Lonely Planet Destination Editor Melissa Yeager recently traveled on Rocky Mountaineer through the Canadian Rockies, from Vancouver to Jasper then on to Banff. Here, she shares some tips and insights for anyone planning a similar trip.

As an avid hiker and “outsidey not outdoorsy” person, I’ve long wanted to visit the Canadian Rockies especially places in Alberta, like Jasper and Banff

If you’ve also held that dream, chances are you’ve also envisioned traveling through it by train and staying in some of the photo-worthy cabins and resorts nestled near mountains and lakes.

Rocky Mountaineer is one of the companies offering train travel through this spectacular landscape, drawing visitors from Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Pairs of empty seats in a train carriage with a glass roof allowing the best view of the mountain scecnery
GoldLeaf service includes access to a domed top-deck viewing area © Melissa Yeager / Lonely Planet

The itinerary I joined, Journey through the Clouds, began with two days in Vancouver followed by our first day on the train to the small town of Kamloops. The second day we traveled to Jasper to spend the day before climbing onboard a bus to drive the spectacular Icefields Parkway to Banff, with stops at glaciers, waterfalls and lakes along the way. 

Here’s a peek at what I experienced to help you decide if it's the right trip for you. 

What’s a day on the train like? 

Overall, the train lives up to its luxury billing, though your experience will vary based on the level of service you select. Rocky Mountaineer breaks those into GoldLeaf (highest level of service) and SilverLeaf (still very nice, just a bit less space and no dining car). SilverLeaf service for this two-day route starts at $1,599 per person while the higher level GoldLeaf starts at $2300 per person. (The price depends on your dates of travel and rises based on extra days, types of hotels and tours you add to your itinerary.)

A waterfall at the side of the train tracks
Roll past waterfalls on Rocky Mountaineer's Canadian Rockies route © Melissa Yeager / Lonely Planet

I enjoyed GoldLeaf service on this trip, so my description is of that experience. If you want to learn what SilverLeaf service is like, read Lonely Planet Editor Alex Howard’s account of his Rocky Mountaineer trip from Moab to Denver

The GoldLeaf cars are remarkable because they are double decker: the upper level is where you can relax in spacious reclining chairs under a glass dome, and the bottom level has the dining car and an outdoor platform where you can stand and take photos or just enjoy the outdoors. There is an elevator for accessibility and two restrooms in the car.

A dining carriage table, with comfortable leather-covered benches
We took our meals in Rocky Mountaineer's elegant dining car © Melissa Yeager / Lonely Planet

Not long after I boarded, I entered the dining car for a fresh breakfast prepared by a team of chefs in the galley. Typically, half the train passengers enjoy coffee and pastries while the other dines, then swap places.

After breakfast, I returned upstairs to enjoy the scenery punctuated by fun facts from our host. The crew serves beverages (both alcoholic and non) and a nut mix between meals. 

The seats recline and are heated, which I appreciated on the first day when the rainy skies made the car a bit cooler than usual. There are power outlets at each section in case your device runs out of juice.

At lunchtime, the crew welcomes you back to the dining car for a freshly prepared meal and dessert. The ingredients are sourced from the local communities along the route. Some of the items are repeated between the two days, some are not. If you’re having trouble deciding, ask your host for advice. After lunch, it’s upstairs for more scenery, drinks and snacks, or have a read of the on-board newspaper that tells you all about the stops ahead. 

Lonely Planet editor Melissa Yeager reading the newspaper outlining the approaching scenic points. 
The onboard newspaper outlines the scenic points along the route © Melissa Yeager / Lonely Planet

By the way, Rocky Mountaineer uses Canadian National and CPKC tracks so, at times, the train will pause to wait for the other trains to pass. However, this may be the one train where you’ll be ok if it takes a bit longer than expected, not just because of the spectacular scenery, but also because the chefs will whip up another meal for you if the arrival time will pass dinnertime. On my trip, that included a plated cannelloni dinner that was served at our seats. 

Should I bring a book or something to entertain myself?

Yes, but don't bring a lot because you may not need it – nearly everything outside the window on this scenic train ride is worth gazing upon. When you approach a notable site, the tour guide announces it, and the train slows to a crawl so everyone can get their photos. You can enjoy the views from the comfort of your own seat or take a walk to the outdoor platform where you can see it all without the glass. My favorite part of the route was from Vancouver to Jasper, as the scenery got progressively more spectacular as we moved into the mountains.

