How to decide on between Rocky Mountaineer’s hottest routes

Editor’s notice: TPG was invited on this route as company of Rocky Mountaineer. All opinions are the creator’s personal and weren’t topic to assessment by Rocky Mountaineer.

For a lot of vacationers, no first-class airline suite or basic street journey can compete with the leisurely, decadent expertise of crossing a number of the world’s most scenic landscapes on a luxurious practice.

And in the case of the numerous, dramatic surroundings of western North America (the towering, snowcapped peaks of the Rocky Mountains, the Martian-like purple rocks of the American West), just one model dominates the house.

And no, it’s not Amtrak.


Rocky Mountaineer, a Canadian firm that’s been taking vacationers on high-end rail excursions of western Canada for greater than 30 years, launched its first U.S. route in 2021. Referred to as Rockies to the Red Rocks, this itinerary connects Moab, Utah, with Denver, Colorado, and presents vacationers a brand new solution to expertise the long-lasting practice, which has traditionally remained in Canada.

I acquired to experience that journey with my colleague, Summer season Hull, final fall. And 6 months later, I used to be invited to reunite with Rocky Mountaineer on its basic First Passage to the West route. Tracing a line between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Banff, Alberta, this legendary tour features a cease in Kamloops, British Columbia, crosses the Continental Divide and corkscrews via the Spiral Tunnels earlier than concluding at Lake Louise and Banff Nationwide Park.

However it’s not simply the locations which might be completely different. In case you’re considering your first-ever journey with Rocky Mountaineer, listed below are another variations to think about.

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At your service

Throughout my journey with Rocky Mountaineer within the U.S., I acquired to expertise SilverLeaf Plus, the very best stage of service supplied on this route. For about $500 greater than the entry-level fares, vacationers in SilverLeaf Plus get entry to extra native wines and spirits and might unfold out past the usual statement automobile and into the lounge automobiles — excellent for whiling away the hours whereas admiring the surroundings, elbowing as much as a bar (on a practice!) to order cocktails, taking part in basic board video games and exchanging tales with different vacationers.

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Alternatively, vacationers who go for one of many basic Canadian journeys can expertise the operator’s iconic GoldLeaf service. Friends on this class get to spend the journey in a double-decker automobile: Breakfast and lunch providers are organized on the decrease stage, similar to a effective eating restaurant (albeit a bit extra turbulent), full with white tablecloths, whereas the upstairs is reserved for admiring the surroundings in a shocking bi-level glass-domed statement automobile. These automobiles can’t match via the decrease tunnels within the U.S., so Rocky Mountaineer hasn’t been capable of replicate this service on its Rockies to the Purple Rocks route. A minimum of, not but.

It’s arduous to underscore what a distinction it makes to not need to take your meals on the identical seat you’re sitting in, napping in and chatting in for 2 days or extra. Migrating downstairs for meal providers harks again to the golden age of journey when flight attendants carved chateaubriands for flyers and whole dessert buffets have been introduced to company on the Orient Categorical.

The GoldLeaf practice automobiles are additionally far more trendy, with wider, heated leather-based seats that swivel to create extra intimate sitting areas for teams, and superior controls to regulate every thing from pitch to lumbar help.

However for vacationers trying to save cash, the SilverLeaf service — practically an identical to the entry-level SilverLeaf service supplied on the American route — continues to be a much more upscale solution to journey alongside the rails than customary passenger trains.

And regardless that SilverLeaf Plus is undoubtedly Rocky Mountaineer’s model of premium financial system, and GoldLeaf is a transparent minimize above (suppose: enterprise class in your favourite worldwide airline), I’ll admit I missed the lounge automobiles whereas ambling alongside the tracks in western Canada. The lounge automobiles, with their participant pianos and full bar service, snacks and convivial ambiance, felt much more in line with the romantic Agatha Christie-esque visions of rail journey I’d daydreamed about (minus the homicide, after all).

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Fantastic eating (and consuming)

One of many highlights of touring with Rocky Mountaineer is the wonderful meals and beverage program that includes multi-course lunch and breakfast providers and limitless drinks.

Throughout the Rockies to the Purple Rocks journey, which supplied three breakfast selections and two lunch choices, I tucked right into a breakfast frittata with roasted yams, peppers and onions, plus a facet of veggie sausage (obtainable upon request) and flavorful vegetarian flautas for a day snack. Meals are served at your seat, on tray tables (airplane model, I prefer to name it) however are dressed up with white linens and stylish flatware.

