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VIA Rail’s the Skeena: A Grizzly Adventure from Jasper to Prince Rupert

VIA Rail’s the Skeena: A Grizzly Adventure from Jasper to Prince Rupert

Old Jun 21st, 2024, 05:00 AM
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VIA Rail’s the Skeena: A Grizzly Adventure from Jasper to Prince Rupert

Hi Fodor’s

So this year I managed to do another rail adventure, starting from my home in Montreal, this time on a route that I have wanted to see for some time. I had read accounts of travellers on this route dealing with extreme lateness but thought I’m not getting any younger and bit the bullet anyway.

I arrived in Jasper Alberta on the Canadian train coming from Toronto, had officially a six hour layover which turned out to be a bit less than four hours and then boarded the train formerly known as the Skeena (but still referred to many as such) bound for Prince Rupert BC with a requisite self-arranged overnight hotel stay in Prince George BC. I think for a number of visitors, flying into Edmonton or Prince Rupert itself would be a more common approach for those wishing to see this route.

This trip report will be less about the Canadian train which I have taken before but rather mostly about the landscapes and places that I had never seen before from Jasper to Prince Rupert. The itinerary went like this:

June 15 Montreal to Toronto VIA Rail
June 16-19 VIA Rail Canadian Toronto to Jasper
June 19-20 VIA Rail Jasper to Prince Rupert (overnight in Prince George)
June 20-23 Prince Rupert BC

I am currently in Prince Rupert so apparently made it in one piece. I will be going on a boat tour tomorrow to see grizzly bears and will report back if I have not been mauled 😉.

*Coming Up: How did I while away my nearly 4 hours in Jasper?*

Last edited by Daniel_Williams; Jun 21st, 2024 at 05:26 AM. Reason: Must have hit post by accident
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Old Jun 21st, 2024, 04:14 PM
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Athabasca River hike

Old Fort Point summit

Troop of longhorn sheep were resting near Old Fort Point

Photos from Layover in Jasper
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Old Jun 21st, 2024, 05:13 PM
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*Four Hours in Jasper Between Trains*

So, after a delightful few days of train travel through the forests and lakes of the Canadian Shield and the almost unbelievably big skies of the Prairies with sometimes interesting sometimes quite entertaining dining and sleeping car companions and being spoiled with some nice main meals and desserts, the train alighted in Jasper thankfully only two hours late, meaning I would make my connection. The snow-capped mountains seen from and surrounding Jasper Village seemed truly worlds away from the buzzing excitement and busy movement of the multicultural streets of downtown Toronto, where I had enjoyed the beauty of Lake Ontario and a first time stay at the Fairmont Royal York, which felt like a mixture of a nightclub and old money.

Stepping off the train, I managed to quickly find a place to store my luggage, which meant I was free to meander the town more. The Tourist Information Center had just opened at 9am and I had three questions: 1. Where could I get a good coffee? 2. Where could I pick up groceries? (Needed food for the Skeena train) 3. Where should I hike if I have 2-3 hours only?

After a tasty latte at Andromeda Cafe, I set out toward Old Fort Point, which one can walk to from Jasper Village itself. A tunnel brings one under the train tracks and after maybe 15 minutes, one is at the shores of the beautifully light blue Athabasca River. Since time was limited, I opted to go the steeper route up the stairs rather than the more winding route to Old Fort Point. Quite the workout but the reward of the summit with the views of maybe a dozen lounging longhorn sheep (don’t get too close), the Athabasca River and the mountains surroundings was incredible. Reluctantly, I pulled away from the gorgeous summit, returned to Jasper Village where I stocked up on provisions at TGP grocers before proceeding to my next adventure, the Skeena Train, a trip that truly blew my mind.

*Coming Up: Jasper to Prince Rupert by the Skeena Train*
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Old Jun 22nd, 2024, 09:05 PM
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*Skeena Train: Jasper-Prince George*

Even though the Skeena only offers economy class, thankfully this train does offer a dome car to admire the scenery. The other car where the main seats were was also quite comfortable and more modern than other VIA trains I’ve ridden on, with nicely reclining seats and plenty of leg room.

