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Rocky Mountaineer Review: Luxury Train From Vancouver to Banff

Rocky Mountaineer is a luxury train journey in the Canadian Rockies that you need to experience at least once in your lifetime. Enjoy panoramic scenery from glass-domed coaches, taste culinary delights prepared by talented chefs, and treat yourself to world-class hospitality. This is my Rocky Mountaineer review where I’ll show you exactly what you can expect, as well as my personal experiences on board.

Rocky Mountaineer has three itineraries within Western Canada, and they’ve recently expanded to add a fourth itinerary in the USA called “Rockies to the Red Rocks”, from Moab to Denver. I had the opportunity to experience Rocky Mountaineer’s iconic journey, the “First Passage to the West” itinerary, taking the train from Vancouver to Banff.

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Rocky Mountaineer Review

What is Rocky Mountaineer?

Since 1990, Rocky Mountaineer has offered luxury train journeys throughout Western Canada (and the USA, since 2021). You can soak up spectacular scenery on four different routes, while enjoying gourmet meals and excellent on board service. It’s considered to be the best way to explore Canada’s Rocky Mountains.

It’s all about traveling slowly and enjoying every moment of it. You’ll travel on rail routes at a leisurely pace during daylight hours, witnessing snow-capped mountains that extend up into the sky and an impressive array of wildlife. Marvel at glacier-fed rivers and lakes, rushing rapids, and magical waterfalls.

Rocky Mountaineer has won the acclaimed World Travel Award as the “World’s Leading Travel Experience by Train” on multiple occasions. It recognizes that Rocky Mountaineer isn’t just a train journey, but an adventure that combines history, nature, and personal stories that makes this a one-of-a-kind experience.

Rocky Mountaineer Itineraries

Rocky Mountaineer Review

There are four different Rocky Mountaineer routes: three within Western Canada and one within the USA. The itineraries are as follows:

  • First Passage to the West (Vancouver – Kamloops – Lake Louise / Banff)
  • Journey Through the Clouds (Vancouver – Kamloops – Jasper)
  • Rainforest to Gold Rush (Vancouver – Whistler – Quesnel – Jasper)
  • Rockies to the Red Rocks (Moab – Glenwood Springs – Denver)

I experienced the First Passage to the West itinerary, which retraces the Canadian Pacific Railway, a route that first connected British Columbia to Canada over 125 years ago. It is Rocky Mountaineer’s flagship route and the most popular trip with visitors from all over the world. This Rocky Mountaineer review features the First Passage to the West route.

What’s Included

Rocky Mountaineer Review

Rocky Mountaineer is an all-dome fleet, no matter if you’re traveling with Goldleaf Service or Silverleaf Service. I’ll explain more about the differences between the two services in the next section.

All passengers have the opportunity to view beautiful landscapes from oversized windows and the glass dome roof. You have an assigned seat with comfortable, reclining chairs with loads of leg room. Each coach also has an outdoor viewing area.

This is an all-inclusive experience when it comes to the food and drink. You’ll be treated to breakfast and lunch on board, as well as snacks and beverages. There’s an unlimited supply of coffee, tea, soft drinks, beer, wine, and cocktails.

Each car has three or four Rocky Mountaineer hosts, as well as a full culinary team. The hosts are lively and engaging, and will tell you all about the historic sites, nature, and wildlife of the area.

Goldleaf vs Silverleaf Service

Goldleaf Service - Dome Car

This Rocky Mountaineer review showcases my experiences with Goldleaf Service, though I’d like to highlight the differences between Silverleaf and Goldleaf Services. Both Silverleaf and Goldleaf Services have glass-dome luxurious seating with large windows and panoramic views.

However, Goldleaf Service is offered in a double-decker train car. You sit and relax on the top level and dine in the lower level dining car. This gives you the opportunity for a heightened and improved view as you’ll be above many of the treetops. In Silverleaf, you sit in a single-level dome car and enjoy your meals from your seat.

While both Silverleaf and Goldleaf Services offer chef-prepared meals, Goldleaf Service is an elevated experience with gourmet a la carte offerings. The beverage offerings are very similar (alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are included). You’ll also be tended to by four hosts per car, as well as a culinary team, no matter which Service you opt for.

