Epic train journey on the Rocky Mountaineer


Arrival in Vancouver

The Vancouver skyline loomed large in the distance as I gazed out the window. My journey on board the Rocky Mountaineer train from Jasper was nearing its end. As the wheels of the train clanged and hissed on the approach into Vancouver station, my thoughts drifted to my experience on board over the past two days. The first word that came to mind was ‘epic’. I thought about the 900km-journey across the Canadian Rockies and along the Fraser River and I nodded silently. Yes, ‘epic’ was the perfect adjective.

There are many train journeys around the world that can be considered epic. The Trans-Siberian, the Blue Train, the Orient Express and the El Transcantabrico are famous examples. What makes the Rocky Mountaineer epic is the seamless combination of spectacular scenery with excellent service, comfort and mouthwatering cuisine. Delve deeper into the history of the Canadian railways, the ingenuity of the engineers who designed the routes and the livelihoods of the people who built the tracks, and the word ‘epic’ crops up again.

Crossing the Rockies on the Rocky Mountaineer train

My journey on the Rocky Mountaineer began in the lovely town of Jasper. The train pulled into the station in the wee hours of the morning. It was cold and drizzly but even that failed to dampen the spirit of the passengers who crowded the platform. The excitement was almost tangible as the train crew opened the doors and rolled out the carpets.


The train rolls into Jasper station at dawn

The Rocky Mountaineer has three levels of service: Red Leaf, Silver Leaf and Gold Leaf. I was invited to experience the luxurious Gold Leaf service which included a plush seat in the double-level, glass-domed coach and gourmet meals served in the chic dining room.


Welcome aboard!

I scrambled onto the train and up the spiral staircase to the upper level in great anticipation to find a spacious coach with massive dome windows. The seats were large, comfortable and reclinable. Refreshments were served right after everyone was settled in their seats and this was followed by a safety demonstration.


Safety first!

Discover the majestic Rockies on this 13-day tour including the Rocky Mountaineer from Vancouver to Vancouver, or this 8-day tour from Vancouver to Calgary with the Rocky Mountaineer.

Bewildering scenery in the Canadian Rockies

The train pulled out from the station just as the sun’s rays illuminated the mountain tops. As the sun rose higher, the fall colours of the forests we passed came to life. The tracks led us past gushing rivers, snowcapped peaks, lush green pastures and mile after mile of gorgeous trees. The scenery was simply bewildering.


The sun illuminated the magnificent fall colours


We passed towering trees and mountains

As we passed Mt. Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, the train slowed down, allowing passengers to make their way to the open observation area at the rear of the coach to take some pictures – I spent a lot of my time here, enjoying the cold wind in my face and the sounds of the train, and immersing myself in the scenery.


The train slowed down for amazing views of Mt. Robson

Gourmet cuisine on board

We were invited to the cosy dining room for our meals. The crew greeted us with a warm smile and presented us a menu at each meal. The first thing that caught my eye was the chef’s focus on showcasing local ingredients from Alberta and British Columbia. Top marks for that! The second thing: the refinement and blending of these local ingredients by the Executive Chef Frédéric Couton to create attractive meals that easily fit the gourmet bill. Needless to say, the meals, from the scrumptious scrambled eggs with smoked steel head salmon to the gorgeous slow-cooked Alberta short ribs, were a true delight. Combine that with the generous servings of premier Canadian wines and the panoramic vistas and what you get is an epic train ride!


Gorgeous wines and stunning vistas!


Service with a big smile


Scrumptious cuisine

Overnight accommodation

The Gold Leaf service also includes an overnight stay in Kamloops or Quesnel in a deluxe hotel (other hotels are arranged for the Silver Leaf and Red Leaf service levels). There are no sleeping facilities on board so everyone disembarks for a one night stay in a hotel. I saw this as a less-appealing factor of the Rocky Mountaineer – I personally prefer the romance of sleeping in my own cabin in a luxury train. However, the Rocky Mountaineer staff ensured a smooth passage for all guests from the train to the hotels and back to the train the following morning. Gold Leaf guests didn’t have to lift a finger – my bag stood there waiting for me when I entered my room.

