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“I wish we had driven instead of taking the train. I feel like you could go so much faster if you took the highway.” I stood in shock – and a little bit of disgust – as I overhead the older man, a fellow passenger on the Rocky Mountaineer, say this while gazing out across one of British Columbia’s many stunning landscapes.
It was barely afternoon on the first of my two-day journey abroad the Rocky Mountaineer from Vancouver to Lake Louise in early 2015. This was my first real trip as a travel writer; I had been invited due to my connections with a major travel publication, though I didn’t know then what story I would eventually end up telling (or when).
While I’ve spoken highly of the Rocky Mountaineer for all these years since my ride, I’ve never shared a proper review of my Rocky Mountaineer experience. If you’re considering whether or not to splurge on Canada’s luxury mountain-traversing train, you might be reading Rocky Mountaineer reviews to help you decide. In mine, you’ll learn all about the services Rocky Mountaineer offers (including a new one in 2021 that I can’t wait to try!) and my experience aboard the Rocky Mountaineer.
Settle into your comfy chair, imagine the gentle rocking of the train car, and read on: my Rocky Mountaineer review will convince you why it’s definitely worthy of your bucket list.
In this post, I promote travel to destinations that are the traditional lands of many First Nations peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
Rocky Mountaineer Itineraries & Services
Before diving into my own Rocky Mountaineer review, I wanted to share some of the basics about the service and what they offer. I’m sure you already know this from browsing their site; if you’re reading Rocky Mountaineer reviews like mine, you want to hear what it’s really like and whether it’s worth it – don’t worry, I cover that in more detail further below.
Rocky Mountaineer Routes
Rocky Mountaineer currently offers three routes through the Canadian Rockies; they’re adding a new route through America’s red rocks (Colorado and Utah) in the second half of 2021. Here are the Canadian Rockies Routes:
- First Passage to the West: This route connects Vancouver to Banff/Lake Louise with an overnight stop in Kamloops. The route runs eastbound or westbound. (I rode the eastbound First Passage to the West.)
- Journey through the Clouds: This route connects Vancouver to Jasper with an overnight in Kamloops. It too runs eastbound or westbound.
- Rainforest to the Gold Rush: This route connects Vancouver to Jasper with overnight stops in Whistler and Quesnel.
Rocky Mountaineer also offers different packages: you can book one-way “Short Journey” (just the train and inclusive overnights), the “Rockies Highlights” (adding in extra nights and excursions), or the “Circle Journey” (which connects any two routes with extra nights and excursions to allow you make it a round-trip journey).
The new Rockies to Red Rocks route will connect Denver to Moab with an overnight stop in Glenwood Springs. After having ridden the Rocky Mountaineer in Canada, I’m really excited to hopefully ride this new route soon!
Silver Leaf vs Gold Leaf Service
On their Canadian Rockies routes, Rocky Mountaineer offers two levels of service: Silver Leaf and Gold Leaf. Here are the differences between the two service classes, comparing Silver Leaf vs Gold Leaf:
|Silver Leaf 🥈||Gold Leaf 🥇|
|Pricing||Generally lower depending on route||Generally higher depending on route|
|Cars||Single level dome cars||Bi-level dome cars with dining area on lower level|
|Windows||Oversized glass-dome windows||Full glass-dome windows with panoramic views|
|Dining||Breakfast and lunch served in the comfort of your seat||Gourmet à la carte meals in the lower-level dining room|
|Staff||2 hosts plus one culinary staff||3-4 hosts plus full culinary team|
|Viewing Area||Small outdoor viewing area||Large outdoor viewing area|
|Hotels||Comfortable rooms within walking distance from major attractions||Luxury rooms with premium room upgrades available|
I rode the Rocky Mountaineer at the Gold Leaf service level and can say it’s definitely worth the additional costs. The upper level dome windows and outdoor viewing areas make for such an immersive experience – you don’t want to pay all that money to not have the best view possible!
Rocky Mountaineer Prices & Cost
If you’re sold on riding the Rocky Mountaineer from my review and now want to compare routes and prices to make a final decision, here’s a price table to help you compare. Note that these are base prices – choosing different packages or longer route options will obviously increase the cost.
|Route (Classic Packages)||Silver Leaf from||Gold Leaf from|
|First Passage to the West (Banff)||$1,576||$2,274|
|First Passage to the West (Lake Louise)||$1,678||$2,374|
|Journey Through the Clouds||$1,549||$2,257|
|Rainforest to Gold Rush||$2,306||$3,342|
|Rockies to Red Rocks||$1,626||–|
As you can tell from these prices, the Rocky Mountaineer is obviously not a trip for those on a budget. The Rocky Mountaineer has a luxury price point – and offers a luxury experience. Let’s dive into my Rocky Mountaineer review so you can see why I think this trip is still bucket list-worthy.
