Introducing the Rocky Mountaineer:  Vancouver - Banff, Calgary or Jasper...

  Rocky Mountaineer:  Gold Leaf dome car

Rocky Mountaineer Gold Leaf:  Probably the best view of Canada's Rockies you can get.

Canada's most scenic train journey:  The Rocky Mountaineer ready to leave Banff, bound for Vancouver

Good to go!  The Rocky Mountaineer at Banff...

In 1990, Canada's national rail operator VIA Rail sold off it's 'Rockies by daylight' scenic train to a private company called Rocky Mountaineer Vacations, who renamed it 'The Rocky Mountaineer'.  The Rocky Mountaineer has now developed into a world-class travel experience, operating on not just one but four different routes in the Canadian Rockies, through spectacular scenery with truly excellent on-board service.  In 1990, the service carried just over 10,000 guests, it now carries over 100,000 each year.  Tourists use these trains as part of tours or packages, but they offer regular scheduled departures April-October and if you're travelling independently you can buy one-way tickets. This page is an insider's guide to the Rocky Mountaineer, explaining the choice of routes, on board service, timetables & prices, and what there is to see on the way.

Rocky Mountaineer routes, times, prices, tickets...

  Which route should you choose?

  Departure dates, timetables & prices

  How to buy tickets

What's it like on board the trains?

  Rocky Mountaineer Red Leaf Service

  Rocky Mountaineer Silver Leaf Service

  Rocky Mountaineer Gold Leaf Service

  Whistler Route Service

What's the journey like?

  First Passage to the West (Kicking Horse) route:  Calgary & Banff - Vancouver

  Journey to the Clouds (Yellowhead) route:  Jasper - Vancouver

  Rainforest to Gold Rush (Fraser Discovery) route:  Whistler - Quesnell - Jasper

  Whistler Sea to Sky (Whistler Mountaineer):  Vancouver - Whistler

Other trains in Canada...

  VIA Rail's Canadian, (Montreal)-Toronto-Winnipeg-Jasper-Vancouver

  Other trains in Canada

Sponsored links...

 

Which route should you choose?

The Rocky Mountaineer runs on 3 different routes.  Independent travellers can buy one-way or return tickets in either direction between Vancouver & Banff, Calgary or Jasper.

  Pyramid Falls, seen on the Rocky Mountaineer Yellowhead route

Pyramid Falls, seen from the Yellowhead route between Jasper & Kamloops


Departure dates, timetables & fares...

Here's a summary of Rocky Mountaineer & Whistler Route departure dates, schedules & fares.  The prices may not be cheap, reflecting a 'unique travel experience' rather than regular 'A to B' transportation, but it's worth it for the scenery, the truly excellent on-board service and (especially in the case of the Kicking Horse route) the historical significance of the railway itself.  You can check these times & fares at www.rockymountaineer.com.

First Passage to the West  (Kicking Horse) route

 Vancouver ► Banff & Calgary

 

 Calgary & Banff ► Vancouver

Departs twice a week from late April to early October*

Departs twice a week from late April to early October*

Vancouver (Rocky Mountaineer terminal) boarding:

07:30  day 1

Calgary boarding:

06:15  day 1

Kamloops arrive (overnight hotel stop):

18:30  day 1

Banff boarding:

08:30  day 1

Kamloops depart :

06:30  day 2

Lake Louise boarding:

09:45  day 1

Lake Louise

19:30  day 2

Kamloops arrive (overnight hotel stop):

20:00  day 1

Banff arrive:

20:30  day 2

Kamloops depart:

07:30  day 2

Calgary arrive:

22:15  day 2

Vancouver (Rocky Mountaineer terminal) arrive:

18:30  day 2

* The day of the week varies, so always check departures with www.rockymountaineer.com for your dates of travel.

 Kicking Horse fares

In Red Leaf:

April-May 563.  June-Oct 810

In Silver Leaf:

April-May 910.  June-Oct 1,160

In Gold Leaf:

April-May 1,139.  June-Oct 1,440

Fares per person assuming 2 people travelling together, includes train travel, meals, 1 night in a hotel & motor coach transfers.  Solo travellers pay a single supplement, e.g. 563 becomes 615.

