Top tips for riding the rails onboard Canada's Rocky Mountaineer

Long railway journeys have always carried an aura of glamour and few journeys are more glamorous, or more spectacular, than those onboard the Rocky Mountaineer.

The Rocky Mountaineer rounding Morant's Curve
The Rocky Mountaineer rounding Morant's Curve © Rocky Mountaineer

Founded in 1990 as Canada's first multi-day, all-daylight trip from West Canada to the Rocky Mountains, the Rocky Mountaineer offers two two-day Canadian routes.

There's the route between Vancouver in British Columbia, and either Jasper or Banff in Alberta, with an overnight stop in the town of Kamloops; and one three-day journey to Jasper via Quesnel. There's also a route in the USA between Moab and Denver.

There are two classes to choose from aboard what's been named the 'World's Leading Luxury Train': Gold Leaf, where the spacious double-decker carriages feature domed windows, an outdoor viewing platform, chef-prepared meals served in a smart dining room and heated, reclining seats.

Then there's Silver Leaf, the more affordable option with smaller, single-deck carriages and meals brought to your seat. However you travel, you'll want to maximise your time onboard; here are my top tips for making the most of your once-in-a-lifetime journey.

Getting to Canada: browse the latest offers on flights with Air Canada* as well as rail bookings with the likes of Newmarket Holidays* and Titan Travel*.

Take the Banff route for dramatic views

While both of the two-day Canadian routes are stunning (and share the same tracks between Vancouver and Kamloops), the Kamloops to Banff section is said to have the edge.

For much of the second day of my trip heading towards Jasper, the views were obscured by trees, although since it was autumn this was still stunning, with vivid golds and yellows bursting everywhere.

According to an insider, however, the Banff route gives you more spectacular mountain views, so if you're after the train journey of a lifetime, pick Banff. Of course, if you want to visit Jasper then don't be put off; the journey is still gorgeous and Jasper itself is incredible.

Go for Gold Leaf

This is clearly a question of budget, but if you're going all that way, it's worth upgrading if you can. The Gold Leaf carriages are more spacious, the à la carte meals in the dining room are sensational, and the outdoor viewing platform is brilliant for photographers and for getting some fresh air.

Guided sightseeing from the Gold Leaf viewing platform
Guided sightseeing from the Gold Leaf viewing platform © Rocky Mountaineer

In addition, the double-decker height of the carriage means you get a much better view over the tops of trees and down into valleys than you do in the single-deck Silver Leaf.

Bring everything you need for the day

While you enjoy the luxury service on the train, your suitcase is transported by road and delivered directly to your hotel room at the overnight stop.

This means you need to make sure you put everything you want for the day in your hand luggage, including sunglasses, a phone charger, any medication and a hairband if you have long hair and plan to spend any time on the windswept outdoor viewing platform.

But don't bring too much

In both classes the windows curve up into the roof, meaning there's no overhead storage. So all your hand luggage has to go at your feet. There's a decent amount of legroom, but you might struggle if you bring a huge bag.

Watch for wildlife

The Rocky Mountaineer route passes through areas far away from human habitation, where wildlife is abundant. The region is home to over 50 mammal species including grizzly and black bears, moose, elk, coyotes and bighorn sheep, as well as birds including bald eagles and red-tailed hawks, so there's plenty to see if you're lucky.

All of the carriages are connected by radio, so if someone in a forward carriage spots an animal, they'll alert the others so everyone has a chance to see what's been spotted.

Pace yourself with the food

In Gold Leaf, the dining area is half the size of the main carriage, so meals are served in two sittings: one day you'll have breakfast at 8.30 am and lunch at noon, and the second day you'll swap to the other sitting and have breakfast at 10.30 am and lunch at 2.30 pm.

Gold Leaf dining onboard the Rocky Mountaineer
Gold Leaf dining onboard the Rocky Mountaineer © Rocky Mountaineer

If you're used to regular mealtimes you might want to plan accordingly, but don't worry, food is delicious and plentiful and there are snacks available if you get peckish between meals.

Read the newspaper

When you board, you'll receive a copy of the Rocky Mountaineer newspaper, Mile Post. It's packed with information about the history of the railway, the routes and the things you'll see. It's worth reading cover-to-cover to fully appreciate the trip and all the fascinating landmarks you'll pass.

Keep it casual

Although this is a luxury service, there's no dress code. You can leave the three-piece suit at home and dress comfortably. And don't worry about getting cold either; even on frosty days, the carriage temperature is well-regulated (though you'll probably want a light jacket if you want to stand on the outside deck, where the wind can be chilly).

Bring a book - but you won't get bored

One of the train's features is that it doesn't have wifi or phone signal. Instead, the aim is for travellers to switch off from their busy lives, relax and enjoy the stunning landscapes as they roll past.

So you might want to bring some entertainment, but you'll probably find that the views are so entrancing and the photo opportunities so many, the hours will fly by.

Stay longer

They say it's all about the journey, not the destination, and while this is certainly true of the Rocky Mountaineer more than most other forms of transport, you should also spend some time in Vancouver, Jasper and Banff.

Blue waters of Moraine Lake, Alberta
Blue waters of Moraine Lake, Alberta © Rocky Mountaineer

All three places are among Canada's most unmissable and you'll be kicking yourself if you go all that way and then don't allow yourself enough time to explore them.

Climate in Banff

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Maximum daytime temperature °C
Hours of sunshine (daily)
Days with some rainfall

The above guide shows the climate in Banff. Find out more about conditions across the country, including in Vancouver and Jasper, in our complete guide to the climate in Canada.

Ready to roll on the Rocky Mountaineer? Browse current offers on flights with Air Canada and rail bookings from Newmarket Holidays and the experts at Titan Travel, which both have deals on this unforgettable train.

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Bella Falk

Bella Falk

Posted on Wednesday 27th March 2024 in: Adventure Excursions North America

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