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Chicago to Alaska: Rail & Sail Adventure

Chicago to Alaska Rail & Sail Adventure (Part 2 of 4)

Chicago - Syracuse - Toronto - Jasper - Prince Rupert - Sitka

By Robert & Kandace Tabern, Email:

Published: November 15, 2017

The above map shows our "Rail & Sail" journey that we took from Chicago, Illinois to Sitka, Alaska between September 9-18, 2017. Red marks the Amtrak "Lake Shore Limited" route we took from Chicago to Syracuse, New York; orange marks the Amtrak/VIA "Maple Leaf" route we took from Syracuse to Toronto, Ontario; yellow marks the VIA "Canadian" route from Toronto to Jasper, Alberta; green marks the VIA "Skeena" route from Jasper to Prince Rupert, British Columbia; and, finally, blue marks the route of the Alaska State Ferry we took Prince Rupert to Sitka, Alaska.

This article will be presented in the following four parts:

../index%20photos/trip-RailToAlaska12017.jpg Part One: Chicago to Toronto (Will be uploaded on November 1, 2017)
../index%20photos/trip-RailToAlaska22017.jpg Part Two: Toronto to Jasper (Will be uploaded on November 15, 2017)
../index%20photos/trip-RailToAlaska32017.jpg Part Three: Jasper to Prince Rupert (Will be uploaded on December 1, 2017)
../index%20photos/trip-RailToAlaska42017.jpg Part Four: Prince Rupert to Sitka (Will be uploaded on December 15, 2017)

We hope you enjoyed the first part of our journey that we posted back on November 1st, 2017.  If this is the first time you are reading this article series, it is about our journey by rail and ferry from Chicago to Alaska that we did a few months ago. Use the links above to read the first part of our series explaining how we got from Chicago to Toronto. We will now pick up with arriving at Toronto Union Station.

After getting off the Maple Leaf, we walked into Toronto Union Station and were greeted there by our friend Mike who would be flying home the following day after deciding to scrub his run on the Canadian with us.  (As we explained in the first part of our article series, the inbound train equipment was 10 hours late and the same was fore casted to happen to our train, too, so our traveling companion decided to change his plans and not go, due to a tight connection he had in Vancouver).

We checked into the VIA First Class Lounge and was told that crews were working hard to try and turn-around the train and they were going to aim for a 12:30am boarding and an 1:00am departure. They said a service manager would be out around 11:00pm with an update. We grabbed a salad and sandwich from the food court and just hung out and talked with Mike for a while in the lounge. The VIA front desk agent mentioned that the best selection for souvenirs for VIA would be at the lounge there in Toronto – so we picked up all of the VIA goodies that we wanted – including a backpack, route guide book, route guide fold-out maps, a VIA lanyard, and even a VIA teddy bear.  We would highly recommend you check out the selection and make your purchases here – some items were available on board and at smaller stations – but you never know what was going to be sold out or not available.

Kandace with the arrival board at Toronto Union Station showing our train now had a 1:00am estimated departure

The VIA sign board showing our Canadian train would be departing at least 3 hours late out of Toronto

The VIA Toronto Lounge - most people are up as the clock struck Midnight, still waiting for the delayed Canadian departure

When we saw the VIA service manager arrive around 11:00pm in the First Class Lounge we knew that was a good sign that our departure would not be delayed much longer.  One of the problems is that with limited equipment, VIA’s Canadian makes a same-day turn in Toronto.  The train normally gets in around 9am and leaves at 10pm – giving 13 hours of time for turn-around. Of course when there is a major delay going east, the westbound trip is going to be delayed a bit. It would be nice if some equipment could be kept in Toronto, but since the Canadian can be 25 or more cars long at times, that would require a lot of extra cars to just sit around most of the time in Toronto.  Sometimes on Amtrak in Chicago, Amtrak is able to put together enough spare equipment to assemble a new outbound train set for an extremely delayed inbound train. Not the case for VIA in Toronto and the Canadian. The Canadian seems to be mainly a Vancouver-based train with major maintenance and other work going on there. It never sits in Toronto more than a few hours to turn-around in the yards.  Sub sandwiches were brought it to the lounge and reservations were handed out for the following day’s meal times from the lounge just before the stroke of Midnight. We took advantage of the delay to explore the lounge a little bit – and noticed the separate waiting area that was available for the new VIA “Prestige Class” (more on this later!).  Around 12:20am, the boarding call was made – with our journey on the westbound Canadian beginning just after 1:00am. 