A mountain viewed from within a carriage on a scenic train ride
There are impressive views of the Canadian Rockies from the train seats © Melissa Yeager / Lonely Planet

I brought my Kindle to read but never used it. It was more interesting to listen to a playlist on my iPhone and enjoy the scenery passing by. When we hit a delay, the hosts handed out playing cards. However, it seemed most people on the trip enjoyed viewing the scenery and talking to the other guests. 

An alpine lake surrounded by trees giving an almost perfect reflection of a distant mountain
Take in the stunning landscape from the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge in Jasper National Park © Melissa Yeager/Lonely Planet

Where did you stay? What were the hotels like?

On the Rocky Mountaineer, you don’t sleep on the train. Instead, each night includes a reservation at a hotel with porters delivering your luggage to your next stop. You walk into the room and your luggage is already waiting for you. All you need to take on the train is a small daypack of essentials and perhaps a camera, book, and in my case, a small watercolor set, which I did use on the journey.

My first two nights were at the Fairmont Waterfront, which as the name indicates, has impressive views of the waterfront. The cruise terminal is across the street and it’s a very walkable area. I had a wonderful walk back from Stanley Park to the hotel and also was able to duck out to art exhibits at the Vancouver Art Gallery and Bill Reid Gallery

My third day was my first on the train and it ended up in Kamloops. You’re here for just a short amount of time (dinner and sleep) so the stay at the Delta (Marriott Brand) hotel is comfortable with a location that's walkable to places to eat nearby.

The next (and final) day on the train ended in a cabin at the spectacular Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. This was my favorite of the properties I stayed at. As our bus pulled up to the entrance, we witnessed a grizzly bear and her albino cub hanging out by the small lake. I had two nights here and wish I had more to enjoy the serenity of the property as well as the heated pool, boathouse and spa.

Wooden cabins with large windows along a pathway
I spent two nights at the cabins of Jasper Park Lodge in Jasper National Park © Melissa Yeager / Lonely Planet

After a bus ride on the Icefields Parkway, my final night was spent at the Rimrock Resort in Banff. The resort has a spectacular view of the mountains and its famed sister property, the Fairmont Banff Springs. The gondola and hot springs (which are more like a heated pool) are a quick walk away. The property prides itself on its culinary offerings, and you can book a tasting at its acclaimed wine cellar through Open Table. 

The Rimrock was recently acquired by the owners of the Fairmont, so while the rooms are comfortable and give you amazing views of Banff, I expect to see the property announce a refresh that will match the ambiance of its natural surroundings in the coming months.

An elk: a large deer-like creature in woodland
Visitors can view wildlife from a safe distance on a wildlife bus tour in Jasper © Melissa Yeager / Lonely Planet

Favorite activity from the trip?

There is so much spectacular wildlife to observe – obviously from a safe distance! Thus, I really enjoyed the wildlife bus tour I experienced  in Jasper. You hop in a bus and a tour guide takes you around Jasper pointing out the different wildlife, educating you on each species as well as giving you safety advice. There’s also an opportunity to get out and walk the Maligne Canyon to see the waterfalls – a really incredible way to safely and accessibly see creatures, such as bears and elk, and learn about their seasonal habits. 

What were the handiest things you packed?

Comfortable, stretchy pants, my iPhone and a good playlist! Pro-tip: also put your iPhone charger in your daypack. You’ll take so many photos you may need to recharge at the charging stations at each seat. Also, some of the areas on the track do not have cell service, so set your phone to airplane mode to save your battery.

What do you wish you had packed?

A few people on the trip had Octogrips for their phones and I was intensely jealous. They attach to the back of your iPhone so you can stick it to the window. This will let you take photos while eliminating the glare reflecting off the windows. Plus, they’re handy to stick to other surfaces so you don’t drop your phone. 

A woman with a waterfall behind her: Melissa Yeager at Athabasca Falls
This train ride is a chance to slow down and enjoy nature © Melissa Yeager / Lonely Planet

Best tip for someone doing the same trip?

Just slow down and enjoy it. This is a great trip for those needing an accessible or multigenerational trip, but I think even those who are unable to sit still will find the train an enjoyable experience.

Pack comfortable pants and plan on wearing layers. With the top deck being nearly all glass, the temperature can be changeable depending on the weather. Bring your sunglasses as well for when it gets bright in the cabin.

Melissa traveled on the Journey through the Clouds route to Vancouver, Kamloops, Jasper and Banff on an invitation from Rocky Mountaineer. Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.

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