Canada’s Rocky Mountaineer

Canadian Landscape As Seen Aboard the Rocky Mountaineer1.jpg

By Nancy Mueller


Nancy Mueller shares her luxury rail riding experience aboard Canada’s Rocky Mountaineer on Big Blend Radio.


“Is that a coyote?” I turn my gaze out the window of our 360º view glass-dome coach. Other passengers follow suit, buzzing with excitement over our first confirmed wildlife sighting aboard Canada’s luxury train, the Rocky Mountaineer. And we haven’t even left the Vancouver, B.C. station.

For Seattle travelers like myself, our Gold-Leaf rail riding adventure began the previous day on the Coastal Passage which connects the two global destinations. Our overnight stay at Seattle’s historic, newly-renovated (2016) Fairmont Olympic Hotel included a delectable dinner at Shucker’s, the in-house Oyster Bar and Restaurant. After a leisurely breakfast, followed by a window-shopping excursion, we’re ready to hop aboard Rocky Mountaineer’s Coastal Passage for our day trip to Vancouver.


Within minutes after boarding, our engaging host delivers a celebratory cranberry spritzer to kick off our journey in high style. On-board crew members of the Guest Experience take turns entertaining us with stories of the region’s history as our train winds the coastline out of Seattle through small communities like Mt. Vernon, Stanwood and Bellingham. Meanwhile, we’re content to simply sit back in our comfortable seats and listen while we soak up the scenic views across Puget Sound, Skagit Valley and Chuckanut Bay.


As we cross the border into Canada approaching twilight, we perk up when two crew members process down the aisle flourishing a Canadian flag, leading everyone in a rousing rendition of the country’s national anthem, “O Canada.” We arrive at our next destination rested and well-nourished after an exquisite evening meal, happy to pause for the night. We’re whisked off to our hotel, Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, where rail passengers stayed as early as the 1800s, enjoying the hotel’s style and comfort before continuing their travels.


Vancouver is the launching pad for the next part of our Rocky Mountaineer adventure. Here passengers have a choice of routes linking to the Canadian Rockies. For those of us taking the First Passage to the West, we’ll retrace the historic route of the Canadian Pacific Railway, passing notable landmarks like Craigellachie, site of the “Last Spike” of CP Rail linking Canada coast to coast.

But first we have a day to stay and play in Vancouver. We make a beeline to the waterfront. From here we jump on the rainbow-colored Aquabus, a tiny water taxi that takes us to Granville Island for a stroll through the public market, featuring everything from fresh produce and gourmet foods to baked goods, spices, and seafood. Later, we stop by the Vancouver Art Gallery to catch a Picasso exhibit, followed by Happy Hour at the Fairmont Pacific Rim.


Bright and early the next morning, we’re transported to the Rocky Mountaineer Station. After a resplendent bagpiper send-off, with waves from a smiling Rocky Mountaineer staff, our First Passage to the West journey begins. Before reaching our final destination in Banff, we will have traveled 594 miles at elevations up to 3,618 feet, through the peaks of the spellbinding Canadian Rockies, into the famed spiral tunnels, across wide swaths of farmland and grasslands. Best of all, we do so from the comfort of our seating or outdoor viewing vestibule for unparalleled photo opportunities.


The first day of our route follows along the “Mighty Fraser,” the longest river in British Columbia. We pass by berry farms and orchards while watching a bald eagle soar overhead from the top of our bi-level panoramic coach. The gentle rocking of the train car is like a lullaby on rails, making it easy to nod off now and then. But our attention always returns to Mother Nature’s ever-changing landscape, a movable feast for the eyes and spirit. On this leg of our trip, we’ll see Hell’s Gate, the narrowest part of the Fraser, and one of the most popular attractions along this route, together with Rainbow Canyon, so-named for the ribbons of colors produced by its rock minerals.


Our 10-hour day flies by, even for restless travelers, as we move about the car, conversing with other passengers, sharing wine and spirits together over scrumptious, locally-sourced meals. Snacks are served at regular intervals so no fears about getting hungry anytime soon.


For Executive Sous Chef Daniel Stierhof, “the scenery is the best part of his job” aboard the Rocky Mountaineer. That, along with memorable moments with “Trains for Heroes,” an annual event when Rocky Mountaineer invites unsung heroes to ride the rails. Chef Daniel’s main mission, he explains, is “to make sure each guest has their best experience.” Hiring, training staff and handling logistics of culinary wizardry are among his most important duties. Lucky for us, Chef Daniel’s background as a pastry chef is on full display when dessert is served. On his watch, chances are good that passengers will enjoy a creme brûlée (his favorite food to make) or peach cake, a treasured family recipe. See his Braised Short Ribs recipe here.


Our arrival into the historic rail town of Kamloops comes a bit later than planned due to an unexpected train delay. But no one here is in a hurry to move on anytime soon. Yet following our overnight stay at Hotel 540, move on we must to beautiful Banff. In an impressive coordinated bus ballet, seventeen buses arrive simultaneously to take passengers back to the gleaming Rocky Mountaineer. We’re told train elves have cleaned every window overnight to ensure the best possible viewing of the day’s coming wonders.


As we climb aboard for the second day of our First to the West adventure, our crew greets each of us by name, welcoming us to “Please settle back as we begin our wonderful day.” Our Guest Services Manager assures us that “They were all up all night to paint the sky blue for us,” which has to be the ultimate luxury experience by anyone’s standards. Still ahead? Mt. Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, the Hoodoos unique rock formations, spiral tunnels and crossing of the Continental Divide. We can hardly wait.

Nancy Mueller is a Seattle-based speaker, travel writer/photographer, publisher of, author of “Work Worldwide: International Career Strategies for the Adventurous Job Seeker, and a member of the International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association.      

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About the Author:

Nancy Mueller is a Seattle-based speaker, travel writer/photographer, publisher of, author of “Work Worldwide: International Career Strategies for the Adventurous Job Seeker”, and a member of the International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association.   

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