The Route

So, what's the idea with this trip, exactly?

Well, a careful examination of a map reveals that there are two active rail lines in the province of B.C., Canada. They're used mostly by freight trains, but it is possible to use them to do a good sized circle of the province by passenger train, if you get creative.

Both Rocky Mountaineer Vacations and VIA Rail Canada offer passenger service between Vancouver and Banff, but on examining the schedules I discovered that VIA Rail departs Vancouver in the late afternoon and crosses the mountains in the dark! Rocky Mountaineer ~ on the other hand ~ is a private company and more set-up to break the distance into two day-time sections.

After much reading of brochures, schedules and web sites, I was able to devise an ambitious, gonzo-style itinerary that sampled the province's diverse geography, its two rail providers, a number of accommodations and ~ wait for it ~ how easy or difficult it would be to do the whole thing with folding bicycles.

View a circle tour of Western Canada by train and folding bicycle in a larger map

As far as the bikes went, the idea originally was to get off the train at a community along the rail line, explore it a bit deeper and quicker than you could on foot, and then jump back on the train to the next stop.

Accordingly, I booked the Whistler Mountaineer to get from Vancouver to Whistler. We'd stay there a couple of days, then get on the Rocky Mountaineer's "Fraser Discovery Route" to head northwards towards Quesnel; then southeast to Jasper, Alberta. After a few days cycling around Jasper, my friend Michelle and I would step onto VIA Rail's "The Canadian", and head east to Saskatoon (in Saskatchewan), then Winnipeg (Manitoba). We'd spend a couple of days in each city and cycle around, then get back onto VIA Rail to return to Jasper.

Rocky Mountaineer does offer rail passage between Jasper and Vancouver (via Kamloops) on their "Yellowhead Route", but that would have been too easy. Instead Michelle and I figured we could cycle the Icefields Parkway and the Bow Valley Parkway (the highways between Jasper and Banff) if we rigged the folding bikes up with touring racks! Dahon sent Momentum (the magazine for whom I was writing) a Speed TR and a Mu XL to do just that.

What made the idea sweeter was that Hostelling International has a number of "wilderness hostels" along the Parkways and we'd have a warm bed for each of the six nights on the 300km ~ no camping gear required.

We'd stay in Banff a day or two and seek out its famed hot springs, then step aboard Rocky Mountaineer's "Kicking Horse Route" to return to Vancouver three weeks later.

View 186 photos of the entire journey or just the Jasper to Banff cycling section on the Icefields and Bow Valley parkways (65 photos).