The sound of the train clicking along the tracks filled my ears as I leaned out to take a photo of one of my favorite sites in the Canadian Rockies, Castle Mountain. We weren’t going to pass this way again so I clicked away, hoping for at least one non-blurry photograph. I turned into the vestibule to get away from the wind, and smiled at the passenger next to me as the scenery raced by.
Karen was visiting from England. She was on the Canada Rocky Mountaineer train on route from Banff to Vancouver, where she’d exchange the train for a cruise ship sailing up the Inside Passage to Alaska. “I’m from the Lakes District where we have lakes and hills. But these mountains are like on steroids,” she said.
The Canadian Rocky Mountains are certainly impressive, and while I’m pretty sure no steroids were involved in their geological evolution, it’s easy to understand how passengers aboard the Rocky Mountaineer from Great Britain, Australia or the United States feel in awe of the incredible mountains and vistas rolling by. As a Canadian, the awesome landscape is a point of pride and wonder as well. Seeing it from the train offered an entirely new perspective that surprised and delighted me.
Simply put, the Rocky Mountaineer train is one of great rail adventures in the world. Here’s how you can plan an amazing, bucket list-worthy trip on Canada’s Rocky Mountaineer train.
How to Plan the Most Amazing Trip on Canada’s Rocky Mountaineer Train
We got up early to assemble on the platform at Banff’s train station in the sunshine to await the arrival of our Rocky Mountaineer train. We’re on the First Passage to the West route, travelling Banff-Kamloops-Vancouver over two days. As soon as we cross the red carpet, are seated, and listen to the safety demonstration, we receive glasses of orange juice and (non-alcoholic) peach cider to toast our trip west. It’s a swish start to our train ride and adventure through the Canadian Rockies.
This guide will help you determine whether taking Rocky Mountaineer vacations are right for you, including; what to pack, how to plan, and tips on how to best to enjoy your epic rail journey in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
What is the Rocky Mountaineer train
The Rocky Mountaineer train is one of the premiere luxury train trips in the world. Based in Vancouver, Canada, the company offers red carpet service on its many routes between British Columbia, Alberta and Seattle, Washington. Rocky Mountaineers routes include; First Passage to the West, Rainforest to Gold Rush, and Journey Through the Clouds. Trains can be accessed in Vancouver and Banff (if flying in via Calgary International Airport).
Rocky Mountaineer has been awarded the prestigious World Travel Award as “World’s Leading Travel Experience by Train” multiple times. Not just in recognition of its excellent rail service but also the spectacular experiences that include the scenery, history and people along its routes.
Which service on the Rocky Mountaineer is right for you
The Rocky Mountaineer offers two levels of service, Gold Leaf and Silver Leaf. I had the privilege of travelling in the bi-level domed Gold Leaf coach, and I must say, it exceeded my expectations.
For me, the best part of the Rocky Mountaineer Gold Leaf service was the coach’s domed ceiling. It allows for nearly unlimited views up and around the train. Since there is so much to see above you, having that full viewing experience to look for goats on mountain cliffs and appreciate the Rocky Mountains in their full glory is worth every penny.
Every coach seat is like a plushy captain’s chair, with three levels of heating should you get chilled drinking your wine or beer. Each seat also has outlets for charging your various devices, which you want fully ready to capture the incredible views as you pass by mountains, lakes and rivers.
The crews on both service coaches remain the same for the duration of your trip. You really get to know your hosts, and they you in return. Many of them have been with Rocky Mountaineer for many seasons.
They are great storytellers, sharing the history of the towns and landscapes that the train passes through, and pointing out animals and birds along the way. In addition to elk, bald eagles, goats and ospreys, we were lucky to spot a mama black bear with two cubs before they sauntered back into the forest.
Both Silver and Gold Leaf coaches have outdoor vestibules at the rear of the cars for taking unobstructed photos. However, the Gold Leaf vestibule is quite a bit larger and can accommodate many more photographers angling to get that perfect shot. If that’s important to you, the Gold Leaf coach and its roomy vestibule are for you.
Which Rocky Mountaineer route is right for you
The Rocky Mountaineer has a variety of rail routes that include much of the best scenery on the west coast and in the Canadian Rockies. We enjoyed the First Passage to the West (in reverse, the Calgary to Vancouver Train), which travels from Vancouver-Kamloops-Banff, Alberta. This is Rocky Mountaineer’s flagship route, and includes highlights like the Spiral Tunnels at Kicking Horse Pass, Cragellachie (location of the Last Spike), Lake Louise, and Banff National Park. For many people, this is the best Rocky Mountaineer route.
Your route choice will depend on how long you have, where you want to go, and what you want to see. You can choose to leave from Seattle, WA, or Vancouver, BC, or get to Banff via Jasper, or vice versa. Rocky Mountaineer has divided its routes into subdivisions that make planning to see the landscapes and places you want very easy. All you have to do is choose the route.
Dining on the train
As mentioned, the Rocky Mountaineer offers two levels of service, Silver and Gold Leaf. The Rocky Mountaineer Gold Leaf coach is double height, and its dining compartment is on the lower level. The crew divides Gold Leaf passengers into two groups for two breakfast and two lunch seatings, whose times switch on alternating days. If you enjoyed the first breakfast service on Day 1, you’ll enjoy the second breakfast service on Day 2. The menus are the same, and those who wait to eat enjoy freshly baked cinnamon scones in the morning, and wine and cheese in the afternoon. Believe me, no one is going hungry on this train.
The Rocky Mountaineer Silver Leaf coaches are one level, and the passengers enjoy the same delicious food in their comfy seats at their white linen-covered tables in one sitting, served by the friendly crew in their coach. The unlimited beverage policy is the same in Silver Leaf too.
