Image credit: Rocky Mountaineer. The Rocky Mountaineer on Morants curve
The Rocky Mountaineer is one of the world’s most spectacular train rides, and it features on many traveller’s bucket lists. There are different routes you can go on, and whilst each one boasts spectacular scenery and reaches places you can’t get to any other way, they are all unique and different.
In this guide, we take a look at Rocky Mountaineer’s First Passage to the West route and share some of the highlights you can see on this journey and the excursions and tours you can do along the way.
Highlights of the First Passage to the West
•Hell’s Gate on Fraser River
The towering peaks of the Coast Mountains are certainly one of the top sights you can see on the Rocky Mountaineer’s First Passage to the West route.
The Canadian Coast Mountains are part of a much larger system of ranges that extends along the westernmost edge of North America and South America, known as the American Cordillera.
In Canada, some of the major peaks within the Coast Mountains are Mount Waddington, Monarch Mountain, Mount Garibaldi, Mount Tiedemann, Good Hope Mountain, Wedge Mountain, and Mount Munday. You will be able to see some of these peaks as you travel on the train.
ALSO READ: What to expect onboard Rocky Mountaineer
Hell’s Gate on Fraser River
The legendary Hell’s Gate is a narrowing of the Fraser River, and with it only being 115 feet wide, this part of the river becomes a crazy, roaring rush of water. It’s a popular spot for white-water rafting, and you’ll be able to see the iconic suspension bridge which crosses the canyon where Hell’s Gate is located.
Josy is a Londoner who moved to Vancouver, and she runs the travel blog A Walk and a Lark. She spoke about her visit to Hell’s Gate and how spectacular the scenery was: “The gushing water looks impressive from the top of the canyon, but look how amazing it is up close! This is the deepest and narrowest section of the Fraser River. The suspension bridge crosses a space where the canyon is just 33m wide. 200 million gallons of water surge through this gap every minute; A sign said it’s double the amount of water that flows over Niagara Falls!”
On the first day of your First Passage to the West journey, you will end up in Kamloops, which is in the heart of the BC Interior. The city is a mix of rolling grasslands, sandstone slot canyons, and award-winning wineries.
As one of the sunniest destinations in Canada – boasting over 2000 hours of sunshine a year – Kamloops is a hugely popular destination to visit during the summer months and, during this time of the year, you can go hiking, mountain biking, play golf or go wine tasting. Kamloops, however, isn’t just a summer destination as you can visit it year-round, and it offers a variety of winter sports.
The city’s leafy downtown has a wealth of shops you can explore if you fancy doing a spot of shopping during your ride on the Rocky Mountaineer.
One of the many spectacular landmarks that you can see during the next stretch of your trip is Castle Mountain.
This mountain on Morrissey Ridge in Fernie is part of the Flathead Range of the Canadian Rockies and has an elevation of over 8,000 ft. It is a distinct landmark, and early explorers compared it to a medieval castle, and you can see why as you pass it on the Rocky Mountaineer.
Whilst you are onboard the Rocky Mountaineer, you can get some great photographs of this majestic mountain and staff will be able to tell you when the train is approaching it.
Craigellachie is a historic site, and it is famous for the point where the “last spike” was performed on November 7, 1885. This was the completion date for the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railroad into British Columbia and the Pacific Ocean from the rest of Canada. Construction was finished on the Canadian Pacific Railroad six years ahead of schedule and you can learn more about this famous landmark on your Rocky Mountaineer journey.
The Spiral Tunnels in Yoho National Park
Yoho National Park is a hugely popular park to visit for anyone visiting the Canadian Rockies and on the Rocky Mountaineer you can see the park in all its splendour.
From the train, you should keep your eyes peeled as you might be able to see waterfalls and some incredible mountain peaks that are located in the park. One of the best highlights that you can enjoy from the train is the spiral tunnels, an incredible example of engineering ingenuity.
Taylor, who is the writer behind the Holistic Backpacker blog, highly recommends visiting the national park: “The only word I can think of to describe Yoho’s massive mountains, towering waterfalls, and picturesque lakes is ‘magic.’ There’s truly something so special about this little National Park in the Canadian Rockies.”
