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A Local’s Guide to the Epic Rocky Mountaineer Rail Journey

You’ve heard about Rocky Mountaineer’s train journeys and want to learn more, or you’ve booked your epic Rocky Mountaineer adventure and are now wondering what your next steps are… Keep reading. I’ve got you covered! Now, you can hear from a local about my experiences on Rocky Mountaineer.

Rocky Mountaineer has been in business for over 30 years and has just been voted the second overall “Top Train” for the Condé Nast Traveler Readers Choice Awards 2021! Congratulations!

I’ve lived in British Columbia all my life and driven the routes that Rocky Mountaineer travels, but there is nothing like travelling by luxury train and allowing yourself to relax and simply enjoy and appreciate the spectacular views.

Rocky Mountaineer, Castle Mountain
Photo by: Rocky Mountaineer

I have travelled on Rocky Mountaineer three times, the first time from Vancouver to Banff, the second time from Vancouver to Jasper, and most recently from Denver to Moab — the newest route. I’ve been asked several questions about the experiences, so I’m putting everything you need to know into this post. If you have more questions, please message me or comment below, and I’ll answer them.

Table of Contents

What Rocky Mountaineer Route Should I Choose?

This is a challenging question because all routes offer different scenic views and the same fabulous onboard services and are available east and west-bound on each route. I have been on three of the routes: Journey Through the Clouds (Vancouver to Jasper, Canada), First Passage to the West (Vancouver to Banff, Canada), and Rockies to the Red Rocks (Denver to Moab, USA). Of the three, my favourite is Vancouver to Banff because of the Spiral Tunnel and the stunning mountain views through the GoldLeaf dome roof. You can’t go wrong with any of the routes, but that is my favourite so far.

What Should I Bring on My Rocky Mountaineer Trip?

Rocky Mountaineer is a different kind of train journey than you may expect. You’ll want to bring clothing for different kinds of weather, from rainy, sunny and warm to snowy, depending on what time of year you’re travelling. If it’s closer to the end of the season, September or early October, you may encounter snow in Jasper, Banff, or Denver (depending on your route). Kamloops is typically windy and warm, but it is a semi-arid desert, so it’s quite warm in the summertime! Vancouver can be sunny or rainy, so you’ll want a waterproof jacket and hat. Most hotels supply umbrellas you can borrow if you leave yours at home.

When you leave your hotel on the first day, and I’ll use the Vancouver to Jasper route as an example, you will say “see ya later” to your suitcase as it will be trucked to Kamloops and be waiting for you in your hotel room when you arrive. Bring a bag or backpack on the train with anything you need during the day, including any medication. You’ll also want your camera or phone on the train for those epic photos. If you feel you’ll be a little chilly, bring a lap blanket or an extra sweater, though if you’re in GoldLeaf Service, your recliner has heat controls that you can adjust as needed. Rocky Mountaineer has some lap blankets you can use if you don’t bring your own.

What is the Best Time of the Year to Take Rocky Mountaineer?

Rocky Mountaineer train journeys run from mid-April to mid-October, weather permitting. There is never a bad time to take the train, but May, June, and September are my favourite months. The past few years, we’ve had devastating forest fires in British Columbia, and July and August were very smoky. If this doesn’t bother you, that is an option, as there will be only a part of your journey where you will experience the smoke. It’s hard to guess if/when this will happen again, so it’s your choice. Travelling during my favourite months, you’ll encounter fewer tourists in Jasper and Banff National Parks and may have more success exploring these epic locations.

Do You Sleep on the Rocky Mountaineer Train?

The train operates during the day, so you don’t miss any sights. Midpoint, you will stay in a hotel overnight, then return on the train early the next day. You won’t want to nap on the train and miss any sights, but you will be seated in a recliner, so feel free to catnap if you choose!

What are Rocky Mountaineer’s Health and Safety Procedures Regarding COVID-19 and Other Viruses?

A few weeks ago, I was very impressed with the protocols on my Rocky Mountaineer journey. Every passenger was required to do a rapid COVID test the evening before travelling, which was painless, and I received my results within 15 minutes. I felt safe knowing everyone on the train, including the Rocky Mountaineer host team, tested negative.

As part of Rocky Mountaineer’s “Travel with Confidence” program, they ensure that all government standards are adhered to, and I felt very comfortable on my journey. Save this page and check back for updates on the Travel with Confidence program with the link above, as the regulations are always changing.

At this time, everyone travelling on Rocky Mountaineer must provide proof of vaccination, complete a health check questionnaire, a rapid screening test for COVID-19, and provide information for contact tracing. If you’re on the Circle Journey, you’ll complete a rapid screening test at the beginning of both routes. You must wear a face mask covering your nose and mouth whenever you move on the train. When you’re seated, you don’t have to wear one. The air in the train coach is refreshed every 3.5 minutes and eliminates 99.9% of airborne particles; fresh water and soap are in the washroom, plus supplied hand sanitizer. All high-touch areas are sanitized throughout the day, and your chair and tray table are sanitized each morning before you board.

Mobility issues are not a problem on Rocky Mountaineer. For those who have difficulty using the stairs, there is a lift on GoldLeaf Service coaches, and both SilverLeaf and GoldLeaf coaches have hydraulic lifts to transfer people onto the train. Make sure to mention this need when you’re booking.

What’s the Difference Between SilverLeaf and GoldLeaf Services?

Rocky Mountaineer offers two service levels on the Canadian trains and one on the US route due to height restrictions along the route.

SilverLeaf Service gives you full windows but no overhead dome for viewing, and you stay in your seat for the journey, including meals.

GoldLeaf Service gives you the stunning panoramic domed roof and a separate dining level below with more dining choices than SilverLeaf, plus an outdoor viewing platform that fits approximately five people standing side-by-side against the railing (for best photo ops) on each side.

On the US route, only SilverLeaf and SilverLeaf Plus are available. The difference is that SilverLeaf Plus guests can enjoy a separate lounge car instead of staying in their assigned seat for the entire journey. You can read more details about the US route in my article here.

Rocky Mountaineer GoldLeaf Service
GoldLeaf Service
Rocky Mountaineer SilverLeaf Service
SilverLeaf Service

How Much Do You Tip for Rocky Mountaineer?

Tipping in North America is typically given to those in the service industry (tour guides, motorcoach drivers, host steam on the train). It is not included in your Rocky Mountaineer train journey package. Gratuities are at your discretion if you choose to give them.

Rocky Mountaineer suggests:

  • Gratuities for sightseeing tour drivers are not included on the Canadian rail routes. We suggest a gratuity of $5 CAD per person per day.
  • For the US rail route, gratuities for sightseeing tour drivers are included in your package. However, gratuities are not included for motorcoach drivers providing transfers to/from Las Vegas or Salt Lake City and Moab or to/from Moab and the train siding. We suggest the following:
  • Train siding transfer to/from Moab: $2 USD per person
  • Salt Lake City to/from Moab: $10 USD per person
  • Las Vegas to/from Moab: $15 USD per person

Where Should I Stay Before and After My Rail Journey?

For those beginning your journey in Vancouver, the perfect place to stay is at Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre. This is the main location for checking in on your journey and completing your COVID testing. It is also a great location for exploring downtown Vancouver the evening before your journey.

If your trip ends in Jasper, I recommend staying at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge or something a bit less expensive, The Crimson, within walking distance of downtown Jasper.

Elk at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge
Crimson Hotel, Jasper National Park Alberta

For those ending their journey in Banff, there are many accommodation choices. Downtown locations with easy walking access to shopping and restaurants are Mount Royal and Elk & Avenue.

For higher-end hotels, Fairmont Banff Springs and Rimrock are two great choices.

For accommodation options on the US route, read my detailed article here.

What is There to Do in Banff and Jasper if I Stay Longer?

It’s a good thing you asked. If you want to spend some time in these national parks, there are many things to do in Banff and Jasper.

Jasper – One thing you must do in Jasper is go on a Maligne Lake boat cruise to Spirit Island. You can only get to this island by boat (tour, canoe or kayak). It will take you all day by canoe or kayak, so I recommend the boat tour. I have a video on my favourite things in Jasper. You can read more about my favourite spots here.

Banff—The highlights of Banff are riding the Banff Gondola to Sulphur Mountain and having dinner at Sky Bistro, touring Banff by a replica vintage 1930s coach, and taking a Lake Minnewanka cruise. In my Western Canada itinerary, you can read more about my favourite things to do in Banff.

In Conclusion

I tried to cover as much as possible about the three Rocky Mountaineer routes I’ve been on. Please comment below or message me and ask if you have more questions.

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