The Best Way to Explore the Canadian Rockies, Coastlines and Culture in Just One Vacation
See and do it all in British Columbia and the Canadian Rockies
A luxury train journey into Alberta and British Columbia’s Rocky Mountains is a window into all things quintessentially Canadian. Begin a trip in cosmopolitan and culturally diverse cities like Vancouver and Calgary , before hopping onboard our train bound for Jasper through the rugged west coast, Whistler, and Gold Rush territory, or pass through Kamloops, and the center of British Columbia en route to Banff or Lake Louise. Sit back and relax along routes lined with historic highlights and breathtaking scenery.
Combining a city excursion before traveling to the Rockies is unique way to experience different facets of Western Canada. You’ll get to check not just one but everything off your must-do travel list: Eat your way across town then enjoy even more gourmet meals and snacks (fresh-baked scones, anyone?) onboard the train. Discover the rich culture and history of Western Canada’s First Nations Peoples, explore iconic national parks, see snow-capped mountain peaks, view landscapes created by glaciers, travel alongside azure lakes and rushing rivers, and watch for wildlife at every turn.
If you’re thinking of going west, here are some of our best tips on how to see and do it all.
One appeal of hitting the road is the flexibility to redefine your path as you go. Drive the Icefields Parkway. Visit a historic church featured in the movie “Unforgiven.” Step out into “nothing” on the Glacier Skywalk at Jasper National Park. With so many tempting turns in the Canadian Rockies, driving lets you explore your own way.
Immerse Yourself in First Nations Art and Artifacts in Vancouver and Whistler
Wood carving is an integral part of coastal First Nations’ culture and there are many places in British Columbia where this sacred art form is on display. Fly into Vancouver International Airport to get a taste of its impressive collection of indigenous public art. From Bill Reid’s monumental bronze “Spirit of Haida Gwaii: The Jade Canoe” (depicted on the Canadian twenty-dollar bill from 2004-2012) to Joe David’s “Welcome Figures”, the airport itself showcases dozens of sculptures, masks, and paintings.
Don’t miss Vancouver’s Stanley Park, a massive urban rainforest in the heart of the city. Walk the seawall and explore the old-growth forest with its mossy trails, ancient cedars and towering Douglas fir, trees that have long inspired coastal carvers. Head to Brockton Point to see the park’s collection of nine historic totem poles. Or visit the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, a longhouse-inspired space that houses an unsurpassed collection of Northwest Coast art and artifacts, including Bill Reid’s yellow cedar sculpture “The Raven and the First Men”, depicting the Haida creation story. The Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coastal Art in downtown Vancouver is a museum and gallery dedicated to Reid’s work, with rotating displays featuring other contemporary west coast Indigenous artists.
If you’re interested in learning more about Western Canada’s Indigenous Peoples, our Rainforest to Gold Rush route makes a stop in Whistler, where you can visit the Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre, a museum that showcases the art and culture of two local First Nations, and which features massive carvings, canoes and traditional regalia, cedar bark baskets and weaving.
Get a Taste of Traditional Asian Food and Culture
Vancouver is a mecca for food lovers, with authentic ethnic cuisine of all kinds and top chefs fusing it all with fresh, coastal ingredients. But for a truly authentic Asian experience, hop on the city’s rapid transit Canada Line and take a 25-minute ride from Vancouver to suburban Richmond, a community that’s home to a large Asian population.
Whether you’re snacking on the ethereal “shaved ice” at Frappé Bliss or a crispy bubble waffle at the Rainbow Café, eating your way through Richmond offers a culinary adventure like no other. Where else will you find hand-pulled “dragon beard candy”, flaky “wife cakes” (lao po bing) filled with winter melon and sesame, or snowy balls of coconut-crusted mochi?
Try one of the city’s elaborate dim sum restaurants — Chef Tony Seafood Restaurant is as beautiful as it is popular — and follow Tourism Richmond’s Dumpling Trail map to restaurants like Suhang Restaurant, where the juicy soup-filled pork Xiao Long Bao rival any in Shanghai. Explore the uber-Asian Aberdeen Centre for artfully bottled ginseng, pressed black blocks of Pu-Erh tea, Giordano (China’s answer to the Gap) and the massive Japanese Daiso store.