My Rocky Mountaineer Experience & Review
As I mentioned, I rode the First Passage to the West route from Vancouver to Kamloops to Lake Louise. My trip took four days; here’s a summary:
- I took the Amtrak from Seattle to Vancouver, and spent one night at the Four Seasons Vancouver.
- On day 2, I boarded the Rocky Mountaineer in Vancouver and rode to Kamloops, where I spent the night at a hotel in town (I can’t find it on the map anymore).
- On day 3, I re-boarded the Rocky Mountaineer from Kamloops to Lake Louise. I stayed at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise that night.
- Finally, I caught a transfer from Lake Louise to Calgary to fly home to Seattle.
With that high-level schedule in mind, let’s dive deeper into what it’s actually like on the Rocky Mountaineer itself. This is the meat of my Rocky Mountaineer review, so read closely!
Day 1: Vancouver to Kamloops
After waking up in my Vancouver hotel room, I took a transfer to the train depot and was escorted to my seat; as I was traveling solo, I shared my seat with the third member of another party. I was thankfully seated on the window too.
After the train pulls out of the station, the staff began a narration about our journey and handed out glasses of mimosa to toast the beginning of the journey. I’m pretty sure we can all agree that every trip should begin that way, right?
As the train left urban Vancouver, the expansive farmlands of the Fraser Valley felt warm and familiar. After seven years living in the Midwest and spending countless hours on road trips past fields of corn, soybean, and wheat, it takes little more than a few cows and a barn to make me feel nostalgic.
Hours pass leisurely – but consistently – and soon the fields gave way suddenly to evergreen forests and the early foothills of mountain ranges. I was reminded of growing up in Alaska. The beauty is in its early stages, but I can only imagine how much more magnificent it will be.
I was granted the opportunity to appreciate these new details by my increasingly permanent presence on the vestibule, with the wind and open air. The flash of sunlight, clouds, and reflections on ponds and creeks entrances me with its erratic pattern. I occasionally caught snatches of birdsong or the babble of a creek alongside the rails in a few minutes of slower speed.
Over the course of the first day, the train snaked its way through the smaller mountains where the Coast Mountains and Cascades meet until reaching the higher elevation Thompson Valley. Eventually, it pulled into Kamloops, our overnight stop.
Day 2: Kamloops to Lake Louise/Banff
After walking around Kamloops for dinner and a restful night of sleep, it was back to the train, and to my post is the vestibule between cars.
The Rocky Mountaineer moved steadily out of the Thompson Valley and toward the namesake Rocky Mountains themselves. The highlight of the First Passage to the West route is the Spiral Tunnels, an engineering feat that allows the train to climb into the towering Rockies toward the Continental Divide.
As the train approached the Spiral Tunnels, the mountains become increasingly dramatic – exactly what you’d expect for Canada’s famous formations. Then the train entered the first of the two tunnels, and was plunged into the dark. A short break of daylight preceded the second tunnel, and after another period in the dark, we emerged into the heart of the Rocky Mountains themselves.
From there, it was a short ride and I returned to my seat to watch as we cross the Continental Divide at over 5,300 feet in elevation. It seemed surprising that the train can climb a mile – even over the course of two days.
Shortly, after, I disembarked the train to the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. As this is the first disembarkation point of the eastbound First Journey to the West, I was then able to enjoy the afternoon exploring the stunning surrounds of Lake Louise.
Meals & Accommodations
As you’d expect for a trip as luxurious as the Rocky Mountaineer, the meals in Gold Leaf Service are a consistent treat. The culinary team prepares a steady stream of delicious meals, from smoked salmon and egg scramble for breakfast to Pacific prawns with jasmine rice risotto as an entree option.
As noted in the service table above, Gold Leaf Service offers more and better culinary options than Silver Leaf Service – so if having five-star meals to go along with the rest of your trip is important, this is definitely worth upgrading for.
For accommodation, I was delighted to stay at the Four Seasons in Vancouver and Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Both of these properties are world class, and the only wish I have is to spend a few extra nights enjoying them. Isn’t that always how a great hotel stay makes you feel?
I obviously remember my ride aboard the Rocky Mountaineer vividly and fondly – it’s something I’ve always wanted to do again, and to treat my parents to. (Though, to be honest, my mom doesn’t love traveling that much!… Not sure how this apple fell so far from the tree!)
The Rocky Mountaineer excels for a number of reasons, including the uniqueness of the experience you have – and how well executed that experience is. The staff and hosts are wonderful, the train cars and hotels are luxurious, and the scenery is unparalleled. Whether you’re a train buff or just know you deserve a luxury trip, Rocky Mountaineer is the kind of journey you won’t forget for a lifetime.
Have any other questions about riding the Rocky Mountaineer or my review? Let me know in the comments!
I was hosted aboard the Rocky Mountaineer as a guest, and my original, long-since deleted review was published as part of that partnership. This new, updated review, as well as my San Francisco Chronicle story, produced entirely at my discretion.