First Passage to the West is one of the Rocky Mountaineer’s most popular routes through the Canadian Rockies. Sit back and soak up the wild beauty while tucking into three-course meals, joining a tour or simply pressing your nose against the glass.
Here are seven remarkable sights you can expect to see both on and off the train.
1. The snow-capped summit of Sulphur Mountain
The views from the summit of Sulphur Mountain are staggering. Banff Gondola, a four-person cable car, transports visitors to the top, slicing its way through an infinite number of snow covered peaks during an eight minute ascent. At the summit, there’s a 360-degree observation deck, ridgetop boardwalk, restaurants and multi-sensory theatre. And then there are the views. Where towns, lakes and rivers – a massive 2281 metres below - cover the valley floor.
In the know: You’ll disembark the Rocky Mountaineer to alight the gondolas and travel to the peak of Sulphur Mountain. Offered on all itineraries that travel via Banff.
2. A star-lit night sky in Jasper
Just when you thought stark-white mountains were the epitome of Canadian beauty, the sun fades and the stars come out. And bam, you’re hit with yet another eyeful of awesome. The alpine town of Jasper has been a 'dark-sky preserve' since 2011, meaning there’s no artificial lighting and very little light pollution. The Milky Way is spectacular. Boasting 11,000 square kilometres of preserved dark sky, you may even spot aurora borealis; more common in the winter, they have been sighted year-round. And if your Rocky Mountaineer experience departs in October, lucky you, this is an ideal time to marvel at the skies during the annual Jasper Dark Sky Festival.
3. The glittering glaciers of Icefields Parkway
The jewel in Canada’s glacial crown, Canada’s Icefields Parkway boasts the largest collection of ice south of the Arctic Circle, and one of the largest non-polar ice fields in the world. Glistening with more than 100 glaciers, for the best views, step onto the Glacier Skywalk. A one kilometre walkway that leads out onto a glass platform, you’ll be surrounded by giant glaciers above, and the staggering Sunwapta Valley - 280 metres below.
In the know: Take a ride on the ‘Ice Explorer’ (a multi-passenger monster-bus fitted with six enormous tires) to the middle of the Athabasca Glacier.
4. The reflective beauty of Lake Louise
She needs little introduction, Lake Louise. Her impossibly blue waters, which are created from melting glacier silt, attract thousands of fans to her edges. Located in Banff National Park and set to an awe-inspiring backdrop of Victoria Glacier, the lake is frozen for much of the year, and framed by sweeping wooded forest. If you have a free day, take the 3.5km hike through forest to Lake Agnes Tea House. Built by Canadian Pacific Railway as a refuge for hikers, it’s been serving tea since 1905. A family run tea house, enjoy homemade soup, freshly baked bread and over 100 flavours of tea.
All the region's lakes are astounding: deep blue, emerald, jade and a startling shads of turquoise. It’s due to glacial silt; the sun reflects off a rock flour that’s best described as a film left by surrounding glaciers. Emerald Lake is quite possibly the most striking of the lot. Impossibly green but also glass-like, the emerald colour is due to limestone gravels deposited from mountains.
In the know: If you visit during a time of thawed, placid water, hire a canoe and you'll be able to glide across Lake Louise.
5. Local wildlife at every turn
The Canadian Rockies are a haven for wildlife and you might spot anything from elks and moose to eagles and ospreys. Every year millions of chinook and sockeye salmon stream into the Fraser River, swimming up river to spawn. In these currents, the struggle is very much real, but a fascinating sight nevertheless. Mountain goats and bighorn straddle the mountain bluffs and if you’re lucky, you might even spot a black bear or grizzly.
In the know: Slow down. You don’t want to rush the Rockies. Make sure you allocate enough time to enjoy all of the offered tours. If you’re unsure what time frame is best, pop into House of Travel and speak to your consultant.
6. The mind-blowing Spiral Tunnels
The infamous Spiral Tunnels are a genius (if not a little bizarre) feat of engineering. Designed to get trains up and down the steep mountainside, engineers couldn't carve a gradual descent into such a tricky terrain, so spiral tunnels were built into the mountainside as a solution. Due to this formation of the rail track, you are able to see both the front and the back of the train simultaneously. Both entering and exiting the tunnel while you’re sitting on the train yourself.
In the know: You can witness this marvel both on and off the train. At the lookout point you’ll also find a small exhibit with a scale model.
7. Canada's garden on your plate
Showcasing Canada’s culinary merits is as important to the journey as the famed scenery. When local produce is notably good, it’s brought on-board. From Alberta short ribs to white tuna plucked from the British Columbia coast, food is fresh, locally sought and carefully prepared to complement every minute of the experience.
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With four routes in total, take a journey that will truly move you. Not sure which voyage is best for you? Come and talk to our consultants and discuss Canada together.
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