The world-famous Rocky Mountaineer boasts three incredible routes through the Canadian Rockies. While each of them offer unbelievable sights that are a marvel to behold – the First Passage to the West is considered the favourite by many because of its historical and political significance.
Back in the 19th Century, British Columbia was considering joining Canada but would only do so on one condition: that it was connected to the rest of the country by rail road. So in the 1880s engineers, surveyors, and construction crews carved a railroad that would unite Canada.
The exact route is not in operation today, but the First Passage to the West does cross over several parts of the original railroad – while punctuated by glittering scenery in between. This is the only passenger rail service on this historic route, and is a must for history buffs.
Here are 8 sights – both historic and scenic – that you will pass along the way.
First off is the river where both the Canadian Pacific Railroad and Canadian National decided they wanted a bridge across a small canyon back in the 19th century. The orange truss arch bridge, one of two bridges, is the largest single-span bridge on the CN line at 247 metres long.
When you first approach this section of the journey, you’ll be greeted with sandy hills and dark blue water. But then you’ll spot the dark shale rock wall in the background that towers above the tracks.
If you think these rock formations look a little spooky, you’re not wrong. Legend has it that these formations are people turned into pillars through witchcraft.
Welcome to the point where the First Passage to the West originally ended. Back in 1885, this is the site where the Last Spike of the rail route was dug into the earth and Canada’s East and West were united.
Welcome to one of the most serene parts of the journey. The Kinbasket Lake is home to calm, blue-green waters and is a breath-taking backdrop to your Rocky Mountaineer rail journey.
Kicking Horse River
For a chunk of your journey, the rail route traces the path of the rowdy Kicking Horse River before making a steep ascent to Kicking Horse Pass. If you’re wondering, The Kicking Horse River was named in 1858 by Scottish geologist James Hector, who was kicked by his packhorse while exploring the river.
We’ve already mentioned that The First Passage to the West route united British Columbia to the rest of Canada. But it was this very specific part of the route that holds the most historical and political power.
Built over the Kicking Horse River, this is the spot that caused the largest engineering headache. The sheer height of the canyon meant that a gradual descent was not possible. The first attempted train journey plunged in the canyon! In 1909, the original path through the canyon was abandoned and the Spiral Tunnels were opened – and are still used to this day along the First Passage to the Left route!
Named after its castle-like shape by James Hector, it’s hard to miss Castle Mountain’s rugged mountain top. The fact that it is also 2,766 metres high doesn’t hurt either. You’ll pass it halfway between Banff and Lake Louise while passing along the Bow River.