Watching stunning scenery flash by your window is one of the great joys of train travel—but a joy that Rocky Mountaineer kicks into high gear by removing the glass altogether. The train’s outdoor viewing platform (a small one in SilverLeaf Service coaches, and a larger one in GoldLeaf Service) presents a unique—and thrilling—new perspective on the scenery of the Canadian Rockies. There’s an almost hypnotic beauty in watching train tracks recede into the distance when the train “highballs” (that’s train speak for reaching maximum speed).
It’s with good reason Rocky Mountaineer reduces speed on the approach to Pyramid Falls, located between Blue River and Valemount, British Columbia. One of the major highlights of the “Journey Through the Clouds” route, this breathtaking, 300-metre cascade is an essential photo opp that simply must be experienced from the train’s outdoor viewing platform. Beyond the thrill of feeling the spray from the falls on your face, what makes the spectacle particularly impressive is the fact that so few ever have the chance to witness it first-hand: The 13 hectares of land surrounding the falls is protected as a provincial park, and remains inaccessible by foot or car.
The Spiral Tunnels
To ensure guests onboard Rocky Mountaineer don’t miss out on any of the breathtaking scenery en route, the train only travels during daylight hours. So how do you account for this shot, which, although snapped in the early afternoon, shows the GoldLeaf Service coach in darkness? What you’re seeing through the dome is actually the heart of Cathedral Mountain itself—a treat reserved guests onboard Rocky Mountaineer’s “First Passage to the West”. The historic Lower (through Mount Ogden) and Upper Spiral Tunnels (through Cathedral Mountain) that wind through the inky blackness are miracles of early 20th century engineering that allowed trains to climb grades that were previously impassible. Although anywhere from 25 to 30 freight trains traverse the Spiral Tunnels to this day, Rocky Mountaineer is the only regularly scheduled passenger train to have the privilege. And while being in the tunnels is pretty remarkable in and of itself, the views when you come through them to look down on how far the train has climbed, are even more so.
The Painted Bluffs
Just as dramatic—albeit in a more vibrant way—are the Painted Bluffs of Kamloops Lake. Much like with the Rainbow Canyon along the Thompson River, the striking, multi-hued rock formations owe their unique colouring to thousands of years of erosion, which have exposed the rocks’ mineral contents to the elements. The reddish hues, for example, indicate the presence of iron, which has effectively rusted over time. Like Pyramid Falls, this fascinating geological phenomenon is now protected as a provincial park that’s not accessible by road, meaning Rocky Mountaineer’s “Journey Through the Clouds” once again provides your best bet for a frame-worthy snapshot.
It’s not just the soaring peaks of the Canadian Rockies that can take your breath away. Take the vertigo-inducing Canadian National bridge at British Columbia’s Cisco Crossing, for instance. If you’re brave enough to peer over the railings of Rocky Mountaineer’s outdoor viewing platform when it makes the crossing on the “Journey Through the Clouds” route, you’ll be rewarded with a bird’s eye view of the Fraser River flowing 220 feet below.
Video courtesy of Rocky Mountaineer.