Leaving Jasper, the first 60 or so miles of the Skeena train follows the same path as the Canadian train, where one can enjoy the milky green-blue, almost jade green Yellowhead Lake, Moose Lake and Fraser River, with stunning snow-capped mountains such as Mount Fitzwilliam and the tallest in the Canadian Rockies, Mount Robson visible. New for me in this portion of the journey included seeing the peak of Mount Robson, which according to the train attendant, is visible only 12-15 days of the year. Also, three black bears were seen in this stretch, my first ever bear sighting on trains in Western Canada, two of which were on branches in the same tree, a tree which to my eye seemed a remarkably spindly one to sustain the weight of the two big animals. I wondered if chances of seeing a bear might be better from the smaller consist of the Skeena train than the 1/2 km long Canadian train, thinking the bigger train might scare away wildlife but this is mere speculation.

The mighty Fraser River remains a near constant companion to Prince George as the Skeena route splits away from the Canadian route. But how the river changes in look! As one leaves the milky blue-green oxbow in the river near the splitting of the two western VIA Rail train routes to a more bog standard blue-brown river colour approaching Prince George, simultaneously one bids adieu to the snow capped mountains and enters flatter grassland mixed with some evergreen moving toward Prince George. To my surprise, we arrive in Prince George on time, which means I can have supper in the northern BC city!

*Prince George*

For the requisite overnight in Prince George between Jasper and Prince Rupert, I actually walk to my hotel (a Ramada Inn) from the train station as it is under a 10 minute walk. Initially, the city seems rather tragic to me, with hunched over people who seemed sketched out on drugs roaming the remarkably barren wide grid pattern streets like in a seeming zombie apocalypse. Prince George, which calls itself “the Spruce Capital of the World”, however does appear to have a more upbeat prospering side to it, as I saw a charming youthful lively brewery near my hotel and a number of festive restaurants with outdoor seating. Connaught Hill Park was a pleasant green space offering views of the city from up high.

*Prince George to Prince Rupert leg of the Skeena coming up next. I was in for a surprise!*
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Old Jun 22nd, 2024, 09:09 PM
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Skeena Train near Jasper

Mount Robson

Prince George from Connaught Hill Park

Oxbow in Fraser River
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Old Jun 23rd, 2024, 09:19 AM
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Beautiful photos! My husband visited Jasper many decades ago, and still talks about how beautiful it is. Hope I make it there some day!
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Old Jun 23rd, 2024, 01:54 PM
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Love the photos! Envy you the trip - looking forward to more.
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Old Jun 23rd, 2024, 03:37 PM
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I'm along for the ride Daniel. I do love your reports, and that first photo is gorgeous.
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Old Jun 23rd, 2024, 03:55 PM
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We traveled to Prince Rupert on a road trip several years ago. That drive to Prince Rupert is so, so beautiful! We have so many beautiful memories and pictures, and I hope you will as well. Enjoy.
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Old Jun 23rd, 2024, 10:33 PM
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*Prince George to Prince Rupert*

So, on the Skeena train, there is one attendant who literally does everything…scans your ticket, gives the safety talk, works the cafe car and loads & unloads passengers. So when Walter the attendant told us that he thought the second day to Prince Rupert was even more beautiful than the first, I thought we must be in for a treat, as unfathomable as it seemed that vistas could surpass the majesty of Jasper to Prince George or at least the eastern half of that trip.

So initially travelling west of Prince George, the train leaves the Fraser River and travels instead along the Nechako River, a tributary of the Fraser. Early scenic highlights were Fraser Lake and Burns Lake with their lakeside evergreen forested hills and cottages. Around Houston BC (pronounced the same as the Texas city), the first snow capped mountains are visible west of Prince George on the route.

