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Skeena ‘River of Mists’

January 27, 2018 Headline News, Travel Feature No Comments Email Email

John Newton is enthusiastic that there’s no better way than by train to view the mesmerising changing colours of the forests during the Canadian Fall (Autumn). And the best train to catch is Via Rail’s Skeena from Jasper in Alberta to Prince Rupert on the Pacific coast in northern British Columbia.

It’s a long, two-day journey covering 1160 kilometres in 20 hours, with a one night hotel stay at Prince George, home to 1600 lakes and rivers within a 100 kilometre radius. Not that you’ll see too much of the city as the train pulls in during the evening and gets moving again at 8am the following morning.

The overnight stopover is because the Skeena doesn’t have sleeping facilities, but the schedule allows for daylight viewing of the glorious scenery – almost from start to finish – with the Northern Lights often seen during the journey in the Fall.

Mount Robson

Leaving behind the Raven totem pole in front of Jasper rail station, it’s not long before the Skeena crosses the border from Alberta to British Columbia when Mount Robson – the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies – provides a breathtaking and one of the most impressive sights in British Columbia.

Mount Robson National Park – a World Heritage Site – covers almost 225,000 hectares of rugged snow-capped mountains, glacier-fed lakes, rivers and streams and sub-alpine forests.

All wildlife indigenous to the Rocky Mountains can be found here. Black bears call the park’s lower elevation home, while grizzly bears inhabit the higher elevations.

Picturesque all the way

On the train’s dome car, passengers armed with binoculars and cameras of all shapes and sizes, peer expectantly for any movement – with bears and moose the most sought after images to show friends and relatives back home.

While the wildlife was elusive, the dense forests were putting on a show, with green turning to gold as the first Fall colours shone as bright as the sunlight.

The Skeena is much smaller than the Via Rail’s flagship, the Canadian, its sole locomotive pulling just four rail cars – two in tourist class, one economy and one baggage car as opposed to up to 30 plus on the mighty transcontinental train from Toronto to Vancouver – and vice-versa.

Take your bear spray

But the service is just as good – if not better. There are just two service attendants on the Skeena responsible for passenger meals, drinks and keeping the self-service coffee, tea and biscuits always available. Sylvie and Aline did a top job – and always with a smile!

Passengers in tourist class are served lunch and dinner between Jasper and Prince George, while continental breakfast, lunch and dinner is provided from Prince George to Prince Rupert. There are four one-course choices for lunch and dinner.

While the first leg of the journey to Prince George is dominated by the forests, the giant wood mills and lakeside log cabin retreats provide new imagery for the camera enthusiasts perched in the popular dome car.

Skeena panorama

The train passes a number of landmarks before stopping at McBride, where the station houses both a museum and tourism visitor centre. The charming village was named after Sir Richard McBride who, at the age of 33, became British Columbia’s youngest premier.

It’s the last scheduled stop before there’s an overnight break in the journey at the sprawling lumber town of Prince George – from where the final 300 kilometres to Prince Rupert provide some sensational views, particularly along the Skeena River, renowned for the thick mist that often swirls around it – . Skeena means ‘river of mists’.

Passing Fort Fraser, one of the oldest European-founded settlements in BC, the train trundles at a gentle pace along picturesque lakes, such as Burns, Decker and Rose, before the imposing Hudson Bay Mountain can be spotted west of Smithers, a 15-minute stopover town built by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway in 1913 as its regional headquarters and named after its chairman, Sir Alfred Smithers.

North Pacific Cannery

As the train winds its way along the massive canyons along the Skeena River, the sweeping views get even more spectacular and the cameras are poised again in the dome car for that special shot to boast about back home. But you have to be quick before the trackside trees or passing freight trains get in the way.

Salmon are the lifeblood of the Skeena River. It has all five salmon species – but declining stocks are already being felt in the local culture and communities.

Back on track, the train finally pulls into Prince Rupert, which holds the distinction of having more bears, eagles and whales living there than people.

Canned salmon samples

The picturesque harbour city is situated just over 60 kilometres from the Alaskan border and is a popular cruise ship destination.

Top places to visit are the North Pacific Cannery, the oldest intact salmon cannery on the West Coast, and Cow Bay, a quaint waterfront ‘udder’ shopping area.

Named as a result of the cows that were unloaded there in the early 1900s, it’s also renowned for its very fresh fish restaurants, such as legendary Dolly’s which has the best seafood chowder, Dungeness crab and halibut you’ll find anywhere. Don’t miss it.

Cow Bay, Prince Rupert

And don’t miss seeing Lucille, the resident Pacific Harbour seal in the Prince Rupert Harbour. She’s around most days.

* More details on the Skeena rail trip at:

* For more information on Prince Rupert, go to

* For British Columbia, see:


Cow Bay, Prince Rupert

Words and images: John Newton

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