Skip to main content

A trip on the Rocky Mountaineer is a bucket list item for many. I was fortunate enough to join a group of travel agents from around the world for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Departing from Vancouver, there are three rail routes available, giving guests the option of Lake Louise/Banff, Jasper, or a longer journey via Whistler and Quesnel to Jasper.

Our itinerary was the first passage to the west: Vancouver to Kamloops to Lake Louise/Banff. This route retraces the historic Canadian Pacific Railway, famous for connecting British Columbia to the rest of Canada more than 125 years ago.

The journey began at the Rocky Mountaineer Station in Vancouver, just a few minutes’ drive from downtown. The station is a charming blend of modern comfort and old-world charm, setting the stage for the adventure ahead. There was a sense of anticipation before boarding was announced, with a kilted bagpiper playing us off.

We are travelling in GoldLeaf class. The bi-level dome coach is spacious, with an upper-level seating area offering panoramic views through glass-domed windows.

The forward-facing seats are luxurious, reclining leather chairs with ample legroom, adjustable headrests, middle armrests and footrests for maximum comfort. The chairs recline in place so they do not affect the legroom of the seat behind.

Each seat also has a small tray table and a power outlet for your devices. The upper level is designed for optimal viewing, providing an unobstructed 360-degree view of the landscape.

Each guest is provided with a copy of the Journeys rail magazine and the Rocky Mountaineer Mile Post. For those who like to know exactly where they are, the Mile Post provides a detailed description of the journey by mile markers, a detailed map and a wealth of information on the journey and history of the railway.

Each carriage seats 72 people and has two Rocky Mountaineer hosts. They work tirelessly throughout the trip to ensure that every guest is well imbibed and comfortable.

The lower level of the carriage, accessed via a curved staircase (a lift is also available for the mobility impaired), hosts the dining area. Arranged in groups of four, 36 diners can be served at a time.

Meals are served in two sessions. For those not in the first session, beverages and snacks are served to hold back the hunger. Breakfast is a choice of six cooked options served with pastries and juice.

Once breakfast is over, the bar opens and the non-stop drinks service is available for the remainder of the day with a choice of signature cocktails (Classic Canadian Caesar, Gin Rocky or Class Margarita) and a range of wines, spirits and non alcoholic beverages.

Leaving Vancouver, the train follows the Fraser River and soon enters the Fraser Valley, offering views of lush farmland and distant mountains.

As you head further east, the landscape transitions to the dramatic Fraser Canyon, where the river cuts through towering cliffs. Highlights include Hell’s Gate and the Cisco Crossing.

The outdoor viewing platform on the lower level provides an opportunity to congregate between the coaches. Here, you can step from the genteel quiet into a blast of fierce wind, invigorating and unexpected.

Lunch comes around in no time. This time, it’s a three-course meal with six options for the main course, including fish, meat and vegetarian choices. Wine is liberally offered throughout the meal.

Much of the journey takes place on single tracks. This means that when a train meets another train coming in the opposite direction, one must pull into a siding to allow the other to pass through. Often, freight trains are too long to fit into the sidings.

The Rocky Mountaineer is much shorter than these trains, so it pulls over to let the longer ones pass through. One such pause makes for the ideal time to give in to the soporific effect of the wine, lunch, warm sun and air-conditioned comfort without missing any viewing time!

As the train approaches the Thompson River, the scenery changes to the semi-arid desert of British Columbia’s interior. The landscape becomes more rugged, with unique rock formations and sparse vegetation.

Our journey on day one did have some delays, so dinner was provided on the upper level while we were stationary outside Kamloops. After departing Vancouver at 7:30am, we arrived in Kamloops at 8pm.

We were swiftly given our room keys and transported to our hotels, where our luggage awaited us in our rooms, which wobbled a bit due to our train legs (yes, it is a thing).

We were back on the train again by 7am and the scenery quickly changed once more as the train climbed into the Canadian Rockies.

This part of the journey is particularly spectacular, with towering peaks, crystal-clear lakes and dense forests. One notable spot is Shuswap Lake, which the railway runs alongside for 30km.

The placid, forest-rimmed lake is home to at least 14 species of fish, making it a popular fishing destination. Unfortunately, we didn’t catch a glimpse of the Shuswap Lake Monster, an eight-metre-long serpentine creature reportedly also living in the watery depths!

Our Rocky Mountaineer hosts were full of interesting local information and tales, which they managed to share between serving constant drinks and snacks.

In Canoe, we remembered to wave to Doris, who greets the train from her house each time it passes – although today, it was her husband waving back. Doris and her husband have been such constants for the Rocky Mountaineer that they were given a complimentary trip to experience it from the other side.

We traversed the spiral tunnels near Kicking Horse Pass, an engineering marvel modelled after a tunnel system in Switzerland. The railway doubles back upon itself twice, tunnelling through Cathedral Mountain and Mount Ogden and crossing the river twice to enable a reduced grade.

We crossed the Continental Divide, the highest point on the trip. As we approached the Alberta border, the landscape became even more dramatic, with the Rockies providing a memorable snow-covered backdrop.

At this point, the bears started to make an appearance. It was still early in the season, so they were fairly scarce. Unfortunately for us, we were travelling in the last coach of the train which gave them time to slope off.

At the shout of “Bear Left!” we hurled ourselves to the left side of the train in hopes of an encounter, but all I saw was a glimpse of a big brown bottom ambling into the trees.

We arrived in Banff in time for dinner and said goodbye to our wonderful hosts.

Travelling on the Rocky Mountaineer in GoldLeaf class from Vancouver to Banff really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The combination of unparalleled service and comfort with some of the most spectacular scenery in the world makes it an ideal time to unwind and enjoy some slow time with family or friends before embarking on the next stage of your Canadian adventure.