The crisp mountain air hit my cheeks as I stood in the vestibule, a golden tapestry of leaves whizzing by as snow-capped peaks soared over the treetops. The scenery of the glorious, rugged range changed before my eyes literally every second, from thick brush to tranquil streams to wide open valleys.
I felt the vibrations of the train chugging along the tracks underfoot as the luxurious Rocky Mountaineer train wove through the heart of Canada’s Rocky Mountains, when suddenly an excited yell rang out through the loudspeaker.
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“Bear on the left! Bear on the left!”
Someone had spotted a brown bear scampering down the arid hillside, and our host Kelly alerted us passengers just in time to catch a glimpse of the magnificent creature in his element before our train rounded the bend, the bear disappearing out of sight as quickly as he’d appeared.
Special moments like this are why the Rocky Mountaineer train trip is the ultimate way to explore some of the most scenic spots in North America, making the journey just as incredible as the destination.
Rocky Mountaineer train trips
The Rocky Mountaineer offers multi-day luxury train trips that give passengers a front row seat to the breathtaking scenery of the Canadian Rockies and American Southwest. Dramatic red rock canyons and towering peaks serve as the backdrop for this relaxing trip, where absolutely everything is taken care of and all guests need to do is sit back and enjoy the views.
While the easy-going nature of the itineraries tend to appeal to mature travellers, all ages are welcome on board which makes this one of the most unforgettable family adventures in the Canadian Rockies.
Do you sleep on the Rocky Mountaineer train?
This is one of the most common questions, and the answer is no. Unlike some luxury train vacations like the Palace on Wheels through India, guests on the Rocky Mountaineer disembark each night and stay in a hotel. That way, you don’t miss any of the spectacular sights while sleeping.
Crew members pick up guests’ luggage each morning, driving it to the next destination on a separate truck to allow time for them to magically deliver it right to your room so it’s waiting upon arrival that night. Talk about five star service!
What’s included on the Rocky Mountaineer
From gourmet meals to drinks, everything is included on the train…well, except for one thing.
“We don’t have tequila on board,” our host Travis joked. “We want people to remember the trip!”
Multi-course meals are served throughout the day, along with snacks, afternoon tea and happy hour offerings like charcuterie and wine pairings. There are both alcoholic and non-alcoholic options available, and dietary restrictions are also accommodated.
Transfers between hotels and train stations are taken care of, as well as accommodation during the trip.
What a day on the train is like
Each morning starts by being picked up from the hotel in a chartered bus, and arriving at the train station to a red carpet welcome. Settle into your seat, and enjoy coffee and a scone while waiting for breakfast (yes, there are two breakfasts–they really love to feed you on the Rocky Mountaineer!).
Admire the scenery as the train pulls away from the station, then make your way into the dining area for breakfast about an hour later (SilverLeaf passengers eat meals in their seats). The charismatic onboard hosts share commentary about the route as the train chugs along, and they also give out the Mile Post newspaper which has step-by-step information about the journey.
Be sure to keep an eye out for wildlife, as it’s possible to spot the likes of moose, bald eagles, elk, bears, white-tailed deer and big horned sheep.
Drink service starts at 10 a.m. (mimosa, anyone?) and before you know it you’ll be ordering your lunch. Be sure to grab some fresh air in the outdoor vestibule if the weather permits, though truth be told the views are just as good from the panoramic glass dome in the GoldLeaf cars.
The rest of the afternoon you can simply relax, order some drinks and enjoy chatting with fellow passengers before arriving at the station by dusk. Buses are waiting to transfer everyone to their hotel, and the rest of the night is free time before doing it all over again the next day.
If it sounds like all you do is eat and stare out the window while on a Rocky Mountaineer train trip…yes you do, and let me tell you it’s heavenly!
If you’re someone who’s used to keeping busy (ahem, *me*) it’s actually quite wonderful to have nothing more to do than sit back, relax and enjoy the view. Especially while someone cooks incredible meals for you and keeps you topped up with champagne.
Before the trip I had the misconception that I might get bored, so I was surprised by how quickly each day ended up going by. Between the excellent meals, chatting with fellow passengers, heading out to the viewing deck and learning about the area’s history from the hosts, the hours seem to fly by.