The Bulkley River becomes the new waterway companion moving toward Smithers, an absolutely gorgeous spot which is the meeting point of four mountain ranges, the Babine, Hudson Bay, Telkwa and Kitseguecla and the Hazelton Range is not far away. The Hudson Bay Mountain looms in the foreground at Smithers with what the guide said was the best view of a glacier from a VIA train. One difference between the mountains here and the one found in the Jasper area, is below the snow of the peaks, there is a brownish-red colour rather than a silvery-grey colour. Bulkley Canyon is not long after, so beautiful with steep slopes of red dirt rising from the river followed by evergreen trees. Long tunnels are passed through, adding to the ambience.

Before long, we cross the Skeena River from great height which will be our companion almost all the way to Prince Rupert. Since Smithers, I felt I was almost overdosing on impressive tall snow-capped mountains, such was the nonstop beauty, with the grooved Roche de Boule near New Hazelton as a standout as well as the sawtooth Seven Sisters mountain range.

Terrace BC, a town of about 15,000 looked quite appealing surrounded by attractive mountain ranges about 2 hours from Prince Rupert in the Skeena River Valley; Terrace, along with Smithers and Burns Lake, stand out as places I saw this trip that I would be most tempted to check out more.

The Skeena River becomes increasingly wider beyond Terrace and the coastal tides become apparent. Getting closer to the coast, the mountains are still beautiful but the snowy caps are less omnipresent, as the train approaches the final stretch along the Inverness Inlet into Prince Rupert, where we arrive thankfully less than an hour late.

I’ve taken amazingly beautiful train rides in the North American west including Chicago- Emeryville, Chicago-Seattle and Edmonton-Vancouver. And the Jasper-Prince Rupert route in my mind should be considered alongside these best of the best of North American rail travel in terms of scenic beauty.

*Thoughts on Prince Rupert and Grizzly Bear Tour Coming Up*


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Old Jun 23rd, 2024, 10:36 PM
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Burns Lake

Smithers BC. Hudson Bay mountain range behind train

Skeena River and Seven Sisters
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Old Jun 24th, 2024, 07:18 AM
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Originally Posted by sludick
We traveled to Prince Rupert on a road trip several years ago. That drive to Prince Rupert is so, so beautiful! We have so many beautiful memories and pictures, and I hope you will as well. Enjoy.
melnq8, Thursdaysd: Thanks for your comments!

karenwoo: I can see why your husband remembers Jasper so fondly after so many years. It’s truly remarkably beautiful.

sludick: What amazing territory to experience by car. I’m sure you found some gorgeous places to stop along the way!

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Old Jun 24th, 2024, 07:11 PM
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*Prince Rupert*

Incorporated in the early 1900s, much of Prince Rupert has pretty generic small town wide streets and shopping malls, including apparently the smallest Walmart. However, the area of the city by the boardwalk exudes some maritime charm, with some establishments having great views of the greatest asset of Prince Rupert, the waters of Cows Bay and coastal mountains surrounding. Breakers Pub and Cowpuccino’s in this area had folksy live entertainment here during our stay.

Meeting a friend who had flown up from Vancouver, our main excursion our first full day in Prince Rupert was to the North Pacific Cannery, founded some 20 years before Prince Rupert itself. One of several canneries in the Inverness Inlet operating in the 20th century, the facility’s last remaining function, as a machine shop, ended in 1981. Although the cannery work appeared to be gruelling with long hours particularly pre-automation, according to the guide, apparently when those who lived there and are still living came back to visit, they spoke with a certain nostalgia and fondness of their time there, of a camaraderie they found from communal living and the bonds they created with their coworkers and at the company store. The cannery found on stilts on water already to my eyes felt like a relic of a bygone era, but somehow alluring surrounded by inlet and steep slopes of a mixture of dark and light evergreen. Fascinatingly enough, our taxi driver on the return trip happened to work in the machine shop in the cannery in the 80s.

