Taking the Rocky Mountaineer train from Banff to Vancouver is a great way to see a beautiful part of Canada on a Canadian rail tour.
Taking a Train Trip Across Canada
on the Rocky Mountaineer from Banff to Vancouver
You can also travel across Canada on the Rocky Mountaineer in the opposite direction from Vancouver to Banff.
Before hopping on our train across Canada we started our Canadian adventure in the town of Banff in beautiful Banff National Park.
We took this train trip across Canada in the summer. Although Banff is most famous as a ski town, we found summer in Banff to be full of fun activities and great things to see with ideal summer weather. But regardless of the season, there are always a long list of best things to do in Banff.
Things to Do in Banff in Summer
Stroll Banff Avenue
Banff’s Main Street is Banff Avenue. It is the place to go to get your bearings when you arrive. Make sure to look up as the street lies in a valley between two mountains. A very impressive sight.
The street is lined on both sides with cute little shops selling everything from typical souvenirs to fine art and fine chocolates. If you enjoy shopping, this is your ideal destination.
The local Tourist Information Center is on this street. It’s pretty efficient and organized so you should visit it first to get the necessary information to plan your stay. You’ll quickly learn that Banff Avenue is also transportation central to all points in the area.
Visit Lake Louise and Moraine Lake
Two must-see Banff destinations are Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. Buses to these stunning locations leave from the bus stop in front of the local High School regularly. Both of these lakes are about an hour away from Banff so you’ll need to program your time to visit one or both of them.
I missed Moraine Lake but the beauty of Lake Louise just blew me away. The Fairmont Hotel on the lake is a great spot for a rest or a drink on the terrace.
The trail along the lake’s perimeter makes for a great one-hour hike.
Outdoor Activities in Banff
Hiking is one of the best activities in Banff National Park. You’ll find many trails to choose from with all activity levels. Get details at the information center.
Banff outfitters have tours for every taste; wildlife tours, hikes deep into the interior to see lakes and waterfalls, horseback riding, whitewater rafting and cookouts.
One activity many folks were purchasing at the tourist information center was the Banff Gondola ride. The cable car takes you to the Sulphur Mountain Boardwalk for unparalleled views of the surrounding mountains. There are several packages available including dinner at Sky Bistro, the 7,510 feet high restaurant.
I’ve always been fascinated by caves so whenever I know of one I do my best to see it. The Cave and Basin National Historic Site is a must-see in Banff. It is just a few minutes walk from the town.
The cave was discovered in 1833 by railroad workers who found thermal springs in the depths of the case. This discovery led to a series of events resulting in the creation of Canada’s first national park. Today the Cave and Basin is a fascinating destination and learning center.
Where to Eat in Banff
As you can imagine, Banff does not lack for cool places to eat. The amazing selection of ethnic cuisines rivals New York City…well, maybe not but it IS impressive. Try Chinese at the Silver Dragon, Vietnamese at Pho House, Indian at the Curry House, Mexican at Coyotes, French at the Vermillion Room and, of course, a multitude of Italian fare…the list goes on.
One of the areas where many of the restaurants are found is Caribou Street. All the streets in town have wilderness inspired names.
There’s the fusion cuisine like Spanish, Mexican and Canadian dishes at El Toro or the fun Tooloulou’s for Cajun Creole. Steak houses feature prominently; Saltlik, 1888 Chop House and The Keg among them.
One restaurant category you see in Banff that is not very prominent elsewhere is game, like buffalo and venison. Two locations well-known for their innovation creations are Sleeping Buffalo and the widely advertised Grizzly House.
There is even a tasty vegan eatery, Nourish Bistro with the tag line, “where vegans take their non-vegan friends.”
One notable feature of dining in Banff is the rooftop culture. I love rooftop restaurants and bars. There are cooler – in temperature AND ambiance and have the best views. Many Banff restaurants and pubs forego the first floor in favor of a staircase leading up to the rooftop which opens to a bar, seating and killer views.
