Rocky Mountaineer – GoldLeaf Service – Vancouver to Banff

The Rocky Mountaineer is a luxury train in Canada that visits the beautiful Rocky Mountains.

Approaching Banff on the Rocky Mountaineer Train in GoldLeaf

This was my second time onboard the Rocky Mountaineer, the first time I travelled in their SilverLeaf service, you can read about that journey here.

The Rocky Mountaineer departs from their own station in downtown Vancouver. I was travelling on Rocky Mountaineer’s “First Passage to the West” which travels from Vancouver to Banff with an overnight stop in Kamloops. The Rocky Mountaineer only travels during the daytime hours, you don’t sleep on the train. This way you have optimal viewing of the Rocky Mountains and any wildlife along your journey.

Me in front of the Rocky Mountaineer Engine before our journey

The night before we were set to depart we made our way to their Guest Services Centre which was at the Sheraton Wall Centre in Vancouver to check in and do our complementary and required antigen Covid tests. This was a very quick process and we had our negative results within fifteen minutes. We also heard the bad news that the rail tracks were still closed due to the wildfires near Lytton and we were given an updated schedule for our first day from Vancouver to Kamloops by bus.

The next morning I was dropped off at the Rocky Mountaineer station, where we dropped off our luggage and took a shuttle to the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver for an included breakfast before we boarded our buses to Kamloops in our respective rail car groups. Our Rocky Mountaineer hosts were on board our bus, pointing out a few of the “points of interest” long the way. We stopped at the Britton Creek Rest Stop on the Coquihalla Highway and we were provided with a snack bag containing some refreshments before continuing on to Kamloops.

Once in Kamloops we enjoyed an included lunch and checked into our hotel which was the Delta by Marriott Kamloops. The hotel was recently renovated, the rooms were quite nice and the bed was very comfortable.

Room at the Delta Hotel by Marriott in Kamloops

The Rocky Mountaineer includes luggage service, which means when you arrive to your hotel your luggage is waiting for you in your room and you leave your luggage in your room at your mid point hotel for them to take it to your next stop along your journey. Luggage travels by transport truck between hotels, it doesn’t come on the train. When packing your carry on for the train, keep in mind that there is no “overhead compartment” to store bags, so anything you bring on board will typically be by your feet. It’s very wise to make sure that anything of importance is kept with you (medications, electronics, etc) in case your luggage is delayed.

We were shuttled from our hotel to Rocky Mountaineer’s rail yard to board our train to Banff at 6:10am. You board your bus based on your rail car number so your bus lines up with your rail car that you’ll be travelling in.

Boarding our Rocky Mountaineer GoldLeaf Rail Car in the Kamloops Rail Yard

The Rocky Mountaineer GoldLeaf rail car features on the lower level an outdoor viewing vestibule, a dining area, two washrooms and business class style seating in the domed area up above. The seats are fully automated and each guest has their own controls for heat, recline, lumbar support and leg rests. The seat also features power outlets to charge devices and a tray table.

Business Class Style Seating in the Rocky Mountaineer Gold Leaf Train Car

In the “Welcome Aboard” package you will find a drinks menu, gratuity envelope for service recognition, souvenir catalogue, The “RM” Magazine and the “Mile Post”, which is a great guide you can follow along using the rail markers along your journey.

Welcome Aboard Package

Soon after boarding and a safety briefing we on our way! We were in the first seating for breakfast, so we went downstairs to the dining area of our train car. We started with a fresh smoothie and a croissant, followed by the Eggs Benedict. The food on board Rocky Mountaineer is so good.

Breakfast Menu in GoldLeaf on the Rocky Mountaineer
Eggs Benedict in Gold Leaf on the Rocky Mountaineer

There can be some delays and stops along the way as you wait for trains to pass as Rocky Mountaineer has limited priority on the tracks. This is a great opportunity to enjoy the outdoor vestibule, see the workings of the trains and rail yards up close.

The washrooms on board the train are kept immaculate and are well appointed. In the GoldLeaf railcars there are two washrooms on the main level with one being accessible.

