Leaving Vancouver behind, we took the VIA Rail Canadian to Jasper. I love trains, but even I have to admit that spending more than 18 hours on a train is pushing my limit. At least one family in economy with us was going all the way to Toronto, a four-day journey. My head hurts just thinking about it.
I’d happily take the train across the country, but I could never do it all at once. I’d get a 30-day pass (or, thanks to VIA’s somewhat limited fare structures, two or three 12-day passes) and hop across the country a few hours at a time, spending a day or two here and there to explore. Four days all at once? I can’t imagine.
Still, I highly recommend the train trip from Vancouver. The train crosses much of the B.C. interior at night, and spends most of the following day crisscrossing the Fraser River and North Thompson River valleys and eventually climbing over the Yellowhead Pass into Alberta. By my count, our train had at least 17 passenger cars (including 6 cars with observations domes), making it by far the longest train I’ve ever been on. The observation car nearest to us was never more than half full when we went up there. My advice: try to get a good night’s sleep at the beginning of the voyage and then grab a good window seat for the rest of the day, whether in the dome car or your regular passenger car. If you can, shell out for a sleeper compartment; it’ll cost twice as much, but you’ll be at least three times happier in the morning.
Jasper, the National Park, is nothing short of awe-inspiring. You could probably spend the entire summer there and not run out of places to go or things to see. Jasper, the town, is tiny and reminds me a lot of southern Ontario tourist towns: the main drag is so focused on serving tourists that I’m always left wondering where local residents shop or eat. I can’t imagine that locals spend $100 for a middling dinner for two at Evil Dave’s or $20 for souvenir underwear.
I love little local museums, and the Jasper-Yellowhead Museum didn’t disappoint. The walkthrough display chronicling Jasper’s history is so chock-full of Banff-envy that it reads like it was penned by a spurned lover. “Banff may be bigger and better, but we’re happy that we’re small and unappreciated! We swear!” While the museum spends a lot of time disparaging the development and popularity of Banff and extolling the quiet virtues of still-wild Jasper, it’s actually bang-on in making the comparison. Wildlife was abundant in Jasper, with appearances by too many elk to count, as well as some deer, a moose, a black bear, and countless ravens that seemed twice as big as their urban cousins in Vancouver.
Just about the only thing I remember about Jasper from when I was there as a kid thirty years ago was the preponderance of trailers and motorhomes. It’s still largely the same, but at least half of them these days are rentals.
Anyway, read on for the obligatory gallery and more observations.