Ah, the Canadian Rockies. While we have our share of purple mountains majesty here in the good ole U.S. of A., our friends to the North surely have splendor to spare, too. Although most rail tours through Canada cease operations in late fall, a couple of companies offer tours that capitalize on the cold, while keeping you safely ensconced in a comfy, heated coach, of course. So yeah, it's snowy. It's chilly. But it's train travel--it's romantic, right?
Rocky Mountaineer offers Canadian Rockies winter rail vacations (tel. 877/460-3200; www.winterrailvacations.com), many of which take you nearly 300 miles each day. Usually, travelers start in one location and end in another; it's up to you to get to and from those departure and termination spots. Currently, there are spots left for their December trips, but their top-selling "Winter in the Canadian Rockies", is filling up quickly. You'll travel by rail for two days, visiting Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper, Alberta. Stop and ski, snowshoe, ice walk in National Parks and sleigh ride. The nine night, ten-day package departs from Vancouver, B.
C. on December 18 and 26 and from Calgary, Alberta on December 14 and 22 and is priced from $1,749 USD ($2,229 CDN) based on double occupancy. Stops include Banff, Jasper, Lake Louise. You'll spend two days total on the trail and overnight in hotels in Kamloops, Banff, Jasper, Lake Louise, and Calgary.
If time is of the essence--and it often is around the holidays--the company offers shorter trips, too. Rocky Mountaineer offers a few two and four-day tours for a quick getaway. The two-day tours are especially popular with Canadians. The "Classic Rail Tour to Banff" is a four-day trip to the "land of a million Christmas trees," just in time for a holiday getaway, departing on December 18, 20, 26 and 28. You can also start in Banff and end in Vancouver, for example. Prices range from $599 for a one-way, "popular" hotel grade ticket, to $1,469 for deluxe accommodations for the December 18 and 26 departures, for what the company terms "Red Leaf Service." For an additional fee you can upgrade to "Gold Leaf Service", rail speak for first class: you travel in a glass-domed coach, which affords more panoramic views, and you dine in a separate level.
The "Christmas in Jasper" trip starts December 18 and runs for ten days and eleven nights. You start in Vancouver, travel to Kamloops, Banff, explore Banff National Park, and end up in Jasper for a couple of days for Christmas at the Jasper Park Lodge. The trip ends in Calgary. It's priced the same whether you start East or West and begins at $2,099 and climbs as high as $2,989 for deluxe accommodations.
One other option is "Winter Wonderland" package, which includes two days on board, one night in Vancouver and admission to the Lookout, one night in Calgary and admission to the Calgary Tower, and three evenings in Banff (including a sightseeing tour). Prices for the seven-day, six-night foray start from around $969 USD for adults, based on double occupancy and about $319 USD per child.
On the eastern side of Canada, and the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of time and expense, the Agawa Canyon Snow Train (tel. 800/242-9287; www.agawacanyontourtrain.com/content/tours/snowtrain/index.html) operated by the Algoma Central Railway, provides a shorter jaunt. The train starts in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, situated across the water from the town's namesake in Michigan. The Snow Train heads north through one hundred plus miles of very white, snow-covered canyon, with frozen lakes and waterfalls and other icy works of nature on display. The one-day trips depart every Saturday from January 28-March 11, 2006 and Sunday, February 19, 2006. The adult ticket (anyone over 19) is $65; children 5-18, $35; children under 5, $20; seniors 60 and up $56. All prices are in CDN.
You can search for accommodations packages by using the tour train's site, or by using the tourism site for the city of Sault Ste. Marie (tel. 800/461-6020; www.sault-canada.com). For "Snow Train Package A" (www.agawacanyontourtrain.com/content/packages/snowtrain_view.html?id=74&cid=1) at The Algoma Water Tower Inn, five minutes from the train station, the price starts at $199 CDN (approximately $173 US) per person for two nights, a train ticket, breakfast buffets, and a casino package--there's gambling in both Soos. There are plenty of packages available and listed with bed and breakfasts, lodges, and run-of-the-mill budget chain hotels as well.
Check out what other travelers have to say on our Canada Message Boards.