It’s also so nice to see so many people waving to the train as it passes by, you can’t help but to wave back! You pass by one woman’s home in particular in Canoe, who religiously waves at each Rocky Mountaineer train that passes by. Because of this she was actually invited onboard herself and Rocky Mountaineer had arranged for hosts to go to her home, waving to her on the train as they passed by her home.

Waving at the Rocky Mountaineer as it passes by

Our journey took us along the shores of Shuswap Lake and one of our first tunnels on our trip.

The dining area on our GoldLeaf car was very comfortable and was setup with partitions for proper social distancing. You were seated with your travelling party only or you could dine with others if you wished. The culinary team were fantastic and did an amazing job of all the meals and snacks onboard. The menus onboard feature local ingredients and they can cater to many different dietary restrictions.

GoldLeaf dining area on the Rocky Mountaineer
Culinary team and galley on the GoldLeaf train car

The Rocky Mountaineer beverage selections feature some great local wines from the Okanagan Valley, along with local craft beers and ciders.

GoldLeaf Drinks Menu on the Rocky Mountaineer

Passing by some of the historical landmarks is what makes this journey by train so unique. Craigellachie is an important landmark along these rails as it’s where “The Last Spike” was driven in, to join the eastern and western railways together. The actual spot is marked by a stone pyramid marker and some of the original rails still remain.

Crossing over the Columbia River, we entered into Revelstoke. I actually used to live here and saw the Rocky Mountaineer passing through all the time. I always knew I would be on that train one day and I’ve been lucky enough to have experienced this journey now twice. As we left Revelstoke it was time for lunch! We started off with some bread, marinated olives, mushrooms and a delicious red pepper dip. For lunch I had the steak, that was served with a chimichurri sauce, broccolini, potatoes and carrots. I also tried the herb risotto which was lovely. Dessert was a trio of chocolate which I enjoyed with a coffee and Baileys.

GoldLeaf Lunch Menu on the Rocky Mountaineer
Alberta Striploin Steak for Lunch in GoldLeaf on the Rocky Mountaineer
Braised Leek and Herb Risotto for Lunch in GoldLeaf on the Rocky Mountaineer
Coffee with Baileys and a “Trio of Chocolate” for Dessert in Gold Leaf on the Rocky Mountaineer

Crossing over the Stoney Creek Trestle we had an amazing view of the waterfall. In 1885 this trestle was originally built out of wood and was the highest timber bridge ever built. It was rebuilt in 1894 using steel and is 82 metres (or 270 feet) high above the ravine below and the trestle is 148 metres (or 486 feet) in length. Make sure you take in these views from the outdoor vestibule.

Waterfall at the Stoney Creek Trestle

Just before we got to Golden the skies started to break from the smoke that we had for most of our journey up to this point. We made our way up the Kicking Horse Canyon along the Kicking Horse Creek which offered some amazing photo and video opportunities to catch the engines up ahead.

Rocky Mountaineer Train entering a tunnel

This part of the Trans Canada Highway was known as one of the most deadliest because of the grade, sheer drops and being only two lanes with blind switchbacks. They straightened out a portion of it by building a large bridge which was completed in 2007, which is the same height as the Stoney Creek Trestle to give you some context of how high that trestle was that we crossed over earlier.

Rocky Mountaineer Going Under the Trans Canada Highway

At this point of the journey we have now entered the National Parks with this one being Yoho National Park. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking and where having the complete domed GoldLeaf car has it’s benefits.

Travelling Through The Rocky Mountains on the Rocky Mountaineer in GoldLeaf

After passing through Field, we travel through the historic Spiral Tunnels, once we’ve exited the tunnel you can see where we entered the tunnel down below.

It was then time for our last snack of the trip, a wine and cheese pairing with a wine from Naramata Bench near Penticton (I chose the Laughing Stock Vineyards Pinot Gris).

Wine and Cheese Pairing in GoldLeaf on the Rocky Mountaineer

The views as we neared Banff are so picturesque. The mountains and the bright blue waters were just stunning.

Gena and Rob who were our hosts did an amazing job highlighting the historical landmarks, telling us some great stories and doing everything they could to make our journey a memorable one. It was definitely a difficult good bye, everyone teared up when Rob teared up at the end.

