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Rocky Mountaineer GoldLeaf versus SilverLeaf: A Firsthand Account

Sunlight flooded through the train's glass-dome windows. Sipping a glass of wine, I stared at the blue lake outside as we moved slowly along the tree-lined tracks. I was on Rocky Mountaineer, making my way from Banff to Vancouver.

The all-daylight luxury train travelled 957 kilometres (594 miles) over two days, taking us from the Canadian Rockies to the West Coast. This beautiful journey is called First Passage to the West and is one of the train’s three historic rail routes.  

Riding the train during the spring was a delight. Snow-capped mountains, rushing rivers, deep green forests. Bumbling bears, circling bald eagles, grazing bighorn sheep.  

There was no shortage of things to see. And it’s not just the scenery that made this journey special. It was also the delicious cuisine, friendly hosts, and attentive service that Rocky Mountaineer is known for. 

Person looking at camera, standing in the outdoor area on Rocky Mountaineer train

When riding the Rocky Mountaineer, guests choose either SilverLeaf or GoldLeaf and remain in the same train coach with the same seat for their entire journey. As an industry insider, I had the opportunity to try both Rocky Mountaineer service levels on my trip. I’m now sharing my experience to help you choose which service is best for you.

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Day 1 – Banff to Kamloops, SilverLeaf

After spending four days exploring Banff and Jasper National Parks, it was time to leave the Canadian Rockies — and what better way to do that than by taking the Rocky Mountaineer? A slow, scenic train journey was the ideal end to a spectacular across-Canada trip. 

We arrived at the Banff train station early on a brisk Sunday morning. (Rocky Mountaineer runs departures for this route from mid-April to mid-October on Sundays, Wednesdays, and some Thursdays.)  

At 7.30 am, the train hosts rolled out the Rocky Mountaineer red carpet, a sign that we would be boarding shortly. For Rocky Mountaineer train trips, you only need to carry a small day bag onto the train. Large luggage items are transferred to your overnight stop and placed in your hotel ready for you (for this route, the overnight stop is Kamloops). This luggage transfer service is included in all Rocky Mountaineer rail routes, regardless of service level. 

Close up of Rocky Mountaineer train sitting on the tracks at Banff station

The train is scheduled to leave around 8am, so there is plenty of time to find our seats and get settled. My assigned seat for this part of the journey was in SilverLeaf service. In SilverLeaf, you have a seat in a single-level dome coach with large windows. Two hosts welcomed us, getting everyone excited with their enthusiasm.  

Leaving Banff, I am instantly mesmerized by the mountain views. It was the first week of May and snow still clung to the craggy peaks.  

Seats next to large windows in SilverLeaf on Rocky Mountaineer

"Grizzly on the right!" Just 45 minutes into our journey, the hosts surprised us with this announcement. I peered out the window and spotted a large grizzly bear scratching his head by the side of the tracks. While bear sightings aren’t guaranteed, chances are high in the spring when the bears have just emerged from hibernation. I’ve lived in Canada for 7 years, and this was my first time seeing a grizzly in the wild. An unforgettable moment.  

The train makes a brief stop at Lake Louise station to pick up the last travellers (you can take this route from Banff or Lake Louise. Lake Louise pick-up is generally one hour after the train departs Banff). There’s no view of the lake as you pass the station, though you can catch a glimpse of the Victoria Glacier.

Breakfast was served around 9am. Croissants, fruit, orange juice, and coffee to start. In SilverLeaf, you order meals from your seat, and they are served to you there, too. There is a menu card tucked into the seat pocket and a fold-down tray table. The menu listed three main breakfast options, like field berry parfait and smoked salmon scramble, and two lunch options, as well as soft and alcoholic drinks.  

In between meals, the hosts wheel a bar cart up and down the train, offering drinks and snacks every few hours. Breakfast, lunch, snacks, non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks are included with your train ticket. Everything is freshly prepared onboard and most dietary requirements can be accommodated. You won’t stay hungry for long!  

