It’s the first day of Fall. The leaves in Western Canada are changing from green to yellow with hints of gold and pumpkin orange dotting the fertile Fraser Valley. I’m on board the Rocky Mountaineer, traveling in style with their Golf Leaf Service from Vancouver to Kamloops, British Columbia, eventually arriving in Banff, Alberta, Canada. It’s a two day journey by luxury train and like the caboose hitched to the end of the train from bygone eras, it’s a “must do” to hitch on additional days in Vancouver and Banff Lake Louise either at the beginning or end of your Rocky Mountaineer train travel.
My journey began in San Francisco, where I flew non-stop on United Airlines to Vancouver, British Columbia. As is fitting with the train tie-ins, I stayed at the Fairmont Vancouver Hotel. Many of the Fairmont Hotels were originally owned by the Canadian Pacific (CP) Railroad, Fairmont Vancouver hotel being one of those. Train buffs will appreciate the hotel’s nod to their CP Railroad heritage in the decor.
“Sometimes vacations can be stressful and exhausting,” said Rocky Mountaineer Guest Service Manager Mandy Arkesteyn. “On this trip, the food and the scenery comes to you.”
That’s was one of the many pluses for Carolyn Kimpton, 80, of Denver Colorado. “They take care of people on the Rocky Mountaineer. It’s extremely well organized. My husband and I have had no problems getting around on the train and I love the heated seats!” noted Kimpton.
Celebrating the Canadian companies 25 year anniversary, there are two type of service offered on board Rocky Mountaineer; Gold or Silver Leaf service. The First Passage to the West is an iconic route, offering the only passenger rail service on the historic Canadian Pacific track, uniting British Columbia to Canada over 125 years ago.
Dining on Rocky Mountaineers Gold Leaf Service
The culinary team is a moving symphony, playing to the beat of the clickety clack of the wheels of the railroad track. Guest are literally dining in motion. This is particularly impressive when you see the small kitchen that turns out the culinary magic throughout the train travel. From kitchen to table, everything plated and poured is a moving target, yet the waitstaff carries on with ease, grace and a smile. If only of my meals at home could be this well orchestrated.
Executive Chef Jean Pierre Guerin and his crew turn out excellent food in their compact galley kitchen on wheels. From Sir Sandford Fleming Eggs Benedict to Fraser Valley aged Canadian cheddar cheese, Okanagan fruit and wild BC salmon, the train’s theme of “eat well, travel often” is certainly on track. The guest experience is based on the four “S’s” of scenery, service, socialization and sweet savory. Needless to say, you will not leave the train feeling hungry.
The all domed fleet of train cars features roomy and comfortable side-by-side seating in rows of two. Seats can be configured facing one another for families or couples traveling together. On our journey we had 255 passengers traveling in Gold Leaf service with 386 total passengers on board. I never felt crowded or rushed transitioning from breakfast to lunch service, as the train car was divided in two with our guest services manager calling half of the passengers for each meal sitting downstairs.
The Rocky Mountaineer staff was professional, courteous, knowledgeable and friendly. Our all-female team worked in harmony peppering us with historical details along our journey. Sophie in particular was a boon to our travels. Raised by her mother and geologist father, Sophie was able to explain the interesting geology behind Painted Bluff Provincial Park, a sacred spiritual ground to the First Nations people. The cliffs have an array of colors and offer an other-worldly appearance, making it a popular filming site for movies and the television show X Files.
I was fascinated by Hell’s Gate. The narrowest part of the Fraser River was explorer Simon Fraser’s nemesis. In 1808 he wrote in his journal “surely we have entered the gates of Hell!” The cliffs to Hell’s Gate narrow to 34 meters wide and funnel about 200 million gallons (about 750 million liters) of water through every minute. That’s twice the volume of Niagara Falls.
For those who worry about the constant motion of the train, rest assured that a long, relaxing day of travel will be rewarded with sweet dreams in the evening. Rocky Mountaineer staff have lodging logistics nailed as tight as the last spike driven in Craigellachie. In case you’re wondering, the area known as Craigellachie is an important area to train buffs. This is where the last spike was driven back in the late 1800’s to complete the Canadian Pacific Railway. Canada’s Prime Minster, Sir John A. Macdonald, dreamed of a country stretching coast to coast, united by a transcontinental railway. With the purchase of Alaska in 1867, the year Canada was formed, he told people that if British Columbia would join the confederacy, he would build a railway to the Pacific Ocean. BC agreed and became a province in Canada in 1871. Yes, I learned this fun fact on board the Rocky Mountaineer!
Hotel room assignments and luggage have been pre-arranged upon arrival in the historical rail city of Kamloops. Simply show up, walk the city of 85,000 residents, or relax in your hotel room before an early morning departure for another day of sight-seeing on the train. Today, we continued our journey Eastbound to the Canadian Rockies and the city of Banff, Alberta. Our group of explorers traveled through ranch lands to Schuswap Lake, beyond Craigellachie and through an architectural feat of Spiral Tunnels in Yoho National Park.
Once we crossed over the Continental Divide into Banff National Park, we were like kids waking up on Christmas morning. Every bend on the tracks offered a better present than the last. Photo opportunities abound on this trip, ending in a UNESCO world heritage site! There is an endless array of things to see and do in Banff Lake Louise with its rugged beauty, incredible mountain ranges and unlimited outdoor adventure opportunities. Are you curious to experience Rocky Mountaineer gold leaf train travel? For additional insider tips follow Nancy D. Brown on Twitter @Nancydbrown and @rmountaineer.
If You Go:
Rocky Mountaineer (877) 460-3200
Article and photography by travel writer Nancy D. Brown. I was a guest of Rocky Mountaineer during this trip from Vancouver, British Columbia to Banff Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada while researching additional travel articles. All opinions from this Canadian train travel trip are my own. Please check the website for current pricing and train schedules.