Rockies Railway: A Mindful Voyage On The Rocky Mountaineer

Reviewed by The Wellness Traveller


The Rocky Mountaineer, the Rockies' railway

I’m in the here and now, no distractions except nature. The mountains soar above and around me. Their sheer strength of presence like a coat of arms. The Rockies’ railway. Bold and beautiful, mighty and majestic, protective and proud. It’s a moving cinema. A depiction of nature’s glory observed from my oversized picture window here on the iconic Rocky Mountaineer

My squishy chair is like a lounge sofa. It’s comfy and reclining and better still, heated to three settings; a lumber setting to please your spine and a leg rest to treat your feet. Plenty of leg room. There’s even a mechanism to turn the two seats to face the window. Above is a glass dome roof styled to ensure no view is missed.  The Rocky Mountaineer tours during daylight hours to avoid missing memorable views. Overnights are spent in comfortable hotels in readiness for the next day’s sights. 

Journey through the Rockies’ railway

Our journey on the Rockies’ railway criss-crosses bridges, follows streams, and witnesses waterfalls throwing their weight. We look onto lakes edged with pretty chalets and moored houseboats. We peep into backyards. And where we see people, smiles and waves follow. This is a unique way to see a part of Canada. A slow nature-scape of ever-changing landscapes. We travel from coastal waters, dry desert areas to tumbling forests and sheer cliff walls of gorges.  From time to time the highway runs parallel, a reminder of life’s hectic tempo in contrast to the genteel pace onboard. Leaves lick the windows. Trees tap the roof. We snake around bends and eagerly watch for wildlife. We spot bear cubs deep in the woods below. Goats graze in the open fields, while elks watch us. We are transient visitors on a two-day microscopic experience into nature’s heart from this Canadian Rockies’ railway train. 

My fellow passengers are also mesmerised, captivated. There are no distracting digital devices except for cameras to capture moments. This is mindful travel at it best. Onboard adult children are re-living childhood memories. Multi-generational families are celebrating anniversary milestones. For others it’s the special holiday planned years ago. The Rocky Mountaineer is near the top on many a bucket-list, including mine. 

I’m travelling on one of the twenty carriages following the historic First Passage to the West, from Vancouver, through Kamloops to Lake Louise/Banff. The train retraces the tracks laid by labourers who risked life and limb to carve a rail route through solid rock to connect the west to Canada’s east. Back in 1855 the Canadian Pacific Railroad opened in a place renowned for fur trading and gold. The railroad was a catalyst in the development of the nation. It increased trade and introduced tourism. Hotels were built along the route to accommodate the new wave of travellers. Back then, guests staying at the Banff Springs Hotels were required to prove they could afford to stay in such luxury. Today, this landmark property is situated in the UNESCO World Heritage Site. It remains a popular stay for passengers on The Rocky Mountaineer, the Rockies’ railway.

The Gold Leaf class has two levels. The upper deck is stylish in cream, light, airy and spacious. The dining room is below where the sights continue. This is the chance to share stories and exchange travel experiences. For solo travellers especially, this an opportunity to mingle and forge new acquaintances.  I’m presented with a spoilt-for-choice menu. Breakfast is a fruit creation with a fluffy bakery item. It’s followed by a choice of seven dishes. Would it be spinach and cheese soufflé, avocado toast, or berry parfait? Oh, the dilemma. 

The onboard executive chef caters for every diet. Where possible food is sourced locally. He is eager to keep nutrition high on the agenda in line with the wellness trends of today. Lunch is a leisurely three-course affair. The starter is a sharing platter. A choice of six main course options follows. A yummy dessert rounds off the meal. Food is colourful and imaginative to reflect the journey. And to toast the occasion, there are signature cocktails such as a Gin Rocky or The Mountainrita, British Columbian beers and ciders.

The onboard hosts of the Rocky Mountaineer provide narratives and facts. These give context and meaning along the route. It becomes an experience and personal interpretation, not just a train journey. As we delight in the diverse landscapes, they point out the sheer walls of the Fraser Canyon and Avalanche Alley. They highlight the perilous rapids at Hell’s Gate and describe the many ecosystems. The unique landforms, known as the Hoodoos were formed after the last ice-age. Our overnight stay in Kamloops was the trading centre for the Shuswap people.

On the second day the narrative becomes more detailed. I’m fascinated by the Spiral Tunnels, entering and then exiting to the reversed views. “The amazing accomplishment is a perfect maze. The railway doubling back upon itself twice, tunnelling under mountains and crossing the river twice in order to cut down the grade” In 1907 construction started, based on the tunnel system of Switzerland. It took 20 months to complete. The Upper Spiral travels through Cathedral Mountain, 3.255 feet long turning approximately 290 degrees to emerge 50 feet higher than entering.  The Lower Spiral tunnels through Mount Ogden at 2,923 feet long and turns around 230 degrees emerging 56 feet higher. 

A landmark on this route is The Continental Divide. This is highest point of our journey at 5,332 feet above sea level. It separates the Pacific and Atlantic watersheds. Peppermint or ginger tea is available for anyone with any hint of altitude sickness. There are no requests. We slow down at Craigellachie to acknowledge the exact place of the Last Spike. This was driven into the ground in 1885 on Canada’s Transcontinental rail line. Our final stop is Banff.

The Canadian Rockies has always been home to many indigenous people. Their nature and spirit lie in the mountains. Their voices continue. And as we witnessed their lands, we listened in silence as were told of their traditions and challenges. This is a subject begging me to explore after this trip.

At the back of the car on the lower level is the open-air platform. Shiny chrome bars mark our safety. The wind in your face, the smells of wet cedar. Its nature’s aromatherapy captured. An orchestra of trees whizz past, like spindly strings shaped like cellos. And as we meander around bends we play catch up with the front carriage.

The mysticism of nature unfolds before me. Here, the mountains steel your mind, lock your thoughts and uplift your spirit. It is like being suspended in time in nature and drawn into their soul and majestic wonder. Clouds cloak the rocks, like a thermal coat against the settled snow on the peaks. Trees add a feathery texture like furry dusters, leaning into the steep escarpments to keep their balance. Blasts of dazzling white patterns accentuate the seams of the rock faces so vivid as they come into view from the darkness of rock tunnels. 

This rocky mountain getaway captures nature’s act during daylight hours. We disembark as nature’s guests, richer from the experience.  A journey which acknowledges our place in this breathing, natural world.

Travel Tips:

The Rocky Mountaineer runs between April and October

The train travels in daylight hours

The route starts at Vancouver and stops at Kamloops and Banff for overnight. There is a selection of hotels offered.

The company arranges transportation of luggage to and from your hotel room which travels separately.

It is advisable to have a small bag for the train with valuables and necessities during the day which can be stored under your seat.

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