Goldleaf Service has an improved outdoor viewing platform by comparison to Silver Leaf Service. While Silverleaf Service has an outdoor viewing area, Goldleaf Service has a large, exclusive outdoor viewing platform specifically for your train car.

Do you sleep on the Rocky Mountaineer Train?

Rocky Mountaineer Review

No, you do not sleep on the Rocky Mountaineer train. You only ride in the train during daylight hours so you don’t miss out on any of the scenery. The train trip starts early in the morning (between 6am and 8am) and ends around 5:00pm, so you are on the train all day long. Then, you relax in your comfortable hotel room at night.

Do I bring my luggage on the train?

No, you do not bring your luggage on the train. Rocky Mountaineer takes care of all of the luggage transfers. Only bring what you need on the train: any personal items, your wallet, your phone, your camera, any medication, and the things you can’t be without for the day. When you arrive at your destination for the evening, your luggage will be waiting for you!

Rocky Mountaineer Review: First Passage to the West

Hell's Gate

Here’s my Rocky Mountaineer review of the First Passage to the West itinerary. This is the company’s classic itinerary. It’s the perfect route for any first-time travelers aboard the train, as well as first-time visitors to western Canada. I fit both of those categories, so it was an ideal choice for me.

The train travels across the historic tracks of the Canadian Pacific Railway, Canada’s first trans-continental line that opened in 1885. In fact, Rocky Mountaineer is the only passenger train operating on this famous rail line.

British Columbia, Fraser River

The route starts in Vancouver (or Banff/Lake Louise, if you’re taking the train starting in the opposite direction). You’ll ride past astonishingly beautiful landscapes of the Coast, Columbia, and Rocky Mountains.

Some highlights include traveling through and across engineering masterpieces, such as the Spiral Tunnels and the Stoney Creek Bridge. You’ll gaze across the lush Fraser Valley and venture into an arid desert-like landscape. Then, you’ll drift past twinkling blue waters before the majestic Rockies materialize, as the train twists and turns past numerous national parks and historic landmarks.

Rocky Mountaineer Train Trip Starting in Vancouver

Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre

Many guests choose to spend some time in Vancouver before the train trip. Unfortunately, I only had an afternoon/evening in Vancouver before boarding the Rocky Mountaineer train the next morning. I can’t wait to return to experience more of Vancouver.

Passengers of the train spent the night at the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre. This hotel offered amazing views of the city from the floor-to-ceiling windows of my room. It was a really comfortable and clean hotel stay, and I’d happily stay here again upon my return visit to Vancouver.

Boarding the Rocky Mountaineer Train

Lauren at the Rocky Mountaineer Train in Vancouver

We boarded the train in Vancouver as Goldleaf passengers and ventured to the upper level car. They literally rolled down the red carpet for our entrance! I found my assigned seat, and the seats on the Rocky Mountaineer trains are glorious.

First, they are heated seats to keep you nice and toasty warm. The seats recline if you choose, and there’s also a leg rest that you can raise up. It’s like having a little La-Z-Boy chair right up next to the panoramic windows.

We were introduced to the friendly staff members on board and before long, we were off. Multiple employees were lined up outside of the train, happily waving us farewell. When you travel with Goldleaf Service, you dine in the restaurant car down below. They generally divide the group up in two and have a first and second seating.

Day 1: Vancouver to Kamloops

From Vancouver to Kamloops on Rocky Mountaineer

In terms of the journey itself, I spent the majority of the day outdoors on the open-air viewing platform to take photos and admire the scenery. We passed many important and memorable sights. The staff always announced and explained the history behind these spots, and the train usually slowed down so we wouldn’t miss them.

Rocky Mountaineer Review: Vancouver to Kamloops, First Passage to the West
Rocky Mountaineer Review: Vancouver to Kamloops, First Passage to the West
Rocky Mountaineer Review: Vancouver to Kamloops, First Passage to the West
Rocky Mountaineer Review: Vancouver to Kamloops, First Passage to the West

Hell’s Gate is a canyon on the narrowest part of the Fraser River. It’s a popular tourist attraction where visitors can ride the AirTram across the gorge. I’ll have to return to do this!

