The Best Way to Explore Canada This Summer? Take the Rocky Mountaineer Train

All aboard!

All aboard!

As the train rounds the bend, Canada’s most prominent mountain appears out of nowhere.

I’m outside on the train’s open-air vestibule when Mount Robson suddenly pokes its craggy face from the clouds. A snowy peak rising like a church steeple, it’s a stunning but rare view of this finicky mountain.

“We’re not allowed to do this, but I can’t resist,” says a train attendant, snapping photos with his iPhone. “I’ve never seen Robson like that.”

A million dollar view of Mount Robson, Canada's highest peak, taken from the Rocky Mountaineer's outdoor vestible

A million dollar view of Mount Robson, the Canadian Rockies’ highest peak, taken from the Rocky Mountaineer’s outdoor vestible

When the staff are excited, it must mean something. But such a spectacle is just one of the many marvellous sights on the Rocky Mountaineer, a rail journey through Western Canada that National Geographic has declared one of the “World’s Greatest Trips.”

Rocky Mountaineer outdoor vestibleToo often, rail travel gets labelled as the vehicle of the unadventurous traveller. But the truth is, there’s no better way to see Western Canada than by riding the Rocky Mountaineer, the only passenger-based train permitted to use the Canadian National Railway. I actually found it difficult to write this article, because words and pictures can’t express how thrilling my experience was as a passenger. You just have to do it to understand, to feel the excitement in your bones (and decadent cuisine in your belly…oh my dayum!).

So before you dismiss rail riding, here are five reasons to travel by train across Western Canada:

It’s a museum on wheels

Rocky Mountaineer bridgeAs the train glides along the track, remember that you’re riding a piece of living history. The Rocky Mountaineer operates routes along the Canadian Pacific and National Railways – two routes built at the turn of the century to connect the newly founded nation called “Canada.”

Rocky Mountaineer tipisAs the train whooshes past glaciers, canyons, and turquoise waters, I listen to tales of Indigenous communities who have lived on this land for thousands of years; early fur traders, gold prospectors and European explorers who attempted to scale the mountain passes; as well as the plight of Asian labourers who risked their lives to construct the railway for abysmal wages. It’s one way to sink your teeth into Canadian history.

Boldly go where few have gone before

Rocky Mountaineer Pyramid Falls 2

The spectacular but hard to reach Pyramid Falls, one of the many marvellous sights on the Rocky Mountaineer

Soon after the Mount Robson spectacle, the train begins to creep along the tracks. A voice crackles over the intercom.

“Ladies and gents, we’re approaching Pyramid Falls,” says the attendant. “Trust me – you don’t want to miss this one.”

I dart downstairs onto the outdoor vestibule. The train gradually grinds to a stop in front of the cascading waters of Pyramid Falls. From the platform, I can feel the mist and little droplets land on my camera lens.

Rocky Mountaineer Pyramid Falls 1We’re that close. Normally, seeing this waterfall is near impossible, with most tourists settling for long distance views from across the river. But riding the rails, I get a backstage pass to this iconic Canadian landmark. It’s one of many sights that’s usually off-limits to tourists, but accessible by rail.

Enjoy a five-star “moveable” feast

Breakfast is served

Breakfast is served

If there’s one reason to board the Rocky Mountaineer, it’s for the food. Despite working on a “moving platform,” Executive Chef Jean Pierre Guerin somehow runs a five star kitchen.

The feeding frenzy starts almost immediately. While half the car feasts in the dining room, cinnamon scones and hot drinks are served upstairs as a “pre-breakfast snack.” Warm dough crumbling in my mouth, I curse that I didn’t wear stretchy pants.

“No one goes hungry on our watch!” jokes the staff.

Warm cinnamon scones with hot drinks start the day

Warm cinnamon scones with hot drinks start the day

No kidding. Each day brings two gourmet meals – along with wine, cheese, and tasty snacks in between – all made with fresh, local ingredients sourced from British Columbia and Alberta. Each season, the kitchen uses 1,500 kgs of Canadian white cheddar and 450kgs of smoked salmon. At lunch, I study the menu, debating the Alberta prime beef, wild Pacific salmon marinated in maple sugar, or stuffed chicken.

