There’s a reason why the Canadian Rockies are at the top of so many bucket lists.
Jagged sawtooth peaks overlook shimmering turquoise glacial-melt lakes; shaggy-antlered elk saunter through thick forests; and osprey sweep over wildflower-strewn mountain meadows. This alpine landscape is wild and unspoiled—and the best way to explore it is by train.
Here are some of the reasons why riding the train is the best way to visit the Canadian Rockies and experience this beautiful location.
1. The tracks can take you places that cars can’t reach
Viewing the mountains from the highway can be tricky; you’re removed from nature by a lot of asphalt and other speeding vehicles. However, train tracks cut a swathe straight through the dense wilderness and allow you to peer out the window at the natural beauty only a few meters away.
The train snakes past rivers, lakes, gorges and valleys at just 50 km (30 miles) per hour. When wild creatures are spotted, it will often slow down even more so passengers can get a good look. The dining and lounge cars have large windows that allow expansive views of the scenery.
You can even head up to the dome car, where you’ll have 360-degree views of the pristine alpine landscape unfolding all around you. Make sure you bring plenty of memory cards for your camera!
2. You’ll probably spot some wildlife
Of course, much like taking a safari, wildlife doesn’t show up according to a prearranged schedule—so there’s never any guarantee that you’ll see them. However, taking the train through the Canadian Rockies is one of the best ways to increase the odds of spotting some of the animal residents of the Rockies.
As the train slowly glides through the deep backcountry, passengers often spot elk, bears, moose and other creatures. The best times of the year for wildlife spotting are spring and autumn because during these shoulder seasons, there are fewer tourists and the wildlife is more active.
Bears will be waking up and exiting their winter dens in April or May and can be seen looking for berries or fishing in streams. Beavers are nocturnal so they can usually be spotted at sunrise or sunset, swimming in rivers and swamps. Autumn, aka rutting season, is the best time to see elk—there will be herds of them grazing throughout the national park. You’ll have the chance to spot these creatures and more from the safety of the train, without worrying about putting yourself in danger or encroaching on their natural habitat.
3. You will view the wilderness in comfort
When you imagine seeing the wild backcountry of the Canadian Rockies, you might picture yourself huddled in a sleeping bag in a small tent, sipping instant coffee from a travel mug while you dry your wet socks over the fire. However, seeing the Rockies doesn’t have to mean roughing it.
When you explore the Canadian Rockies by train, you can soak up the priceless views without having to endure any blisters or boil-baked beans over an open flame. The level of luxury on the train far surpasses any backpacking expedition.
You’ll be treated to gourmet meals, snacks and wine throughout your journey. When night falls, you’ll be able to stretch out in your comfortable bed with real sheets and a warm blanket, and be rocked to sleep by the rhythm of the train. When you wake up, you’ll be ready to start your day with fresh coffee as the sun lights up the mountains.
4. It’s part of Canada’s history
Rail travel has been a huge part of Canada’s history—bringing settlers and supplies from the east to the vast, untamed west. As the train takes you through tunnels blasted out of the mountainside by dynamite or climbs up steep switchbacks, you’ll appreciate what an incredible undertaking it was to build this route.
When the Banff hot springs were discovered, they were immediately recognized as a highly desirable tourist destination. Canadian Pacific Railroad vice president William Cornelius Van Horne said, “If we can’t export the scenery, we’ll import the tourists.”
And so they did, creating a luxury train travel experience and opening the beautiful and luxurious Banff Springs Hotel in 1888. Banff National Park, the oldest national park in Canada, was established in 1885 and quickly became one of the most popular attractions in the country.
Sophisticated travelers from all over the world were drawn by the grandeur of traveling through this pristine and jaw-dropping landscape in style. Many would stay for the summer at the Banff Springs Hotel, drinking and dining in the luxurious lounges and going on guided hikes and horseback rides into the surrounding backcountry.
Traveling the Canadian Rockies by train—on the railway that shaped the country into what it is today—you’ll be re-living and experiencing a part of Canadian history.
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