Wild but Civilized, Canada Impresses on a Train Vacation

Lake Louise in Western Canada.
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Seeing the world is my objective, but sometimes satisfaction is found close to home. My recent trip to British Columbia and Alberta, Canada, had all the elements for success. Friendly people, a diverse and impressive itinerary, and scenery that always captivated made this trip a big success. 

I had written recently of a trip last year to Vancouver and Victoria, so I will not add much here. In this case, we stayed at the much livelier Fairmont Pacific Rim with a fabulous new restaurant named Botanist. We took the Harbour Air Sea Plane service to Victoria instead of the helicopter, and we revisited Butchart Gardens, which are ever-changing. Vancouver and Victoria are always a fun and enjoyable getaway.

My big anticipation was the several days in spectacular Alberta. Even getting there by a 22-hour ride on The Canadian, the famed transcontinental passenger service from Via Rail, was exciting. This is authentic train travel with sleeper cars, full dining car service, and several observation cars. It is three class with a comfy seat, Sleeper Plus with upper and lower berths in a private compartment, and Prestige Service with full double beds and a private observation car. This 25-car monster of a train is like a floating city on rails where you could meet a diverse crowd, take in the scenery, and rock to sleep. Our train was delayed at departure for six hours, and the food was good but not gourmet.  Despite all that, I loved every minute. The service actually was very good and organized once we got underway.

Upon our arrival in Jasper, we were taken to the famed Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. This resort is in the Jasper National Park and is low-rise with just a few main lodge rooms. The vast majority of the accommodations are in scattered separate buildings, which house several rooms each. Only some face the lake itself. The accommodations were comfortable but, generally, not luxurious. The main lodge itself was impressive. This resort is quiet and geared to outdoor adventure throughout the year. 

About three hours away along the famous Ice Fields Highway is Banff. We took the day and stopped along the way for the Columbia Icefields and a glacier trek as well as the new glass overhang, which were all still in the national park. At the end of the day we arrived in Banff and the famous Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. Big and imposing, it is the largest hotel, which is just at the edge of town. The town of Banff has a population of about 10,000 people. I loved it for still being in the park but with a more diverse menu of outdoor and indoor activities. The walk to town was easy, and the local bars and restaurants added to the easy-going atmosphere. The locals were very friendly.    

Our final stop was the ever-so-famous Lake Louise and the imposing and European-styled Fairmont Lake Louise. This is also a large and imposing building but with a reverence to this lake, which everyone wants to see. The views were breathtaking and the early snowfall just added to the majesty of this prime location. Yes, you can get a room with a non-lake view at a lower cost, but don’t. You won’t be happy. Two special features here are a very traditional Swiss-style fondue restaurant, with both cheese and chocolate fondue, and a 24/7 snack bar at the hotel (with a limited menu). If you get peckish at 2 a.m., all you need is to walk downstairs.

We ended up flying out of Calgary to come home. Normally, one would end in Banff, which is closer to Calgary, but space requirements at the three hotels dictated the order here.

It is less than 3.5 hours to get there, there are friendly natives who relish the outdoors and want to show it off, there is wildlife to be spotted, and there is a Canadian Dollar that is worth only about 78 cents. This is Western Canada. Put it on your short list for when there is less ambition for your next trip but you still want a rewarding experience.

Let us show you the way.

Hilton Smith