With the delay – I guess that technically takes us into the third day of the trip now (Sunday, September 10th).

Before “calling it a night” though in Toronto, let’s take a minute out to discuss the various accommodations on VIA’s Canadian – because they do differ a lot from what one might have experienced only riding on Amtrak in the past.  Let’s start at the “top” and work out way “down” the various options you will get to experience on the Canadian. In the past year or two, VIA introduced something called Prestige Class. This is the highest priced option but of course offers the most personalized service of any option on the train. Note that the four-night trip from Toronto to Vancouver can cost between $8,000 and $9,000 CDN for two people in the new VIA Prestige Class. Prices may be somewhat lower than that in off-peak images. Discounts are few and far between here. Prestige Class rooms were created by renovating old sleeping cars and also old Park Cars (the round-ended observation cars which are placed at the rear of some trains, including the Canadian) into a true luxurious experience.  Before the renovation process, there were four bedrooms (three double bedrooms and one triple bedroom) in the Park Car (we were lucky enough to snag one of these during a May 2014 trip).  After turning some of the Park Cars into “Prestige Park Cars” there is now only one Prestige bedroom and one accessible Prestige bedroom.  If you are looking for a Prestige Class Room in the Park Car, the best advice is to book super early and request that room for yourself at the time of your reservation.  This is the best space on the entire train!   Even though the price tag was out of our reach for now, this service is apparently really taking off.  There was two Prestige Sleepers (with 6 rooms on them each) and the Prestige Park Car on our train.  All rooms were sold out and the new Prestige Service was so popular, we were not even able to get a peek inside any of the rooms for our TrainWeb article. Speaking to some of the Prestige travelers, we were told that the TV’s in the room did not get actual over-the-air reception and were used to show movies on flash drives and DVD’s mainly.  We still don’t know who would rather watch movies than look out their window on a train trip – but to each their own, egh?   A couple of other quick notes – some travelers spoke of a possible two night minimum for booking a Prestige Room – so it’s not something you can try for a couple of hours really; check into this if you can.  Meals are the same as regular sleeping car passengers, but we were also told that alcohol was included for the duration of your trip.  Finally, passengers in Prestige Class have exclusive access to the Prestige Park Car (round-end observation car) until 2:00PM every day.  And after that, the first few rows of the dome car in the Prestige Park Car are reserved for Prestige passengers throughout the day.  The three sleeping car attendants rotate turns running the bar in the Prestige Park Car.   (More on our experience and the Prestige Park Car coming up later on!)

Sticking to our discussion here on accomodations – besides Prestige there are three other choices available. There are private bedrooms for one person and private bedrooms for two people. These have an actual door that close and you have a private room with  a private bathroom. Prices tend to vary for bedrooms depending on when you’re going on the trip. Of course, prices are the most reasonable during off-peak periods – but if you are going for the scenery – remember that the sunrise doesn’t happen until 9am and sunset happens before 4pm during the heart of winter in some parts of Canada.  Regardless, meals are included in the dining car and you do have a private space for your bags during the day.  Often times the price for ONE bedroom for two or TWO bedrooms for one are the same. You may want to think about two bedrooms for one if you don’t want one person having to sleep in the top bunk.  The first trip we did together on the Canadian in May 2014 we got one bedroom for two and it worked out pretty well.

This bring us to the most economical option that is still considered “sleeping car” class on VIA’s Canadian (and still has meals included in the dining car!).  These are the “berths”.  Basically during the day, these are two large seats that face one another – and at night – they fold down into two bunks that are only separated from the hallway by a thick fabric curton shared bathrooms and showers.   If you are traveling alone, you can book an “upper berth” or a “lower berth”.  The “Upper Berth” tends to be just a tad cheaper because you have to climb up and down a small latter to get into and out of your bed (including when you have to use the bathroom in the middle of the night! – however this is not really much different than the upper bunk in the bedrooms).  The upper berth is also a little less expensive is because there is no window to look out of when the beds are down. Anyway, when two people are traveling together they can book an combined upper/lower berth.