The spotlight, although, was most likely sipping a fresh-made bloody mary whereas munching on bar snacks within the lounge automobile, plus the assortment of pastries and desserts sourced from native bakeries alongside the route.

Whereas touring from Vancouver to Lake Louise, the eating expertise was of a wholly completely different caliber. Along with the luxurious of not consuming at your seat, every meal supplied extra dishes to select from, and the meals was, total, extra elaborate (Rocky Mountaineer cooks should cope with smaller galleys on the U.S. route). All through the two-day journey, I loved plates of Louis Lake steelhead with handmade gnocchi, Moroccan-spiced cauliflower and chickpeas, and avocado toast topped with smoked salmon and a soft-boiled egg.

Although there have been no lounge automobiles with bars, you would order limitless drinks, together with Canada’s reply to the bloody mary: a caesar.

One gripe is that espresso drinks aren’t served on board the Rocky Mountaineer. I do know house is at a premium, however there’s a galley the place cooks end up virtually every thing (besides, particularly, birthday truffles), and I’d have beloved to sip a foamy cappuccino whereas watching the Rocky Mountains as we zipped by.

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Numerous — however equally dramatic — landscapes

There’s no evaluating the American Southwest and its vermillion-hued rock formations to the snowcapped spires of the Canadian Rockies.

And although each trains cross the Continental Divide and traverse the Rocky Mountains through the journey, no itinerary is best or extra scenic than the subsequent. Vacationers ought to resolve in the event that they need to bookend a journey on board the Rocky Mountaineer with mountain biking, mountain climbing and stark desert hikes within the surreal landscapes of Canyonlands and Arches Nationwide Park or if they like the cooler mountain temperatures of Canada’s western nationwide parks, the place related diversions may embrace mountain climbing and canoeing or, within the winter, snowboarding and snowshoeing.

Throughout our journey from Colorado to Utah, we handed via aspens tipped with late autumn gold, mountains lined in evergreens and the blushing sandstone cliffs of Ruby Canyon.

The practice hugged the Colorado River as we continued west, steam fog rising from the water within the early morning, and we noticed every thing from eagles and elk to chipmunks and even bare-bottomed paddlers partaking within the time-honored custom of mooning the passing practice. Our journey concluded on the junction of a number of the most iconic parklands within the U.S., together with Useless Horse Level State Park, Canyonlands Nationwide Park and Arches National Park, all marked by impossibly vibrant rock formations and scenic vistas, together with gravity-defying hoodoos and pure bridges.

Whereas touring east from Vancouver to Lake Louise, the surroundings was marked by the frothy whitewater rapids of Kicking Horse River, dramatic mountain passes and, maybe most notably, the astonishing engineering feat of the Spiral Tunnels, which made the spires of the Rockies accessible with trains and offered a number of the most beautiful views from all the journey.

As with the U.S. journey, the wildlife we noticed in Canada was surprisingly ample, together with bald eagles, elk and osprey.

It is a good factor these trains aren’t geared up with Wi-Fi, as a result of it encourages you to place down your gadgets and maintain your eyes glued to the outsized home windows.


Since Rocky Mountaineer trains aren’t geared up with sleeper automobiles, vacationers should disembark within the night and spend the night time in a lodge (these overnights are included in the price of your keep).

I discovered Glenwood Springs, Colorado — the scheduled whistle-stop for the Rockies to the Purple Rocks route — to be a way more interesting place to go to, partly as a result of you’ll be able to merely stroll off the practice and into city. Throughout the cease, vacationers can dip within the city’s namesake sizzling springs (which declare to be the biggest mineral sizzling springs pool on earth) and discover the walkable, distinctly Western city heart.

The First Passage to the West itinerary features a cease in Kamloops — a metropolis (inhabitants: roughly 100,000) recognized for internet hosting sporting occasions that didn’t really feel as approachable for a fast in a single day. After disembarking, vacationers should board a bus to the city heart. Admittedly, we arrived later within the night on this journey and solely had time for a fast chunk at The Noble Pig, a microbrewery specializing in hand-crafted beers and fried pickles.

However Kamloops does have a definite edge with its lodging, which really feel acceptable for the Rocky Mountaineer expertise. We spent the night time on the Delta Lodge Kamloops, a rebranded and renovated property that welcomed company in 2019. The up to date downtown lodge is hardly a Fairmont (the long-lasting grande dame motels that bookended our keep in Vancouver and Lake Louise). Nonetheless, it felt contemporary and featured considerate facilities like argan oil Soapbox toiletries and a heated rooftop pool.

