I had the fortunate opportunity to ride the Rocky Mountaineer, which is easily one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in my life. What is the Rocky Mountaineer you ask? To simply put it, it’s one of the most incredible train journeys in the world.
What makes the Rocky Mountaineer such an epic adventure is the fact that you’re getting luxury service as you travel through one of the most scenic parts of Canada. You’ll be treated like a VIP, and regardless of where you sit, there will never be a moment where you won’t want to look outside.
In my Rocky Mountaineer review, I’ll go over everything you need to know, including the route, costs and expectations. Of course, I’ll also be sharing plenty of photos that I took myself, so continue reading.
Rocky Mountaineer review
- Trains depart from Vancouver, Jasper and Banff/Lake Louise
- Luggage is transported directly to your hotel
- There are two types of service: SilverLeaf and GoldLeaf
- Meals are included
- You do not sleep on the train
- Tours are optional
When I was offered the opportunity to ride the Rocky Mountaineer train, I jumped on it. I had seen the Canadian Rockies as a child on a road trip with my parents, but I barely remember it. I figured that riding a train through the mountains would be a worthwhile experience.
I heard the train ride was epic from some of my travel friends. Still, the experience was beyond what I reasonably expected and much more, which is why my Rocky Mountaineer review is so positive.
The train journey goes one way and departs from Vancouver, Jasper and Banff/Lake Louise, but you can take a roundtrip ride if you desire. I started in Vancouver and was picked up at my hotel by a coach. Once we arrived at the train station, I knew this was going to be something special. There was a large reception area with a piano player and drinks being served.
Right before we were set to board the train, there was a little welcome presentation, which included a bagpipe player and a short speech from the staff.
The best part about the trip is that you don’t need to carry your luggage with you to the train. You leave it in your hotel room with the provided tags, and it’ll be waiting for you when you arrive at your next hotel. This is only possible because luggage is transported by a truck, so make sure you bring everything you need in a day bag.
There are two types of services available: SilverLeaf and GoldLeaf. I’ll get into the details further down this Rocky Mountaineer review, but both offer an unforgettable experience.
The meals included were delicious. For both breakfast and lunch, there was a menu with quite a few choices. This isn’t like airplanes where the meals are already packaged and then reheated. There’s a whole culinary team that prepares your meals to order.
Another thing many people don’t realize is that you don’t sleep on the train. Each segment of the journey takes about 8-10 hours to complete, so you’re usually at your destination around sundown. Breakfast and lunch are served on the train, and you get unlimited snacks and drinks (including alcoholic beverages).
Besides serving you, your hosts will be your guides as they tell you about the history of Canda while on your ride. Having someone explain the sites you’re passing by is invaluable as you’ll come across some of Canada’s engineering marvels such as Hell’s Gate and the spiral mountains.
Although it’s possible to take just the train ride, many passengers choose to extend trips, so they can enjoy the Canadian Rockies. You can even add on an Alaskan cruise if you wanted.
There’s no denying the service and views are stunning, but it’s the people who are sharing the journey with you that make this trip memorable. Rocky Mountaineer prices are not low, so it typically attracts an older crowd or people who have a passion for travel.
I had the opportunity to speak to a fellow passenger who told me he’s been taking train journeys around the world for the last 40 years, and this one of the best he’d ever been on. Another person I spoke to worked for a tourism board and came to do research as they were hoping to launch something similar in their country.
When you’re on a train for two days with the same people, it’s not hard to strike up meaningful conversations. You can hear the excitement for travel in their voices, which is rare these days. I won’t forget the views on the ride, but it’s the stories that I cherished from my journey.
Rocky Mountaineer route
Rocky Mountaineer operates three main routes:
- First Passage to the West (Vancouver, Kamloops, Banff/Lake Louise)
- Journey Through the Clouds (Vancouver, Kamloops, Jasper)
- Rainforest to Gold Rush (Vancouver, Whistler, Quesnel, Jasper)
You can choose to go in either direction. I wouldn’t say one path is better than the other, so choose the Rocky Mountaineer route that best fits your schedule.
There are also circle options that combine two Rocky Mountaineer routes with a few extra days in the middle.