As mentioned, when we did our May 2014 trip on the Canadian, we chose to go with the bedroom for two. While it was nice, we found that we spent almost the entire day in one of the dome cars watching the scenery or talking with fellow passengers in the lounge area located in the lower level of the dome.  Having a bedroom was nice for the security of our luggage, but we almost felt guilty paying so much for a full bedroom and never being in there except for the time we spent sleeping.   So, this time around, to save a little bit of money, we decided to try the upper/lower berth combo.  We booked the #1 upper and lower berth combo in the #110 car.  There are three upper and lower berths in each car – and being in the #110 car – our berths were literally just steps away into the next car for meals.  (We will have more on our thoughts on our decision to go with berths coming up later – including the pros and cons)

The other option for the Canadian is of course – coach.  It’s your basic, standard seat… but of course the most economical way to travel.   Meals must be purchased. During the “peak season”, folks traveling in coach can not even get a meal time in the traditional dining car.  You still get one dome car to enjoy the sites with when going with coach, but the two other dome cars we had for sleeping car passengers and the Prestige Park Car were totally “off limits” to coach passengers.

Now that you have a better look at the accomodations, we will call it a night here in Toronto!

Our sleeping car is positioned literally at "Milepost 0" at Toronto Union Station; boarding is taking place here between 12:30am and 1:00am

Kandace is ready for bed -- at it's almost 1:30am by the time we boarded and our bunks were put down. Good night, sleepy head!

If we were going to “sum up” the views you get on the Canadian, the best way to do it is with the word VARIETY.  Going westbound, the first full day is spent entirely in Ontario.  Get prepared for a lot of trees and small lakes and rivers out your window; there are some small railroad towns and fishing camps that dot the horizon every now and then. If Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes, then Northern Ontario where the VIA train goes has to be the land of 1,000,000 lakes!   The second day (going west) includes a late morning stop in Winnipeg. If there train is “on time”, you will almost have 4 hours here… and you can even consider taking an optional bus tour of the city while the train is being serviced. The rest of the day is spent going across the farm land and prairie of Manitoba and Sasaketechwan.  The third day (going west) is the transition from plains to the Rocky Mountains.  You will begin your journey through the Rockies about an hour east of Jasper.  If you continue beyond Jasper, there are more mountains and you arrive at the “end of the line” in Vancouver the next morning.  But, again, varied scenery by day is what people notice when they take the Canadian – forest land/lakes, farms/prairies, and then mountains.

Due to not getting to sleep until 1:30am (due to late departure from Toronto), we slept until around 8:00am on Sunday morning. Breakfast was being served until the “last call” at 8:30am. We dragged ourselves out of bed and into the dining car – enjoying some delicious pumpkin spice pancakes. They were down right tasty and made for us aboard the train – and served with fresh pure Canadian maple syrup.  Meals are something that are very special on VIA’s Canadian. While Amtrak’s dining car service has seen major cuts in recent years (especially on east coast trains) VIA continues to shine with real china, food freshly prepared by chefs on the train, and amazing service.  It might not be advertised, but if you ask for a second helping of something, you will generally get it in the dining car on VIA if they still have that food item in stock. A second helping of toast or bacon is just ask away.  Plus there is no charge – while my experience has been on Amtrak that you will get charged if you desire an extra portion of something.

Breakfast is served somewhere in Northern Ontario -- a look at the dining car aboard the Canadian.

Our hearty breakfast on the morning of the first day on the Canadian - fresh cooked pumpkin pancakes, bacon, and fruit.