Journey Through the Clouds  (Yellowhead) route

 Vancouver ► Jasper

 

 Jasper ► Vancouver

Departs twice a week from late April to early October*

Departs twice a week from late April to early October*

Vancouver (Rocky Mountaineer terminal) boarding:

07:30  day 1

Jasper boarding:

08:15  day 1

Kamloops arrive (overnight hotel stop):

18:30  day 1

Kamloops arrive (overnight hotel stop):

18:00  day 1

Kamloops depart (next morning) :

07:45  day 2

Kamloops depart (next morning):

07:30  day 2

Jasper arrive:

19:00  day 2

Vancouver (Rocky Mountaineer terminal) arrive:

18:30  day 2

* The day of the week varies, so check departures with www.rockymountaineer.com for your dates of travel.

 Yellowhead fares

In Red Leaf:

April-May 563.  June-Oct 839

In Gold Leaf:

April-May 1,139.  June-Oct 1,730

Fares per person assuming 2 people travelling together, includes train travel, meals, 1 night in a hotel & motor coach transfers.  Solo travellers pay a single supplement, e.g. 563 becomes 615.

Rainforest to Goldrush  route

 Vancouver ► Jasper  (via Quesnel)

 

 Jasper ► Vancouver  (via Quesnel)

Departs most Mondays, May to late September

Departs most Wednesdays, May to late September

Whistler boarding:

07:15  day 1

Jasper boarding:

07:00  day 1

Quesnel arrive (overnight hotel stop):

20:30  day 1

Quesnel arrive (overnight hotel stop):

19:30  day 1

Quesnel depart (next morning) :

07:15  day 2

Quesnel depart (next morning):

07:15  day 2

Jasper arrive:

21:00  day 2

Whistler arrive:

20:30  day 2

 Rainforest to Goldrush fares

In Red Leaf:

May 563.  June-Sept 737

In Gold Leaf:

May 1,139.  June-Sept 1,340

Fares per person assuming 2 people travelling together, includes train travel, meals, 1 night in a hotel & motor coach transfers.  Solo travellers pay a single supplement, e.g. 563 becomes 615.

Whistler Sea to Sky Climb  (the Whistler Mountaineer)

You can check departure dates, times & fares at www.rockymountaineer.com.

 Vancouver ► Whistler

 

 Whistler ► Vancouver

Runs daily except Tue & Wed, mid-May to late Sept

Runs daily except Tue & Wed, mid-May to late Sept

Vancouver hotel pick-up by coach:

06:15-06:45

Coach transfer from Whistler hotels:

14:15-14:45

Vancouver (North) depart by train:

07:40

Whistler depart:

15:10

Whistler arrive by train:

11:30

Vancouver (North) arrive:

19:00

Coach transfer to Whistler village:

11:45-12:00

Coach transfer to Vancouver hotels

19:15-19:30

 Whistler Sea to Sky Climb fares

In Whistler Service:

113 one-way, 73 child (age 2-11)

180 round trip, 127 child (age 2-11)

In Whistler Dome Service:

200 one-way, 147 child (age 2-11)

267 round trip, 201 child (age 2-11)

Fares include the train, breakfast/afternoon tea & coach transfers.

How to buy tickets

For independent travellers, the best way to buy tickets is direct from Rocky Mountaineer, as follows.

Buy tickets online...

Buy tickets by phone...

Tailor-made tours & holidays including the Rocky Mountaineer...

A hassle-free option is to get reliable specialist agency Railbookers to arrange your trip, with Rocky Mountaineer and/or VIA Rail train bookings, hotels & transfers and (if necessary) flights all arranged for you in one place.  Tell them when and where you want to go, and they'll create the best rail holiday for you.

  UK call 020 3327 0761, www.railbookers.com

Call toll-free 1-800-408-3280 or www.us.railbookers.com.

  Australia call toll-free 1300 971 526, www.railbookers.com.au

  New Zealand call toll-free 0800 002 034 or see website

On board the Rocky Mountaineer

The Rocky Mountaineer offers two main classes of service, 'Red Leaf' and 'Gold Leaf'.  The Vancouver-Banff-Calgary route also offers a third class, 'Silver Leaf'.  This section explains the features of each class, and will help you choose.