Hell's Gate
Hell’s Gate

Cisco Crossing is a place where CP and CN lines cross the Fraser River on a 812 foot long orange arched bridge. It’s the longest single-span bridge on the CN line.

Bridge across the Fraser River
Cisco Crossing

Other notable places that the train passes include Rainbow Canyon, the Last Spike of the CN Rail, and a 100 year old osprey nest. As we ride past the Fraser River and the Thompson River, the scenery changes from lush forests and fertile valleys to an arid landscape.

Beautiful British Columbia
Rocky Mountaineer Review

Ashcroft is one of the driest places in Canada with less than 10 inches of annual rainfall. It’s quite unexpected that Canada has a desert-like landscape like this one. The ground became covered in scrub brush and I even started to see hoodoos as we headed towards Kamloops.

Changing landscapes in British Columbia
Near Kamloops BC
Colourful rocks in BC
Scrub brush landscape in BC

During this portion of the journey, we also spotted bald eagles and bighorn sheep grazing at the tops of the eroded hills. From dramatic gorges to a rugged dessert, you get to see it all from the Rocky Mountaineer train between Vancouver and Kamloops.

Overnight in Kamloops

Delta Hotel Kamloops

In Kamloops, we made an overnight stop at the Delta Hotel Kamloops located centrally in downtown Kamloops. From the hotel, I did a quick tour around Kamloops visiting the pretty Riverside Park and checking out the street art. There are lots of fantastic murals all over the downtown core.

Murals in Kamloops
Riverside Park, Kamloops

Day 2: Kamloops to Banff / Lake Louise

Next up in my Rocky Mountaineer review, it’s day two of my train journey from Vancouver to Banff. Starting in Kamloops, we continued on towards Lake Louise and Banff. It was a rainy day, but the scenery was quite moody. I watched fog roll off the treetops. As we headed up towards the mountains, it even began to snow a little bit.

Rocky Mountaineer Review - Kamloops to Revelstoke

We ventured from Kamloops towards Revelstoke, learning stories about the small towns and natural places we passed on the way. The hosts are fantastic storytellers, and they offer a wealth of knowledge about the region.

Craigellachie
Craigellachie

We passed rivers, lakes, and marshlands. Craigellachie is the last spike of the CP Rail, which is marked by a cairn. From Revelstoke, we continued through Glacier National Park, the Connaught Tunnel, and the Stoney Creek Bridge.

Fog over the treetops
Snow-capped mountains
River rapids in BC

One of the highlights of this portion of the train trip is travelling through the Spiral Tunnels. It’s a unique tunnel system modeled after one in Switzerland, and it took 1000 men 20 months to complete. The Lower Spiral travels through Mount Ogden, and the Upper Spiral travels through Cathedral Mountain. The train twists and turns through the mountains and across the river, emerging much higher upon leaving the tunnel. It’s a feat of engineering.

Rocky Mountaineer train trip
Rocky Mountaineer train trip
Rocky Mountains
Icy landscape in Alberta

In addition to the wildlife that we saw on day 1, we also spotted black bears, elk, coyotes and deer. I was amazed to finally see a black bear with my own eyes for the first time. The train slowed down so we could see the bears, but I wasn’t able to snap a photo in time. I’ll always remember seeing that bear though!

We passed the Continental Divide, which is the highest point of the journey. It marks the boundary between Yoho National Park in British Columbia and Banff National Park in Alberta. In Alberta, we stopped briefly in Lake Louise to allow some passengers to disembark before continuing onto our stop in Banff.

Overnight in Banff

Elk + Avenue Hotel Banff

I spent two nights at the Elk + Avenue Hotel, steps from the shopping, restaurants, and nightlife of downtown Banff. It’s an upscale hotel with rustic features that you’d expect while staying in a mountain town. Elk + Avenue Hotel is a great place to stay and I wouldn’t hesitate to book this hotel again in the future.