Even though we were a little tired, we decided to participate in some of the exciting morning activites planned for passengers by Erin, the Canadian Activites Director. Entertaining passnegers is also something VIA accels at very well.  Amtrak used to offer some similar options to travelers, but most of them were cut out in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s unfortunately. We both played bingo in the lower level of the dome car at 9:30am (we did very well winning 5 games!)… prizes included post cars and key chains.  This was followed by a 10:00am talk called “Railroad 101”.  Erin explained some of the meaning of the signals and things we would see trackside for the next few days. Even though we knew most of what was in her presentation, there is no doubt those who were not frequent railroad travelers would find most helpful. Other examples on activies offered on the Canadian include additional talks about the areas we were going through and beer/wine tastings, etc.   In the afternoon of the first day, we attended another presentations about the animals and trees of Northern Ontario. We even learned to spot the difference between a birch and a poplar tree!

A talk about Canada by Activites Coordinator Erin -- we learned that Canada had 60% of the world's lakes!

Kandace playing a game of "Bingo" in the lower level of the dome car on the morning of the first day of our trip

Passengers see a lot of small lakes and woods on the first day of the westbound Canadian

Despite warnings of possible major delays ahead due to heavy freight traffic, we really did not encounter it in on the Canadian National owned lines in Northern Ontario during our first full day on the Canadian.  Throughout Sunday, we were slowly making up some of the three hours we were behind schedule.  The crew even said if we were able to keep up at this pace, we would almost be on-time out of Winnipeg.  (We felt bad for our friend Mike who canceled thinking that he would be likely be very late into Vancouver at the end of the line!)  There were a couple of smoke stops along the way through Northern Ontario, but mainly we just enjoyed the view of the many lakes, small towns, and forests.

So, you might be wondering – how did the upper/lower berth combo work out for us for the three nights we were aboard?  Actually, amazingly well, and yes – we would do it again when we are looking for the amazing ride but to save some money over the cost of a bedroom! The size (width) of the berths are actually bigger than the beds in the bedrooms on the train.  This is a little-known and little-advertised fact, probably for the fact that VIA wants people to book the more expsnive bedrooms.  Anyway… for Night #1 and Night #2 on the train… we actually were able to sleep next to one other on the lower berth and use the upper berth for our bag storage.  The beds in the bedroom are definitely not wide enough for two people. It’s do-able in the berths if you don’t mind being a little tight. We experimented with sleeping in separate berths on the final night – with Kandace taking the bottom berth and Robert taking the top berth.  Both of us slept well this way too – and there was room for both Robert and some of our bags in the upper berth (there is room under the beds for some of the smaller bags and shoes).  Our biggest concern when booking the berth option was that Robert is a very light sleeper and is awoken by even the slightest noise.  The berths only have a curton separate the beds from the hallway, so there was some concern there.  In the end, the curtain was definitely enough to hold out the minimal amount of noise and light that was present in the hallway during the overnight hours.  Yes, even for a light sleeper.  The mattresses on VIA were a lot thicker than Amtrak’s and made for a very comfortable night.

What our berths looked like during the day converted to seats

One recommendation that we would like to share with our TrainWeb friends after booking the berths on the Canadian is try and go for upper/lower berth #3 when making your reservations.  #1 and #2 are right across the hall from each other and can be a noisy depending on who your neighbor is.  Plus, having two latters sticking into the hallway can make things a little tight when people are passing by.  #3 though has a storage area used by the sleeping car attendant across the hall from it – meaning there is no one sleeping there. This makes #3 even quieter than the #1 or #2 berths.  You’re welcome!