Our Amazing Hosts Saying Their “Good Byes” at the End of Our Journey

The Rocky Mountaineer truly is an unforgettable journey and one I suggest everyone puts on their bucket list.

My journey continues as I stayed at the iconic “Castle in the Rockies”, the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel after I disembarked the Rocky Mountaineer in Banff. Stay tuned for my Banff Travel Guide and Travel Vlog coming soon!

Safe Travels,

Ariane

As a Virtuoso Travel Advisor my clients receive added benefits when booking vacations such as the Rocky Mountaineer through me. I’d love to work with you as your travel advisor, to contact me for more information click here.

Please watch my YouTube video I filmed highlighting my experience in Rocky Mountaineer’s GoldLeaf Service, it brings this blog post and review to life. You can watch it here:

Rocky Mountaineer – First Passage to the West – Day 4

I woke up to a beautiful scene in Banff. It had snowed overnight and the fluffy flakes were still falling. It was beautiful! Everything had a sugar dust coating and it just made me so happy that Winter is just around the corner. We got a bit of a lay in today, not a super early start like the past few days, as mentioned in my last post we stayed at the Brewsters Mountain Lodge. This was a “western” themed hotel, with pine furniture and navajo throws.

I did get up around 8:30am so that I could walk around the Banff shops and get a couple souvenirs. I bought a couple magnets featuring Banff and the Rocky Mountains, and a couple new healing bracelets; an onyx one (for grounding) and a tiger eye one with blue hues. I also bought an aqua aura quartz cluster. It’s so beautiful. People might think believing that stones have healing properties is weird, but I believe in it. Even if it’s the belief of intention, example, putting on a certain bracelet that has “confidence qualities”, I’m telling myself, “I’m going to be confident today”, it works for me.

Afterwards I headed down the street to Provisions General Store. I actually found this place on Instagram and it looked really cool so I wanted to check it out. I bought a “The Adventure Begins” mug lol. Then I went back to the hotel, packed up my things, met up with the FAM group down in the lobby and we boarded a bus. Our first stop was the Banff Gondola at Sulphur Mountain. I saw a Starbucks and took the opportunity to purchase my “Banff Starbucks Mug”. This Starbucks at the Banff Gondola is actually the highest Starbucks in Canada sitting pretty at 1583m (or 5194ft) above sea level. We all received our tickets to get up the mountain and we rode up the gondola. It was a very small gondola car. It only seats four people. Instead of taking the gondola, you can walk up and/or down the mountain as there is a very good trail. It’s nothing like the Grouse Grind, it weaves quite nicely up the mountain with switchbacks, not natural stairs. Might have been a good choice after all the sitting and food we ate on the Rocky Mountaineer lol, but we were on a schedule. Once we were at the top, the clouds began to lift ever so slightly, revealing a peek of the mountain tops every few minutes. On a clear day, this view of the Banff National Park would have been incredible! I did get some really nice photos of the clouds below us and the peaks of the surrounding mountains peeking through. Once we were on our way down, the cloud layer dissipated and we had a breathtaking view of the valley and the town of Banff. On our way out I bought a magnet of the Banff Gondola and we boarded the bus to head to our next stop.

We pulled around the Banff Springs Hotel and got a little history lesson on the Fairmont properties. Afterwards we stopped at the Bow Falls Viewpoint. It’s not the grandest of waterfalls, but it’s easy to get to. I imagine visitors to Canada have a greater appreciation for these types of things than I do as we have more stunning waterfalls near Whistler or other parts of the Banff National Park than this particular one.

We then had some free time in Banff for lunch, the quickest thing a few of us could think of was The Old Spaghetti Factory. It’s cheap and reasonable quality food. I had the lunch Manicotti with a caesar salad and spumoni ice cream for dessert. Eating so well on the Rocky Mountaineer for two days definitely makes your appetite larger. Once we finished lunch, we headed back to the coach where we then headed up and over Tunnel Mountain to the Hoodoo Lookout. I snapped a couple pictures but basically had a food coma at this point and was just ready for a nap. After this brief stop we on our way to the highlight of the day, the helicopter tour! It was just outside the Rockies at Kananaskis. It was a quick twelve minute helicopter ride, but I got to sit in the front!! It was a nice ride over the mountains, however the clouds cover came back and we didn’t get any view of the peaks of them 😦 The only thing that really annoyed me was I got a selfie with the cute pilot (Mike) but my stupid iPhone didn’t save it! So maddening.