Red Leaf service...

Rocky Mountaineer:  Red Leaf seating   Rocky Mountaineer Red Leaf cars boarding at Banff

Red Leaf seating in classic 1950s cars...

 

Red Leaf cars on the Rocky Mountaineer.

Red Leaf packed breakfast:  Yoghurt, ham croissant, muesli, fruit   Taking photos from the vestibule of a Red Leaf car.  

The light but good breakfast in Red Leaf...

 

The car vestibule is great for photography

Silver Leaf service...

Silver Leaf service was introduced in 2011, and it's only available on the Vancouver-Banff/Calgary 'First Passage to the West' route, only on some departures as an upgrade from Red Leaf service. Silver Leaf passengers travel in a single-deck dome car with huge panoramic windows.  The fare includes breakfast and lunch with complimentary beer or wine plus non-alcoholic drinks.

 

Silver Leaf dome cars.  The full panoramic dome treatment...

Gold Leaf service...

One of Rocky Mountaineer's double-deck Gold Leaf dome cars   Upstairs, Gold Leaf seating under the glass dome

Above:  Gold Leaf passengers travel in purpose-built double-deck dome cars.  Note the viewing platform downstairs at the right-hand end of the car.

 

Upstairs there are reclining seats under the glass roof.  This is the Fraser River canyon, between Kamloops & Vancouver, with the river right by the tracks.

Downstairs, at breakfast in the Gold Leaf restaurant   Gold Leaf breakfast

Downstairs, there's a 36-seat restaurant...

 

Cooked breakfast in Gold Leaf...

Downstairs at the rear is a viewing platform   Rocky Mountaineer Gold Leaf cars boarding at Banff

Downstairs at one end, an open-air viewing platform.

 

Gold Leaf passengers getting the red carpet treatment at Banff...

On board the Whistler Sea to Sky Climb

The Vancouver to Whistler train has two classes, Whistler Service & Whistler Dome Service.  Coach attendants maintain a live commentary and serve drinks and snacks included in the fare.  The key advantages of the 'dome' service apart from the big dome windows are that the breakfast is a hot cooked one, not a cold selection, and in the afternoon alcoholic drinks as well as soft drinks and tea and coffee are included in the fare.

Important travel tip:  Request a seat on the left hand side of the Whistler Mountaineer northbound, right hand side southbound, as this is where all the best scenery is!

Whistler service seating on the Vancouver-Whistler train   Whistler Service cars at Whistler station on the train from Vancouver

Whistler service seating.  A simple light cold breakfast (northbound) or afternoon tea (southbound) is served at your seat...

 

Whistler service cars arrived at Whistler.  These are classic 1950s ex-Canadian National cars.

Whistler Dome service  

Whistler Dome Service cars.  The full panoramic dome treatment.  A hot cooked breakfast is served on the northbound morning train, included in the fare, and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks are served on the southbound afternoon train...

Whistler Mountaineer vintage observation car, open to all passengers   Whistler service seating

All passengers can use this vintage observation car in the centre of the train.  Originally built in 1914, it was converted to an open-air observation car in 1955.

 

Another shot of Whistler Service seating...

What's the journey like?

This section gives you a flavour of what there is to see on each route.  The route guide in your Rocky Mountaineer newspaper on board the train lists these and other highlights, quoting the nearest milepost - the mileposts are black numbers on small white signs placed next to the track every mile.  The miles reset to zero at every railway divisional point.  Approximate times are used here to give you a better idea of the journey.

In this section:  First Passage to the West (Kicking Horse) route   Journey through the Clouds (Yellowhead) route   Rainforest to Gold rush route   Whistler Sea to Sky Climb route.

First Passage to the West (Kicking Horse): Calgary or Banff to Vancouver...

  Banff station

Banff station, built in 1910...

  Scenery soon after leaving Banff, along the Bow River

Scenery, soon after leaving Banff...

  The Rocky Mountaineer alongside the Bow River

Alongside the Bow River...