First Passage to the West
This is the journey I took, and if the name didn’t give it away, the First Passage to the West retraces the steps that early explorers took to link Canada. Obviously, those explorers didn’t have the luxury service I had, but it was fascinating to take a similar route. A few things you’ll pass during this journey include:
- Cisco Crossing
- Fraser River
- Hell’s Gate
- Black Canyon
- Salmon Arm
- Kinbasket Lake
- Kicking Horse River
- Spiral Tunnels
- Castle Mountain
- Lake Louise/Banff
Journey Through the Clouds
The first half of the Journey Through the Clouds follows the same route as the First Passage to the West. You’ll literally be on the same train as the other passengers, but things split once you depart Kamloops. The appeal of the Journey Through the Clouds itinerary is that you’ll be able to see Mt. Robson, which is the highest point in the Canadian Rockies. The other things you’ll see on the journey include:
- Cisco Crossing
- Fraser River
- Hell’s Gate
- Black Canyon
- Pyramid Falls
- Mount Robson
- Moose Lake
Rainforest to Gold Rush
Finally, there’s the Rainforest to Gold Rush journey, which rounds out the top Rocky Mountaineer routes. While on the train, you’ll follow the sea to sky highway, but with a much better vantage point as you’ll be hugging the shoreline. The start of the trip is all about the rainforests, but once you pass Whistler, that’s where the Gold Rush comes into play as over 10,000 miners came to the area in the mid-1800s to try and strike it rich. Sites you’ll come across include:
- Horseshoe Bay
- Howe Sound
- Porteau Cove
- Stawamus Chief Mountain
- Cheakamus Canyon
- Green Lake
- Anderson Lake
- Seton Lake
- Painted Chasm
- Cottonwood River Bridge
- Mount Robson
Rocky Mountaineer Gold Leaf vs. Silver Leaf
When comparing Rocky Mountaineer Gold Leaf vs. Silver Leaf, think of Gold Leaf as First Class, whereas Silver Leaf is Business Class. Both offer amazing views and exceptional service, but there are a few small differences that may make a difference during your experience.
Rocky Mountaineer Gold Leaf
Rocky Mountaineer’s Gold Leaf service are coaches that have two levels. The upper level is where you’ll find your seats and full-dome windows, while the lower level is where the dining room, outdoor viewing platform and washrooms are located.
Although the coaches are two levels, the windows are slightly “smaller” in Gold Leaf. I put smaller in quotations because it’s strictly from a height perspective. The dome portion is higher, so you technically have a better panoramic view.
You do get slightly better service as Gold Leaf coaches have four hosts plus a full culinary team. The dining room can’t fit everyone in Gold Leaf at the same time, so you take turns. To make things fair, one group goes first on the first day, and then you swap the second day.
The outdoor viewing platform is arguably the highlight of Rocky Mountaineer Gold Leaf as it can comfortably fit 10 people at the same time. I found myself outside many times to stretch my legs and to take better pictures as there was no reflection from the glass.
Even though Gold Leaf has two levels, there is an elevator available.
Rocky Mountaineer Silver Leaf
With Rocky Mountaineer’s Silver Leaf, you only get two hosts and meals are served in your seat. This isn’t as luxurious compared to Gold Leaf, but the experience should be just as memorable.
As mentioned, the windows are a touch bigger than Gold Leaf, and you’re going to get panoramic views wherever you sit. Speaking of sitting, the seats in both classes are comfortable with plenty of legroom. Trust me, this is 100X better than sitting on an airplane.
Rocky Mountaineer Silver Leaf does have a small outdoor area, but it’s more enclosed than Gold Leaf and only fits a few people, so you need to take turns. This might annoy some people who are trying to get the perfect shot.
Rocky Mountaineer meals
Both SilverLeaf and GoldLeaf service offer made to order delicious meals. The main difference is GoldLeaf guests have a dining room while SilverLeaf passengers eat in their seats. I’m not 100% sure, but I believe SilverLeaf passengers get a limited menu.
What really impressed me about Rocky Mountaineer meals was how good they tasted. I’m not surprised that they used as many local ingredients as possible, but they’re cooking on a train. Think about that for a second, the train is always in motion so it can’t be easy to prepare meals in that environment. That probably explains why nothing on the menu is deep-fried. Having a deep fryer on a train would be dangerous!
Some of the dishes I sampled in GoldLeaf include:
- A baked egg served over Yukon Gold potatoes, smoked farmer’s sausage, bacon, tomatoes and roasted mushrooms.
- Poached eggs, Montréal-style smoked beef on a toasted English muffin, topped with tarragon hollandaise.
Alberta Striploin steak
- AAA Grade beef, served medium-rare in a peppercorn sauce with horseradish mashed potatoes and fresh market vegetables.
- Oven-baked and served with garlic herb risotto, local market vegetables and a grainy mustard-seed vinaigrette.
Although the breakfast options were the same on both days of my journey, I did notice that the lunch menu changed. It’s also worth mentioning that you can order more than one meal if you want. I did this on my second day as I couldn’t decide which dish I wanted. All these food options are part of the reason why my Rocky Mountaineer review is positive.
Rocky Mountaineer train schedule
As a seasonal train, the Rocky Mountaineer schedule has departures from mid-April to mid-October. Generally speaking, the train departs twice a week in April and three times a week for all other months.
The actual departure time of the train differs depending on where you’re departing from and which direction you’re headed. It can be as early as 6:25 AM and as late as 8:30 AM. There’s one exception when leaving Whistler and going westbound on the Rainforest to Gold Rush route, you depart at 3:15 PM. Although you may not enjoy the wakeup time, this schedule is set to maximize daylight hours on the train so you can get the best views.
