If you’ve ever wanted to take a luxury train journey, the Rocky Mountaineer is almost certainly on your list. From the plush carriages and iconic GoldLeaf service to the 360-degree views of the unparalleled beauty of the Canadian Rockies, the Rocky Mountaineer is a world-renowned rail journey. Here, we’ll delve into the history books to uncover how it became North America’s most luxurious train journey – and how you can experience the wonders of the Rocky Mountaineer.
Experience it: Majesty of the Rockies
Origins of the Rocky Mountaineer
The Rocky Mountaineer made its maiden voyage in 1990, but its story goes back a little further than that. The construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in the late 19th century connected the vast, largely unpopulated expanses of Canada and northern USA and paved the way for transcontinental passenger trains. In 1988, the Canadian government created VIA Rail and privatised all passenger rail services.
However, the scenic routes through the Canadian Rockies were not included in VIA Rail’s portfolio. This presented an opportunity for entrepreneur Peter Armstrong, who envisioned a luxury rail service that would showcase the beauty of the Canadian Rockies and provide a unique experience for travellers from all over the world.
The inaugural Rocky Mountaineer journey took place in 1990. It was a two-day journey from Vancouver to Banff, taking in Western Canada and the Rockies. It was an immediate success, and the following year was named one of the “World’s 20 Best Rail Experiences” by The International Railway Traveler magazine.
Full steam ahead
The Rocky Mountaineer continue to upgrade and expand its fleet and in 1995, introduced the luxurious GoldLeaf cars. They quickly became the most popular way to experience the Rocky Mountaineer thanks to its exclusive outdoor viewing platform and gourmet meals prepared on board.
In 1996, the Rocky Mountaineer started setting records, becoming the longest passenger train in Canadian history, with 37 cars. Just three years later, in 1999, it broke the record again with 41 cars.
In 2002, it welcomed its 500,000th guest and six years later, its one-millionth. Since then the Rocky Mountaineer has carried over two million passengers. The Rocky Mountaineer celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2015, having grown to be the largest privately owned luxury train company in the world.
The accolades kept on coming over the years. The Rocky Mountaineer has won the prestigious “World’s Leading Travel Experience by Train” eight times at the World Travel Awards. Conde Nast Traveler listed it as one of the “Top 5 trains in the world”, and BBC named it as one of the “50 Things To Do Before You Die”. National Geographic named it one of the “World’s Greatest Trips” and one of the “Top 10 North American Train Trips”. They’ve been frequently honored as one of The International Railway Traveler’s “10 Best Rail Experiences in the World”.
The Rocky Mountaineer was also Lonely Planet’s Winner of Best Sustainable Train for 2021 and won Tourism British Columbia’s “Foresight Sustainability Award” for leadership and advocacy of sustainable tourism. In an effort to reduce its environmental impact, the Rocky Mountaineer uses locomotives powered by biodiesel fuel, a cleaner and more sustainable alternative to traditional diesel fuel.
The Rocky Mountaineer experience
You can still take the very first Rocky Mountaineer route today. Known as the First Passage to the West, it’s the most historic route, traversing along from Vancouver to Banff and Lake Louise.
The Rocky Mountaineer has three other routes, including Journey Through the Clouds and Rainforest to Gold Rush, which takes you from Vancouver to Jasper through the UNESCO-listed Jasper National Park. From the beautiful mountain scenery to the remarkable wildlife, these are breathtaking journeys. For something a little different, you can also take the Rockies To The Red Rocks journey from Moab to Denver, with vast canyons, red sandstone, and enchanting deserts as your backdrop.
They say it’s about the journey, not the destination, and this expression really comes to life on the Rocky Mountaineer. As you board the carriage each morning, you’re in no rush to reach your destination, because every passenger knows you’re about to witness something extraordinary. When you travel through the Rockies, you’ll see dazzling glaciers, snowy mountains, glittering lakes, and soaring canyons.
You’ll pass through the iconic Spiral Tunnels, chug along the Kicking Horse River, and cross the Great Continental Divide. From Roger’s Pass, Kicking Horse Canyon, Kamloops and Lake Louise, to Craigellachie, where the last spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway was planted into the ground, this rail journey is nature and history entwined.
You can even spot the renowned wildlife of the Rockies in their natural habitats, such as bears, elk, moose, mountain goats, and eagles soaring overhead. The train’s onboard hosts will also call out and let you know when they spot any animals.
This is one journey where you don’t have to worry about taking in everything at high speed. The train regularly slows down to a rolling speed to ensure every guest can soak up every spectacular angle and snap some wonderful photos.
The luxury carriages
The train’s custom-designed, bi-level, glass-domed observation cars offer passengers 360-degree views of the spectacular scenery. You’ll feel completely immersed in the majestic mountains, lush forests, and rushing rivers from the comfort of your seat.
The premium GoldLeaf Service offers passengers a luxurious travel experience, with bi-level railcars featuring dining rooms on the lower level and observation lounges on the upper level. For a more intimate experience, you can step outside on the large outdoor viewing platform, exclusive to GoldLeaf passengers.
While inside, you’ll enjoy five-star comfort and style, with wide plush seats and impeccable service. The warm and welcoming hosts bring the train journey to life. They’re extremely knowledgeable and will share the history and stories about the region. The hosts are also happy to answer all your questions as you roll through the gorgeous landscapes.
The Rocky Mountaineer is truly a feast for the senses. If you can tear yourself away from the views, you’ll enjoy gourmet meals and menus created by award-winning chefs Jean Pierre Guerin and Frédéric Couton. GoldLeaf passengers dine in an exclusive lower-level room with sweeping views.
The mouthwatering meals infuse fresh, local ingredients, such as Alberta beef short ribs, B.C. steelhead salmon fillets, Fraser Valley chicken, and Yukon Gold potatoes. Meals are complemented with local beer and wine including an Okanagan Valley Merlot. Your hosts will also serve complimentary snacks and beverages between meal times. You’ll even be pleasantly surprised throughout the trip with plates of freshly-baked cookies or glasses of wine.
The Rocky Mountaineer is unique in that it exclusively operates during daylight hours. This ensures passengers can fully appreciate the stunning landscapes along the route. Guests spend nights in luxury hotels at various stops along the journey and the exceptional service extends to these stops. As the train pulls into the station at the end of the day, you’ll enjoy a seamless transfer to your hotel, with your luggage brought directly to your room.
How to experience the Rocky Mountaineer
Experience the wonders of the Rocky Mountaineer on our Majesty of the Rockies luxury tour. You’ll journey from Jasper to Vancouver aboard the remarkable Rocky Mountaineer GoldLeaf Service. Soak up the unobstructed views from your glass-domed windows and outdoor viewing platform. Hear the stories of the Rockies and enjoy gourmet meals with locally-sourced ingredients and paired wines. From the mountains and wildlife to the plush carriages and gourmet dining, you’ll find out why the Rocky Mountaineer is North America’s most iconic and luxurious train journey.