Kelowna is a pretty town, situated on the shores of the Okanagan Lake in British Columbia. It offers water skiing, wine tours, picturesque golf courses, lively outdoor entertainment and a range of exciting railway tours. Whether you want to relive the romance of steam-powered train travel or see some stunning scenery from the comfort of a modern train carriage, Kelowna and its surrounds can deliver the adventure that you are seeking.
Kamloops Heritage Railway
The sunny, picturesque town of Kamloops, situated about two hundred kilometers northwest of Kelowna, offers the exhilarating experience of riding the Kamloops Heritage Railway 2141 steam-powered train, the “Spirit of Kamloops.” This adventure will carry you on a journey through history, back to an era when steam trains huffed and puffed their way around North America.
The “Spirit of Kamloops”, built in 1912, had been at rest in a park for thirty-three years when, in 1993, some volunteers took the initiative to restore the lonely locomotive. After eight years of intense labor, on June 15th, 2002, the 2141 took her first journey in forty-one years. Since then, she has attracted romantically-minded visitors from all parts of the globe and next year, in 2012, she will celebrate her one-hundredth birthday.
When you take a ride on the “Spirit of Kamloops,” you are treated to a reenactment of life as it was during the time of steam-power. So, you can expect to be greeted by staff wearing uniforms appropriate to the period and ticket conductors interacting with you as they might have done during the early twentieth century. The journey culminates with an exciting reenactment of a famous incident that occurred in 1906, when a man named Bill Miner and his companions in crime attempted to rob a CPR train.
If you are interested in a more frightening adventure, you can also take a “Ghost Train Tour” at Kamloops Heritage Railway. On this thrilling ride, you share the train with a cast of supernatural characters, from a gravedigger to a grief-stricken widow to a hurdy-gurdy girl to a nurse and her patient. The “Ghost Train” experience is often sold out, so it is a good idea to book tickets in advance.
Kettle Valley Steam Railway
If you travel about forty-five kilometers south of Kelowna, you will reach Summerland, where you can ride the Kettle Valley Steam Railway. The years between 1910 and 1915 saw the building of the Kettle Valley Railway “Kootenay to Coast Connection.” Only ten miles of this train line survives intact. These ten miles, however, cover some lovely scenery – sparkling lakes, wineries, abundant orchards and a 238 foot high canyon crossing on “Trout Creek Bridge.” So, a non-profit group, committed to maintaining and promoting the heritage of Okanagan and British Columbia Railway, decided to restore a steam-powered train to provide passengers with the opportunity to enjoy the view and learn about an important era in Canadian history.
This train is known as Number 3716. Built in Montreal in 1912, she initially worked as a coal-burning train and was later changed to operate on oil. She spent the years between 1966 and 1975 resting in the City of Port Coquitlam until being restored by Canadian Pacific Railway. She started working again and even featured in a few films, until, finally, in April, 2001 she stopped working with British Columbia Railway and became the Kettle Valley Steam Railway’s baby.
Travellers on the Number 3716 can choose to ride inside an old-fashioned passenger coach or in an open car, with the wind rushing past their faces. During the ninety minute ride, passengers enjoy live music, entertaining historical stories and games. The Kettle Valley Steam Railway takes her travellers on a journey through time.
In three hours, the Whistler Mountaineer carries passengers from North Vancouver to Whistler, British Columbia. From the comfort of a modern train carriage, travellers have access to constantly changing scenery – vast ocean views; rugged, wild, snow-capped mountains; spectacular canyons. Two highlights of the journey are the Shannon Falls, which tumble down a mountain from a height of three hundred meters, and Black Tusk, a stunning mountain top formed from an extinct volcano.
The Whistler Mountaineer was established in 2006. It runs from May to October and is open five days a week – from Sunday to Thursday. Guests can choose from two different types of carriage. One is the “Coast Classic Experience,” which is traditional in style, with picture windows, and set seating. This costs $129.00 one way and $219.00 for a round-trip. When ticketed for the “Coast Classic,” passengers receive a light meal and can also visit the “open-air observation car” whenever they like. The other type of carriage is the “Glacier Dome Experience,” which is shaped like a dome and offers 360 degree views. This costs $219.00 one-way and $329.00 for a round-trip. Passengers ticketed for the “Glacier Dome Experience” receive afternoon tea and can also access the observation car at any time. All guests receive service at their seat and a detailed commentary throughout the journey.
The “once-in-a-lifetime” two-day rail experience offered by the Rocky Mountaineer carries passengers either East to West or West to East on the journey that, one hundred years ago, when the rail was initially laid down, first connected the Canadian Rockies with Canada’s West. The Rocky Mountaineer only travels during the hours of daylight, so that passengers do not miss out on one second of the scenery.
You can buy either “Red Leaf Class” or “Gold Leaf Class” tickets on the Rocky Mountaineer, and, if two days is not enough, you can look into booking a longer journey. In fact, the Rocky Mountaineer offers forty-five different packages. Their longest vacation runs for twenty-five days, which would certainly enable you to gain a comprehensive experience of Canada’s scenery.
From lakeside Kelowna, you can access a range of exciting rail adventures. Visit the Kamloops Heritage Railway or the Kettle Valley Steam Railway to take a journey into a bygone era and to learn about important aspects of Canadian heritage. If you are interested in a more epic experience, with the emphasis on witnessing Canada’s awesome scenery, then consider the Rocky Mountaineer or the Whistler Mountaineer.