By now, you are probably wondering what the consist of the Canadian looked like. The stark difference between Amtrak and VIA is two things --- the size of the train and also what makes up the train.  Coach seems to be the most popular means of transportation on Amtrak, while sleeping cars are by far the most popular on VIA’s Canadian service.  That likely makes sense since most Amtrak long-distance trains in the west are only two nights in length, while those traveling from Toronto to Vancouver will be on the Canadian for four nights. With not a lot of large stops, the Canadian also seemed to feature travelers going longer distances than Amtrak trains (due to the remoteness of Canada vs. the USA).  Leaving Toronto, in order from front to back, we had: 3 engines, 1 baggage car, 2 coaches, 1 dome car/lounge for coach passengers,  1 dome car/lounge for sleeping passengers, 1 diner,  8 sleeping cars, another dome car/lounge for sleeping car passengers, another diner, 2 Prestige Class sleepers, and the Prestige Park Car.  Yes, that is over 20 cars and only two were coach cars.  Sleeping car passengers who were towards the front of the train were assigned one diner, while those at the back of the train and those in Prestige Class were assigned the rear dining car. Sleeping car passengers could go to one of three dome cars at any time – including the coach dome or the two sleeper domes.  Those in sleeper class could also access the round-ended observation/dome Prestige Park Car between 2:00pm and 6:00am every day (even though the first few rows of the dome car in the Prestige Park Car were always reserved for Prestige Class passengers regardless of the time of day).

Our train had three "Skyline" dome cars - one was for coach passengers and two were for sleeping car passengers

In addition to the three "Skyline" dome cars, it also contained a Park Car at the end of the train which was open to sleeping car passengers after 2:00pm (or Prestige Class travelers 24/7)

A look at the interior of the refurished Park Car's bullet lounge at the end of the train

Another view of the refurbished Park Car on the Canadian

The downstairs lounge of the refurbished Park Car with stairs leading up to the dome portion of the car

The upstairs dome of the Park Car; even though it was open to all sleeper passengers after 2:00pm, the front rows of the dome car were still reserved for Prestige Passengers

A look at the refurbished bar area of the Park Car (formerly the "Mural Lounge" area)

And no, that wasn’t all.  In Edmonton, a Panorama Car was added that has floor-to-top windows. VIA owns three of these modern cars (with the outside painted green and white) after purchasing them when BC Rail ended passenger service back about 15 or 20 years ago.  Since VIA only has three cars, there aren’t enough for them to go all the way across the country on the Canadian so they are added (going west) or taken off (going east) at Edmonton, Alberta. Two are used for this purpose on the Canadian and one is used on one consist of the Jasper-Prince Rupert train during the summer when Touring Class is offered (more on this later!).  We were not really a fan of the Panorama Cars because while the floor-to-ceiling windows were nice, the seat backs were too high in our opinion. Viewing was really better in the traditional dome cars.   Some extra sleeping cars were added in Edmonton too, as we were told a large group of travelers would be getting on in Jasper and riding to Vancover. We were surprised by this because a large amount of travelers were getting off in Jasper anyway, including us.

Cars on the Canaadian are switched out at Edmonton, Alberta to add the Sightseeing Panorama Car

The Panorama Car is added on the train between Edmonton and Vancouver

A look inside the Panorama Car - we much preffered the dome car because the high seats made viewing ahead really difficult

Even though we left Toronto three hours late, we made up all of that time by Winnipeg’s scheduled departure time with pad in the schedules and good fortune. Unfortunately there was not enough time in Winnipeg itself for the bus tour option that is offered. When the train is on-time, a company offers guided bus tours of the city for $30. Included is a tour of the Maintoba Parliament Building and some beautiful gardens. It’s recommened if there is time (the train can’t be late!) and it peaks your interest. With our hour, we walked over to the Forks Market, which was right next to the station. It has numerous shops, including souveniers about Canada, but we ended up not buying anything.

Kandace poses for the VIA sign at Winnipeg, Manitoba; we only had about an hour layover here because of the delayed train

Robert poses with VIA Engine #6424; this engine actually came off the Canadian in Jasper and followed us all of the way to Prince Rupert

We walked over to the Forks Market next to the station in Winnipeg during our layover

The view from the dome car departing Winnipeg, Manitoba

Portage La Prairie, about an hour west of Winnipeg, is where the train line to Churchill, Maintoba breaks off (for the polar bear viewing trains)