Sadly, the lodge I stayed at in Glenwood Springs didn’t meet the excessive customary set on board the practice. Rocky Mountaineer companions with three motels in Glenwood Springs: Lodge Colorado, The Lodge Denver and Glenwood Sizzling Springs Lodge. We stayed on the lodge, which was darkish and dated.

No matter the place you keep throughout an in a single day with Rocky Mountaineer, one knockout service stays the identical: Your baggage, other than any hand baggage you retain with you on the practice, is pushed forward and positioned in your lodge room earlier than your arrival. You will even be checked in and given keys to your room earlier than leaving the practice.

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The fee

After all, generally selecting one journey or one other comes right down to chilly arduous money. Rocky Mountaineer’s shortest First Passage to the West journeys, just like the one I skilled final month, begin round $1,500 per particular person this yr, based mostly on double occupancy. Upgrading to GoldLeaf service would imply beginning charges nearer to $2,100 per particular person. Entry-level two-day journeys on the Rockies to the Purple Rocks route are equally priced at $1,400 per particular person — or nearer to $1,980 for SilverLeaf Plus.

In each cases, you’ll be able to count on to spend about $500 extra per particular person for Rocky Mountaineer’s most premium providers. With that in thoughts, the GoldLeaf service seems like a much better use of that further money in comparison with the SilverLeaf Plus product. However entry-level fares on each routes are comparable, which means vacationers ought to suppose carefully in regards to the surroundings and the locations alongside the route, together with your departure metropolis, arrival metropolis and the whistle-stop.

Nevertheless, vacationers might also gravitate towards the extra social, old-timey ambiance within the SilverLeaf Plus lounge automobiles.

Touring with Rocky Mountaineer is not low-cost, significantly when you think about you are by yourself for dinner through the whistle-stop. Vacationers may liken a journey with Rocky Mountaineer to an all-inclusive keep at a luxurious lodge, or perhaps a safari expertise. However usually, three every day meals can be included, and the extent of luxurious can be constant. The motels you may discover in Kamloops and Glenwood Springs are removed from the luxurious you may count on from a $1,500-per-night resort. A lot of our favorite all-inclusive resorts on the planet, the truth is, are extra reasonably priced, and people costs are based mostly on double occupancy.

Since Rocky Mountaineer’s costs are per particular person, a pair can count on to spend upward of $3,000 per particular person for the two-day journey.

Rocky Mountaineer’s pricing turns into far more palatable in case you make the most of the quite a few reductions and promotions supplied all year long. With one among its current promotions (which expires Wednesday!), it can save you $780 per couple on Canadian routes and $1,000 per couple on the Rockies to the Purple Rocks itinerary.

If these costs are nonetheless too eye-watering, vacationers can expertise the romance of the rails on board a extra reasonably priced, no-frills passenger practice like Amtrak within the U.S. (the California Zephyr route will hint the identical line from Denver to Glenwood Springs, although it concludes in San Francisco as a substitute of the red-rock nation of Utah). You will be by yourself for meals, after all.

In Canada, Through Rail presents a 20-hour journey between Vancouver and Jasper, Alberta (the place onward connections to Banff can be found by bus). Vacationers can select from a regular financial system fare, a person sleeping berth or splurge on a personal sleeper cabin with three sq. meals included — the latter of which may simply value greater than a journey with Rocky Mountaineer. One other consideration is that you’re going to miss a whole day’s surroundings since Through Rail travels in a single day. It is a extra expeditious journey, and for vacationers in financial system, it might actually be a extra reasonably priced choice.

Not like Through Rail and Amtrak, Rocky Mountaineer journeys are much more centered on maximizing the surroundings. Because the practice solely operates through the day, you will not miss a second. And with its expert, amiable onboard hosts to supply context and anecdotes, and the practice automobiles designed for having fun with sweeping vistas, it is extra like a tour than a mode of transportation.

Backside line

Although we have solely highlighted two of Rocky Mountaineer’s routes right here, vacationers might additionally ebook itineraries that originate in, or depart from, Jasper, or prolong their journeys with packages that embrace bus transport to close by locations and points of interest.

No matter you do, bear in mind to place down your cellphone – and even your ebook — and have a look exterior the window, whether or not you are in a glass-domed GoldLeaf automobile, lounging round with different vacationers or standing exterior on a viewing platform. In any case, taking time to decelerate and benefit from the surroundings is what rail journey is all about.

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