*Prince Rupert Adventure Tours: Grizzly Bears*

For $370 with lunch and drink included for a 7.5 hour trip, the 100 person catamaran set sail from the protected harbour of Cows Bay at the boardwalk in Prince Rupert toward the rougher waters of the Chatham Sound passing the Tsimshian communities of Lax Kw’alaams (formerly Port Simpson) and Metlakatla along the way, communities only accessible by boat. After maybe 1.5 hours or so, Steamers Passage was reached and then shortly thereafter, the feeding grounds of 50-60 grizzly bears, the Khutzeymateen Inlet. Entering the Khutzeymateen, all passengers were under strict orders: no talking outside as this could scare the grizzly bears and no eating outside so as not to associate the boats with food.

Before long, we met the grizzly bears affectionately known as Hot Chocolate and Marshmallow, who were digging for clams in the sand and observed for a number of minutes. Later we met several others who were savouring the nutrition of the plentiful sedge grass of the inlet. I really loved them but I couldn’t help but wondered if they were lonely in their isolation. These were the first grizzly bears I had ever seen in the wild.

As a bonus, we saw three humpback whales on the return quite up-close with several sightings, including some breaching! And then as icing on the cake we past an area where maybe 10-20 bald eagles were circling and swooping down in the water (perhaps at a carcass?) and even at one point two were fighting! It was a scene unlike any other I’d seen and while before I thought of the bald eagle as a noble majestic bird, here they seemed almost like cartoon villains and vulture-like!

*Final thoughts to come*
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Old Jun 24th, 2024, 07:20 PM
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North Pacific Cannery in Inverness Inlet

Sunset at harbour of Prince Rupert

Marina at Prince Rupert

Khutzeymateen Inlet: in addition to home of grizzlies, is gorgeous!

Hot Chocolate digging for clams

Grizzly monetarily raising its head from the nutritious sedge-grass

Humpback whale on return in Chatham Sound

Grizzly bear pictures from journey were airdropped to us by tour company. I’m not that good a photographer!
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Old Jun 25th, 2024, 10:28 AM
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*Final Thoughts*

I really had no idea quite what I was in store for this trip. I had visited the Vancouver and Victoria area in the past in British Columbia, but really had no idea what other parts of BC had to offer. (Although the Canadian train passes through BC, much of that journey was at night the year I took it.) The trip was truly an education, as I had never even heard of many of the places I passed through before this trip, including some of the more popular destinations like Smithers or Burns Lake. I was expecting pretty with foresty mountains, some lakes and rivers but what was on offer far exceeded my expectations. While the crisp milky blue waters near Jasper are not replicated, the spectacular snow-capped mountains by rivers pretty much from Smithers all the way to the Inverness Inlet combined with dramatic vistas were a nonstop explosion of beauty.

I am currently in Jasper for my last day in stunning mountainous western Canada. Today I went for a hike to Lac Beauvert and saw an elk feeding not far away, and shortly thereafter heard a ranger in a jeep call out to me saying there were three grizzlies nearby, to not panic but instead walk back the way I came. I briefly caught a glimpse of them (looked like a mama and her cubs) walking in the forest, within 100 meters. I did not stop to take a picture lol and think I preferred seeing them from the safety of a catamaran. What a way to end the trip!
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Old Jun 25th, 2024, 10:34 AM
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Terrace BC

The longhorn sheep found a new spot to chill out.

My final hurrah in Western Canada: seeing an elk while hiking in Jasper.
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Old Jul 1st, 2024, 07:33 AM
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Errors:

The animals I saw were “bighorn sheep” not “longhorn sheep”. The bay seen from Prince Rupert is “Cow Bay” not “Cows Bay”. And the grizzly “momentarily” not “monetarily” raises its head lol.

I add here a photo I took of the grizzly bear from my I phone on the boat tour (one of my better ones). I had binoculars though so got to see the bears almost like in the photos I showed earlier.


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