Experience Richmond’s spiritual side along the “Highway to Heaven” (No. 5 Road). There are more than 20 different places of worship along on the road, but a must-see is the International Buddhist Society’s Temple, considered the most authentic example of traditional Chinese architecture in Canada, with palatial rooflines and intricate woodwork modeled after the Forbidden City in Beijing.
Explore the Canadian Rockies in Luxury and at a Relaxed Pace
Whether you take an easy hike to see slopes blanketed in spring flowers, ride a horse or a gondola to a mountaintop viewpoint, or just relax next to the aquamarine waters of a mountain lake, you’ll find that the sights within the UNESCO World Heritage Centre-protected Canadian Rocky Mountains Parks are truly remarkable. But when driving through them means that you have to keep more of an eye on the road than on the view, a daytime train journey into the Rockies is a much more appealing option.
Relax in luxury while watching remarkable scenery go by on one of our four distinct routes to Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise. Our GoldLeaf Service features bi-level coaches (including a separate dining room on the main floor), glass-dome windows and an outdoor viewing platform for amazing photo ops and fresh mountain air. Learn about the landscape, history and local lore from your onboard Host, feast on gourmet meals in the dining car, and spend your evenings in comfy hotels.
All this beauty extends beyond the train and beyond the iconic mountain towns, too. The Icefields Parkway, a glacier-studded stretch of highway between Jasper and Banff, is considered one of the world’s most spectacular routes to see by car. Stop along the way to photograph the views or the wildlife, watch waterfalls cascade down weeping walls of rock, or just drink in the jaw-dropping grandeur of the Continental Divide. Or forgo driving all together and take a motorcoach tour, where you can step on the Athabasca Glacier and peer over the Sunwapta Valley from the Glacier Skywalk’s glass-floored observation platform.
Experience Rocky Mountain Highs in Jasper and Banff
Jasper has long been a railway hub in the Rockies, and has a charming, quiet “working town” vibe. The Jasper SkyTram whisks you to the top of Whistlers Mountain (named for the whistling marmots that live here), for a dramatic view of six mountain ranges. In summer, drive an hour from town and take a cruise across the blue waters of Maligne Lake to Spirit Island (one of the most photographed spots in the Rockies). Jasper is also an official Dark Sky Preserve — so when night falls, look up to see the Milky Way and maybe even the dancing Northern Lights.
At Lake Louise, paddle a canoe or simply stroll the shoreline to admire its emerald green water and the glacier that caps this postcard mountain vista. A moderate, half-day hike or horseback ride takes you up to the rustic Lake Agnes Tea House, which offers remarkable distant views of the jewel-toned lake and historic chateau below.
Banff, an iconic mountain destination, offers lots of shops, galleries, boutiques and restaurants as well as incredible mountain views. Head to the summit of Sulphur Mountain on the Banff Gondola, and The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, the proverbial “castle of the Rockies,” is worth a snoop even if you’re not staying. Though it’s been rebuilt and refurbished several times, the baronial railway hotel dates to 1888 and is a great base for a walk to beautiful Bow Falls or a soak in the natural mineral waters of the historic Banff Upper Hot Springs.
Take a Tour Around Calgary
Beyond the eastern slopes of the Rockies, golden foothills stretch toward the oil-rich city of Calgary. The Calgary Tower is no longer the tallest building along the downtown skyline, but the local landmark is still a great place to survey the city from on high. Zoom to the top in the high-speed elevator, dine in the revolving restaurant, then take a dizzying selfie from its glass floor, 525 feet above the street.
Pedestrian-friendly Stephen Avenue, with its historic sandstone storefronts, links Olympic Plaza, the Glenbow Museum and downtown shopping centres. Walk or cycle Calgary’s extensive pathway system to get into the green spaces beyond the forest of glass office towers. Head to Prince’s Island, then follow the river walk to the Calgary Zoo and historic Fort Calgary.
Studio Bell is an architectural marvel which houses the new National Music Centre, celebrating Canadian music. Rock out in a sound booth or peer into the Rolling Stones’ original mobile studio, then keep humming along through Inglewood, Calgary’s oldest ‘hood. You’ll discover great restaurants, funky shops and live music venues — the Ironwood Stage & Grill and The Blues Can — and find the perfect topper at Smithbilt Hats (makers of the original Calgary Stampede white cowboy hat).
From First Nations’ art to Asian delicacies, from wildlife-watching to mountain hikes, and from mountain top to glacier bottom, it’s all on the itinerary when you explore the Canadian Rockies.