The Rocky Mountaineer train, Canada
About the Rocky Mountaineer train
The Rocky Mountaineer train service is hard to categorise, as it combines the best elements of a tourist / scenic train with a luxury train. The Rocky Mountaineer covers eight different routes, each with a lot to offer a first time visitor to Canada’s astonishing Rocky Mountains and the vast expanses beyond.
With nearly 70 vacation itineraries to choose from, some combining train travel with cruises, fly drives, helicopter rides and excursions to prime tourist sites such as Niagara Falls and the Icefields Parkway, you’re really spoilt for choice.
But what about the trains themselves? On board the Rocky Mountaineer train, you can expect first class food and drink, attentive service, fun entertainment and informative narration – and of course some of the world’s best scenery viewed from plush, modern panoramic train cars.
When does the Rocky Mountaineer train go?
The Rocky Mountaineer runs from late April through to early October, with some itineraries running several departures every week. Take a look at the Rocky Mountaineer’s excellent website to see full range of dates and options available.
Rocky Mountaineer routes
Rocky Mountaineer currently runs 8 routes, with most crossing Alberta and British Columbia, including its latest addition the Coastal Passage which even ventures across the border into Seattle, the jumping off point for an even bigger North American rail extravaganza with Amtrak.
First Passage to the West – from Calgary to Vancouver, via Banff & Lake Louise.
Journey through the Clouds – Vancouver to Jasper, via interesting desert town Kamloops. (This was the journey I took back in 2011.)
Rainforest to Gold Rush – from Whistler to Jasper, via Quesnel.
Coastal Passage – Vancouver to Seattle.
Circle Rail – taking you on a loop around the Rockies from Vancouver stopping at Whistler, Lake Louise and many of the other routes’ best destinations.
Rail & Cruise – Seattle to Vancouver, via cruise taking in Vancouver Island’s Victoria and Alaskan towns such as Skagway, Glacier bay and Juneau.
Coast to Coast – Perhaps the ultimate Trans-Canadian rail adventure, starting with the RM’s 2 day Vancouver – Jasper leg, before Via Rail picks up the baton and ferries you across to Halifax on the far the eastern coast, via Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City.
Whistler Sea to Sky Climb – RM’s shortest trip, between Vancouver and Whistler ski resort in one day for just £120 per person.
How much does the Rocky Mountaineer train cost?
Prices range enormously, from £686 per person for a 2 day rail trip in the Rockies, right up to £5027 for a 24 day Trans-Canada rail holiday, including 10 nights hotel accommodation, numerous excursions and a 7 night Alaskan cruise.
What’s the sleeper accommodation like on the Rocky Mountaineer train?
The Rocky Mountaineer is a tourist train, so there are no sleeper carriages. You travel on the train during the day and are transferred to a decent quality 4 star hotel when you reach your destination in the early evening. Your luggage is transferred for you too, at no extra cost.
If you want the experience of crossing Canada’s vast, open vistas through the night, check out national operator Via Rail’s Canadian train, which covers much the same ground as the Rocky Mountaineer’s Journey through the Clouds route. The food and service on board is comparable and you can still get the chance to stretch your legs at one of several daily stops.
Alternatively, you can try one of their many vacation packages, which combine travel on an RM train with a number of days travel and sleeper accommodation on a Via Rail train.
What’s the food, drink and service on board the Rocky Mountaineer train like?
There are 3 levels of food service on board the Rocky Mountaineer: Gold Leaf, Silver Leaf and Red Leaf.
With Gold Leaf, gourmet quality food and drink is served on proper tableware in the dining car on the lower deck of the panoramic car. Expect three-course meals (most starting with a rich, creamy bowl of soup) and a consistently high standard of cuisine paired with decent regional wines.
Both lunch and dinner is served on the train, with delicious dishes that are also very artfully presented. Although space in the dining car is limited, meal times are pleasantly unrushed, with several allocated sittings per car.