We were greeted by a dramatic sunset as we arrived in the desert town of Kamloops – yes, you read it right! Kamloops is a town in the middle of a stunning desert region. As we departed the following morning, I set aside my romantic ideas and appreciated the fact that I had an evening to stretch my legs and see a bit of the town. On another note, if you’re looking for a great place for cocktails and dinner, head over to Hoodoos at the Sun Rivers golf resort. I had some of the best tortilla chips (ever) paired with a gorgeous crab-artichoke-spinach dip, and the steak was superb!


A dramatic sunset in Kamloops, British Columbia

A change of scenery

I thought, rather naïvely, that the most spectacular scenery was behind us (on our passage across the Rockies) but as we left Kamloops, I found myself quickly doubting that idea. The scenery was very different but no less spectacular. Whereas the first day through the Rockies was full of lush greenery, aquamarine lakes and stunning peaks, the second day was full of dramatic canyons and barren, shrubby landscapes.


Chugging along the Thomson River

The route took us along the emerald waters of the Thomson River. The highlight of this stretch was without any doubt the passage through the Avalanche Alley.


The tunnels of Avalanche Alley

The train slowed down at the confluence of the Thomson and the Fraser rivers, providing us with a great view of the merging colours of the rivers: the emerald Thomson River and the greyish brown Fraser River.


The confluence of the Thomson and Fraser Rivers

From this point, we followed the course of the Fraser River, crossing the river at one point before continuing towards the forest-clad slopes of the Coastal Mountains and leaving the arid Thomson River basin behind us.


Crossing the Fraser River

As I feasted on yet another superb meal (those tiger prawns in a bouillabaisse broth were sublime!), I noticed the scenery becoming greener and the fall colours we’d seen in the Rockies the day before reappear, a sure sign that we were nearing the wet, Pacific coast.


A sublime tiger prawn lunch…


…paired with gorgeous vino served with grace…


…and stunning views of the Fraser River!

The train jerked to a stop, catapulting my thoughts back to the present. Outside, a sign read “Welcome to Vancouver”. I grabbed my bag and slowly made my way down to the platform, savouring my last moments on the Rocky Mountaineer train. I paused to thank the crew for the excellent service and for taking such great care of me. I turned around for one last look at the gleaming train. Yes, ‘epic’ it certainly was!

Read about things to do in Vancouver or my recommended restaurants in downtown Vancouver.


Note: a big thank you goes to the Rocky Mountaineer for your wonderful hospitality. Though I was an invited guest on board, all views are seriously mine.

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28 Responses to “Epic train journey on the Rocky Mountaineer”

  1. Sandra 17/07/2019 8:30 am

    We’ve done the entire trip from Kamloops to Halifax and by regular train, sleeping in a small cabinette – not through the mountaineer which is extremely expensive!! Also the return trip by Via! Best trip of my life. This was 7years ago and Via Rail had some good specials then

  2. Keith Jenkins 21/11/2017 2:01 pm

    Hi Janna,

    I thought it was a good deal. You can always inform them of any food requirements beforehand.


  3. Janna 18/11/2017 1:54 pm

    Is gold leaf deluxe service worth the money. We do not eat seafood are there other offerings?

  4. Keith Jenkins 02/03/2016 1:46 am

    Hi Tina, thanks for your comment. Sorry to hear about that rude experience with the waiter. It truly is a beautiful trip through the Rockies though!


  5. Tina 01/03/2016 2:28 am

    Went on the tour with my husband as we are from New Zealand and it was spectacular! As we come from a country that is chocolate box beautiful it is hard to find a place that comperes, but this was spectacularly close! Only upset was the train broke down half way and we were stuck for 4 hours in the middle of nowhere and were offered a free alcoholic drink! It was marred by our waiter who constantly whined that he expected a big tip on the way out. He tried to charge us for the glass of wine we both enjoyed and only when my husband spoke up he nastily took it off our bill! Needless to say his stipend went on a fine dining experience in Vancouver and much enjoyed! Love Canada and its people, very friendly and an amazing experience. We hope to come back soon as we have a wedding to attend!

  6. Keith Jenkins 15/07/2015 11:28 am

    Hi Terry,
    The Gold Leaf is the best way to go on the Rocky Mountaineer. The glass domed coaches offer spectacular views and are very comfortable, as are the elegant dining areas. Furthermore, you stay at better hotels along the way.