After reboarding the coach I think we were all super tired. This excursion does make for a very long day. If I was honest. It would have been nice to have an extra day in Banff to break up all the sitting we had been doing over the past few days. One thing I will definitely recommend to my clients when doing the Rocky Mountaineer.

We finally arrived into Calgary around 7:00pm and checked into the International Hotel and Suites. It’s a beautiful all suite hotel that has been updated recently. I had a huge two bedroom suite, one room was a king bed, the other room had two twins. Once we had all checked in and got a bit settled we all came downstairs and were “white hatted” by Tourism Calgary and were named “Honorary Calgarians”. It was kind of a neat ceremony and we were each presented with a certificate and of course a beautiful white cowboy hat which we kept! Afterwards, we went to the Metropolitan Grill for our last group dinner. I had an Angus Burger featuring local Alberta beef. It was really good. The only problem was walking back to the hotel in the cold. It was freezing! When I got back to the hotel I was beyond spent. My head hit the pillow and I was out.

Click Here to Read – Rocky Mountaineer – First Passage to the West – Day 5

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Rocky Mountaineer – First Passage to the West – Day 3

Again we had to get up super early to catch the buses for 6:15am. We all converged on the train station and began what the bus driver referred to as the “bus ballet”. Once they finally had all the buses lined up correctly, and drove along side our Rocky Mountaineer train car. This factor was nice as you basically got off the bus and right onto your train, walking no more than ten feet. On my seat was the souvenirs I had ordered yesterday. Kamloops is the only place where they fill those orders because that i where they store them (no room on the train). I bought a Rocky Mountaineer Engineer’s Hat, one of the wine glasses and a set of beautiful magnets. Once we all boarded, they handed our another round of fruit juice and we were toasting to the day while pulling out of Kamloops. I have to say, we had an amazing sunrise pulling out of the city, it was a beautiful view with the river beside us, the sunrise and the glow on the engines up front.

This trip is amazing. If you are the type of person that can just appreciate things for what they are, this trip is for you. You are “unplugged” some of the way (no cell service and of course no wifi available onboard). Not long after leaving Kamloops, we were served fruit salad with a croissant along with coffee, all the while seeing bald eagle after bald eagle among the river’s edge.

Today was definitely more stop and go. We waited for quite a few freight trains today as we don’t have priority on the tracks. Some spots we did wait for two to pass, such as during breakfast service near Prichard Creek. Breakfast this morning was scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese, mushrooms, a delicious mixed hash and bacon. The food on this trip has been really good and lush. We weaved along the Shuswap Lake, with views I’ve never seen before. I love the fact I have been to these places so many times, however seeing it from a totally different view!

I really got excited once we got to Revelstoke. Seeing the town for the first time since I lived there was kinda emotional for me in a way. I took some great photos going over the Columbia River of Mount Begbie and the surrounding mountains. It was a highlight as Revelstoke is where I always told myself one day I would be on the Rocky Mountaineer.  Here I was actually doing it! We weaved into the mountains and started our climb up Rogers Pass. We didn’t take the exact same route as the cars, we were on the other side and got to see some sights you don’t get to see if you are in a car. I knew we were getting into the Rockies, so this is where I really started to take everything in. I was excited to see we did go through one of the long tunnels that goes through the mountain, the longest tunnel is the MacDonald Tunnel (about 12kms long), we went through the shorter of the two, which was still about 8kms long. Almost right after the tunnel, we came across the highest bridge of our journey Stoney Creek Bridge which is 656 feet long and 295 feet high! Robyn, one of our hosts let me know there was another creek coming up called Surprise Creek which would give another great photo opportunity, so I stayed in the back open air vestibule for a bit longer.

