The Great North American Rail Journey

Enjoy first-class service while marveling at the untamed beauty of western Canada aboard Rocky Mountaineer.

The rail journey chugs east along the original Canadian Pacific Railway.

Photo: Courtesy Rocky Mountaineer

Following a day in Seattle, we board the bi-level, glass-domed Rocky Mountaineer for a sweeping daytime train ride that traces the Pacific coast to Vancouver. Through glass windows and ceilings, we see the Olympic Mountains towering to the west as Mount Rainier and the Cascades rise in the east. It’s a fitting way to kick off one of the world’s most spectacular rail journeys. With a full day to explore Vancouver, some of my fellow travelers choose to explore nature atop Grouse Mountain; the foodies among us take in Granville Island’s public market.

The next morning, back onboard Rocky Mountaineer, the crystalline coastline fades into the distance as the western red cedar forest yields to shrub steppe grasslands. Carved by the Fraser River more than five million years ago, Fraser Canyon narrows as Rocky Mountaineer approaches Hell’s Gate, where the mighty river tightens to just 115 feet across. Explorer Simon Fraser declared these 3,300-foot rock walls the gates of hell in 1808.

The train continues to chug east along the original Canadian Pacific Railway, with an overnight stay in Kamloops. Founded by Europeans on the land settled by the Shuswap First Nations people, Kamloops boomed during the 1860s gold rush.

GoldLeaf Service on board Rocky Mountaineer.

Photo: Courtesy Rocky Mountaineer

While onboard for our third day, traversing the majestic Rockies stirs my appetite. It’s time for breakfast; I order a Sir Sandford Fleming Benedict—eggs Benedict with a tarragon hollandaise and smoked meat—and a mimosa en route to breathtaking Banff. Wraparound dome windows make all seats in our coach the best in the house and treat us to panoramic views. Passengers gasp every time Rocky Mountaineer slows or pauses—not just through the Spiral Tunnels and over Rogers Pass, but to behold Kicking Horse Canyon, or a young brown bear or grazing elk herd. I stand in the open vestibule behind our car for a breath of fresh mountain air; the scent of sage gives way to the subalpine fir-dominated forests.

Rocky Mountaineer’s signature GoldLeaf Service spoils us throughout the rail journey. Meals are gourmet and accommodations are plush—think warm scones and wide reclining seats.

I step down the spiral staircase from our bi-level dome coach to the GoldLeaf Service dining room as we climb into the Rocky Mountains. Our lunch features Alberta ranchland pork tenderloin accompanied by a sweet onion demi-glace, a hint to the Canadian cowboy country that lies beyond the Rockies. Back under the dome, I enjoy a complimentary glass of BC Pinot Noir as the first snow-capped peaks come into view.

It would be difficult to disembark were I not stepping into Banff National Park. Canada’s first national park comprises towering waterfalls and glaciers, and North American apex predators like cougars, bears, wolverines and wolves. GoldLeaf Service guests overnight in a series of luxurious Fairmont Hotels in breathtaking locales, like Banff and Lake Louise, and choose from several exclusive excursions, including a helicopter trip in Banff for a rare 12-minute survey of the Rockies.

Gazing at spectacular glaciers or watching a mountain goat scamper against an improbable slope, I might forget the previous days passing through desert landscapes. But Rocky Mountaineer leaves a very large imprint, making it a truly memorable experience.

AAA Travel offers a variety of trips to the Canadian Rockies. Call 877-396-7159 to speak to a AAA Travel Counselor or click here to learn more.

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Marco Ruiz, AAA Travel Counselor, Monterey, Calif.

I love to suggest Italy and Spain because of the culture and the flair of the people–their fashions, language and way of life. They take time to enjoy life's pleasures. When you're there, you feel it, too.

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