Going Our Way: Looking for a memorable family excursion to the Canadian Rockies

By Carol Sottili
Friday, November 12, 2010; 2:29 PM

Who: Abbey Bearer, 47; husband Mike, 56; children Jeb, 15, and Jake, 13, of Bethesda

Where: Canadian Rockies

Why: In the fall of 2011, the teens will both be in high school, and Mom wants to have a memorable family vacation before they get too busy.

When: A week in early June

Budget: $8,000 to $10,000

"We've heard about great train trips. And we'd love to combine golf at Banff and/or Jasper Park for my husband and one son with plenty of family time for the four of us. Perhaps hiking at Lake Louise? We're looking for two-room suites or connecting rooms at mid-price or luxe hotels."

When children hit their early teens, most parents have that aha, or perhaps oh-no, moment as they realize that family vacations may soon be coming to an end. Friends, outside commitments and conflicting schedules start pulling the kids in different directions. So Abbey and Mike Bearer of Bethesda have made the timely decision to make their next summer vacation one to remember. They've chosen the Canadian Rockies, a destination, with its emphasis on outdoor activities, that young people are likely to embrace.

But not all teens will be giddy about the idea of a long train trip, a favorite vacation travel mode for seniors. One of my children would have relished the adventure of a cross-country rail journey and willingly engaged with an older crowd. The other, however, would have made everyone absolutely miserable as he moped about, complaining of boredom. So before you book, know your audience.

Train travel is also very expensive. For example, tickets for a family of four traveling round trip from Toronto to Jasper, Alberta, in private sleeping berths on Via Rail, Canada's rail system, would cost nearly $10,000.

Instead, fly to cities where you can start a shorter rail trip. Flying in and out of Seattle is one way to do it, but a vacation that starts in Vancouver, B.C., and ends in Calgary, Alberta, incorporating a one-way train trip, is much easier and even a little cheaper.

Days 1 and 2. Fly to Vancouver. The earliest flights from our region arrive at about noon, so there will be time to explore before boarding the train to Jasper. Take the Vancouver Lookout's 430-foot elevator ride (www.vancouverlookout.com) for 360-degree views of the city and surrounding countryside. Or do a walking tour of downtown Vancouver and Granville Island (www.vancouverurbanadventures.com). The teens may also enjoy walking the 430-foot-long Capilano Suspension Bridge (www.capbridge.com); free shuttles to the bridge depart from several downtown locations. For more ideas, go to www.tourismvancouver.com.

All aboard the Canadian, which departs on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays at 8:30 p.m., arriving in Jasper at 4 p.m. the next afternoon. Via Rail (www.viarail.ca) offers many types of accommodations at widely varying price points. Four economy seats will run nearly $1,200 less than the cheapest sleeping berths. How much is a good night's sleep worth?

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