While the eastern half of Canada did not seem to have a lot of freight train traffic, Western Canada is a completely different story and had a major impact on our trip going forward on both the Canadian and the Jasper-Prince Rupert train.   Things were looking up a bit when we were able to make up the three hours and leave Winnipeg on-time… however by the time we crossed into Saskatechwan, Canadian National’s dispatching caused us to lose several hours again. By talking to crews, we learned one of the biggest problems is that freight trains are growing massive in size, with some 200+ cars being pulled on one train. The sidings are not meant to handle such large trains currently. This means that when the Canadian and a freight train have to meet one another – it is often the Canadian that gets put in the siding – even when it’s running on-time or is in its allotted slot.  Maybe sidings are longer in the United States? Or there is more political pressure to run better on-time trains in the USA?   Several times in eastern Sasketchawan, our train was put into a siding with another freight train ahead of us – meaning when the other train passed – our train had to back out of the siding and go around the second train.  These problems caused us to skip seeing Saskatoon and going to bed before we arrived there.

A high trestle in Western Manitoba; the scenery reminded us of the Empire Builder going through North Dakota

A beautiful sunset from the dome car near the Manitoba/Saskatchewan border on the night of Monday, September 11, 2017

The morning of Tuesday, September 12th marked our last few hours on the Canadian.  Going westbound, this day features a continental breakfast in the dining car from 6:30am-8:30am and then a brunch which is served from 9:30am to 12:30pm. The reasoning behind this we were told is two fold – first, there would be problems with serving a full breakfast as they are trying to hook on the Panorama Car in Edmonton with power being cut during the switching process. But, even more so, if the train was on-time into Jasper, not everyone could get fed lunch before the 1:00pm arrival there. And, of course, Jasper is a very popular jumping-off point for westbound travelers like us.

When we woke up on Tuesday, we noted that the Canadian was now back to being between three and four hours behind schedule . This allowed us to eat some continental breakfast before watching crews switch on the Panorama Car (and extra dead-head sleepers) at Edmonton around 9:30am.  The crew also informed us that we would be getting to Jasper around 4:30pm instead of the scheduled 1:00pm time.  The original plan was to get off the train at 1:00pm, rent a car at the Jasper train station, and head down to the Columbia Ice Fields (about 1 hour and 15 minutes south of Jasper) and participate in some tours of the glaciers down there at 4:30pm. There was no way we were going to make it down in time before the tour center closed so we called and canceled the reservations we had. We decided to keep the rental car and enjoy a scenic ride through the park – which would very manageable.

The VIA Rail sign at Edmonton, Alberta

At Edmonton, we noted some of the VIA sleeping cars still had "ghost images" left over from their Canadian Pacific days - here is the shield and beaver of the CP logo

The Great Plains finally give way to the Canadian Rockies a few hours west of Edmonton, Alberta

Enjoying a 'toast' in the dome car with our glasses of ice wine

Enjoying some wine in our VIA glass as we begin to travel through the Canadian Rockies

Kandace enjoys views of the Canadian Rockies from the dome car

A storm begins to roll in as we cross into the Canadian Rockies, view from the dome car

The towering Canadian Rockies and a river, seen from the train (sorry about the dirty window!)

Our train was nearly 25 cars long by the time it made its way snaking through the Canadian Rockies

The train passes through several tunnels east of Jasper

What a scenic siding - meeting a Canadian National freight train in the Canadian Rockies.

Red signals in a siding with the Rocky Mountains in the background

It should be noted that the onboard service crews switch out at Winnipeg. So you have one set of dining car workers, managers, and sleeping car attendants from Toronto to Winnipeg – and then another set from Winnipeg to your final destination (all the way through Vancouver).  Outstanding VIA employees on our Canadian trip were Erin, the Toronto-Winnipeg Activites Coordinator and Martin, the Winnipeg-Vancouver Prestige Park Car attendant.

The final hour on the Canadian was enjoyed in the dome car watching the journey through the Rocky Mountains just east of Jasper.

Kandace gets served some ice wine in the Park Car by our favorite attendant, Martin

We arrived into Jasper around 4:30pm and proceeded to rent a car from Hertz. We did a 24-hour rental with them booked in advance online and experienced great customer service. The Hertz counter is located right inside the Jasper VIA station (I believe there is also a National Car Rental Counter there, too!)   Be sure and be one of the first people off the train if you are renting a car because sometimes lines can be quite long.  Knowing this, we were first in line and got our car in just a matter of minutes.