  Rocky Mountaineer at Morant's Curve near Lake Louise

Morant's curve, site of countless classic photos, usually taken in better weather!  In Gold Leaf, ask for a seat in the leading double-deck dome car, as you get great views through the front windows along the train...

  The Continental Divide

The continental Divide, boundary between Alberta & British Columbia...

  The famous Stoney Creek Bridge on the Canadian Pacific Railway

Crossing the famous Stoney Creek Bridge...

  Site of the Last Spike in 1885

Site of the Last Spike, 7 November 1885...

  Rocky Mountaineer passing Avalanche Alley next to the Fraser River

Avalanche Alley, along the Fraser River...

This is the most historic and arguably most scenic route operated by the Rocky Mountaineer.  It takes the original Canadian Pacific Railway through the Rockies, opened in 1885.  You can make the journey in either direction, between Vancouver and either Banff (a resort town in the Rockies) or Calgary (a major city just east of the Rockies).  This account assumes you travel westbound, and note that the departure times have changed slightly since I made this trip, with an earlier departure from Calgary & Banff..  From 2010, this route is marketed as "First Passage West".

----- day 2 -----


Journey through the Clouds (Yellowhead):  Jasper to Vancouver via Kamloops...

 

Jasper to Vancouver (Yellowhead)...

  Mount Robson

Mount Robson, seen from the train...

This train travels over the second trans-continental line built across Canada, the Canadian National route between Jasper (in Jasper National Park) and Vancouver, opened in 1917.    From 2010, this route is marketed as "Journey through the Clouds".

----- day 2 -----


 

Rainforest to Goldrush route...

  Scenery soon after leaving Whistler

The scenery soon after leaving Whistler...

  Rocky Mountaineer passing Anderson Lake

The Rocky Mountaineer on Anderson Lake...

  Seton Lake

The beautiful Seton Lake...

  Rocky Mountaineer climbing hard next to the Fraser Canyon

Climbing alongside the Fraser River canyon...

  Wooden footbridge, Quesnel

The world's longest wooden truss footbridge, Quesnel.

Rainforest to Goldrush: Whistler to Jasper via Quesnel

This is a less well-known but remarkable route, through the gold rush & timber country of the Cariboo.  Before 2010, this route was marketed as the 'Fraser Discovery' route.

----- day 2 -----


 

Whistler Sea to Sky Climb...

  Howe Sound, seen from the Whistler Mountaineer

Howe sound, seen from the Whistler Mountaineer...

  The Whistler Mountaineer in the canyon, living up to its name...

The Cheakamus canyon...

Whistler Sea to Sky Climb (Whistler Mountaineer): Vancouver to Whistler

This daily service is a little scenic gem, the most comfortable way to travel the 74 miles between Vancouver & Whistler.  Formerly known as the Whistler Mountaineer, it's now marketed as the Whistler Sea to Sky Climb.


Bear, bear, bear!

You may see ospreys, bald eagles and deer from the train, and if you're lucky maybe a bear or two.  There are two sorts of bear, black bears are more common, grizzly bears less so.  Keep your eyes peeled!  In Jasper, you'll see many elk just wandering about the outskirts of the town.  Below, the best bear sighting they've had for several years on the Rainforest to Goldrush route, approaching Jasper near Mt Robson.

Grizzly bear on the tracks!

The locomotive engineer radios the train attendants and the cry goes up, "Bear on the right, right next to the train".

  Bear seen from the Rocky Mountaineer

It's eating the grain dropped from a passing freight.  Our train stops, then draws slowly forward past the bear.  "It's a grizzly!"

 

The bear is oblivious to the train, but as the passengers in the open-air Gold Leaf viewing platform get within a few yards, it spots us and bounds off into the woods.


Trans-Canada tours by train...

  Railbookers.com

020 3327 0761 (UK)

1-800-408-3280 (USA)

1300 971 526 (Aus)

0800 002 034 (NZ)

  Great Rail Journeys

01904 527120 (UK)

  Raildiscoveries

01904 730727

Railbookers tailor-made tours & holidays by train...

Railbookers can tailor-make a trip across Canada by train, on whatever date you like, customising your choice of route and stopovers, arranging all train travel, flights & accommodation for you.