Day 3: Lake Louise and Banff Excursion

Banff, Alberta

Our group spent an additional day in Banff, which you can arrange as an option with Rocky Mountaineer. It’s really wonderful that you can customize your train journeys however you like, whether you choose to add on more days in cities or towns, or perhaps take a cruise following your train trip.

Lake Louise
Lake Louise
Lake Louise

In the morning, we took a small group tour with Banff Tours to Lake Louise, as well as a number of other pretty roadside stops along the way. Lake Louise was still frozen when we visited in mid-May, and it looked so beautiful with the snowy mountains and glacier in the distance. We also had the chance to wander through the luxurious Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, which overlooks this famous landscape.

Banff, Alberta
Banff, Alberta

In the afternoon, we had some free time to go for lunch and explore downtown Banff. Banff is such a cute town to visit with many souvenir shops, quaint coffee shops, and local restaurants. There are also views of mountains for days right from the town itself.

Sulphur Mountain / Banff Gondola
Sulphur Mountain / Banff Gondola
Sky Bistro

Later that day, we took a ride up the Banff Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain. Soak up impressive scenes on your way up the mountain and there are multiple levels of viewing platforms at the top. After taking in all of the views, we concluded our day with dinner and drinks at the fine dining restaurant, Sky Bistro.

Rocky Mountaineer Review: Food and Drink

As someone who follows a vegan diet, the food on all-inclusive trips like these can be hit or miss. I’m delighted to share that the culinary team at Rocky Mountaineer goes above and beyond to create incredible dishes, no matter your dietary preferences, restrictions or food allergies. In this Rocky Mountaineer review, I give the meals a 10/10 as the food was such a highlight of the trip. Take a look at my Rocky Mountaineer vegan guide for more details.

Meals on Day 1

Coffee and Muffin on Rocky Mountaineer

If you’ve signed up for Goldleaf Service, you eat your meals in the first level dining room. The passengers are divided into two seating times. As I was in the second seating on the first day, our hosts brought around coffee and a sweet treat to tide us over to breakfast. I had a special vegan muffin, as well as coffee with oat milk. The muffin was warmed up and it was melt-in-your-mouth delicious!

Breakfast Menu on Rocky Mountaineer
Avocado Toast

Before long, it was time for breakfast, and you get to choose your meal from the menu. I selected the avocado toast, which tasted really fresh and flavourful. Naturally, I had some more coffee as well.

Vegan lox
Tofu udon bowl
Coconut lime pudding

For lunch, I was delighted to see even more vegetarian and vegan offerings. I ordered a tofu udon noodle bowl, and the staff also surprised me with an appetizer of “salmon” made from carrots! For dessert, the chef prepared a vegan coconut lime pudding.

Unlimited Beverages on Board

Rocky Mountaineer drink menu

Throughout the day, you can order any drinks from the menu in your seat pocket. There’s a huge selection of beer, wine, cocktails, and non-alcoholic beverages. You can also ask for coffee or tea anytime you like. I sampled some beer, cocktails, and had my share of coffee throughout the trip.

Cocktails on Rocky Mountaineer
Beer on the Rocky Mountaineer train

Meals on Day 2

On day two, the culinary team created an off-menu vegan breakfast skillet using Just Egg, which was another instance where they truly went above and beyond. We also had little fruit smoothies, and they made sure not to put any dairy products into mine. I also started the day with a vegan scone, jam, and coconut cream.

Vegan scone
Vegan breakfast skillet

For lunch, I started with a vegan charcuterie board with veggie sausage, hummus, and sourdough bread. Then, I had a delicious Power Bowl as the main course, with lots of tofu, sweet potato, edamame, veggies, and pumpkin seeds. For dessert, I had a chocolate peanut butter blondie with a scoop of sorbet.

Lunch Menu
Vegan charcuterie board
Vegan power bowl
Peanut butter blondie

Later that day, one of the sous chefs brought everyone some freshly baked cookies, and she made sure to bake a vegan cookie just for me. I never felt left out when it came to the food on board. They truly thought about everything!

Vegan cookie and coffee

I love how the chef was able to create vegan versions of many of the regular dishes on board. For example, the breakfast skillet mirrored the one with regular egg, and the vegan lox from the first day mirrored the regular appetizer. The chef is very skilled and able to create plant-based versions of many dishes on board.

