Jumping up and down in front of the train car felt a little silly as everyone climbed aboard, but on the inside, it’s really how I felt. I was headed back out on the Rocky Mountaineer train to experience the Journey Through the Clouds itinerary. This train would bring us from Vancouver to Kamloops and then onto Jasper National Park. I was traveling back to my happy place; one of the few places in this world that I find my Zen, breath in fresh air, and let all of my stress just float away with that snowcapped breeze.
This is not your grandma’s train ride though. Nope. Get your selfie sticks ready ladies. Want to make your friends jealous as you post every second of your day on social media? This is the trip for you. Your journey is filled with epic mountain-scapes, glacial fed lakes and just enough shopping to put a dent in your credit card limit.
Let’s dive into exactly what your Rocky Mountaineer train trip will look like from top to bottom, Vancouver up to Jasper and back down to Banff. Oh, did I not mention that this train ride includes a road trip, helicopter ride and a horse too? Oh well. You’ll soon figure out how all of these modes of transportation fit together to create the most amazing week.
Sunday: Welcome to Vancouver!
You made it! You have officially arrived in Vancouver. Whether you drove, took the train or flew to this magnificent city in British Colombia, your Rocky Mountaineer journey has begun. No, you aren’t on the train yet, but that doesn’t mean your vacation can’t start.
Check into your hotel, do some shopping and relax. You will have all of Monday to experience all of the things to do in Vancouver. For now, let’s get you checked into your hotel and a bit of food in your belly.
There are a lot of Vancouver hotels, but we like to start every Rocky Mountaineer train journey off on the right foot. When it comes to luxury, the Four Seasons and Fairmont hotels are where you will want to rest your head.
- Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, 900 W Georgia St, Vancouver, BC V6C 2W6, Canada
- Fairmont Pacific Rim, 1038 Canada Pl, Vancouver, BC V6C 0B9, Canada
- Fairmont Waterfront, Vancouver, 900 Canada Pl, Vancouver, BC V6C 3L5, Canada
- Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver, 791 W Georgia St, Vancouver, BC V6C 2T4, Canada
DINNER IN VANCOUVER
YEW seafood + bar at the Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver, 791 W Georgia St, Vancouver, BC V6C 2T4, Canada. Order yourself a specialty cocktail. The Silver Seoul Fizz or Piscotarian will sweeten up your night, while the Rockwood is for those who need something a little more bold and robust. Dinner in the Pacific Northwest should always include salmon and Dungeness Crab. This is not an opinion, it’s a fact, and one that YEW embraces and does well. Order your protein and sides, and if you must have a salad, don’t skimp on the Burrata.
Good morning ladies. Vancouver has awoken, and you have too. It’s time to get out of downtown and start exploring the neighborhoods.
It’s amazing how much you can see in one day. While you may want to hit the highlights, we love the Mount Pleasant neighborhood for a little shopping, mural stalking and a hearty breakfast to start the day.
The Wallflower, 2420 Main St, Vancouver, BC V5T 3H9, Canada (Mount Pleasant). A neighborhood joint that doesn’t serve decaf coffee, but it does serve hot breakfasts and never-ending cups of drip coffee all morning long. Vegans and vegetarians love this hot Vancouver neighborhood brunch spot because they aren’t forgotten, but us carnivores can still have our omelets too. Oh, and the orange juice is fresh, so make sure you order a glass.
Shops and Murals of Mount Pleasant
After you fuel up on brunch, pop into the neighborhood shops along Main Street. We love 8th & Main, Turnabout, and Much & Little for stylish designs, gifts and jewelry created by Canadian artists.
While you wander, make sure you check out the over 60 murals throughout the neighborhood. You can get a sneak peek at the latest artwork to go up on the Vancouver Mural Festival website. Each year the August festival adds at least six new pieces of street art to the neighborhood. It’s free and open to the public.
Lunch at Meat + Bread Vancouver
Once you have shopped until you drop, head to the original Meat & Bread on Cambie Street to refuel. I’ve been making a detour to this favorite Vancouver lunch spot whenever I am in town ever since it opened back in 2010.
Get a blowout at Drybar
Ok, now don’t laugh, but the night before I get on the train I always get a blowout. The train departs early. The last thing I want to worry about is my hair.
Also, getting a Drybar blowout is like getting a massage for 45 minutes. Who doesn’t want their hair to be brushed nonstop? I get my hair done once and forget about it for the next four to five days.
A little dry shampoo is all I need to get ready for the train each morning. No blow drying and curling my hair every day for those photo moments, or worse, wet hair on a cold morning.
