The Rocky Mountaineer Luxury Train: Why It's a Legend on Many Bucket Lists
Rocky Mountaineer Is Far from a Train Ride through the Mountains
Rocky Mountaineer is a scenic touring train through the magnificent Canadian Rockies. For train buffs, photographers and travelers who want to "smell the roses," Rocky Mountaineer is bucket list experience.
Rocky Mountaineer is a busy enterprise that draws over 100,000 passengers every year. It offers a multitude of itineraries along four main rail routes. Most of them operate from April through October.
• Most routes run through the Canadian Rockies in Western Canada's British Columbia and Alberta
• One route originates in Seattle
• The Coast to Coast route goes from Vancouver on the Pacific to Halifax in Atlantic Canada
• Routes can be creatively combined, with extra nights at train stops
• Cruises to Alaska can be added on, too
Pedigree of Rocky Mountaineer
Rocky Mountaineer's trains and routes were originally owned by ViA Rail, Canada's national railroad. They were sold to a private company that rechristened the line.
Today, Rocky Mountaineer is one of Canada's most popular tourism attractions, with a global reputation and clientele.
What Kind of Train is Rocky Mountaineer?
Rocky Mountaineer is a leisurely touring train that travels by daylight. It is not a sleeper train nor a lightning-fast bullet train. It takes its time and allows guests to relish the journey and to marvel at (and photograph) Western Canada's spectacular panoramas.
Rocky Mountaineer rolls from early morning until very late afternoon. Then, passengers step off to explore the destination a bit, enjoy dinner, and spend the night in a hotel. (The hotel room, and sometimes dinner, are part of the ticket price.)
Breakfast and lunch are served daily. Rocky Mountaineer's first-class (GoldLeaf) passengers dine in an appealing dining car; others at their seats, airline-style. The train's cuisine is fine restaurant quality.
Why Take Rocky Mountaineer Instead of Drive?
Rocky Mountaineer's philosophy is the road is the journey. Yes, you could get to its destinations by car. But this train is a unique experience in itself.
Advantages of driving:
• It's faster
• You will have a car when you get to your destination
• You're in command of your own hours and choices
Advantages of Rocky Mountaineer:
• The train allows you to savor the moment: the landscape, your companion
• The train travels on riverbeds, much closer to the scenery than the roads are
• The train frequently goes where roads cannot, bringing passengers right up to Nature's glorious sights
• Train passengers are much likelier to spot wildlife such as bears, mountain goats, and eagles
• Trip details are planned for passengers; they are under no pressure to drive, find hotels and restaurants, deal with weather
• Rocky Mountaineer creates a complete vacation experience: views, comfort, service, dining, commentary
• Rocky Mountaineer passengers get the bragging rights
How does Rocky Mountaineer qualify as a luxury experience? >>
Rocky Mountaineer: The Luxury Is in the Scenery
What's Truly Luxurious About Rocky Mountaineer?
The most luxurious aspect of Rocky Mountaineer is its stupendous scenery. And to show the majestic Canadian Rockies to passengers is the reason Rocky Mountaineer exists.
On that score, Rocky Mountaineer delivers. It garners awards and accolades repeatedly from media such as National Geographic, Frommer's, USA Today, and Lonely Planet. Travel + Leisure considers Rocky Mountaineer "One of the World's Life-Changing Trips."
What Does Rocky Mountaineer Look & Feel Like?
Rocky Mountaineer is a cross between a sleek modern train and an old-fashioned luxury railroad.
- Rocky Mountaineer's handsome blue-and-gold exterior has a vintage look
- And its personal service harks back to more gracious times
- For GoldLeaf (first class) passengers, meal service is nostalgically conducted in a trim dining car
Rocky Mountaineer is a modern creation, too.
- Inside, it is not a brass-and-velvet Victorian luxury train
- Rather, it is bright, airy, and modern, with a double-decker, glass-domed first-class car
Rocky Mountaineer's official language is English. But its personnel speak a range of languages including French (Canada's other official tongue), Spanish, Japanese, Tagalog, and more.
Frequent tour-guide narration in each car, delivered by bubbly young staffers, focuses on wildlife sightings. "Bear to the left!"
