Riding North America’s Rails

Train travel revives the romanticism of exploring our own continent.

Those who have to take a train to work every day may beg to differ, but when the setting and the scenery is right, a quiet place from which to enjoy the world go by can be the epitome of placid travel. The romance of rail vacations, complete with North American landscapes that have long been the stuff of tales, songs and canvases, easily combines the nostalgia of a time gone by with—if you book a smart choice—an easy way to get from place to place as you take it all in. Forget a “blah” commute. We’re talking glacier-fed lakes and waterfalls, high peaks, imposing canyons and other miracles of nature, each more beautiful than the next.

Multiple-award winner Rocky Mountaineer is often the standard by which many North American train journeys are measured, with four rail routes through British Columbia and Alberta as well as Western Canadian packages. Today, this is the largest privately owned passenger rail service in North America, with nine Rocky Mountaineer locomotives. Its original 2-day rail trip is an all-daylight journey along the historic routes built more than 120 years ago, offering a mix of breathtaking scenery.

“Rocky Mountaineer’s train journeys provide a unique experience, traveling along remote train routes through the Canadian wilderness,” says Hubert Wat, the company’s v.p. of marketing. “Guests experience incomparable service in comfort and luxury as they take in the stunning beauty of Western Canada. Traveling with other guests from around the world as well as our friendly and talented ‘Onboard Attendants’ creates a social experience that is unique and pleasant, creating memories that will last a lifetime.”

Rocky Mountaineer offers two choices of service on its 2-day rail trips. GoldLeaf Service passengers pay a bit more and enjoy reserved seating in 2-story coaches with a private dining room on the main level and panoramic vistas on the second level courtesy of glass domes. Those who choose RedLeaf Service travel on traditional rail coaches—spacious and with reclining seats and large picture windows—with meals served right at their seats.

The company’s Rocky Mountaineer & Winery Tour is an 8-day jaunt along the Okanagan Valley, home to more than 100 wineries. Clients hop on the Rocky Mountaineer to get to Kamloops, British Columbia, where they begin their exploration of North and South Okanagan’s wine country, visiting seven leading wineries and indulging in wine-paired lunches and dinners. They’ll then hop back on the train to Banff, where they spend two nights enjoying their gorgeous surroundings from the ground and from the sky with a 12-minute helicopter tour before wrapping up their adventure in Calgary. The Rocky Mountaineer & Winery Tour departs from Vancouver on June 16 and Sept. 8 and is priced at $4,699 for RedLeaf Service and $5,499 for GoldLeaf Service.

For a longer jaunt, there’s the 17-day Coast to Coast by Rail, Westbound tour, which includes two days on the Rocky Mountaineer plus four nights on board VIA Rail Canada, enjoying cozy private cabins. The trip visits Halifax, Montreal, Toronto (with a tour of Niagara Falls), Jasper, Lake Louise, Banff and Vancouver and starts at $4,849 pp.

ain’t it grand On Tauck World Discovery’s Grand Canadian Rockies itinerary, clients enjoy the highlights of Vancouver, ferry over to Victoria where they spend two nights and then enjoy a “flightseeing” floatplane excursion over the Gulf Islands before hopping on VIA Rail’sThe Canadian, which offers both single and double rooms. “Our guests board The Canadian after dinner, followed by a champagne send-off. They enjoy an overnight aboard the train, and the following day (day five), they experience a stunning rail journey through the Cariboo and Rocky Mountain ranges,” says Tom Armstrong, Tauck’s marketing communications manager. “Our guests enjoy breakfast and lunch on the train—which has been recently renovated—as well as incredible views from Tauck’s private domed observation car before arriving in Jasper at about 4 p.m.”

Another incredible plus to this tour: great hotels. In Victoria, clients stay at the five-star Hotel Grand Pacific and have afternoon tea at the majestic Fairmont Empress. After their rail adventure, they spend two nights at The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge within the national park itself, where they can opt (at an additional cost) for a round of golf, a paddleboat ride on Lake Beauvert or a horseback ride. Then it’s off to Icefields Parkway for incredible views of snowfields, glaciers and waterfalls, as well as the critters big and small that inhabit the area. A specially designed Ice Explorer vehicle takes guests across the surface of the Athabasca Glacier. There’s a 1-night stay at The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, followed by two nights at The Fairmont Banff Springs inside Banff National Park (which resembles a Scottish baronial castle) and a float trip along the Bow River. The 10-day tour starts at $4,590 pp dbl with quite a few departure dates from May through September.