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

Good to go!  The Rocky Mountaineer set to leave Banff for Vancouver with the Man in Seat 61 on board...

Rocky Mountaineer:  Gold Leaf dome car

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

A traveller's guide to the Rocky Mountaineer...

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, dates, times, tickets.

  Which route should you choose?

  Vancouver - Kamloops - Banff

  Vancouver - Kamloops - Jasper

  Vancouver - Whistler - Quesnel - Jasper

  How to buy tickets

What's it like on board the trains?

  Rocky Mountaineer Silver Leaf Service

  Rocky Mountaineer Gold Leaf Service

  Virtual tour of the train

  Boarding in Vancouver

What's the journey like?

  First Passage to the West:  Banff - Vancouver

  Journey to the Clouds:  Jasper - Vancouver

  Rainforest to Gold Rush:  North Vancouver - Whistler - Quesnel - Jasper

Other trains in Canada...

  VIA Rail's Canadian, Toronto-Jasper-Vancouver

  Other trains in Canada


Which route to choose?

The Rocky Mountaineer runs on 3 main routes.  Independent travellers can buy one-way or return tickets in either direction between Vancouver & Banff or Jasper.  There's no real 'better' direction, as the trains are timed to do all scenic sections in daylight whether you go eastbound or westbound.

  Rocky Mountaineer route map

Red = Rocky Mountaineer

Dark Blue = VIA Rail

Light blue = Amtrak

K = Kamloops

  Pyramid Falls, seen on the Rocky Mountaineer Vancouver-Jasper route

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

Route map...

Rocky Mountaineer route map

Red = Rocky Mountaineer.   Dark Blue = VIA Rail

Light blue = Amtrak.   K = Kamloops

Departure dates, times & fares

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

First Passage to the West...

 Vancouver ► Banff

 

 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

 Banff boarding:

07:40  day 1

 Kamloops arrive:

18:30  day 1

 Lake Louise boarding:

09:00  day 1

------------ overnight hotel included -----------

 Kamloops arrive:

20:15  day 1

 Kamloops depart :

06:25  day 2

------------ overnight hotel included -----------

 Lake Louise

19:30  day 2

 Kamloops depart:

07:35  day 2

 Banff arrive:

20:30  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.

 Fares

 In Silver Leaf:

From $1,247 or 1,027 inc tax

 In Gold Leaf:

From $1,705 or 1,405 inc tax

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. 1,027 becomes 1,080.

Journey Through the Clouds...

 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:

18:30  day 1

 Kamloops arrive:

18:00  day 1

------------ overnight hotel included -----------

------------ overnight hotel included -----------

 Kamloops depart :

07:45  day 2

 Kamloops depart:

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.

 Fares

 In Silver Leaf:

From $1,247 or 1,027 inc tax

 In Gold Leaf:

From $1,705 or 1,405 inc tax

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. 1,027 becomes 1,080.

You can also travel between Vancouver & Jasper over the same route on VIA Rail's Canadian from just CAD156, about 91 or $120.

Rainforest to Goldrush...

 Vancouver ► Jasper  via Quesnel

 

 Jasper ► Vancouver  via Quesnel

 Departs most Fridays, May to early October

 Departs most Mondays, May to early October

 Collection from Vancouver hotels 06:14-06:45

 Jasper boarding:

07:00  day 1

 North Vancouver boarding

07:40  day 1

 Quesnel arrive:

19:30  day 1

 Whistler arrive

11:30  day 1

--------- overnight hotel included --------

--------- overnight hotel included --------

 Quesnel depart:

07:15  day 2

 Whistler boarding:

07:15  day 2

 Whistler arrive:

20:30  day 2

 Quesnel arrive:

20:30  day 2

 --------- overnight hotel included --------

 --------- overnight hotel included --------

 Whistler depart:

15:10  day 2

 Quesnel depart:

07:15  day 3

 North Vancouver arrive:

19:30  day 2

 Jasper arrive:

21:00  day 3

 Transfer to hotels:

20:30  day 2

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

 Fares

In Silver Leaf:

From $1,721 or 1,418 inc tax

In Gold Leaf:

From $2,337 or 1,926 inc tax

Fares per person assuming 2 people travelling together sharing one hotel room, includes train travel, meals, 1 night in a hotel & motor coach transfers. 