On my journey, there was a medical emergency that set us back about 90-minutes. When we were about to arrive in Lake Louise, it was pitch black so we couldn’t see Castle Mountain.
Since breakfast is served on the train, which will be a few hours after you wake up, you may want to have a light snack as soon as you get up. Don’t overeat as the food on the Rocky Mountaineer train is excellent.
Rocky Mountaineer hotels
Rocky Mountaineer hotels are pre-selected for you based on the service level you’re booking. Generally speaking, Silver Leaf guests will stay in a 3-4 star hotel, while Gold Leaf guests are usually in 4-5 star accommodations. It is possible to get an upgrade if you want a room with a view e.g. if you want to face Lake Louise.
That said, in Kamloops and Quesnel, there are no luxury accommodations available so you’ll be staying in a relaxing and comfortable hotel. For reference, I was in Rocky Mountaineer Gold Leaf service, and I stayed at the Delta Hotels by Marriott Kamloops. Compared to other Delta Hotels I’ve stayed at, it wasn’t that impressive, but there’s no denying that the staff were great, and I had a comfortable night of sleep.
While in Vancouver, I stayed at the JW Marriott Parq Hotel, which is one of my favourite hotels in the city. I love it since it’s a short walk to Chinatown, Gastown, Downtown and Coal Harbour. There’s also a huge outdoor space available that feels like a hidden gem in the city. Oh, let’s not forget about the lounge, which is enormous and gives you a great view of False Creek.
Remember, transportation to and from the train station is provided by Rocky Mountaineer and your bags will be waiting in your room.
Even though the hotels were booked for me, I was able to add my Marriott Bonvoy number to my stay at the JW Marriott and Delta by calling customer service. Since I’m a Titanium member, I took full advantage of my perks, which included a room upgrade and lounge access when available.
In case you’re wondering, here are some of the Rocky Mountaineer hotel partners.
- JW Marriott Parq Vancouver
- Fairmont Hotel Vancouver
- Sheraton Wall Centre
- Delta Whistler Village Suites
- Fairmont Chateau Whistler
- Four Seasons Resort Whistler
- Sawridge Inn
- Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge
- The Crimson Jasper
- Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
- Elk + Avenue Hotel
- Rimrock Resort Hotel
- Fairmont Banff Springs
Rocky Mountaineer prices
As you can imagine, Rocky Mountaineer prices can fluctuate quite a bit depending on the service you’re booking and the time of year.
Below are some of the different itineraries to give you a sense of Rocky Mountaineer prices. Everything you see below is PER PERON and applies to trips until the end of the 2021 season.
2 Day Rail, Vancouver – Banff (First Passage to the West)
- SilverLeaf – $1,629 – $1,999 CAD
- GoldLeaf – $2,229 – $2,749 CAD
First Passage to the West Top Highlights, 6 Nights
- SilverLeaf – $3,186 – $4,061 CAD
- GoldLeaf – $4,173 – $5,290 CAD
- GoldLeaf with room upgrade – $4,582 – $5,455 CAD
3 Day Rail, North Vancouver – Jasper (Rainforest to Gold Rush)
- SilverLeaf – $2,229 – $2,649 CAD
- GoldLeaf – $3,029 – $3,649 CAD
Rainforest to Gold Rush Explorer, 10 nights
- SilverLeaf – $4,549 – $5,240 CAD
- GoldLeaf – $5,978 – $7,268 CAD
- GoldLeaf with room upgrade – $6,470 – $7,750 CAD
Rocky Mountaineer prices aren’t low, but you’re getting a luxury trip. The train itself is memorable, but if you look at the experiences you get included for the longer journeys, they’re quite sensational. You’ll be able to ride an ice explorer on top of a glacier, and you can even see the Rockies from a helicopter.
Riding the Rocky Mountaineer is a bucket list adventure that many people dream of. As someone fortunate enough to ride the train, I can tell you that it lives up to the hype.
Rocky Mountaineer train deals
On a positive note, you can often find Rocky Mountaineer train deals that give you even more value for your money. For example, one of the most common promotions I’ve seen is getting free perks when you book a qualifying package. The perks include:
- Free hotel nights
- Airport transfers
- Free dinner
These perks have a value of up to $1,000, so it’s always worth checking to see if there are any Rocky Mountaineer train deals.
If you have one of the best travel credit cards that allow you to use your points on any type of travel, you could cash in some of your points to offset your costs. Alternatively, using one of the best cash back credit cards in Canada can be advantageous since you’ll be charging a pretty healthy sum to your card.
My adventure on the Rocky Mountaineer is something that I will remember for the rest of my life. Not only is the service fantastic, but the sights you’ll see are truly awe-inspiring. Whenever someone asks me what’s the best adventure I’ve been on, the Rocky Mountaineer comes top of mind, and people are eager to learn what the experience was like.