The food on the train
As Kristi, one of our hosts from Kamloops said, ‘We do a lot of food on this train.’ Hello, serious understatement.
From the freshly baked cinnamon scones with your choice of coffee or tea, to the smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, fluffy pancakes and farmer’s sausage, to the grilled salmon, steak or vegan chili with warm chocolate brownie and ice cream, there is enough food to keep anyone full and satisfied as the mountains and lakes roll by.
The quantity is almost overwhelming, but it’s the high quality of the food that impressed me the most. Each coach has its own dedicated culinary team and crew for the duration of the journey. They’re preparing and presenting food that looks as good as it tastes, which is very, very delicious. It’s gourmet-quality fare, and the coach service matched it in every way.
Beverage service is unlimited, including wine, beer, spirits and non-alcoholic beverages like pop, coffee and tea. You can begin enjoying your bub as of 10 AM local time, which is ample time to enjoy your wine and beer as the train often only completes its journey between 5-7 PM.
You will not go hungry or thirsty on the Rocky Mountaineer. You won’t lose weight either, so pack your soft and stretchy pants.
What to do on the train
There are many things to do aboard the Rocky Mountaineer train. Staring outside at the incredible views of mountains, lakes, rivers and farmland is a natural pastime. I’d suggest bringing a book, e-reader or deck of cards if you tire of the view or want to have some social play while chatting with other passengers. That’s between the eating and drinking, as there’s lots of that (see above).
If you enjoy taking photographs and want some great memories of your journey, spend time outside on the vestibule. You can easily switch from side to side to get the best views of the scenery, or of the train turning on a long bend or bridge. Remember to share the space with others, as you won’t be the only one angling for that perfect shot.
Is the Rocky Mountaineer family friendly
I’m going to give you the straight goods here – yes and no. The Rocky Mountaineer train is an amazing travel adventure for those who can sit and appreciate a view, and eat and drink for 10 hours. You can walk around your own coach but not between coaches. And the train doesn’t stop at stations or for passengers to get on or off. You board at 8 AM and get off anywhere between 5-7 PM, so it’s a long day for a young child or teenager who may go stir-crazy if they can’t run around or get WiFi. Which they won’t as there isn’t any.
Now, if you have a child who is gaga about trains, and is capable of sitting and being quiet colouring or listening to audiobooks for long spells, then maybe. But as an experienced travelling mom, I’d say this is a special train trip to enjoy with your significant other, a BFF, or your own mom or dad. This would be an incredible parent-adult child trip. So, yes, it’s family friendly in that sense.
Weather on the Rocky Mountaineer
The Rocky Mountaineer season runs from spring (April) to fall (October), and from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean and back again. That’s a lot of diverse territory and topography, so in terms of weather, you need to prepare for hot sunny days, cool mountain nights and everything in between.
We enjoyed incredible spring weather on our First Passage to the West trip in mid-May, with mid-teen temperatures and sunny skies. But it could have easily been raining, or even snowing and cool in the mountains in particular. So prepare for a mixed bag and hope for the best on the weather front. You may be pleasantly surprised by Mother Nature.
What to pack on the Rocky Mountaineer
What to pack on the Rocky Mountaineer will depend a bit on the travel season, but really, it’s about packing and dressing in layers of comfortable, breathable clothing. You’ll need comfy clothes for sitting on a train, including flat shoes and a sweater or fleece should you get cool in the AC, even with the heated seats. Most of your clothes will be in your luggage during the train journey, which you will not have access to on board. Be sure to have a sweater or fleece handy, particularly if you want to pop outside to the vestibule for photos.
You may want to pack a dressier outfit (or two) if you plan to dine out in Banff, Vancouver or Jasper, or are planning to transfer to an Alaskan cruise afterwards as many train travellers do.
Our downloadable packing list has an organized checklist of what you need on any trip, including a grand rail adventure like the Rocky Mountaineer.
Rocky Mountaineer train prices
The Rocky Mountaineer is a luxury travel product, one of the premiere train trips in the world. It’s an all-inclusive train holiday that includes all meals and drinks, as well as your hotel stays at various destinations. There are no sleeper coaches on this train, and no need to schlep your own bags either. The baggage handlers take care of all that.
In terms of value, I’d argue a trip on the Rocky Mountaineer is excellent value for the quality of the product and experience you’ll have both onboard and during the trip. The cost will depend on your travel season and routes. Click here for more information and accurate pricing for trip.
The luxury train experience
I loved my time aboard the Rocky Mountaineer train. It is a truly beautiful journey, and the train is a wonderfully comfortable way to enjoy the magnificent scenery outside the window. The service is First Class (yes, I still remember the good old days of air travel), and the hosts are friendly and knowledgable, intent on ensuring you have the best holiday of your life.
The Canadian Rocky Mountains are epic in their beauty and majesty. Seeing them and visiting some of Canada’s greatest National Parks is a bucket list item for many travellers. Combine that incredible scenery with the great cuisine and excellent service found on board the Rocky Mountaineer train and you have one of the premier train experiences in the world.
If you get nauseous on trains or ships, pack your meds or patches. I don’t usually suffer from motion sickness, and didn’t on the Rocky Moutnaineer. But I did feel the ‘train legs’ (much like a cruise ship’s sea legs) after the first day aboard the train, which left me a bit dizzy on the first night. It disappeared after a while, but it’s worth noting if you do suffer from motion sickness at all.
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Photo Credits: Claudia Laroye, Haley Plotkin.
Disclosure: The writer thanks Rocky Mountaineer for hosting her train journey. As always, her opinions and love of cinnamon scones and grand vistas are honest and her own.