Dinner at Nightingale
We aren’t even going to give you an option here. You want to have the best dining experience before you board the train in the morning and this is it. Nightingale is within walking distance of all of the downtown hotels. Just make sure you book a reservation. The drinks and sharable plates at this Vancouver hotspot are so coveted, even a Monday night will see a waitlist.
- Nightingale, 1017 W Hastings St, Vancouver, BC V6E 0C4, Canada
Tuesday: All Aboard the Rocky Mountaineer
Rise and shine. It’s going to be an early morning departure from your hotel by motor coach to the Rocky Mountaineer train station. Have no fear—juice, water and coffee will be waiting for you at the station.
Shop an assortment of gifts for the whole family while you wait. My boys loved Jasper and Louise, the “train host” bears I brought them back last time. Not wanting to be left out, I scooped up the Equilibrium Pendant necklace and wear it with almost everything.
Once onboard, you’ll stow your carry-on bag under your seat, grab a pillow and blanket from your hosts, and get comfortable. Your seat reclines and is heated, so no complaining about being chilly ladies.
Rocky Mountaineer Breakfast
Breakfast is served in two rotations if you are in a GoldLeaf coach. For those in the second seating, don’t worry, you will be fed a snack of cinnamon scones and coffee or tea. Do not skip the scones. They are worth every delicious carb-filled morsel. And no, they do not have extras for you to snack on later. I’ve asked. Twice.
The rest of your day will be filled with a never-ending beverage service (mimosas, baileys, scotch, juice, soda, wine, you name it). Your hosts will point out the rivers, mountains and other sites you will go cruise by throughout the day.
Photo Opportunities on the Train
Lunch breaks up the day, but make sure you get out to the observation deck. The train will slow down when major photo opportunities are coming up. If you a photo enthusiast, ask your host for a heads up so you can snag your spot on the platform. Just remember—you are not the only person there. Get your shot so other guests can take their photo too.
Your day will end as you pull into Kamloops. Your checked bags will be waiting in your hotel room. Wander around town, grab a bite to eat, but don’t stay out too late. You have an early morning wakeup call again tomorrow.
Kamloops Restaurant Options
- The Noble Pig, 650 Victoria St, Kamloops
- Mittz Kitchen, 227 Victoria St, Kamloops
- Red Collar, 355 Lansdowne St, Kamloops
- Frick n Fracks, 577 Victoria St, Kamloops
Wednesday: Journey Through the Clouds
If you were starting to wonder where those clouds were on your Rocky Mountaineer Journey through the Clouds, you just found them. As you head out of Kamloops and start climbing the Canadian Rockies, you may find yourself in the middle of rain, fog and even a bit of snow depending on the season.
Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife. This is when you might see bears and elk, especially as you head into the park. The mountains are also getting bigger, and the weather starts to get chilly. You will pass more lakes and fewer towns too.
Rental Car in Jasper National Park
Once you arrive at the Jasper train station, grab your rental car. The rental car counter is right inside the station, usually on your ride. You would have filled out paperwork on the train, but you will have to show your photo ID and credit card to pick up your vehicle.
Dinner at Tekarra Lodge Jasper
Tekarra Lodge Jasper takes reservations, and isn’t the first spot many people hit when they first get off the train. It is quiet and great for groups. Oh, and did we mention that the food and drinks are phenomenal. While many people prefer the pasta dishes, we loved the meat and veggie plates. It’s exactly what we craved after a long day on the train.
Thursday: Jasper National Park
Rise and shine sleeping beauty. We have a full day planned and you don’t want to miss a minute of that crisp, clean mountain air.
Pack up lots of water and a few snacks to stash in the car. Breakfast awaits, and so does that coffee you’re craving.
Breakfast at Bear Paw Bakery Jasper
Bear Paw Bakery is hopping, even early in the morning. Hop in that line you see. It does move quickly. The staff is amazing, as are the chai lattes and chocolate croissants. Protein options are available if you need it, as well as sandwiches for a picnic lunch.
Horseback Ride at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge
There are a few horseback riding outfitters in Jasper. If you want to see the Athabasca River, lakes and mountains, the hour and a half trail ride at the Jasper Park Stables at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is the one for you.
A knowledgeable guide, one who generally teaches at the Marmot ski school during the winter months, will take you through the forests around the lodge, and into the national park. Learn where gin comes from (juniper berries) as well as why all of the pine trees are dying out in this area. The horses are sweet tempered and go at an easy clip. It’s a great ride for all ages and skill levels, without being too slow for those who are used to being on horseback.
Lunch at Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria
Pop back into town for lunch. Somehow, even though you have been sitting on a horse for a couple of hours, you will be starving. Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria has Neapolitan style pizza, crazy topping options, as well as the usual ones you all know and love, and great salads. Wash it all down with a local beer or cider, before you explore some of our favorite shops.