  UK call 020 3327 0761, www.railbookers.com

Call toll-free 1-800-408-3280 or www.us.railbookers.com.

  Australia call toll-free 1300 971 526, www.railbookers.com.au

  New Zealand call toll-free 0800 002 034 or see website.

Great Rail Journeys (www.greatrail.com)

If you prefer a top-end escorted tour, probably the best-known UK-based operator of escorted train tours worldwide is Great Rail Journeys.  They offer a classic Canada coast-to-coast tour from around 2,600 per person, with a range of departure dates every year.  The tour includes:

It's an escorted tour with fellow travellers and a professional tour guide.  Great Rail Journeys also offer rail-based holidays to other countries.  Check the tour details online, then call 01904 527120 to book or use the Great Rail Journeys online booking form.  Seat61 receives some commission to help support the site if you book your holiday through this link or phone number, so please mention seat 61 when you book.

Rail Discoveries, www.raildiscoveries.com, 01904 730 727...

Rail Discoveries offers train-based escorted tours to the Canadian Rockies & Vancouver.  Check details & prices at www.raildiscoveries.com and book online or call 01904 730 727.



Guidebooks & Timetables

Lonely Plant Canada - click to buy onlineRecommended guidebooks...

Paying for a guidebook may seem an unnecessary expense, but it's a tiny fraction of what you're spending on your whole trip.  You will see so much more, and know so much more about what you're looking at, if you have a decent guidebook.  For the independent traveller this means either the Lonely Planet or the Rough Guide.  Both guidebooks provide the same excellent level of practical information and historical background.

Buy Lonely Planet Canada from Amazon.co.uk 

Buy Rough Guide to Canada from Amazon.co.uk

Or buy direct from the Lonely Planet website, with shipping worldwide.

The Trans-Canada Rail Guide...

Trailblazer's Trans-Canada Rail Guide is well worth buying if you're planning a trans-Canada train trip.  It will help you plan your journey, and best of all it includes mile-by-mile lineside route guides showing what to see from the train on all the main VIA Rail & Rocky Mountaineer services.  Buy online from Amazon.co.uk.


Hotels & accommodation

Hotels in Vancouver, Banff, Calgary or Jasper...

A good guidebook like the Lonely Planet or Rough Guides will point you at some good hotels in each town or city when you get there.  Alternatively, you can pre-book hotels (budget, mid-range and upmarket) in almost any Canadian city through www.hotelscombined.com, just use the search box below.  It's the best hotel search system I've seen.  This is not a hotel booking website, but a free search tool which checks all the main hotel booking sites for you (AsiaRooms, Opodo, Expedia, Travelocity, LateRooms and many others) to find the cheapest hotel rates on the net.  Set up in 2005, it's an amazing system and probably the best place to start for booking any hotel online in any country, worldwide.

 

◄◄ Hotel search & price comparison.

www.hotelscombined.com checks all the main hotel booking sites at once to find the widest choice of hotels & the cheapest seller.  It was named as the World's Leading Hotel Comparison Site at the World Travel Awards 2013 and I highly recommend it, both to find hotels in even the smallest places and to check that another retailer isn't selling your hotel for less!

www.booking.com is my favourite booking site.  It's really clear and you can usually book with free cancellation and so confirm your accommodation at no risk months before train booking opens.

Personal recommendations...

The famous Royal York Hotel in Toronto is a classic, and so handy for train departures as it's across the road from the station!  It may be Can$260 per room, but it's well worth splashing out on if you can manage it.  Another highly-recommended classic is the Banff Springs Hotel in Banff from around Can$228 per night.  Both were originally built by the Canadian Pacific Railway, both are now run by Fairmont Hotels.


Flights...

Finding the cheapest flight...

Overland travel around Canada by train & bus is an essential part of the experience, so once there, don't cheat and fly, stay on the ground!  But a long-haul flight might be unavoidable to reach Canada in the first place.  To compare prices for flights to Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver, check Skyscanner.

skyscanner generic 728x90

Lounge passes...

Make the airport experience a little more bearable with a VIP lounge pass, it's not as expensive as you think!  See www.loungepass.com.


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