do agree its a bummer when the glass reflection ruins otherwise great photos. Too bad the windows can’t be opened. But it looks like you got some great photos anyway! Banff is high on our list, but we won’t be getting there any time real soon. I look forward to reading your summary of your visit.

  4. Wow you two, what a GREAT idea and fabulous trip. I think your photos out those windows are wonderful Mona Liza. The lake reflections, the one of the train entering the tunnel. I don’t know how you did those. Can’t wait to see what’s up next and how you get back.

  5. What a great trip! Two days of pampering:) I’ve thought about taking this train for the cool factor. Your two day trip sounds like the perfect journey. I am wondering about the two days in Banff with the rental car. I thought the MH was going to Banff. Guess I’ll find out with the next post:)

  6. I would love to do this trip! The entire journey looks magical. You got some great shots, even if you did have to shoot through the glass dome. And your shots of Vancouver from above are wonderful, too. You guys always inspire us with so many great ideas. 🙂

  7. What a wonderful experience. I want to do this someday. Your on-train experience, with luggage transfers, hosts, etc., sounds very similar to the Midnight Sun train experience we had with Princess on our way from Anchorage to Denali in 2001. Spiral Tunnels is such a neat experience … we stood at the overlook for an hour waiting for one of the infamously long cargo trains to go through so we could see how the train winds through the tunnel … it would be fun to be on a train going through it.

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