Rocky Mountaineer food in SilverLeaf, including croissant and fruit plate and a chickpea salad

Throughout the day, our hosts told us stories about the history of the railway and facts about the areas we passed through. I enjoyed hearing about Lady Agnes, who rode through the Rocky Mountains on the outside of a steam train in 1887, and Doris, a lady who lived in a yellow house near Shuswap Lake, who would wave at the train as it rolled by every day. Our hosts were engaging and knowledgeable, answering questions and cracking jokes, and making sure that everyone was having a fantastic time.

As the train trundles along, we cross the Continental Divide, leaving Alberta and entering British Columbia. Here, the train was at its highest point. We were told to adjust our watches and phones one hour back, switching from Mountain time to Pacific time.  

Soon after, the train goes through the famous Spiral Tunnels, a highlight of the day. Rocky Mountaineer is the only passenger train to enter the tunnels and complete this gradual descent. Once the train emerges from the other side of the tunnels, it heads through the Kicking Horse Canyon, crossing the impressive Kicking Horse River multiple times. Near Revelstoke, we passed Craigellachie, where the last spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway was driven in 1885. 

The rest of the day was full of eye-catching sights, from steel bridges to glistening lakes. The hosts continued their lively commentary, and the train slowed down for wildlife sightings, so we were always entertained. I kept heading to the small outdoor viewing platform (which fits about four people at one time) to capture glare-free shots of the attractive scenery.  

Two people looking out the window of the outdoor area in SilverLeaf on Rocky Mountaineer

Lunch was a three-course affair. Rocky Mountaineer uses locally sourced ingredients and crafts their gourmet cuisine to reflect the Western Canada landscape. Depending on the route, the menu could include items like Okanagan harvest jam, BC wild salmon, Alberta beef, Shuswap farmer’s sausage, and seasonal vegetables. I definitely recommend trying the local beer and wine too.  

To complement the hosts' commentary, there is the Mile Post newspaper and the Rocky Mountaineer magazine. The Mile Post describes all the train's rail routes with detailed maps and lists key sights at each mile post. It’s a helpful way to keep track of where you are along the way. There's also information about Canadian flora and fauna, and snippets of railway history. The RM Magazine has feature articles on art, culture, wildlife, as well as city guides. 

Before arriving in Kamloops, we learnt about the Great Train Robbery of 1906 — where the gang only managed to steal $15 and some liver pills — and saw striking changes in the scenery. We travelled through the semi-arid landscape of Interior British Columbia. Instead of towering mountains and sparkling glaciers, there were volcanic hills, ranchlands, and hoodoos (unique rock formations).   

Once the train pulls into Kamloops station, we board a motorcoach which takes us to our hotel. Arrival time in Kamloops varies but is usually between 6.30-8pm. Having been on the train for about 11 hours, I was 100 percent ready to sleep. 

Pros of SilverLeaf

  • Social, relaxed atmosphere — the train was filled with constant laughter and excited chatter
  • Rocky Mountaineer hosts constantly walking up and down the single-level coach, offering drinks and talking with guests
  • Meals served at your seat so you never miss a moment of the commentary or scenery
  • Great for wildlife viewing as you can spot animals at eye level
  • Less expensive than GoldLeaf service

Day 2 – Kamloops to Vancouver, GoldLeaf

After dreaming of runaway trains and soaring mountains, I was ready for day two of my Rocky Mountaineer experience. We were transferred by motorcoach back to the station in time for the train’s 8am departure. 

In GoldLeaf, seating is on the upper level of a bi-level glass-dome coach. The seats have controls on them so you can adjust the temperature of your seat and recline. It’s spacious and comfortable with lots of legroom. I changed my seat temperature several times during the day, so there was no need to add or remove layers or bring a blanket. 

A noticeable difference between GoldLeaf and SilverLeaf is the view from your seat. You have a higher vantage point in GoldLeaf as you are sitting upstairs. Being in and above the tree line, I could look down at wildlife rather than see it at eye level. The windows wrap around to the ceiling, giving panoramic views.  