I know we are supposed to be focused on all of the natural beauty in Jasper National Park, but sometimes a girl just needs to do a little shopping. Ransom, Bombshell and Tealeaf are three boutiques in town offering more than the usual mountain and outdoor gear you will see at most of the shops. Ransom hits most price points, while Tealeaf is a bit more high-end. Bombshell has a smaller selection, and prices across the board.
Maligne Lake- Spirit Island boat tour
Now that you have walked off your lunch and stretched your legs after that horseback ride, hop in the car for an hour drive out to Maligne Lake. The Spirit Island boat tour should be booked well in advance, especially in the summer months.
Your Rocky Mountaineer travel planner can help you set up all of your tours and give advice on which will sell out quickly depending on when you travel. And trust me, this is the one tour in Jasper you do not want to miss.
Try to get on the 5:30pm photographers tour if you love to take pictures with the best light. This tour gives you a bit more time on the island to get that photo you have been dreaming about for the past five years. Keep in mind that it can and will rain. The view is still beautiful, although wet. Tours are not cancelled just for rain. You will still be going out and will not get a refund.
If you don’t care about photos, or can’t make the 5:30pm tour, get on the 4:30pm tour. The light is still beautiful this time of day and it will give you more time back at Medicine Lake.
Medicine Lake hike
Once you wrap up your Spirit Island tour, head back down the mountain to Medicine Lake. You passed it on your way to Maligne Lake and were dying to stop, so here is your chance.
Pull off to the side of the road for photos, but remember that there is a parking lot towards the bottom of the lake. There is also a nice path to hike that takes you partway around the lake for different views. Medicine Lake is also an eagle habit, so bring your binoculars. You never know when one will swoop down to say hello.
Dinner at Jasper Brewpub
You just had a very full day and deserve a good, local beer. Or perhaps a meadijito. Yes, that’s a mojito made with mead. The Jasper Brewpub also serves up a few great cocktails. If you despise beer as much as I do, you will not be left out of the liquid shenanigans.
Food ranges from burgers to tacos and everything in between. Don’t count calories. You just burned off more than you normally do in a week. Time to relax and enjoy your meal ladies.
Friday: Icefields Parkway to Banff
This is your 6:30am wake up call. Stop whining. It will be worth it. You will get the best light at Athabasca Falls and have the best chance to see bears on your drive in the summer months if you’re up early. Plus, you have another full day of exploring ahead of you as you road trip down to Banff.
Pop into the Other Bear Paw Bakery for a coffee and bag of pastries to keep you fueled up for your journey. The banana bread is out of this world. Make sure you have plenty of water in your reusable water bottles too.
There are only two full-service rest stops on the Icefields Parkway. Restrooms/Port-A-Potties are plentiful, but drinking water is not throughout your route.
Quick Scenic Stops along your route (Must-See):
- Athabasa Falls
- Peyto Lake
- Bow Lake
Longer Stops on the Icefields Parkway
Most stops along your journey will be free to explore, but there are two paid activities we do love. Everyone should experience walking on a glacier, as well as flying over one in a helicopter.
Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure
Let’s start this one with a warning. DO NOT WALK ON A GLACIER UNSUPERVISED. You have no idea how many people walk out onto the undesignated area of the glacier. This is reckless and dangerous.
The ice is not solid across the field. At any moment, you can fall into a crevice and be lost forever. No one will be able to dig you out of there. This ice goes down hundreds of feet. If you fall. You are gone. The end. And yes, it has happened before. This is not an old-wives tale.
Now that we have that out of the way, if you want to walk on the Athabasca Glacier, you need to book a tour with an approved guide through Glacier Adventure. The team will bring you out to a specific safe zone via their Ice Explorers, where you can walk on, feel and even drink a glacier. Pretty cool, huh? Aren’t you glad you did it right and didn’t die trying to do it on your own.
Rockies Heli Canada
Even better than walking on a glacier would be flying over one. I’m a sucker for a scenic helicopter tour and Rockies Heli Canada does one of the most epic experiences I’ve ever seen.
One of their premium tours includes flying over glaciers, rivers and mountains, before you land next to a river and hike to a waterfall for a picnic. Is it worth the price? 100% yes! Save your pennies and make this trip happen.
The airfield is about an hour off the Icefields Parkway, so schedule your time accordingly. If you miss your booked time, and you do need to book a ride as they fill up fast, the helicopter will leave without you.
