The Best Way to See Canada: Train Ride with Rocky Mountaineer
Picture this: you're sitting in a perfect glass dome, sipping on wine, looking out at the gorgeous Canadian Rockies. You're passing crystal blue rivers dotted with salmon, epic mountains, all the while having gourmet food. This isn't a dream, this is Rocky Mountaineer. One of the coolest train ride experiences you can take!
This guide will share everything you need to know about Rocky Mountaineer trains, the difference in services, what to expect, and how to book.
We rode on a luxury train through the Canadian Rockies from Vancouver to Banff on an incredible 2-day journey. There’s a glass dome so you don’t miss a second of the stunning mountains, waterfalls, and even spot wildlife as you pass. Downstairs you’re served chef prepared food with a full menu – breakfast and lunch. In between there’s unlimited drinks and snacks. There’s also a viewing platform for even more scenic lookouts. The train actually slows down for “Kodak moments” and the staff will tell you incredible history along the way. We then arrived to our destination in Banff where we canoed Lake Louise and explored the beauty of Canada’s national parks!
Here's everything you need to know to see Canada and how to travel with Rocky Mountaineer.
When does Rocky Mountaineer offer train rides through the Canadian Rockies?
From mid-April to mid-October you can take a trip with Rocky Mountaineer through the Rockies.
We traveled on Rocky Mountaineer's First Passage to the West route, which is one of the original routes they launched with in 1990 and travels between Vancouver, BC and Banff, Alberta. This route launched after the last regular passenger train discontinued service on this line. Rocky Mountaineer is now the only passenger train to travel on the well-known and historic Canadian Pacific line. Meaning, this really is the best way to see this epic stretch of Canada!
We went in late September and this was the perfect time to catch the leaves starting to change and the larches were starting to peak through!
Where does Rocky Mountaineer go?
There are a number of routes offered. You can go eastbound or westbound as each route runs in both directions. We headed from Vancouver to Banff with a stop in Kamloops and this was a perfect journey! This route is called “First Passage to the West” and is the only passenger train that travels in and out of Banff!
As you ride, you'll get to take in the sights of the Continental Divide, Fraser & Thompson rivers, pass by where the 1885 Last Spike was driven into the ground (marking the completion of Canadian Pacific Railway), and see stunning views like Stoney Creek bridge, Morant's Curve, and Castle Mountain. You might even spot some bald eagles or black bears!
The routes to choose from are:
- First Passage to the West (Vancouver- Kamloops – Banff or Lake Louise)
- Journey through the Clouds (Vancouver – Kamloops – Jasper)
- Rainforest to Gold Rush (Vancouver -Whistler – Quesnel – Jasper)
- Rockies to the Red Rocks – Rocky Mountaineer's newest route and first standalone route in the US (Moab – Glenwood Springs – Denver)
All routes can go in either direction, so you can choose what works best for you!
Rocky Mountaineer offers travelers a unique way to see some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, while enjoying comfortable seating and delicious meals. If you're looking for an adventure with a touch of luxury, Rocky Mountaineer is definitely the right choice!
What are the Rocky Mountaineer train services?
There are 2 levels of service to choose from:
We went with GoldLeaf. I'll explain the differences and share which might be right for you.
The best part about GoldLeaf service is the train cars. They have two levels with seats on the upper level and a dining area downstairs. The windows in the seating area are domed and glass, so you have an incredible full view of wherever you're going.
The seats are set up in rows of 2×2 with around 20 rows per car. There's a center aisle down the middle for walking. And towards the back of each car, there's a staircase that leads down to the lower level.
The GoldLeaf car's seats are comfortable and luxurious. The control panel on the seat allows you to recline your seat or even turn on the seat heater! I absolutely loved this feature.
Not only does the GoldLeaf service have luxury seats, but also gourmet meals. Your car will come with a chef and dining staff that will prepare and serve you breakfast and lunch during your ride.
You're also served snacks and drinks throughout the journey.
With SilverLeaf you'll also find comfortable seats, a luxury train car, but only one level, and a very similar menu to GoldLeaf but not quite as extensive. There's also not the same outdoor viewing platform, GoldLeaf's is much larger than SilverLeaf.
When trying to decide whether Rocky Mountaineer's GoldLeaf or SilverLeaf service is for you, there are a few key factors to keep in mind. The most significant differences are the meal and hotel quality in GoldLeaf versus SilverLeaf. Keep in mind that you're looking at spending approximately $500 more per person on average for GoldLeaf over SilverLeaf prices.
