Training fields

Canada by Train: River Rapids, Bear Watching, and Frozen Icefields – It’s an Adventure-Rich Train Journey

Fabien, the train manager, sings the Green Day classic with his French-Canadian accent, his bald head bent over an acoustic guitar, his eyes fixed on the strings. He’s seated at a table near his walkie-talkie in the pale interior of the activity car. Responsible for the safety and well-being of passengers on board, he enjoys sitting and playing the guitar in times when passengers do not need him.

With a group of 12 travelers from all over the world, I just boarded a train in Vancouver that will stop in Jasper, a small town in the Rockies and the big city of Winnipeg, en route to Toronto.

The train is due to arrive in Jasper at 4pm the next day and in the middle of the 18 hour trip to Jasper I have already walked the entire length – this is how I found Fabien in the back. He tells me that economy class people have the most fun, which is a bonus, since that’s where I am.

We sit and drink from the bar cars at night, watching the city lights go by until it all fades into the dark as the train heads for the Rocky Mountains. During the day, we watch out the windows on the lookout for black bears and grizzly bears that often roam the trails. You might even see bald eagles, their white heads emerging from the nests on top of the impossibly tall trees that are so plentiful in this part of the world.

Snow capped peaks rise up to greet us as we arrive in Jasper in the late afternoon. Jasper calls itself a “small town in a big park” (that would be Jasper National Park, the largest of the Canadian Rockies) and reminds me of Bariloche in Argentina. Both ski villages have the same small town feel, with low-rise chalet-style buildings and shops selling trinkets, set in the middle of a grandiose setting (Bariloche sits at the foot of the Andes in Nahuel Huapi National Park) . But where Bariloche has lakes, Jasper has all those beautiful, tall Canadian pines.

After a good night’s sleep, we get up to go rafting with Maligne Rafting Adventures, about an hour from Jasper.

“Ok everyone,” says our Kiwi guide, Jesse. “So there are three different categories of rafting on three different rivers here: Class 2 on the Athabasca River, Class 3 on the Sunwapta or Fraser rivers, and finally the Kakwa River, which is Class 4. Today , we are on the Fraser. River.”

Since I haven’t been rafting in years, going easy on the Fraser River is a good choice. The area is so beautiful that for me it is enough to be here without proving my (non-existent) rafting prowess on the scariest Class 4 rapids.

Splash: Tackle the Whitewater Around Jasper

We change into our wetsuits amid a flurry of mega mozzies, before joining Jesse for a demonstration on how to escape from the water. Once in our rafts, the river takes us through immense conifers and large cliffs. “Paddle forward!” Jesse yells at the sound of the water. “Now back! “

“Be careful!” she screams, whenever we’re about to be punched in the face with water, which hits me the most, gaining a particularly wet crotch. Great. The next day, we embark on a tour of the Columbia Icefield. This incredible expanse of otherworldly white feeds eight major glaciers, and some of the tallest mountains in the Canadian Rockies teeter on its edges.

As our coach climbs the steep mountain road to take us out onto the terrain, the tall green trees become more and more dusted with snow, until it feels like we are in a winter wonderland. When we arrive I buy a red hat with a maple leaf on it at the gift shop (natch) and we board a Brewster Ice Explorer. It is basically a coach with thick tractor type tires.

“We are close to Highway 93, one of the most beautiful in the world,” says our guide upon arriving at the ice field. (Alberta’s Highway 93 crosses the Rockies and connects Jasper to Lake Louise to the north, offering spectacular mountain views.) Office. ”

We go out in the white. It looks like a desert landscape – if all the sand had been replaced by snow and ice. I stand on what is essentially a huge ice rink, several feet thick and covered in a thick layer of snow. We are speechless and do some snow angels before returning to the vehicle and hurtling down the slope.

On the way back to Jasper in the tour coach, the driver slows down as we approach a car parked by the side of the road. “Often the cars stop because there are wild animals,” he tells us.

Wild thing: black bears roam the Rockies

My excitement at seeing a grizzly bear is short-lived – we see the couple in the car taking pictures of themselves in front of the mountains. We continue not too far and spot a second car parked by the side of the road – and this time I’m lucky. I see my very first wild bear. It is a small black creature wandering casually along the grassy embankment.

Turns out this is the first of two bears I see on the trip. The second is brought to my attention by a warning on the train intercom the same evening. The announcer tells us that there is a bear lounging on the rails; they often come down to eat the grain left by the freight trains.

This particular black bear is coiled on the track as if it were a log; he sloths like an oversized teddy bear. I want to go out and cuddle him, but that would delay the train and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have much of a face if I did.

We are now slowly heading towards Winnipeg. This section of the trip is long, stretching overnight and throughout the following day. We arrive in Winnipeg at night, have a drink in the hotel bar and go to bed.

The next morning, our group delves into the history of the city with the A Prairie Legacy: The Bison and Its People tour. Winnipeg was a trading center for Indigenous people before the arrival of Europeans, and this tour examines how their history was influenced by the local bison. The skins of the animals were used by the indigenous inhabitants of the region to make teepees and dresses, ropes were made from their hair… they were an integral part of everyday life.

But when European hunters arrived, the number of bison declined to the point that the species was almost completely extinct. While getting up close to the bison is mostly the highlight of this visit – the FortWhyte Alive center that houses it is dedicated to their conservation – I’m more fascinated by the history of the natives than by these big furry cows.

The next day, we head to the Manitoba Legislative Building for the Hermetic Code tour. Sounds boring, right? It turns out to be one of the most interesting tours of the whole trip. This government building was designed by an architect who filled it with Masonic symbols, hidden hieroglyphic inscriptions, and numerological codes.

End of the line: arrival in Toronto

The tour follows a trail of occult clues that reveal the meanings behind the design features of the building, the true nature of which has escaped the attention of visitors and historians for nearly 100 years. It is truly unique.

The last leg of the trip lasts 34 hours. But in some ways, after two weeks of traveling across Canada, spending a total of four days and nights on the trains, I’m sad that these are my last moments on board.

I’ve spotted bears, hiked ice fields and battled rapids in Jasper, discovered Winnipeg’s cultural hub, and now I’m approaching the buzzing (and sweltering) metropolis that is Toronto in the summer. And yet, after all this time and experience, I have only seen a small part of this vast country. I know I will be back for more.

When should we go: Summer is peak season as you can better enjoy Canada’s many outdoor activities (summer runs from late May to mid-September). Winter is cold and dark, so better suited for skiers and city dwellers.

Currency: £ 1 = CA $ 1.59

Accommodation In Vancouver, HI Vancouver Downtown Hostel has rooms from £ 20. In Toronto, a bed in a dormitory at The planet traveler costs from £ 20 and private rooms with two beds cost from £ 50.


Getting There Flights from London Heathrow to Vancouver, via Minneapolis, start at around £ 633 with Delta.

A trip to several cities – from Vancouver to Jasper; Jasper in Winnipeg; Winnipeg to Toronto – starts at around £ 323 in economy class, with VIA Rail.

Rafting in Jasper starts at £ 37 for two hours.

A ice field visit from £ 31. A legacy of the prairies: the bison and its people is £ 25. The Hermetic Code Tour is £ 25 and runs this year until September 25.

Be sure to check out all the amazing deals available on Canadian tours on TNT Tour Search

Photos: Facebook, Thinkstock

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