Solo travellers pay a single supplement, e.g. 1,418 becomes 1,535.

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How to buy tickets online

How to buy tickets by phone

Escorted tours across Canada by train...

Railbookers Rocky Mountaineer bookings

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What's the train like?

The Rocky Mountaineer offers two classes of service on each of its routes, Silver Leaf & Gold Leaf.

Which class to choose? 

The Man in Seat 61 says, "The Silver Leaf panorama cars are excellent, food & wine is included, and the scenery is exactly the same as you'd see in Gold Leaf.  The cost alone may decide for you, and you'll be very happy with your choice if you go Silver Leaf.  That said, there are three reasons to consider paying more for Gold Leaf:  First, you sit up high in the double-deck Gold Leaf cars, which can give you a better view over trees and so on.  Second, the food is more extensive, served in a restaurant rather than at your seat.  Third, there's an open air viewing platform, meaning reflection-free photos - for me the incident with the bear proved the value of that viewing platform, nothing between me and a grizzly..."  Take a virtual tour inside the Rocky Mountaineer.

Silver Leaf...

Silver Leaf service was introduced in 2011, and replaced the cheaper Red Leaf service on all routes from 2016.  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 and non-alcoholic drinks.

 

Silver Leaf panorama car boarding in Vancouver.  Click the images for larger photos.

  Silver Leaf food on Rocky Mountaineer

The spacious seats have drop down tables.  They are all arranged to face forwards..

Food service in Silver Leaf, several courses are served at your seat.  Courtesy of Tim Diggle.

Silver Leaf drinks service on Rocky Mountaineer  

Drinks service in Silver Leaf.  Drinks are complimentary.  Courtesy of Tim Diggle.

Silver Leaf car at Vancouver.  Note the difference in height with the adjacent Gold Leaf double-decker!

Gold Leaf...

 

Gold Leaf dome car, upstairs...  Upstairs there are 72 spacious and comfortable reclining seats.  The photo above right shows the latest leather interior.  Click the photos above for larger images.

  Gold Leaf seating forward view

The attendant works out of a serving area at the front, providing live commentary & refreshments...

 

Between meals upstairs you're plied with wine & snacks served at your seat...

Gold Leaf breakfast   The 36-seat Gold Leaf restaurant downstairs

Downstairs, there's a 36-seat restaurant for meals served in 2 sittings.  There's a small kitchen at one end of the car.  Above left, a cooked breakfast in Gold Leaf.

Downstairs at the rear is a viewing platform   Gold Leaf open air viewing platform

There's an open-air viewing platform downstairs at one end of each car.  You may even see a bear!  If there is a major reason for upgrading from Silver to Gold, this is it.

Take a virtual tour...

This excellent virtual tour by Willy Kaemena shows the train in its latest form, with its latest blue and gold colour scheme...

Click for virtual tour of the Rocky Mountaineer

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Boarding at Vancouver

If you travel from Vancouver towards Kamloops, Jasper or Banff, see location map of the Rocky Mountaineer Vancouver station.  It is located in a former goods yard a little way behind the main Vancouver Pacific Central station used by VIA & Amtrak.  When you arrive you'll find complimentary tea & coffee available, and a row of check-in desks for Silver and Gold Leaf.  Note that the Rainforest to Goldrush route via Qesnel leaves from North Vancouver station.

Rocky Mountaineer boarding at Vancouver

The Rocky Mountaineer, ready for boarding at Vancouver...

