Western Canada: Bears, Trains and ATV’s

First Class Holidays MD's recent visit to Canada

Western Canada. What a stunning place. If you haven’t been, you need to.

From the moment we left the airport at Calgary, to the moment I departed at Vancouver; the views were just simply breath-taking. Something you normally see on postcards.  

Even someone who hits the snooze button five times in the morning, found himself jumping out of bed at 5.30am (and yes, this was partly down to the time difference). 

Day 1 – Calgary to Banff
We started from Calgary Airport as our wonderful Sundog driver, Dwayne took us down the Bow Valley Trail. We arrived at 3 o’clock so the light was still amazing, the skies were blue and the mountains covered in snow. It was picture perfect. 

On arrival into Banff, we checked into our hotel, The Moose Hotel & Suites. A casual looking timber hotel, but very modern inside and the rooms very lovely. The highlight of the hotel was the rooftop hot tub with stunning mountain views. It didn’t take me long to get in! 

Dinner was at the Farm & Fire, inside the Elk & Avenue Hotel, just down the road from the Moose. The food was quite unique with some interesting dishes and more of a sharing vibe and a nice atmosphere. 

Day 2 – Banff sightseeing 
I woke up at 4.30am and decided to go for a stroll as soon as it got light. Those who know me realise how much of a golf fan I am, so I decided to check out Banff Springs golf course, about a 40-minute stunning walk from the hotel, through beautiful treelined winding roads. 

Given it was 6am in the morning and I didn’t see anyone else on route, I was slightly nervous thinking I may encounter a bear. Although I didn’t see any bears, I saw an elk walking through the trees and crossing the road and then I encountered about 200 more up the road on the golf course. Only later on was I told that elk were in fact more dangerous than bears! 

Around 9.30am we set off on some local sightseeing around Banff, calling at Surprise Corner, Bow Falls Viewpoint and also a great spot to the see the Fairmont Banff Springs. We then took the Banff Gondola ride to the summit of Sulphur Mountain. Views from the summit are unreal and I could have spent all day up there. They had a few restaurants which looked nice, but we only had 20 minutes or so. 

We then took the gondola back down and headed to the famous Lake Louise. The Fairmont there is spectacular, and I would recommend a lake view room if you were staying there. The lake was frozen, but still a stunning view, although it would be nice to visit later in the year to see that famous green colour. 

We did a few more sights on the way back to Banff and that evening we had the pleasure of having dinner at the Fairmont Banff Springs and the food was amazing. I had a shrimp cocktail and then fillet mignon steak accompanied with a Fairmont ‘old fashioned’ to drink. We had a tour of the hotel, and it would be a great place to stay, although it’s worth noting it’s a 25 minute walk into Banff. If you are staying in Banff, make sure you visit the Fairmont for dinner or just a drink.  

Day 3 – Banff to Jasper
After a lovely and filling breakfast at the Moose Hotel (I had way too many pancakes and maple syrup), we then departed to Jasper, along the Icefields Parkway, one of the most scenic drives I have ever done. It was up there with Route 1 in California, although completely different. 

It’s a 232km stretch of double-lane highway winding along the continental divide through soaring rocky mountain peaks, icefields, and vast sweeping valleys. We stopped off on route at the crossing for some food and then headed to the Columbia Icefields, where we did the Ice Explorer and Skywalk. This was literally quite a cool experience being on a glacier and then walking out on the Skywalk to see the views. 

The journey time from here to Jasper was around 2 hours, but I was promised bears, so there was no time for a nap. We saw a few black bears on route, and the excitement couldn’t be contained as all 7 of us turned into little kids and started shouting bear, bear! However, the best bear viewing was yet to come. 

We checked into our hotel, The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, or JPL as it’s known at around 6pm. The drive into the hotel and the grounds were just stunning and I immediately fell in love with the place. It would soon become my favourite hotel in Canada and possibly the world. We were told Grizzly bears were around and to be careful, but halfway through my cookie and maple syrup desert, which was amazing by the way, we were told to come outside to see two grizzly bears by the lake. It was simply breath-taking to see this and I managed to get some great footage of them walking at the side of the lake. Everyone in our group was so excited and it really capped off an unforgettable day. 

Day 4 – Jasper sightseeing
Still eager to make the most of every minute, I woke again at 6am and headed out on a walk around the hotel grounds and near the golf course. To my amazement, I saw another two bears, one on the 18th hole of the golf course and another on the 17th hole. It was probably the same two bears as the night before, but with no one around this time, I must admit I felt slightly nervous, but at the same time I was so excited. 
After all the excitement, I joined the group for breakfast and yet more sightseeing around Jasper, including visits to Maligne Canyon and Maligne Lake. We also spent a bit of time in Jasper and a few of us decided to walk back from the town to the hotel, which was a lovely 45-minute gentle walk. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, we didn’t see any bears on the walk, but we did spot some elk and deer.
We had a casual dinner in a local place called the De'd Dog Bar & Grill, which was recommended by our guide Dwayne. Some of the restaurants in Jasper have some odd names, there is another one called Evil Dave’s, which is actually meant to be really good, so don’t be put off by the names! 