Who takes Rocky Mountaineer? >>
The Kind of Luxury Traveler Who Takes Rocky Mountaineer
Who Takes Rocky Mountaineer?
Rocky Mountaineer is a Canadian institution with a worldwide reputation. It attracts passengers from all over the world. Many are Anglophones from the former British Commonwealth, such as Australians, New Zealanders, and U.K. citizens.
Rocky Mountaineer has a devoted following amongst:
- Train buffs
- "Bucket list" travelers and places you must see devotees
- Professional lensmen and avid amateur photographers
- Twosomes seeking time together with few distractions (no wifi on the train!)
Rocky Mountaineer's routes >>
Rocky Mountaineer's Train Routes & Customizable Itineraries
Where Rocky Mountaineer Goes
Rocky Mountaineer Has a number of routes and over 45 packages that can be tailored and combined. Most itineraries are through the Canadian Rockies, the train line's specialty.
Rocky Mountaineer's Canadian Rockies Routes
Circle Rail begins and ends in captivating Vancouver.
- It runs 8, 10, or 11 nights
- Hotel stops may be for one or two nights
- Station stops: Vancouver, Kamloops, Whistler, Jasper, Quesnel, Lake Louise, Banff
- Sample destination activities: town tours, Yoho National Park, "helicopter flightseeing"
First Passage to the West is a circular route that begins and ends in Vancouver.
- This is Rocky Mountaineer's most popular route
- It runs from one to six nights
- Rocky Mountaineer is the only passenger railroad that retraces Canada's original tracks
- Some itineraries include multiple hotel nights in legendary destinations like Alberta's Lake Louise and Banff
Journey through the Clouds passes by Canada's highest peaks.
- This flexible route runs from one to seven nights
- The path: Vancouver through Kamloops to Jasper (or back)
- More nights can be added on in Vancouver and Jasper
Rainforest to Gold Rush is a northerly route through pristine wilderness.
- Itineraries take one, four, or eight nights
- The route: Whistler through Quesnel to Jasper (or back)
- Ecosystems experienced: coastal rainforest, high desert, prairie, Jasper National Park
- One highlight: the imposing Mount Robson
Coastal Passage begins in Seattle in the U.S.
- The journey is three nights, but other routes can be added on
- The route travels from Seattle to Vancouver, then through the Canadian Rockies
Rocky Mountaineer's Whistler Sea to Sky Climb
This one-day journey goes from urban Vancouver to Whistler of Olympic skiing fame, or back.
- Scenic highlights: Howe Sound, the Coast Mountains, Brandywine Falls, Mount Garibaldi, Cheakamus Canyon
Rocky Mountaineer's Canada Coast-to-Coast Route
This is Rocky Mountaineer's ultimate trek: Canada from Pacific at Atlantic (or back).
- Stops: Vancouver, Kamloops, Canadian Rockies, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax
- The coast-to-coast journey is 14 or 15 nights; between Vancouver and Toronto, 11 or 12 nights
- For some segments, passengers transfer to a VIA Rail train
Rocky Mountaineer's Rail & Alaska Cruise
Passengers may book a pre-train or post-train cruise to Alaska.
- Partner cruise lines include Holland America and Norwegian Cruise Line
- This add-on can be applied to almost any Rocky Mountaineer itinerary
Hotels where Rocky Mountaineer passengers stay >>
Rocky Mountaineer's Hotels where Passengers Stay along the Way
Rocky Mountaineer's Hotel Partners
On overnight strops, Rocky Mountaineer passengers stay in a variety of hotels according to their class of ticket. Passengers may upgrade for better hotels.
The best hotels offered, by far, are Fairmont hotels. This is fitting, as the Fairmont hotel brand was originally known as Canadian Pacific Hotels. These imposing, châteaux-look hotels were built in the late 1800s along major stops of the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railroad.
In your Guide's opinion, travelers should not miss the chance to stay at:
- Fairmont Banff Springs, a castle in the Rockies, pictured above)
- The Disney-fantasy-style Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
- The modern, waterfront Fairmont Pacific Rim, the talk of Vancouver
Another Guide tip: for the Kamloops overnight, it's wise request the Plaza Hotel, a vintage beauty with film noir flair, over the prosaic Hotel Five540Forty, a motel that calls itself a boutique hotel.