Rocky Mountaineer Review: Reasons to Travel on the Train

Beautiful mountain views in British Columbia

Do you think that you would love to take a trip aboard the Rocky Mountaineer train? After you’ve had the chance to read through this Rocky Mountaineer review in its entirety, you probably have a good sense of whether or not you’d enjoy it.

Let Rocky Mountaineer Do the Planning

First, this is the type of trip where you can simply show up and enjoy the vacation. It is one of the easiest ways to travel out there. You don’t need to plan very much ahead of time as the Rocky Mountaineer staff have taken care of everything for you. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the views.

It’s an Eco-Friendly Journey

Rocky Mountaineer train

Traveling by train is eco-friendly and incredibly enjoyable. Rocky Mountaineer is committed to sustainability through its energy efficient enhancements, decreasing its environmental impact, and planting more than 13,000 trees over the years. They also partner with organizations that help wildlife, honour local culture, and create a meaningful impact in communities.

Traveling by train is better for the environment than taking a road trip. Furthermore, you don’t need to make any stops along the way for gas, bathroom breaks, or highway rest stop food. Instead, you’ll gaze out the window, placing all of your focus on the scenery (and not the road). You’ll eat chef-prepared meals and all of your beverages are included, too.

Slow Travel: Enjoy Every Moment

Desert-like environment in BC

Rocky Mountaineer train journeys are an example of slow travel. I personally love slow travel. It’s all about taking your time to soak up your surroundings without racing from one place to the next. For instance, the drive from Vancouver to Kamloops takes about four hours. The Rocky Mountaineer trip can take up to eight hours.

While I don’t always travel slowly, I really love when I can. For instance, I’ve taken a barge cruise on the Canal du Midi in France, and an Italian barge cruise from Venice to Mantua. In both cases, you could get from point A to point B within a few hours. Instead, you spend a week slowly exploring the region. Similarly, on the Rocky Mountaineer train, the destination is all about the journey.

Meet New Friends

Media group on board Rocky Mountaineer

There is assigned seating on the train, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t necessarily move throughout the cabin or stay on the open-air viewing platform for a while. You might choose to chat with those you travelled with, but there’s also the chance to make new friends with fellow passengers, too.

Why not strike up a conversation with those seated around you? You might make new friends during mealtimes if you sit with others at the dining table. As you’ll have hours aboard the train each day, you might decide to spend part of that time enjoying the company of others. Rocky Mountaineer train trips could be great adventures for solo travelers looking to meet new people, too!

I traveled with a group of travel writers and media on our Goldleaf train. We met as strangers and left as friends! It was great to travel with such a wonderful and fun group of travel-obsessed individuals like myself. We bonded over our search for wildlife and eating those tantalizing chef-prepared meals.

Learn Interesting Facts and Stories from the Staff

Rocky Mountaineer Review

The staff on board will tell you all kinds of interesting stories and facts along the way. You’ll learn about the history of the region, intriguing monuments, and personal tales. The train will slow down at times if you’re approaching something significant, like a beautiful viewpoint or fascinating bridge. The conductor will also slow down if you’re approaching wildlife, and the staff members will try their best to point it out to you.

One of my favourite stories involved a woman who lived right beside the train tracks. Every time the Rocky Mountaineer train passed, she stood out on her front porch and waved at the train. She never missed a train! The staff wondered how she specifically knew that the Rocky Mountaineer train was approaching. As it turns out, her dog always alerted her to it. The Rocky Mountaineer train sounds differently than the other trains.

Eventually, Rocky Mountaineer invited the woman to be a guest on board the train. When she was on board and the train approached her house, a number of Rocky Mountaineer staff stood on her front porch and waved at her this time!

This story is just one example of how Rocky Mountaineer goes above and beyond to make everyone feel so welcomed. When we were departing Vancouver, so many employees waved at us as we left the station. When you’re on board, the staff answers all of your questions and makes you feel like a member of the Rocky Mountaineer family.