All soft and alcoholic drinks are inclusive and in between lunch and dinner sittings, you’ll also be served a variety of tasty and surprisingly refined snacks, cakes and biscuits at your seat in the panoramic upper car at regular intervals throughout the day.
Silver Leaf gives you a hot meal served at your seat on the lower deck, while Red Leaf gets you an airline style meal in standard class rail cars. Obviously which standard of service you plump for affects the total cost of your journey.
What’s special about the Rocky Mountaineer?
The scenery on the Journey through the Clouds is almost continually spectacular and varied. Starting from Jasper in the midst of the Jasper National Park you weave your way through densely wooded foliage, at its best during the autumn when it explodes into a riot of colour, and mist-collared mountain peaks, before giving way to wide river valleys and narrow bridges, past ancient rock formations and eventually the sage brush and scrub land of the Canadian badlands.
If the views of the incredibly beautiful and diverse rolling landscape are not enough – and they really should be! – the RM makes a concerted effort to please.
There are many little touches that make this service special, such as the souvenir newspaper produced, which gives you detailed info on most of the the sights you’ll pass on the journey, the informed narration given by the guides, where the train slows a little to give you a fleeting glance of nesting golden eagles, moose, elk and if you’re really lucky, perhaps the occasional brown or grizzly bear.
Another nice touch was the horseback welcome we received at Kamloops station, by the town’s ambassador.
The on-board entertainment may not be to everybody’s taste, but it seemed popular with the tipsy guests at the front of our car, who were happily joining in with sing songs and talent contests!
Another minor niggle was the narration. While useful at certain points in the journey, the narration was perhaps a shade too frequent for me and felt a little unnecessary at times. I found myself putting my i-pod on at intervals throughout the journey. I tend to think that scenery like this speaks for itself, especially given the on-board literature and detailed maps you’re issued, but some travellers are likely to appreciate being guided through it.
Loose on the Caboose
Best of all perhaps is the access you get to the outdoor caboose. Few things are more exhilarating than feeling the wind through your hair as you start out at miles of seemingly endless railway track spooling away from you, while you’re surrounded by vast mountain peaks and dense forest on both sides.
Is the Rocky Mountaineer train worth it and what type of traveller would enjoy it?
There’s no doubt that the Rocky Mountaineer provides an excellent service and is a wonderful way to see a good chunk of Canada’s diverse scenery. The food and drink is plentiful and of very high quality and the service on board is consistently smiley and welcoming.
Our fellow travellers were mostly British and American couples between the ages of 50-70 and I would say it caters perfectly to that group. The RM is a mainstream tourist train with an all-inclusive service, so its offering naturally reflects that and delivers it very well.
It’s impossible to not compare it to Via Rail’s passenger service, which is significantly more affordable and which I honestly felt provided better value for those who are quite happy travelling independently. Horses for courses I suppose, but either way, Canada suits long distance rail travel very well indeed so do make sure you get to experience it yourself!
Know before you go
On the second day of your trip, special coaches come to collect you in the morning from outside your hotel, transferring you to the train station. It’s worth double checking that you’re on the right coach however, as most of its stops in the Rockies are very popular tourist draws, so it’s quite likely that there will be other tour coaches parked outside that have absolutely nothing to do with the Rocky Mountaineer! I made this mistake myself and had to taxi it back from the highway once I realised I was on the wrong coach!
While it shares many miles of track and stations with national operator Via Rail, the RM even has its own station in Vancouver, which is reserved for exclusive use and makes for a quick and easy check-in. Do note that you’ll be expected to arrive at your departure station at least 30 minutes prior to departure.
Be careful when you’re standing out on the caboose taking photos. You’ll probably find it hard to resist queuing up at the barrier (and be prepared to jostle a bit too!) to get in line and take snap after snap, but this train moves very fast and through plenty of tunnels on which you might come a-cropper!
Book the Rocky Mountaineer train!
Check out their selection of itineraries, along with a handful of other epic North American train holidays
Here’s a lovely video sequence taken by fellow traveller Randy Johnson on board the Journey through the Clouds train:
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This luxury train journey was approved by Railway Stays.
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