Many years ago I took Amtrak from San Francisco to Chicago. I could have flown, but I chose to travel by train instead, because I wanted to enjoy the beauty of the Rocky Mountains from the comfort of a club car.
Like many of my ideas, it seemed like a good plan at the time. Unfortunately, my plan hit a few snags when we were delayed in Sacramento and then again in Reno. In the end, we rolled through the Rockies at midnight. Not very scenic at all, and definitely not what I had planned.
Last year I decided to give the Rockies another shot, but this time I chose the Canadian Rockies. Since I was older and (presumably) wiser, this time I searched for a rail trip that would allow me to enjoy the scenery, even in the event of unexpected delays. And of course, access was also a top priority. In the end, Rocky Mountaineer Railtours filled the bill in all respects.
At Rocky Mountaineer Railtours, the focus is on the journey rather than the destination. In short, it’s more than just a train ride. It’s a multi-day all-daylight excursion which includes all on-board meals, ground transportation and lodging. Of course, there are a myriad of itinerary choices; but since access was a top priority, I opted for the Vancouver to Calgary Kicking Horse route. Due to the availability of accessible services along this route, Rocky Mountaineer Railtours is able to work with local suppliers to create a very accessible travel experience.
My own journey began in Vancouver. After a welcome mimosa and a few toots of the horn, we were railing our way through the Fraser Valley.
As I settled into the comfortable Gold Leaf domed rail car, I enjoyed an unobstructed view over the trees and the telegraph lines. Each Gold Leaf rail car seats 70 passengers on the upper level and 35 passengers on the lower dining level.
The physical access in the Gold Leaf cars is pretty good, considering it is a bi-level rail car. There is lift boarding at all stations. Wheelchair-users must transfer to an aisle chair and then to their assigned seats for the journey.
There is a spiral staircase to the upper level, but a small elevator, (which can accommodate the aisle chair), is available for wheelchair-users. An accessible bathroom, with a wide doorway and grab bars, is located downstairs.
As soon as we were on our way, we were invited downstairs for an elegant breakfast. The dining room is richly appointed but the booths are somewhat narrow. Unfortunately, this makes for a very difficult (if not impossible) transfer. If all this sounds a bit daunting access-wise, don’t worry. The Rocky Mountaineer staff will gladly serve your meals upstairs, white linen and all. In fact, eating at your seat is a much better deal; you don’t miss any of the great scenery when you stay put.
By late afternoon, we had passed through Avalanche Alley. We continued on through Hells Gate and over the Jaws of Death Gorge. As we neared Kamloops, we saw osprey and their nests at eye level on the telegraph poles alongside the tracks. What a sight! We rolled into Kamloops at about 5 p.m.
Accessible ground transportation was available at the Kamloops station, and we were given our hotel keys before we even got off the train. Our luggage was transferred to the hotel separately, and it was waiting for us in our room when we arrived. This all made for a very quick and efficient hotel transfer. Accessible rooms with roll-in showers were available to passengers who had requested them in advance.
The next day we traveled through the heart of the Canadian Rockies. Along the way, the on-board attendants educated us on the wildlife and natural history of the area. We passed over Stony Creek Bridge, went through the spiral tunnels, crossed the Continental Divide and arrived in Banff by late afternoon.
After a brief stop in Banff, we traveled on to Calgary, our final destination. Along the way, we were treated to hors d’oeuvres and wine as we enjoyed a spectacular sunset. There was one last wildlife sighting; an elk with his harem beside the river. It was a fitting end to a very memorable trip.
All in all, my Rocky Mountaineer Railtour experience was great. I didn’t miss a lick of the spectacular scenery, the access was good and the Gold Leaf service was excellent. It’s a great way to see the Canadian Rockies.
If You Go
For more information about Rocky Mountaineer Railtours, visit www.rockymountaineer.com or call 800- 665-7245.