We then came out to the beautiful Kinbasket Lake. The fall colours were really in full swing here along with the glacial blue hues to the lake made for stunning photos. We passed right by the campground I used to camp at, bringing back even more memories. The tracks into Golden are rocky, many little jokes about how the train got it’s name haha. It’s a bit of a rough ride in a couple places, I also noticed this on the stretch before Banff.

We really saw a lot of wildlife along this stretch of our journey, the white mountain goats on the crags above the Kicking Horse Creek, and the absolute highlight – the spirit bear (also known as a Kermode Bear) we saw getting out of the Kicking Horse Creek after fishing! Yes! We all saw a spirit bear!! The most amazing thing EVER! I’ve seen the cub in Whistler this Summer, however I hardly call that a “wild” sighting, this one however, we were all shocked and so excited!!

I took some amazing videos of our train making it’s way up the canyon, and took some beautiful pictures. We then came around the corner in Field and found there was a train on our track, we basically had a Mexican Standoff with a CP train, he ended up backing up (which was crazy as he was such a long fright train) but he did. While this was happening, we saw our first black bear! He scurried right beside us and I got photos and video this time!

We again had to wait a bit as the next part of our journey was the historic Spiral Tunnels. There were three fright trains in front of us, and they were going slow. At this point we were served our lunches, quite a bit later than yesterday as this part of the journey takes longer than day one. We then arrived at the Spiral Tunnels, it was interesting to ride them on a train. I remember years ago stopping at the side of the road with my Dad watching the huge trains go though, wrapping around itself as it went through the mountain. We weren’t a large enough train to see that, but it was really neat to experience none the less. We did see a fright train following us that did wrap over itself though once we were at the top. Because we were following two trains, we were crawling towards Banff, we lost daylight soon after, not before taking in a moment with the mountain views of Yoho National Park and the snow starting to fall. It was a magical moment.

Daylight quickly was lost and we were served more snacks and beverages. I had so much coffee and Bailey’s this trip, I’m sure I polished off a bottle myself 😉 Right before Banff we were served cookies and one last drink. They gave us a briefing on Banff and came around with a lovely card signed by our hosts for our journey (Chan, Robyn and Hugo). They were amazing and most guests including myself shared hugs with them. This truly was a great experience. I would 100% recommend this trip to anyone! We all said our sad good byes and we boarded our bus that took us to our hotel (Brewsters Mountain Lodge). The check in was a bit different from the stop in Kamloops, we did line up at the front desk. Once we got our keys we headed over to Magpie and Stump’s across the road. We had one in Revelstoke, so I was craving a taco by the time we got off the train. It was Taco Tuesday so we ordered a bunch and I had a Bulldog (a margarita with an upside-down Corona). By the time we had finished, I was shattered. It was definitely time to go to sleep.

Click Here to Read – Rocky Mountaineer – First Passage to the West – Day 4

PS – Did you enjoy reading this travel guide? Please consider joining my Wanderlust Journey Community as a Patron supporter. For less than the cost of a cup of coffee per month (my community membership tiers start at $2 per month), you can help support me create more content! Click here for more details.

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Rocky Mountaineer – First Passage to the West – Day 2

We started off today early… 4:45am early.

We met Anthony our Rocky Mountaineer FAM Host in the hotel lobby at 6:10am. Once we were all assembled we were given our boarding passes, luggage tags and we were off to the Rocky Mountaineer Station. We were supposed to be a little earlier than the rest of the guests because they incorporated a train inspection of the GoldLeaf train. I’ve already seen it, but it was a nice start to the day. The only issue was that we were given the wrong vouchers and we were waiting for the correct taxi company to arrive. They didn’t show up in time, so we boarded a bus that was heading to the station instead. Because we were early, I made sure to get a photo of the locomotive this time as I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to get a photo of it anywhere else on our journey.

We then assembled inside the station for the “All Aboard” call. It’s kind of a tradition. Afterwards we boarded our respective trains. It was so nice to get onboard and relax. We left the Rocky Mountaineer Station at 7:55am and were on our way to Kamloops. We were all served some fruit juice and had a welcome toast. As we were toasting we slowly moved by the “wave off”, just over one month ago I was waving off a Rocky Mountaineer train, now I was on the receiving end this time.

