Which Rocky Mountaineer Route to Choose?
So you’re ready to book a trip on the Rocky Mountaineer train and you’re dreaming of that amazing scenery, all-inclusive food and drink, wonderful narrating hosts, and spectacular domed views…. But how do you actually pick which itinerary or route? Choosing a Rocky Mountaineer route is one of the first steps to creating your perfect luxury train vacation!
Here are some hints to help you – and I encourage you to work with a Rocky Mountaineer Specialist like myself who can really make sure you’re getting the most from your investment into this amazing train ride!
Three Rocky Mountaineer Train Routes
There are three main train routes that take you across the gorgeous Canadian Rockies. They can often be combined in different ways, so it’s important to start to think about your wish-list for this vacation. For instance, if you definitely want to spend time in the Jasper area, you need to choose a route that starts or end in Jasper, as not all of them do.
All Rocky Mountaineer itineraries can be reversed – you can choose to do train first or train last. If you fly into Calgary, you will do the “non train” portion first. If you fly into Vancouver, you will do the train first.
First Passage to the West (Vancouver to Banff or Lake Louise)
The two-day First Passage to the West route rolls along the historic tracks of the country’s first coast-to-coast railway between Vancouver and Banff or Lake Louise, with an overnight stay in Kamloops.
Pass by the snarling rapids of Hell’s Gate—named for explorer Simon Fraser’s assertion that “surely these are the gates of Hell”—and the twin rail bridges of Cisco Crossing. Between Kamloops and Banff, you’ll witness the site of the “last spike” driven into the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885 at Craigellachie, and experience the engineering marvel of the Spiral Tunnels. As you travel through Banff National Park be awed by views of towering Castle Mountain and Mount Rundle.
Choose this route if: You want to spend a lot more time in the Banff/Lake Louise area (they’re very close to each other) and you won’t be going up to Jasper at all. Hint: If you get a late afternoon flight out of Calgary for your departure, you can spend your last day in Banff and still make it to the airport on time, rather than transferring back to a Calgary hotel the night before.
Journey Through the Clouds (Vancouver to Jasper)
Also two days long, Journey through the Clouds travels between Vancouver and Jasper, traversing some of the most remote landscapes in Canada, with scenery and wildlife largely untouched by humans. Like First Passage to the West, the rail route passes the rushing Hell’s Gate and Cisco Crossing, travelling along both the Fraser and Thompson rivers. Between Kamloops and Jasper, the train passes the glacier-fed, three tiered Pyramid Falls; Mount Albreda; and Mount Robson—the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies at 3,954 metres (12,972 feet). Mount Robson is so big that it often forms its own weather patterns, with clouds enveloping the peak while the rest of the sky is blue. Jasper National Park is a Dark Sky Preserve known for stargazing, wildlife around every corner and some of the best outdoor adventure in the Canadian Rockies.
Choose this route if: It’s a high priority to spend time in Jasper and to visit Jasper National Park, and if you’d like to stop at the Athabasca Glacier on the Columbia Icefields during the drive from Jasper to your next stop.
Insider trip: I recommend at least 2 nights in Jasper on this route so that you get at least one full day to explore. Travelers who are able to stretch to 3 nights in Jasper have thanked me profusely as well!
Check out this video of the route.
Rainforest to Gold Rush (Vancouver to Jasper via Whistler)
For those that want to delve further into Western Canada’s history and diverse landscapes—as well as spending more time on the train—the three-day Rainforest to Gold Rush route takes a northerly path between Vancouver and Jasper, uncovering the stories of those seeking their fortune. This rail route also boasts the most trestle bridges, making it a favorite with train fans. With overnights in Whistler and Quesnel, on this journey you’ll climb through rainforest into the alpine alongside the southern fjord of Howe Sound, pass the deep turquoise waters of Seton and Anderson lakes, travel along the desert like Cariboo Plateau, cross the historic Cottonwood River Bridge, and take in Mount Robson. With two of Western Canada’s best outdoor adventure hubs on this train journey, Whistler and Jasper, this rail route is the perfect fit if you love exploring nature.
Choose this route if: Spending a free afternoon in Whistler excites you, and you’re thrilled to spend 2.5 days on the train (remember, you don’t spend the night on the train!).
These basically combine two rail routes to return to your original point of origin. This is ideal for returning clients who really want at least 4 days on the train itself. You may take the Rainforest to Gold Rush route first, for instance, then have some free time in Jasper and Lake Louise, then take the Journey Through the Clouds itinerary back to Vancouver from Lake Louise.
Still can’t decide on a Rocky Mountaineer Train Route?
If a luxurious train trip through the Canadian Rockies has been on your bucket list, but you’re not quite sure which to take, don’t worry! I’ve designed a short, fun quiz to help you decide what type of train trip you should take. Click below to get started!