Interior view of GoldLeaf coach on Rocky Mountaineer train

When the train leaves Kamloops, we are told that breakfast is split into two seatings. This is because, instead of eating in your seat, you enjoy meals in the dining room on the lower level of the GoldLeaf coach. The groups switch each day, so if you’re in the second seating on the first day, you’re in the first on the next day. While the first group is at breakfast, the second group gets served pastries at their seats so they aren’t waiting a long time to eat.  I was in the first seating, so I made my way downstairs. In the dining room, each table is made up with white linen and elegant place settings. Tables seat four people, so if you are a solo traveller or a couple, you’ll be paired with other passengers. It’s a great opportunity to make friends and share stories of your Canadian adventures. 

There are more choices on the GoldLeaf food menu than on the SilverLeaf. I asked to modify one of the dishes and the staff accommodated my no-egg no-salmon breakfast request. The fresh mini pastries that were given to us to start were warm and buttery. As each table is next to a window, this really is a dining room with a view. 

Cloudy sky over landscape near Thompson River in British Columbia

It is another day of captivating scenery and a wildlife extravaganza. The train followed the Thompson River through Black Canyon and Black Canyon Tunnel (named because of the black lava cliffside). Then, there are more sights with excellent names, such as the Jaws of Death Gorge, Avalanche Alley, and Rainbow Canyon. The Cisco bridges, where the CN and CP tracks swap sides of the river, are a highlight for many today.  

In GoldLeaf, there is a large outdoor viewing area which can accommodate more people than the SilverLeaf version. I relished the opportunity to go outside. Feeling the wind on my cheeks, I enjoyed taking videos of the train winding around sharp bends while eagerly discussing upcoming sights with fellow passengers. A lightweight jumper or jacket comes in handy when standing on the outdoor viewing platform as it is very breezy! 

When I returned to the dining room for lunch, I was eager to see what the chefs would create for us, and I was not disappointed. A charcuterie board with vegan sausage instead of meat, seared king oyster mushrooms with wild rice, and a lemon lavender posset. Others in my group tried the crab ravioli and the Fraser Valley berries and cream. All were simply delicious, especially paired with a glass of white wine — and the dramatic views of Hell’s Gate and the Fraser Canyon. 

Close up of food and drinks in GoldLeaf dining room on Rocky Mountaineer

Slowly, the train moves through the forest, then past the farms and towns of the Fraser Valley. Crossing New Westminster Bridge, we began the final stretch of our journey to Vancouver. Then, before we knew it, two days of amazing scenery were over as the train pulled into the station. The staff said their goodbyes and waved us on our way.  

Of course, I noted down all the wildlife we saw over the two days. My final tally count was impressive and more than I expected! One grizzly bear, one elk, one heron, 11 eagles (and three nests), five deer, one bighorn sheep, two marmots, one osprey, three black bears, seven vultures, one coyote, and one seal. There were no sightings of wolves, moose, or the mythical Sasquatch, but I was thrilled with the number of animals we saw. There were sections of this journey that felt like a very exciting wildlife viewing tour. 

Top of Rocky Mountaineer train surrounded by green trees

Pros of GoldLeaf

  • Lower-level dining room with tables next to large picture windows
  • More choices on the food and drink menus
  • Chance to chat with fellow passengers while you eat as seating is tables of four
  • Panoramic views of the scenery from your seat on the upper level
  • Large outdoor viewing platform downstairs, so you can enjoy two different perspectives of the landscape
  • Opportunities to capture unobstructed shots of the top sights

Final thoughts and service level recommendations

As I reflect on my experience, I realize that what was so wonderful about travelling by train, rather than driving or flying, was that I could appreciate the scenery without any major distractions (aside from the fantastic food, that is). It was a relaxing slow travel experience that I’d recommend for anyone visiting Canada for the first time.

While travelling in SilverLeaf is ideal for laidback travellers, GoldLeaf is a brilliant choice for anyone celebrating a special occasion or those looking for the ultimate luxury experience. But no matter what service level you choose, one thing is certain — riding Rocky Mountaineer through Western Canada is an extraordinary train trip.   

Rocky Mountaineer train travelling towards the mountains

About the author: Hannah Poaros-McDermott is the Senior Content Coordinator at Fresh Tracks Canada. She has previously written for and shared her local knowledge in Where Vancouver, Where Whistler, and Essential Vancouver magazines. Originally from the UK, Hannah travelled... Read more

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