I think it's absolutely worth it to go for GoldLeaf service.
Meals and Drinks on board Rocky Mountaineer
The food is outstanding on Rocky Mountaineer. The dining car is lovely with crisp white table cloths and napkins. The view was superb as we started with fresh, delicious croissants and whipped butter. Then we could choose from a menu that offered many different options. I went with the fluffy egg souffle while Michael chose pancakes. Drinks are unlimited and you can even get a cold glass of milk if you so choose.
Then we headed back up to our seats to watch the incredible scenery. We were also served drinks and snacks along the way. When it was time for lunch we headed back down to the dining car. Lunch was another impressive menu! There are options like fresh salmon and risotto or beef short ribs with red wine jus. Just delectable.
Dessert was apple pie with ice cream on top. The menu changes seasonally and varies by rail route and day onboard the train. Everything is cooked fresh! There are also vegetarian, gluten free, and vegan options as well.
Our Itinerary on First Passage to the West
Here's my complete itinerary in Canada. I added in extra time in Vancouver and Banff since I think they are both worth exploring a bit more.
Day 1: Arrive in Vancouver
- Bike Stanley park
- Take a bus tour
- Explore Granville Island
- Eat some delicious Asian cuisine
- Check out the Vancouver Aquarium
- Night walking tour – this was my favorite! It was themed and so fun!
Day 2: Vancouver
- We headed to Grouse Mountain! You can take the lift up or take the strenuous “Scramble” up! Lots of fun activities here like the grizzly bear sanctuary and the lumberjack show.
- If you have extra time in Vancouver check out Queen Elizabeth Park
Day 3: Explore Whistler
- Just a short drive from Vancouver, this beautiful resort mountain town is well known for its mountain biking
- Cute shops
- Farmer's market
- Winter sports (they hosted the 2010 winter Olympics!)
Day 4: Board Rocky Mountaineer in Vancouver
- It was finally time to board Rocky Mountaineer! We did the First Passage to the West route
- Arrive to the station on time to board the train and listen to the bagpiper!
- Enjoy epic scenery and delicious food!
- Such as the incredible “Hells Gate. ” Named by Simon Fraser who traveled the area by birch bark canoe. After an excruciating travel day he stopped here and said, stunned, “Surely we’ve reached the gates of hell” as this was a treacherous (albeit beautiful) place to pass.
- Stop in Kamloops and spend the night in a hotel, no cramped train quarters
Day 5: Rocky Mountaineer Day 2
- As you ride the train the scenery keeps increasing in beauty! The water becomes a lighter blue and the mountains more majestic!
- Hear stories about the mountains, towns, and scenery you pass.
- End your day in Lake Louise or Banff- we stopped at Lake Louise and stayed at the stunning Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and had dinner
Day 6: Lake Louise
- I woke up to find the most incredible Powerade colored water!
- We enjoyed an incredible canoe ride on the lake
- Then we hopped to Banff and overnight-ed in the incredible Fairmont Banff Springs aka “the Castle in the Rockies”
- We walked from the hotel into town- a beautiful, scenic walk
- Enjoy some typical “Canadian” cuisine such as poutine, a Caesar (the answer to the American Bloody Mary), and a beaver tail
- Take a tour of the hotel, there are tons of amazing stories about the history of the property
Day 7: Kananaskis
- This beautiful area is the perfect place for hiking and exploring
- Check out Kananaskis Village
- Visit Mount Lorette Ponds, Troll Falls short hike, and hike Ptarmigan Cirque
- Spend the night in the town of Canmore – eat at The Grizzly Paw Pub and Brewing Company
Day 8: Banff
- More hiking and exploring in beautiful Banff! The larches were really coming on so we made it a mission to find them
- Peyto Lake – an insanely beautiful lake worth the stop
- Lake Moraine – this is a lovely lake with lots of activities, we chose to hike!
- Larch Valley Hike – you have to time this correctly, we went October 1st and it was MAGICAL! The most stunning golden yellow larch trees. It was a steep climb up that took 3 hours total for us and was totally worth it
Day 9: Calgary
- We spent the day in Calgary and went to a few museums and walked around town
- Fly out of Calgary
So there you have it! Our itinerary and incredible ride with Rocky Mountaineer. This was an unforgettable trip and I would recommend it to anyone! Check out packages for your trip here or see the route I took, here!