Once we were out of New Westminster, we were served a warm cinnamon and raisin scone along with a fruit salad and coffee. This was the start of the never ending food. About twenty minutes later we were served an omelette with apple chicken sausages with roasted potatoes and tomatoes. It was really interesting to see a different side of travelling out of Vancouver through the Fraser Valley. Once 9:30am hit, coffee and Bailey’s were free flowing as we were going through Mission. The scenery along this leg of the journey changes quite a bit, from the farm land of the Fraser Valley, to the rushing waters of Hell’s Gate and Cisco Crossing in the Fraser Canyon to desert near Kamloops. British Columbia is very diverse in the way of ecosystems and microclimates.

We actually did really well on this trip. Typically fright trains have right of way and priority. However we only stopped and waited once for about fifteen minutes for a train just outside of Cache Creek.

Food just came coming, we were given snacks and had a Whistler Beer. We were given a delicious tomato salad with a mustard seed dressing followed by “lunch” which I had Braised Short Ribs with mashed potatoes and root vegetables. It was amazing. This was followed by more coffee and Bailey’s and a brownie cake. The scenery from the train was amazing. Hearing the stories and the history of the railroad and the area made the trip that much more memorable. I was just taking every moment in. I can’t tell you how impressed I am with this journey so far. It’s truly amazing. Today we saw some bighorn sheep and many eagles along the river. We reached Kamloops ahead of schedule due to no delays with fright trains. We were welcomed into Kamloops by two volunteers on horseback, waving us “welcome”. This time the transfer situation was much more streamlined. We were given hotel keys before we even left the train. When we did leave the train, we were steps away from our bus that took us to our hotel, The Thompson Inn. Our suitcases along with a note and some chocolates were waiting for us in our rooms. This alone makes the Rocky Mountaineer stand out and truly sets them apart from any other tour company I know. Their customer service is outstanding.

Click Here to Read – Rocky Mountaineer – First Passage to the West – Day 3

PS – Did you enjoy reading this travel guide? Please consider joining my Wanderlust Journey Community as a Patron supporter. For less than the cost of a cup of coffee per month (my community membership tiers start at $2 per month), you can help support me create more content! Click here for more details.

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Keep Calm and Ride the Rocky Mountaineer

Rocky Mountaineer – First Passage to the West – Day 1

I am so unbelievably excited!

To be invited to experience the Rocky Mountaineer is an amazing opportunity. To me this is a bucket list trip. My aunt was actually involved with them and helped develop their first reservation system. So the Rocky Mountaineer fascination for me goes way back. When living in Revelstoke, BC for a time, the train would constantly go through. I always told myself, one day I would be on that train. Well my day has come. Tomorrow morning, along with eleven other travel agents, we will be doing the Rocky Mountaineer First Passage to the West in SilverLeaf from Vancouver, BC to Banff, AB with an excursion extension ending in Calgary, AB.

Tonight we started our familiarization trip at the Sheraton Wall Centre in Vancouver, BC. This is one of the hotels that Rocky Mountaineer uses for guests who are adding pre-hotels in SilverLeaf service. I love the Starwood Brand group of hotels. I am a Starwood Gold Preferred Guest and always love staying at these properties. I am also a member of their “Pro” program which is for travel professionals.

I checked into my room (2352 in the North Tower) and got settled in. The towers are beautiful and the rooms are spacious. The Sheraton Wall Centre is located in the heart of downtown Vancouver and offers amazing views of the city. We did a site tour and viewed a few of the other room categories, the North Tower is definitely more newer and all rooms are larger. South Tower has undergone major renovations, however standard rooms are smaller.

After a great group dinner, a few of us chatted for awhile before heading for a very much needed sleep before a VERY early start tomorrow morning, we are meeting our Rocky Mountaineer Host downstairs at 6:10am!

Click Here to Read –  Rocky Mountaineer – First Passage to the West – Day 2

PS – Did you enjoy reading this travel guide? Please consider joining my Wanderlust Journey Community as a Patron supporter. For less than the cost of a cup of coffee per month (my community membership tiers start at $2 per month), you can help support me create more content! Click here for more details.