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The early morning call from the hotel’s front desk jolts me awake. Before I know it, I’m packing my bags and preparing to leave Vancouver for a two-day excursion on Rocky Mountaineer’s “First Passage to the West,” a scenic train tour through the Canadian Rockies to the resort town of Banff.
Despite the early morning darkness, there’s already a flurry of activity inside the train station. After checking in, we’re told to head to our prospective carriages, which as a “Gold Leaf” passenger—the train’s top tier package—means my car is a pristine double-decker with a lower-level dining room and upper-level seating that boasts a transparent, domed roof, perfect for panoramic viewing on the journey.
It seems like I’ve just settled into my seat when a whistle sounds. The carriage staggers a little before pushing forward. As the train inches its way out of the station, Rocky Mountaineer’s passengers are given a send-off by more than 50 on-site employees waving good-bye from the platform. Carriage attendants pour us a quick drink, and after a customary departure toast, we set off through the outskirts of Vancouver.
Dawn is barely breaking when we start our journey through the railways and head east. We are informed that we will soon be settling into the dining room for breakfast. The menu offerings are impressive, but I opt for the scrambled eggs topped with smoked salmon and caviar, while my dining companion orders the poached egg with Montreal smoked ham and tarragon Hollandaise. Both are delicious.
After the meal, I make my way to the vestibule—an open-air platform at the back of the carriage—ideal for sightseeing, snapping photos, or simply taking a breather from the confines of the train car.
Although our journey is fairly short, the two-day expedition takes us through three distinct Canadian terrains—the damp, yet serene coastal backdrop of Vancouver, the dry desert region of Kamloops, and the snowcapped mountain region of Banff. The first leg of the tour—a train ride from Vancouver to Kamloops—shows off the versatility of British Columbia. The first couple of hours are spent in the industrious landscape of Vancouver’s outskirts, but once the train meets up with the Fraser River and travels alongside its current, we are treated to spectacular views.
The rolling hills between Vancouver and Kamloops are a deep emerald color. Tree-laden mountaintops are hugged by early morning fog that hangs just above jagged rocks—carved out by the rolling waters of the river. The scenery is peaceful and quiet, as is much of Canada. After just a few hours, trees become few and far between, with fertile farmland being absorbed by the rocky terrain of the Kamloops Desert.
Unlike other trains, passengers don’t sleep onboard the Rocky Mountaineer. Instead, they pull in for the night at designated stops along its route—accommodations are included in our selected package. Our room keys are handed to us upon exiting, and our shuttle drops us at our hotel. When we enter our room, our bags are already waiting, along with dinner vouchers to a local restaurant.
We wake for another early morning to begin leg two of our trip—Kamloops to Banff. This time, we head deep into the mountain range, where clear skies treat us to picturesque landscapes of turquoise rivers and sprawling mountain ranges. Throughout the journey, our onboard host offers both comedic relief and detailed commentary, prompting us before scenic photo ops, local wildlife, and meal times, all of which are pretty frequent.
On day two, I lunch on Alberta pork tenderloin, topped with a sweet onion confit. In between eating and sipping wine, we are treated to an array of scenery, including lush grassland and rock-strewn lakeshores. The train zigzags up and down the Canadian Rockies, which allows us a view of tree-covered valleys and the bluest rivers I have ever seen. We inch our way though spiral tunnels carved into colossal mountains as we take in the vastness of Canada’s untouched terrain.
We arrive in Banff just before sunset. A bus takes us to the small resort town tucked away in the Rockies, where we pull up to a magnificent structure modeled after a Scottish baronial castle. One of Canada’s most iconic hotels, the Fairmont Banff Springs, feels as grandiose inside as it does on the outside—chandeliers light vast halls, and grand staircases are lined with lavish rugs. It’s a fairy-tale ending to a magical trip through a place untouched by time, onboard a train that recalls the best of times.