Rocky Mountaineer food

Photo Credit: Rocky Mountaineer

“Our biggest seller is the short ribs,” says Chef Jean Pierre. “They’re braised in red wine for twelve hours.”

Microwaved meals are outlawed on the Rocky Mountaineer. Instead, the kitchen prepares meals from scratch, starting at 5:00 in the morning with freshly baked croissants and pastries. It’s basically a Michelin-star restaurant on wheels.

“Calorie counting? We don’t do much of that,” says Chef Jean Pierre. “It’s a feast.”

Go on safari…by rail

Rocky Mountaineer deer

I’m dozing off, when a yelp rouses me from my post-lunch slumber.

“Eagle!” screeches a passenger. “Right above! Look!”

Just like that, naptime is over. Passengers jump from their seats and start snapping photos. I look up and see a bald eagle proudly soaring above – so close that I can see his clenched talons.

“That’s a teen eagle, folks,” says the attendant. “He hasn’t reached his full size just yet.”

One of the many bald eagles spotted on the rail journey

One of the many bald eagles spotted on the rail journey

The train slows down so we can snap a few photos. Such a sight is only possible because of the glass domed coach – it has floor to ceiling windows that are scrubbed spotless every night and yield 360 degree panoramic views.

In Gold Leaf class, passengers get stellar views with the glass domed coach

In Gold Leaf class, passengers get stellar views with the glass domed coach

“We have an ear piece hooked up to the conductor,” explains our attendant. “Whatever he sees on the track, he tells us right away. So don’t be started if we suddenly shout out, bear to the left!”

Riding the Rocky Mountaineer is like going on safari. The train stealthily weaves through forests and mountains, revealing grizzlies fishing in the river, or elk or bighorn sheep grazing on the slopes. A few passengers have even claimed to spot (but not photograph) sasquatch (!)

You can get out and explore Western Canada

Jasper CanadaThere are no crammed sleepers on the Rocky Mountaineer. Instead, the train disembarks in idyllic mountain towns, such as Banff, Jasper, and Kamloops, allowing us to sleep into a hotel and explore the incredible surroundings.

In Jasper National Park, join a Walks and Talks guided hike to the spectacular Mount Edith Cavell Meadows. The trail offers a smorgasbord of wildlife spotting opportunities, as well as gobsmacking views of the Angel Glacier and the Ghost Glacier – a small blue-ice glacier on the mountain that collapsed due to global warming. After such an active day, treat yourself to a leisurely soak at Miette Hot Springs or a foamy pint at the Jasper Brew Pub & Eatery.

IF YOU GO

Photo Credit: Rocky Mountaineer

Photo Credit: Rocky Mountaineer

The Rocky Mountaineer has points of departure from Seattle, Vancouver, Banff, and Jasper. The season operates from May to October, and journeys span from two to nine days. Prices vary, and all information about booking can be found on the Rocky Mountaineer’s website.

The writer was a guest of the Rocky Mountaineer. The company did not review or approve this article.

Comments

  1. Karen kowieski says

    Please send me more information on this trip I have been looking for a trip like this!; thank you karen

  2. Madeleine Morin says

    Je désire des informations pour le voyage
    Traverser le Canada en train. Ou s’adresser le les
    prix. Merci

  3. Lynne Fedor says

    Thank you for all your info. We are in our late 70 s with a few health issues, but this is on our bucket list. We have info from Rocky Mountaineer and are trying to make the decision between Goldleaf or Silver Leaf. If we go gold we would have to take a shorter trip but wonder if we chose Silver will we be disappointed in not being in domed car. Silver LeF has panoramic windows. I know you get what you pay for, but hoping we can take a few extra days of sights and sacrifice the luxury of the domed car. Your opinion ?

    • Eat Drink Travel Editor says

      I recommend the Gold Leaf. It’s incredible for the views but also the food and service. Your may have to cut your trip short but it will be just as memorable! Also, you can stay a few nights in Banff or Jasper.

  4. Gordon W says

    I wish I could afford the trip. I live in British Columbia and have driven everywhere this train goes and I have seen it on the tracks and would love to see the scenery from that perspective . I have very nostalgic memories of riding trains in my youth but we went to Europe for an month a year ago for less than the cost of the Mountaineer for the two of us.

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