Classes of Rocky Mountaineer service >>
Classes of Rocky Mountaineer Seating & Service
Rocky Mountaineer features three levels of service.
GoldLeaf Service is the highest level, and the clear choice for a luxury traveler. It features:
- A double-decker car with seamless windows leading up to a transparent domed roof, offering unimpeded viewing
- Comfortable, roomy seats with a slight recline, plenty of legroom, and a tray table
- Downstairs, a private dining car, a lounge, and an uncovered observation platform
- Hot, cooked-to-order meals with your choice of several dishes and wine
- All-day coffee, wine, snacks
- The best available hotel accommodations
SilverLeaf Service is the medium level, featuring:
- A single-level coach with oversized windows and a transparent domed roof
- Hot breakfast and lunch served at your seat
- Non-alcoholic beverage and snacks
RedLeaf Service is the basic level, featuring:
- Seats in what resembles a conventional train car
- Large picture windows
- Chilled meals served at your seat
- Non-alcoholic beverage and snacks
How good is Rocky Mountaineer's onboard dining? >>
Dining Onboard Rocky Mountaineer
Rocky Mountaineer's Cuisine
Rocky Mountaineer's culinary experience can be extremely satisfying. Can be? Yes, if you're a passenger with GoldLeaf Service.
- In this highest class of service, guests dine elegantly in a trim dining car, at tables for two or four
- Breakfast and lunch are served onboard, with two seatings each to accommodate all passengers
- Both breakfast and lunch involve three-course meals with several menu selections
Executive Chefs Jean-Pierre Guerin and Frédéric Couton have adapted stylishly to cooking in Rocky Mountaineer's kitchen car.
- Their cuisine is modern bistro style, focusing on locavore ingredients: British Columbia salmon, Alberta beef, locally grown produce
- The food is good restaurant quality
- Some wines are included with your ticket fare; others carry a surcharge
- Quite a few wines are from the Okanagan wine region of British Columbia, which many of Rocky Mountaineer's routes travel through
Will you, personally, enjoy Rocky Mountaineer? Take the quiz >>
Does Rocky Mountaineer Belong on Your Personal Bucket List?
Will You Love Rocky Mountaineer?
Take this quiz and get a better ideal whether Rocky Mountaineer is made for you.
You will probably like Rocky Mountaineer if:
- You're a train buff
- You're crossing legendary luxury experiences off your bucket list
- Or you're just an adventurous traveler, tired of same-old vacations
- Or you simply must get to the Canadian Rockies, and would welcome a unique approach
- You're an avid photographer yearning for landscape photo ops
- You love gazing at mountains, lakes, and wild scenery
- You'll be happy with good food and pleasant wine
- You seek some undisturbed, unpressured one-on-one time with someone special
- Or you'd love a journey where your agenda is to relax, eat, and take in the view
You will probably not be thrilled by Rocky Mountaineer if:
- You prefer getting places quickly (Rocky Mountaineer rolls at a very leisurely pace)
- You want the freedom of having your car with you
- Mountain scenery leaves you cold
- Very good food and wine isn't enough for your Michelin-star tastes
- You're expecting an old-fashioned Victorian train
- You're not a morning person; train days begin right after daybreak
- You're a smoker; there's no smoking anywhere on the train
- You want to socialize with your fellow passengers; on my trip, people kept to themselves
- Or you want to be amongst other young people (Rocky Mountaineer passengers are largely Baby Boomers)
- You need to be connected via wifi on all-day train rides
- (Rocky Mountaineer is not for passengers who need to be connected to their work at all times. The train has no wifi; cell reception is generally unreliable in the mountains; only GoldLeaf cars have electrical outlets, and they are not at your seats)
Connect with Rocky Mountaineer & start planning a ride >>
Connect with Rocky Mountaineer & Start Planning a Memorable Train Journey
How to Find Out More about Rocky Mountaineer & Start Planning a Visit
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As is common in the travel industry, the Expert was provided with a complimentary train journey for the purpose of describing it. While this arrangement has not influenced her article, About.com believes in editorial transparency. For more info, see our site's Ethics Policy.