A few summers ago, I decided to treat my parents and myself to a trip to Western Canada and as part of it, we booked ourselves on to one of the best rail journeys in the world - the Rocky Mountaineer.
Canada’s Rocky Mountaineer is a fantastic network of luxury rail journeys that travel through different parts of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta and British Columbia in Canada. There are three main routes to choose from:
All three also offer a connection service to/from Seattle as well if you’re coming from the USA. We decided to make a road trip Calgary to Jasper through the Columbian Icefields Parkway, before catching the train from Jasper to Vancouver.
There are merits to all three routes and you’re sure to have excellent scenery on all three, so you needn’t worry about which exact route to take if you’re unsure. Each Rocky trip is less about sightseeing and more about the fantastic mountain scenery that cannot be seen or enjoyed from the roadside, it’s only visible from the train. That said, your onboard hosts will point out specific sights and will tell some fascinating gold rush stories as you pass through the sights.
The journey itself is a leisurely one and you’ll spend at least two full days on the train with early starts (around 7am), arriving at your destination early in the evening. Thankfully the train carriages are very comfortable and spacious; we also found the staff onboard and our fellow passengers to be very friendly and welcoming, so there was a lovely atmosphere throughout. It’s just a small detail, but you might want to make sure you have a nice pressed shirt – nothing fancy, but people generally dress informally in ‘smart casual’ attire whilst onboard.
There are two service levels to choose from, SilverLeaf and GoldLeaf. Both offer comfortable seating and excellent service by your onboard hosts, but there are some notable differences. We decided to treat ourselves to GoldLeaf and I’m very glad we did, as it made this a luxury experience that I will never forget, and I thought it was very good value for money.
In Silverleaf, you’ll have single-level dome coaches with panoramic views from oversized picture windows. Lunch is served to your seat with most drinks included and when you disembark, your accommodation will be in a 3 star hotel.
In Goldleaf, you’ll have a double-level dome coach, with seating upstairs and a total glass covered dome roof. There’s a dining car downstairs and exclusive outdoor area to take some great pictures! There is a full table service in the dining car at lunchtime, as well as morning breakfast and afternoon snacks served to your seat, with all drinks included. When you disembark, your accommodation will be in a 4 star hotel.
The Rocky Mountaineer train is one of the top railway journeys in the world and for good reason. It has the clearest, uninterrupted views of the Rocky Mountains and travelling by train means you can more easily enjoy the views than when concentrating on driving or having to stop to take breaks or photos. Why drive for hours when you can enjoy the view sitting back and relaxing with a G&T instead?
In the same vein, the train will also stop for particularly good views and amazing photo opportunities, but also for BEARS! The trains are such a large and regular presence for the bears, that they’re generally not bothered when trains pass by, so they stop right next to them. The onboard hosts are excellent spotters and they have direct links to the driver so we stopped several times. We spotted several groups, seeing a total of 11 or 12 altogether. It was so wonderful to see them in their own habitat, happily playing and fishing in their local stream for fresh salmon. This is something we would never have been able to do if self-driving.
The onboard hosts are also excellent guides, and offer detailed accounts of stories from the Gold Rush days and interesting information about the local area and its customs and traditions. It was all very nice to listen to and not too invasive or requiring much audience participation either. They are also on hand for other questions, such as places to eat once you get off the train and ideas for things to see and do in Vancouver - or to organise onward transport if needed.
After we arrived in Vancouver we had a couple of days left to explore the city before returning home. Some of our fellow passengers were following the train journey up with a cruise to Alaska because the vast majority of Alaskan cruises depart from Vancouver (or Seattle).
Most train departures are timed to arrive the day before a cruise departure, meaning you can have a perfect connection onwards to Alaska if you’d like it. I had done the Alaska cruise the previous year and I can definitely recommend it!
Whilst in Vancouver, there are some lovely sights to see, such as Stanley Park and the Waterfront area, where you can also do an excellent Seaplane tour of the whole city and surrounding area. Likewise, there are many cafés, restaurants and shops to enjoy if you’d prefer some retail therapy.
If you’d like to travel on the Rocky Mountaineer train or to combine it with a self-drive, wider exploration of Canada or an Alaska cruise – I can put together a tailor-made trip for you. We can include flights, transfers, cruises, the train, vehicle hire and other experiences to make your holiday a memorable and bespoke trip! Just contact Graham for more advice and to book.
Here are some Canada road trips that include the Rocky Mountaineer as part of a wider itinerary, so have a look at these for more ideas: