Rocky Mountaineer train journey

Rocky Mountaineer train journey

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rocky mountain
Travelling beside Shuswap Lake, BC. First Passage to the West route.

A train journey is a window to the world. Like the train across Canada, the Rocky Mountaineer train is a chance to gaze out the window of a train while it rumbles over bridges, winds around mountains and slithers through tunnels. 

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Canada’s Rocky Mountaineer train is an awesome two-day, 941km journey that starts or ends in either Banff, Calgary or Vancouver. It winds passed five mountain ranges, semi-arid desert and temperate rainforests. Bears and raptors can be found near rushing waters and in silent valleys.

rocky mountaineer train
Train approach on a bridge, Rainforest to Gold Rush.

Early Canadian Rockies adventurers who explored this majestic land had to scrounge for food and, at the end of the day, their cold bottoms were probably covered with saddle sores.

In the late 19th century, William Van Horne thought there was an easier way to savour the view.

Instrumental in building the trans Canada train, and a strong believer in tourism, he said, “If we can’t export the scenery, we’ll import the tourists.”

Rocky Mountaineer Train

Banff to Calgary

Large domed windows, GoldLeaf Service.
Large domed windows, GoldLeaf Service.

Nowadays, Rocky Mountaineer travellers view these incredible vistas encased in glass-domed luxury.

That sure beats a horse and wagon.

I advise taking this opulent ride westward from Banff rather than Calgary as it leaves later.

It gives me a chance to explore Banff the day before.

I visit the Banff Centre, a hub for artists, writers, musicians and culture.

The train still departs pretty early and even though I’m sleepy the smell of freshly baked pastries and coffee keeps me awake.

I’m glad I don’t nod off as we pass the charming old train station alongside Lake Louise where Dr. Zhivago was filmed. 

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Fraser Canyon, BC near North BendThe Rocky Mountaineer cruises at 48 to 56 kilometres per hour, the perfect speed to enjoy the jaw-dropping landscape and spot wildlife like elks grazing in the fields.

I notice a mama osprey snuggling on her nest to protect her eggs from the crisp air.

Clouds cling to the side of the peaks.  

When the Rocky Mountaineer emerges from one of the many spiral tunnels, eagles soar toward the peaks of the snowy mountains.

Inside the train, it is warm and cosy.

The staff educates us on the area’s history, geology, flora and fauna.

Rocky Mountaineer Train GoldLeaf service

Exceptional service, GoldLeaf dining room.
Exceptional service, GoldLeaf dining room.
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Alberta Pork Tenderloin, GoldLeaf Service.

Meals are cooked on board and for GoldLeaf passengers, they are served in the lower level dining car.

It’s such a treat to dine on eggs Benedict or eggs wrapped in smoked salmon with caviar cream sauce as Banff and Yoho national parks roll past.  

The highest point of the journey, the Continental Divide, is over 1,625 meters high.  

The water to the east of the Divide flows to the Atlantic, while rivers on its western side flow into the Pacific.

The ride continues up a steep grade and through spiral mountain tunnels until the Columbia River appears.

GoldLeaf coaches on the Journey through the Clouds route.
GoldLeaf coaches on the Journey through the Clouds route.
Friendly Rocky Mountaineer Host, SilverLeaf Service.
Friendly Rocky Mountaineer Host, SilverLeaf Service.

All of these scenes are fabulous photo opportunities and keen photographers literally hang over the side of the outdoor observation deck, even when it is windy and rainy.

The most important thing for photographers is to capture that perfect shot of winding track and wildlife like bears, mountain goats, bighorn sheep or deer.

Snow sheds (covered areas that protect trains from avalanches) are a popular subject for local Alberta-based photographers.

Kicking Horse Pass

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Kicking Horse Pass, BC. First Passage to the West route.

Another popular image is Kicking Horse Pass.

When the train emerges from the Upper Silo Tunnel (992 meters long), it spirals into the Kicking Horse Valley.

The barren shore of Kicking Horse Lake reveals bear tracks.

“Bear on the left,” shouts a passenger.

Everyone shifts to the left side of the train. It makes me wonder if this quick change in the train’s weight distribution could send it careening off the track. But all’s well as we whizz past the wildlife.  

rocky mountaineer train
Cheers, GoldLeaf Service. Photos: Rocky Mountaineer

The day dims and the Rocky Mountaineer train pulls into Kamloops station, its overnight stop.

At Two River Junction Dinner Theatre, passengers are treated to dinner and a production about Billy Miner, the “Gentleman Bandit.”

The famous train robber often hung out in Kamloops.

After a night’s sleep, we board the train again and, as we leave Kamloops, we learn that the cross-covered, Indian cemetery on the outskirts of town is corpseless.

The “First Nations” people (Indians) rejected missionary customs, snatched the bodies and secretly buried them according to their tradition.

Rocky Mountaineer Train in British Columbia

Black Canyon, near Ashcroft BC
Black Canyon, near Ashcroft BC

Some of the most stunning vistas on this journey are in British Columbia.

After Kamloops, vistas of soaring peaks, blue-hued glaciers and roaring waterfalls appear as the Rocky Mountaineer train navigates over bridges and through tunnels.

It weaves its way through Black, Thompson and Fraser Canyons and along the shores of the Thompson and Fraser rivers.

The nearly 34-meter wide Hell’s Gate Gorge boasts a thundering cascade. Nearly 3,785 cubic centimetres of water rumble down this the narrowest part of the Fraser River per minute. Concrete fish-ways slow the current for the upriver salmon run.

Bridge near Hells Gate
Bridge near Hells Gate

We pass the little town of Hope. “First Nations” shacks line the Fraser River shore. They use these huts to dry and smoke salmon.

As we get closer to Vancouver, there are more and more small villages and logging camps. Noise, traffic and huge cranes are a wake-up call that we have forsaken the wilderness and are entering the city.

“Still,” says passenger, Gary Slonim, “We’ve done a lot of rail travel including the Glacial Express. This is the best.”

All the train-travel junkies second that.

Discover Canada

Rocky Mountaineer two-day trips offer two classes of service. The domed GoldLeaf car (CA$2,299 at high season), and the economical RedLeaf which is more like a 1940s train experience with seat-side food service (CA$1699 at high season).

rocky mountaineer train journey

19 COMMENTS

  1. It has been so long since I have been on a train and this one looks heavenly! The views alone are enough to make me want to go but then that food! WOW! I am so glad I am going to Canada next year. It is such an underrated place to visit. Beautiful pictures too!

  2. I could not even imagine a train ride like this. The scenery is just magical. I would be in total awe the entire time and most likely zone out to the point that I might not even remember the ride.

  3. Could you imagine tumbling down the cliff because of a mistake or an accident on the tracks? Whew, that makes me sweat just thinking about it. On a side note, there is not much you can do in the instance, so you might as well enjoy the trip!

  4. You have quite the resume! I have been trying to get into travel photography over the last year and I know what goes into it. These images are what I envision taking and getting published. This post makes me want to look into a trip like this with my husband! Thanks!

    • Thanks. Actually, the images are not mine. Christina used stock photos for my story. Travel photography is a tough career to try and start, but if you are good and persevere, you will do fine. Good luck!

  5. I would absolutely love to go on this train journey – it looks like the trip of a lifetime. For me, the biggest thrill would be to see a bear since I’ve only ever seen them in zoos and never in the wild. I had no idea that Dr Zhivago was filmed in Canada but it certainly makes sense when you see all that stunning scenery. Do you have any photos of the rainforests or glaciers?

  6. Nice shots. After reading about it and seeing the amazing pictures I feel like this is going to be my next travel destination. Well, actually not destination but the mode to reach my destination. 🙂 Thanks.

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