With our original plans of taking a guided tour of the Columbia Ice Fields being canceled due to the late train, we decided to try and get ahead of the Canadian to get video of it passing by on its way out of town.  Looking at the GPS, we found there was a great location to get our video about 12 miles west of Jasper, down a gravel road, very close to the Alberta-British Columbia border.  There would be plenty of time to wait here and see the Canadian pass by, as there were plans to switch out one of the engines in Jasper and also add on a dead-heading Park Car that needed to get to Vancouver.  After patiently waiting for 30 minutes we finally got the video we wanted for the now 29-car train (if you include the engines)… it was pretty cool.

Since there would be daylight for about another three hours still after getting the video, we decided to head down and explore as much of Jasper National Park that we could. One of the “must see” stops was at Athabasca Falls – a very fast moving and beautiful waterfall.  We decided to do the scenic drive down the Icefields Parkway (Alberta Highway 93) and were able to make it down to the Columbia Ice Fields before sunset. Because it was after Labor Day, the guided tours ended at 5:00pm. We were unable to do that, but were still able to see the glaciers and learn about them from the many interpretive signs along the way. The experience was quite humbling because signs indicated how much the glacier retreated in recent years.  The earth getting warmer (whether it’s from global warming or whatever you believe) is definitely going on as evidence by the retreating glaciers of the Columbia Ice Field. We were hoping to see more animals on our sunset drive back up to Jasper, but didn’t see much. We spent the night at the Athabasca Hotel in Jasper, which is with-in walking distance of the VIA station for those who are not interested in renting a vehicle.

It should be noted that the layover in Jasper between the Canadian and the Jasper-Prince Rupert train is a minimum of 23 hours and 45 minutes. Without really being told this – I have a feeling this is done on purpose by VIA to prevent travelers from trying to make a same-day connection between the two trains.  As we learned with a late Canadian, this isn’t really possible to make this a guaranteed connection. And, honestly, after four nights in a row on the train, we were looking forward to a bed that didn’t move.

We got up early the next morning – Wednesday, September 13th – in hopes of having a better chance of spotting wildlife. One of the service managers aboard the Canadian who was familiar with Jasper suggested that we should go and check out the Fort Point area of town. Apparently it was “mating season” for elk and they were quite active there in the morning with their courtship practices. After a quick breakfast, we arrived in Fort Point around 8:00am and it was not to disappoint!  Several female and male elk were spotted in the water and fields around here.  The real treat was seeing several male elk with beautiful racks – and hearing their calls.

Our next and final stop before catching the train was at the Jasper Tramway. We heard from several people this was a “must do” in town. The tram takes travelers to an elevation  of over 7,000 feet and provides stunning views of the region.  Not wanting to be late for our 12:45pm train, we caught one of the first trams to the top right after the ticket office opened at 10:00am.  As expected, the views were stunning.  An added “treat” was the fact that it was snowing at the top of the mountain!  Who doesn’t like snow in September, right?   After building a “summer snowman” we enjoyed some hot chocolate and a lunch of locally-made elk meatloaf at the restaurant.   From there it was back down the mountain and returning the rental car at the station.
Robert and Kandace are all bundled up for their journey to 7,000 feet and the top of the Jasper SkyTram

Kandace shivers as she experiences snow and 29 degrees in the summer aboard the top of the mountain at Jasper

Beautiful elk spotted around Jasper on the morning of Wednesday, September 13, 2017

We hope you enjoyed the second part of this article and our journey together on the Canadian from Toronto to Jasper via Winnipeg and Edmonton. Back in Jasper and just about to hop on the former Skeena train to Prince Rupert is a pretty good stopping point for now. Come back on December 1st, 2017 and we'll upload the third part of this series, where we take you to the Pacific Coast by train.


Amtrak "Lake Shore Limited" |  Amtrak/VIA "Maple Leaf" |  VIA "The Canadian"VIA "The Skeena"Alaska State Ferry System

More information about VIA Park CarsJasper SkyTramColumbia Icefields ParkwaySitka National Historical Park


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