Inside the Rocky Mountaineer station in Vancouver   The Rocky Mountaineer station in Vancouver

Inside the terminal...

 

Taxis drop you here, at the front door...

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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 route   Journey through the Clouds route   Rainforest to Gold rush route

  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!  This shot was taken from the front seat in the leading double-deck dome car, I got 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

Craigellachie, site of the Last Spike, 7 November 1885...

  The Rocky Mountaineer stops overnight at Kamloops

Kamloops - overnight hotel stop...

  Rocky Mountaineer passing Avalanche Alley next to the Fraser River

Avalanche Alley, along the Fraser River...

  Rocky Mountaineer runs next to the Fraser River to Vancouver

Rapids on the Fraser River...

First Passage to the West:  Banff to Vancouver...

This is the most historic and arguably most scenic route operated by the Rocky Mountaineer, previously known as the Kicking Horse route.  It takes the original Canadian Pacific Railway through the Rockies, opened in 1885, indeed it is now the only passenger train operating over the original Canadian Pacific trans-continental line.  You can make the journey in either direction, between Vancouver and Banff, a resort town in the Rockies.  It no longer extends to or from the big city of Calgary.  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 Banff.

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

Banff - Vancouver in pictures...

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

Craigellachie, site of the Last Spike, 7 November 1885...

The Rocky Mountaineer stops overnight at Kamloops

Kamloops - overnight hotel stop...

Rocky Mountaineer passing Avalanche Alley next to the Fraser River

Avalanche Alley, along the Fraser River...

Rocky Mountaineer runs next to the Fraser River to Vancouver

Rapids on the Fraser River...

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Journey through the Clouds:  Jasper to Vancouver via Kamloops...

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.    Previously known as the Yellowhead route, but marketed from 2010 as the Journey through the Clouds.

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

Mount Robson

Mount Robson, seen from the train...

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  Howe Sound
 

Howe Sound, between North Vancouver & Whistler.

  Cheakamus Canyon
 

The Cheakamus Canyon, between North Vancouver & Whistler...

  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...

  Rocky Mountaineer climbing hard next to the Fraser Canyon

Crossing the Fraser River canyon...

  Wooden footbridge, Quesnel

The world's longest wooden truss footbridge, Quesnel.

  Wooden footbridge, Quesnel

Mountain scenery between Quesnel & Jasper.

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.  Until 2010 this route was marketed as the Fraser Discovery route and until 2015 it started at Whistler and you had to take Rocky Mountaineer's Sea to Sky Climb train between North Vancouver & Whistler, which was also useful for local journeys as it ran 5 times a week and could be used by people just going to Whistler.  Unfortunately, Rocky Mountaineer have discontinued their Vancouver-Whistler train, instead from 2016 the main Rainforest to Goldrush train will start from North Vancouver.

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

----- day 3 -----

Rainforest to Goldrush in pictures...

Howe Sound

Howe Sound, between North Vancouver & Whistler.

Cheakamus Canyon

The Cheakamus Canyon, between North Vancouver & Whistler...

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...

Rocky Mountaineer climbing hard next to the Fraser Canyon

Crossing the Fraser River canyon...

Wooden footbridge, Quesnel

The world's longest wooden truss footbridge, Quesnel.

Wooden footbridge, Quesnel

Mountain scenery between Quesnel & Jasper.

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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, bear, bear, right hand side, 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.

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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.

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Hotels & accommodation

Hotels in Vancouver, Banff 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 booking.com.

My favourite hotel search site: www.booking.com

www.booking.com is my favourite hotel booking site and I generally prefer booking my hotels all in one place here.  You can usually book with free cancellation - this allows you to confirm your accommodation at no risk before train booking opens.  It also means you can hold accommodation while you finalise your itinerary, and alter your plans as they evolve - a feature I use all the time when putting a trip together.  I never book hotels non-refundably.  I have also come to trust their review scores - you won't be disappointed with anything over 8.0.

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.

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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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