One such location we were lucky enough to stumble upon was the Rose and Crown. This is a pub with good, no-nonsense burgers and other pub food, solid drinks and a pleasant staff. They also have live music.
We liked this place so much that we wanted to return but felt we should really give other restaurants a shot.
Crossing the Canadian Rockies on the Rocky Mountaineer
We booked our Canada train journey across the Rockies directly with the Rocky Mountaineer organization. The process was efficient and hassle-free. We were really looking forward to our adventure on the Rocky Mountaineer from Banff to Vancouver.
The Rocky Mountaineer staff picked us up at a hotel meeting point on Main Street in Banff bright and early the first day of the trip and drove us to the Banff Station to board the train. All the talk that morning was of the bear and her two cubs that were seen in the hotel parking lot.
There was some issue on the train tracks which delayed the train’s departure so the Rocky Mountaineer staff went and brought us donuts, muffins, and coffee while we waited. I thought that was pretty cool above-and-beyond customer service. They didn’t have to do that. Then, we boarded the Rocky Mountaineer and were off on our Canadian rail adventure across the Rockies.
The train itself is super comfortable with glass ceilings that allow you unobstructed views of the stunning scenery.
The staff of 3 – two hostesses and a cook – introduced themselves and started serving breakfast even though we had eaten at the station. The food was remarkably and consistently good! Each day we were served a tasty breakfast, lunch, several snacks and pretty much all the drinks – including alcohol – you would want.
There was no lack of interesting and fun revelations along the way. Every so often the staff would tell us stories of the historic areas we passed through and point out local wildlife. The first day we crossed the Bow River with its local celebrity bear named “The Boss.”
The entire geography is crisscrossed by scenic rivers. Later we went through the “spiral tunnels” so named because of the spiral-like tunneling used to construct it…and engineering feat. This tunnel was instrumental in the unification of Alberta with the rest of Canada in the late 1800s.
In the afternoon we passed by the Columbia and Beaver Rivers where the water is a deep and unusual turquoise color.
The nearby Lake Shuswap is frequented by bears, elk, rams, mountain goats and other wildlife. We saw a group of bears by the lakeside and a family of rams on a hill.
The wildlife is pretty close to the train route so you do get a close view. The passengers were encouraged to callout the animals they saw and their locations so throughout the train trip were heard “Bear, train left!” and “Deer, train right!” My favorites were the many graceful eagles and hawks, some right outside the train window.
The midway point of the trip is the town of Kamloops, a tidy little city with a population of about 90,000 smack in the middle of southern British Columbia. Although it was dinner time we were so full from the delicious snacks on the train that all we wanted to do was crash in the hotel, which, BTW, was very nice.
Next morning, as the train pulled out the hostess promised we’d see more wildlife on the second leg of our rail journey across Canada. As a preview, she pointed out a beaver dam with a resident known as Justin Beaver with a girlfriend, Sigourney Beaver.
The jokes may have been a bit on the corny side but the whole environment was just so pleasant and the staff so accommodating you laughed anyway. They really did their best to entertain the passengers.
About an hour west of Kamloops we entered the Douglas Plateau. The story is that in the 1950s a monk was so moved by the beauty of the area that he declared it the “center of the universe” and tried to get the Dalai Lama to come and acknowledge the area’s uniqueness.
Further on we came to Black Canyon where a group of missionaries in the mid-1800s built a series of pop-up churches along the way. About 8 still exist. This is the area where two rivers, the Thompson and Fraser converge.
At this point, I think the hostesses were making up stories along the way just to entertain us. There is just so much you can say about an area that, although beautiful, is basically miles and miles of Canadian wilderness. Still, all great fun.
At the the end of the trip we were transported to our hotel in Vancouver. I though the trip was well worth it. The staff really made an effort to create a congenial and pleasant atmosphere. That, combined with the tasty meals and beautiful landscape made this a truly memorable trip.
Learn more about beautiful Banff National Park and the surrounding area with these books:
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