The Spiral Tunnels is something that Taylor says is well worth seeing: “The Spiral Tunnel is exactly what it sounds like; a spiral tunnel. The twist here is that the Rocky Mountain trains actually drive through this tunnel on their routes.”
Banff is one of the stops along this route and as soon as you arrive you will understand why so many people call it one of the most picturesque towns in all of Canada.
It has spectacular scenery surrounding it, and being nestled in Banff National Park, there are lots of outdoor activities you can do here. You can start your Rocky Mountaineer journey in Banff, and no matter whether you start or end your trip in this beautiful town, you should certainly get involved in some of the activities that are on offer. These include canoeing and horse riding your way through picturesque Banff National Park.
Justin and Jess, the writers behind the Uprooted Traveler blog, say Banff is a perfect place to visit during the summer: “While the town is wonderful to visit any time of the year, Banff in the summer is especially epic- imagine canoeing across a lake of milky blue water or hiking to a teahouse, tucked away on a mountaintop.”
ALSO READ: 48 Hours in Banff
The First Passage to the West route will either start or end in Banff or Lake Louise. If you have opted to pick the journey which heads to Lake Louise, then you are in for a real treat.
You can see the world-famous lake and experience the incredible scenery as the town is located in the heart of the stunning and historic Banff National Park. You will see snow-capped mountains as far as the eye can see, and after your journey on the Rocky Mountaineer, you can walk some of the iconic hiking routes in the area.
ALSO READ: 48 hours in Lake Louise
First Passage to the West excursions
There are four First Passage to the West excursions available on the Rocky Mountaineer, and here we take you through some of the best ones you can enjoy. Alternatively, you can also organise sightseeing transfers, and you just need to call our experts to tailor make the package you want.
Jasper Highlights Tour
Jasper National Park is on many people’s bucket list of places to visit when visiting Canada, and on this Rocky Mountaineer excursion, you can explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Jasper National Park is the Canadian Rockies’ largest national park, and as part of the tour, you will not only see the main highlights in the park, but you will go on a boat cruise on the majestic Maligne Lake.
ALSO READ: History of the Rocky Mountaineer
Sightseeing at the Columbia Icefield
You can also go on an excursion to the Columbia Icefield and the Athabasca Glacier during a Rocky Mountaineer First Passage to the West holiday. A visit here is like peering into the heart of the planet, and during your sightseeing tour, you will learn about the history of this ancient area.
During this incredible experience, you will travel on a huge Ice Explorer all-terrain vehicle to the Athabasca Glacier, a sheet of ice which is more than 10,000 years old. You can walk on the glacier, touch it, and even drink from it too.
Once you’ve explored the glacier on the Ice Explorer, you can then visit the Glacier Skywalk and walk along the glass-floored walkway along the cliff’s edge. You will be able to enjoy some spectacular views of the glacier and surrounding scenery.
During this excursion, you will drive along the world-famous Icefields Parkway before you visit the Columbia Icefield.
Banff highlights tour
The First Passage to the West journey stops off in Banff, and this mountain town is full of attractions you can see and activities you can do.
You can enjoy a Banff highlights tour as part of your holiday package for the Rocky Mountaineer, allowing you to see some of the best places in and around the town.
You can ride on the iconic Banff Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain, and once you’ve reached the summit, you will get some spectacular sweeping views of the surrounding peaks.
You will also enjoy a full scenic tour of Banff National Park, which is Canada’s oldest national park, and among the other highlights you will see during this excursion are Bow Falls, Lake Minnewanka, Surprise Corner, and the Hoodoos.
Mountain Lakes & Waterfalls Tour
You will discover some of the most stunning lakes and waterfalls found in the Canadian Rockies, as during this full-day tour, you will visit Moraine Lake, Yoho National Park, Emerald Lake, and Takakkaw Falls.
There are plenty of photo opportunities, so make sure your camera is fully charged, as you will want to take lots of snaps of the jaw-dropping waterfalls you will be visiting.
Depending on your departure location, this tour will leave from Banff or Lake Louise, and it usually lasts around 6-9 hours.
This guide has looked at some of the highlights you can see along the First Passage to the West route as well as some of the excursions you can go on during your holiday. If you are tempted to book Canada holidays and want to go on the Rocky Mountaineer, you can contact us and speak to one of our experts who can help you plan a package holiday that is perfect for you.
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