  7. Terry Bailey 11/07/2015 11:03 am

    Hi im doing the Indian Pacific between Sydney and Perth this August and are considering doing the rocky mountaineer next July – August. I want to go gold class like my Indian Pacific trip in July. I have hear that gold class is expensive but I dont mind paying the extra money because after all it is on my bucket list. If anyone has done this please let me know ypur reviews. Thanks very much regards Terry Bailey

  8. American Lifestyle & Travel 12/03/2012 8:47 am

    This sounds like a really interesting train journey. I’ve always driven this route either in a bus or by car, but have seen the rails across the rivers and wondered what such a trip would be like. You really have whetted my appetite, Keith. I may take you up on your recommendation and do this trip in the future.

  9. Kae Lani | A Travel Broad 11/03/2012 9:10 pm

    It’s so great to see people appreciating trains! Not only are they a great form of transportation, but it’s also a unique traveling experience. Planes will get you there quickly, but trains allow you to experience everything as you saunter by. Nice post! I want to sit in the car with all the windows!

  10. velvet 16/01/2012 11:09 am

    Hi Linda,
    Thanks so much for your lovely comment. The Red Leaf service level is affordable but I recommend to anyone planning to do this trip – it’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime trip so you might as well do it right – to pay more and go for the Gold Leaf service. Or you can travel vicariously with me. Hehe! 😉


  11. velvet 16/01/2012 11:06 am

    Thanks Christina!


  12. Marie-Julie 16/01/2012 2:29 am

    Love it! And your pictures are beautiful!

  13. Christina (Jandal Road) 15/01/2012 9:48 pm

    I don’t have a bucket list, but if I had one this would be my number one item. Thank you for sharing your views, but especially the one from the panorama dome windows! I have a love affair with Vancouver, so I am sure one day I’ll make my way towards it on the Rocky Mountaineer!

  14. Linda 15/01/2012 11:52 am

    You have no idea how this affected me. Whilst I am open to absolutely any kind of travel, train travel is the real love of my life, though it is way beyond my budget these days. I did do the Orient Express in the 80s, just after they relaunched it, and it remains one of the more treasured experiences of my lifetime. Especially I’ve always wanted to travel across North America by train. I could almost cry, reading this! Travelling vicariously with you is the next best thing to actually doing it!

  15. John 14/01/2012 2:10 pm

    Keith, that journey is certainly one of the top tier train journeys in the world. I won’t ask the price because I know I couldn’t afford it, but to a luxury traveller this must heaven.

  16. velvet 12/01/2012 11:30 pm

    Hi N&S,
    Thanks for your lovely comment. I did this trip last fall. The colours were amazing!


  17. Alison 12/01/2012 9:20 pm

    This trip sounds like it was amazing inside and out. All that amazing hospitality along with those spectactular views must have been a great experience! I’m travelling around Canada for six months from this May, but not sure my budget would stretch to this. Might be able to enjoy the views, but it would most likely be on the Greyhound 🙂

  18. Yes, this is a world famous and epic vacation idea! Love your description as usual, and love the pics of the delicious food. Keith, when did you do that?

  19. velvet 12/01/2012 10:08 am

    Hi VM,
    That’s on my list. I spoke to several people about VIA Rail’s cross-country service and they loved it. They didn’t get much sleep though as it was quite noisy – the train travels throughout the night. In that sense, it’s a different product than the Rocky Mountaineer (stops overnight and guests stay at hotels) or the Transcantabrico Gran Lujo (stops overnight and guests stay in their suites on board).


  20. gunawan 12/01/2012 2:39 am

    Stunning mountain sight. Hope to be sipping wine on that train someday.

  21. Dean 12/01/2012 1:24 am

    Looks like a lovely train and the scenery is amazing!

  22. Jim @NeverStopTraveling 11/01/2012 10:18 pm

    Smoked steel head salmon and Alberta short ribs? I’d take this trip just for the food!

  23. Freddie McMillian 11/01/2012 9:24 pm

    This is beautiful. I’m interested in the trip on this train how do I go about planing a tour.

  24. Vera Marie Badertscher 11/01/2012 7:37 pm

    Keith are you tempted to take the entire East to West route across Canada? Or would that be too much train?


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