Day 5 – VIA Rail Jasper to Vancouver
We set off on VIA Rail’s The Canadian – the iconic train that leads you from the Rockies through British Columbia and overnight into Vancouver. We were in the sleeper plus cabins, which gave us access to the lounge car, and the panorama car with its glass ceilings. All meals and soft drinks were included and served in the dining car. 
With our ticket, we actually had access to the prestige cabin from 4-11pm, which was well worth it. I have to say the VIA experience was amazing, and although the train was slightly delayed, the service onboard and the views were brilliant. The cabins were also nice and we all had our own toilet and sink, although the shower was communal. 

Day 6 – Vancouver 
We arrived in Vancouver around 9am and headed straight to Granville Island for a bite to eat and a coffee. We really didn’t have enough time on Granville Island, it’s a quirky little place with lots to do. 
We then embarked on a short city and seal tour with Vancouver Water Adventures. Although the sea was a little choppy, we managed to see most of Vancouver by boat which was interesting and also saw a few seals. 
After a lovely stop for lunch on the beach at Cactus Club Café in English Bay we then headed around Vancouver with Landsea Tours & Adventures for sightseeing through Vancouver’s unique neighbourhoods. We stopped at Yaletown, Chinatown and Gastown, famous for the world’s first steam-operated clock. 

We arrived at our hotel, the Sheraton Wall Centre around 4pm, in time for a little shopping before a nice dinner at the hotel at 8pm.
It was the first time I had been to Vancouver, but I could quickly see why it was voted one of the world's most livable cities. Its such a lovely city, with lots to do and some amazing views, but it has a very nice feel to it. 

Day 7 – Vancouver 
After a lovely breakfast at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel, we headed across the road to the FlyOver Canada, a flight simulation ride taking you all over Canada. I actually did the one in Iceland a few years ago which was brilliant and this didn’t disappoint. We then headed to Stanley Park, a 1000-acre evergreen oasis in downtown Vancouver, primarily surrounded by water. A few of us rented bikes the day after and that’s definitely the best way to see the park, although beware as it’s a one-way system! 

Our next stop was the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, breathtakingly suspended 70 metres above and 137 metres across Capilano River. The views here as you walk through the rainforest are spectacular. 

We also had lunch at The Cliffhouse on site and I highly recommend the seafood chowder.
Off we then went on the gondola to Grouse Mountain. There are lots of things to do at the top of the mountain, including skiing, snowboarding, zip lining, a Lumberjack Show, a lightshow and more. We were also lucky to see the two resident grizzly bears, Grinder and Coola.        

Dinner that evening was at Kobe Japanese steakhouse and I would highly recommend it. The chefs cook in front of you, making it more of an experience and the food was delicious. 

Day 8 – Vancouver 
After a cycle around Stanley Park and a spot of lunch at Lift Bar and Grill (would highly recommend), we capped our Vancouver stay off with an incredible seaplane ride around the city, with Harbour Air. 
This is something you must do if you go to Vancouver, it was just sublime. 
I managed to sit up top with the pilot (the benefit of getting on the plane last) and the views were unreal. We were up in the air for around 30 minutes and saw lots of Vancouver and the surrounding areas. 

I then headed to Whistler. Everyone kept telling me to sit on the driver’s side on the way to Whistler and now I know why, the views are spectacular. No time for napping on this trip. 
I arrived at my hotel, the Delta Whistler Village Suites and explored the town. It was all going off at the Longhorn, an après ski party bar right next to the lifts. After a bite to eat and a visit to the lovely Fairmont, I decided to have a relatively early night ahead of a big day. 

Day 9 – Whistler 
After getting up early to see my beloved Leeds United survive another season in the Premier League (yes, I know), I headed for my ATV trip with Canadian Wilderness in a great mood. The ride was fun and exhilarating, with some pretty awesome views. 
Not only did we see black bears on the way, but we also saw more on the ride. After a few hours winding our way off road up the mountains we headed back to Whistler. 

Instead of relaxing, I decided to head up Whistler’s mountains and took the Gondola to Blackcomb, then the Peak2Peak to Whistler and then back down into Whistler Village. 
I was lucky enough to see black bears again and take in some more spectacular views. It was a long weekend in Canada, and the last weekend of the Ski season, so there was a mix of skiers, snowboarders and also Mountain bikers out in the sun. Plus, the regular tourists like myself. 

After half an hour unwinding in the hot tub at the Delta, I headed out for some food and to soak up the atmosphere of the penultimate night of the ski season. There was a mix of partygoers and families as there was a two-week Children's Festival on until late May with loads of stuff for the kids. I couldn’t help thinking my kids, Ted, and Chloe (4 and 7) would love it here! 

It was an early start the next day as I had a transfer to the airport and a 3-day trade show (RVC Canada) in Toronto awaiting me. 

I had now been away 9 nights and it honestly felt like about a month. In a good way. I had done so much and seen so many beautiful places and met so many nice people. Not to mention seeing bears a total of 10 different times! 

Western Canada, I can see why so many people fall in love with you. See you very soon.  

Inspired to follow in Dan's footprint, download our Canada brochure to see what holidays we have to offer.

Posted on 10th June 2022


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