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GoldLeaf vs SilverLeaf service on a Rocky Mountaineer train
There are two levels of service on the Rocky Mountaineer that come with different price points: GoldLeaf and SilverLeaf. The main difference is the actual coach, since the GoldLeaf is an ultra-premium experience: think reclining leather chairs with seat warmers (heavenly) on the upper level, a glass dome overhead and a dedicated dining area on the lower level.
Both services include drinks, snacks and onboard hosts, however there are more meal options for GoldLeaf passengers. At this point, the US route only offers SilverLeaf service.
Rocky Mountaineer routes
There are a handful of different routes in both Canada and the USA, lasting two to three days which can be done in both directions. Have more time? There’s also an option to combine different itineraries by booking one of the Circle Routes which are six to 12 nights long.
First Passage to the West: Vancouver-Kamloops-Banff/Lake Louise
This two day adventure is the most popular Rocky Mountaineer itinerary, as it highlights some of the best locations in western Canada. Enjoy breakfast in B.C’s Fraser Valley, gasp as you pass over roaring Hell’s Gate canyon and past magnificent Pyramid Falls, then spend the night in Kamloops.
The next day, guests travel through the Shuswap region which is a popular summer getaway, before crossing into Alberta and enjoying mesmerizing views of peaks like Castle Mountain en route to Banff and Lake Louise.
Rainforest to Gold Rush: Vancouver-Whistler-Quesnel-Jasper
Journey from the Sea to Sky all the way up to Jasper National Park during this three day experience. The trip starts by winding past the scenic fjords of Howe Sound, past the adventure destination of Squamish and through the Coast Mountains up to Whistler.
Hop on the Peak-2-Peak Gondola for a stunning vantage point, or wander through the village which hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Day two is a ride through the Fraser Canyon through steep gold-flecked canyons toward Quesnel, while the final day of the journey has a front row seat to the pristine landscapes of Northern B.C., passing Mount Robson which is the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies before arriving in Jasper.
Journey Through the Clouds: Vancouver-Kamloops-Jasper
Another popular pick, this two-day itinerary starts off the same as the First Passage to the West route, before branching off in Kamloops to head north to Jasper. This one is a great option if you have a few extra days and can make your way down the Icefields Parkway toward Banff which is one of Canada’s most scenic road trips.
Rockies to the Red Rocks: Moab-Glenwood Springs-Denver
The newest route (and first foray into the American southwest) is Rockies to the Red Rocks, a two-day trip between Moab and Denver.
Enjoy views of Mount Garfield and Ruby Canyon on the way to Colorado, and spend the night in the town of Glenwood Springs which is famous for its natural hot springs. The next day admire the Rockies and cross the Continental Divide before arriving in the Mile High City of Denver, and extend the trip with stays in Las Vegas or Salt Lake City.
What to pack and bring on board
As guests are seated inside most of the day, it’s not necessary to dress for the elements. Instead, focus on comfortable yet nicer clothes (this is an upscale experience) like pants and a top, and some sort of sweater, scarf or wrap.
Those travelling in early spring or fall who plan on going out to the viewing platform may also want to pack a warm coat, gloves and hat.
Despite how spacious the seats are, you’ll only want to bring a small daypack on board since all of the other luggage is transported separately to the hotels. Keep medication handy if you require it, and of course don’t forget the camera.
Some people bring books, magazines or even knitting projects on board; I brought a laptop just in case and never ended up having a reason to open it.
Rocky Mountaineer prices
Rocky Mountaineer train prices on the Canadian routes start around $1600 per person for a two-day package including overnight hotel in SilverLeaf service, while the same package with GoldLeaf service starts around $2200 each. US itineraries start at about $1800 per person.
While it’s possible to book just the train ride through the Rockies, most opt to extend the trip by adding on excursions to incredible destinations like Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper National Park and Vancouver. The Rocky Mountaineer offers a number of complete packages at various price points, and will help arrange every detail from transfers to multi-course dinners.
Globe Guide experienced the train ride as a guest of the Rocky Mountaineer. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles
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Done full trip November 2001,
Out of this world