Chances to View Wildlife

Bighorn Sheep

As you’re travelling through the Canadian Rockies, there are many opportunities to view wildlife. On the first day, as we got closer to Kamloops, we spotted bald eagles, bighorn sheep, elk and coyotes. As we ventured through the mountains closer to Banff and Lake Louise, we managed to see a few black bears.

Bald Eagle
Elk

Other animals and birds that you may be able to spot from the train include osprey, wolves, beavers, grizzly bears, and moose. The staff typically knows where some of the animals are likely to hang out, and everyone in our train car yelled out when they spotted some of them. It was a fun and collaborative effort to spot the wildlife.

What to Bring On Board the Train

Lauren looking at the views on the open air viewing platform

You don’t need to bring too many things with you on board the train, as noted earlier. All of your luggage will travel independently to your hotel, so you’ll only need to bring the necessities on board. Here are my recommendations for an on board packing list:

Rocky Mountaineer Review: Should You Go?

Rocky Mountaineer Review: Train from Vancouver to Banff

You probably know the answer to this, but…yes! Take this epic train journey if you have the chance. It was on my travel bucket list for many years, and it exceeded all of my expectations. I am pleased to post this glowing Rocky Mountaineer review, and I really hope to experience their other itineraries in the future.

If you are thinking about booking a Rocky Mountaineer train trip, I highly suggest starting with the First Passage to the West journey. You get an excellent mix of impressive scenery, fascinating history, and amazing wildlife.

Lauren on Rocky Mountaineer

Plus, you can enjoy Gold Leaf Service with beautiful views from the second floor over the treetops from your seat, eat delectable dishes from the first floor dining car, and breathe in that fresh mountain air from the open-air viewing platform.

Hands down, this is one of the world’s most epic train journeys. For reference, I have traveled by train through many countries (Switzerland, Scotland, and Italy, to name a few) and Canada’s beauty rivals all of them. Experiencing the Canadian Rockies by train is an adventure that you should take in your lifetime.

Rocky Mountaineer Frequently Asked Questions

Have any questions about Rocky Mountaineer? I’ll try my best to answer the most popular questions in this Rocky Mountaineer review. If you have any others, please feel free to post them in the comments section and I’ll try my best to answer them as soon as I can.

How much does it cost to ride the Rocky Mountaineer?

All of the prices are posted on the official website. They vary based on the itinerary, the time of year, whether you travel on Silverleaf or Goldleaf, and any additional excursions you add to your trip. The First Passage to the West trip starts at $1600 per person (Canadian dollars).

Do you sleep on the Rocky Mountaineer?

No, you do not sleep on the Rocky Mountaineer train. We only travel by day so we don’t miss any of the scenery. You spend the night at a hotel each evening and board the train in the morning.

How long is the Rocky Mountaineer train ride?

The First Passage to the West itinerary travels from Vancouver to Kamloops on the first day (460km/285 miles) and Kamloops to Banff on the second day (497 km/309 miles).

When is the best time of year to travel on Rocky Mountaineer?

Rocky Mountaineer’s season runs from mid-April to mid-October. In April and May, you’ll see the flowers beginning to bloom as well as snow-capped mountain peaks. June, July and August has warmer weather for the summer. In September, the fall colours begin to appear, and so do the snow-capped peaks once again. Each season has its advantages, so you really can’t go wrong.

What should I wear on the Rocky Mountaineer train?

Dress comfortably as you’ll be seated for most of the day. Be sure to bring a sweater in case you get cold. I suggest dressing in layers, especially if you plan to go outdoors on the open-air platform (you may need a jacket!).

Are meals included on Rocky Mountaineer?

Yes, breakfast and lunch is included on Rocky Mountaineer (and they’re delicious!). You can also enjoy some light snacks and beverages throughout the day. Drinks are all-inclusive, including alcoholic beverages (beer, wine, and cocktails).

Can you travel aboard Rocky Mountaineer with dietary restrictions?

Yes, they can accommodate your dietary restrictions and allergies. Please inform Rocky Mountaineer in advance. I travel following a vegan diet and I ate amazing food on board every day. The chef went above and beyond to ensure that I had delicious food to eat every day.

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Thank you so much to Rocky Mountaineer for hosting my journey. These are my honest opinions of my trip.

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