Dinner at Saltlik in Banff
Once you arrive in Banff and dump your bags at your hotel, head to Saltlik. Chances are you forgot to book a reservation at one of the restaurants around town. No worries. Saltlik generally has tables available throughout the year.
This does not mean the food, service or drinks aren’t worth it. I’ve eaten here several times and all three were top notch. If you are there in winter, make sure you get the Elk Ragu Gnocci. So amazing!
- Elk + Avenue, 333 Banff Ave, Banff, AB T1L 1B1, Canada. Elegant Nordic vibes take over this hotel on Banff Ave, the main drag running through town. Perfect for guests who want to stay in town and walk to everything.
- Fairmont Banff Springs, 405 Spray Ave, Banff, AB T1L 1J4, Canada. Sleep in luxury at one of Fairmont’s signature properties in Alberta, Canada. Even if you aren’t staying as a guest, book time at their world-class spa. You will need it after all of the adventurous activities you are doing.
Saturday: Banff or Bust
Banff is about three times the size of Jasper. There are plenty of day trips and hikes you can take into the mountains and lakes in Banff National Park, Kootenay National Park and Yoho National Park. Just over the border in British Columbia, you will find one of our favorite hikes at Marble Canyon. This is an easy hike in the summer, and a great spot to snowshoe in winter.
If you want an easy, relaxing day after all of your natural adventures throughout the week, don’t feel bad. It happens to the best of us. Thankfully, Banff has more than enough to keep you busy right in town without even needing a car. Plus, you can even get in a hike if you need some exercise.
Touloulous, 204 Caribou St, Banff, AB T1L 1A6, Canada. Get in line and stay there. Send someone down the street for coffees, but stay in your spot. The table turnover can happen in batches, and you don’t want to miss out on a plethora of eggs benedict options, omelets, French Toast and crepes.
We have a few shops we always hit whenever we’re in Banff, but the one that gets us the most excited to book a plane ticket is Cabin 108. This small boutique on Banff Ave is our first and last stop whenever we’re in town. The selection is spot on and the prices hit most budgets. Dig through the selection, try items on and ask for advice. Don’t skip the sales rack either. The staff is friendly and honest. I have yet to regret a purchase and always get compliments on everything I pick up.
Other shops you don’t want to miss include QuickSilver, Unlimited Skate and Snow, House of Angelica and Branches Marketplace. Each has a great selection that won’t make you look like a mountaineer at the end of the day.
After you’ve spent time shopping, it’s time to get back into nature. Take the free shuttle up to the Banff Gondola. If the free shuttle (limited hours) isn’t running, you can hop on the city bus for a nominal fee.
Book your tickets ahead of time to avoid the lines, enjoy a Starbucks coffee at the highest location in Canada, and take in the view of six mountain ranges.
Fairmont Banff Springs Spa
By now your bones are weary, not to mention your leg muscles. After 5pm, the spa at the Fairmont Banff Springs offers discounted admissions to their facilities (does not include treatments). Hang out for an hour or two in the mineral pools to release all of the tension from the past week. Hiking and sitting take more energy and strength than you think.
Dinner at Park Distillery Restaurant and Bar
Wrap up the day at the Park Distillery Restaurant and Bar on Banff Avenue. Make sure you save room in your suitcase for a bottle of the Alpine Dry Gin, and of course order a few cocktails with your meal. Food options include bison, salmon tacos, St. Louis ribs, steaks, burgers, tin foil trout, smoked brie, poutine and even cornbread for the table.
Head back to your hotel, pack up all of the goodies you’ve bought, and get some sleep. Tomorrow will be a long travel day back home, depending on where you live.
SUNDAY: IT’S SO HARD TO SAY GOODBYE
Sadly, it is time to wrap up your great Canadian rail and road trip with Rocky Mountaineer. There isn’t much time for a leisurely breakfast before your flight, which is why we love grabbing lattes and blueberry scones from Evelyn’s Coffee World.
If you rented a car, you will drive yourself to the airport in Calgary and drop it off at the rental car returns lot before heading into the airport. You can also opt to return your car in Banff and take a shuttle to Calgary. Make sure you chat through your options with your Rocky Mountaineer team member when booking.
Are You Ready for A Rocky Mountaineer Girls Getaway?
Amazing views, wildlife, incredible shopping, spas, local drinks and delectable food are waiting for you when you climb aboard your Rocky Mountaineer journey. I’ve been twice with friends, and we all agree that this is the best getaway as it combines a little bit of everything we love, but most importantly, what we need.
Rejuvenation comes in the form of a bit of digital detox (you can’t always get a cell signal on the train). There is also something to be said about being pampered, not having to think about what’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and just taking care of ourselves for a few days. Moving at our pace, not the pace our kids want to set, and waking up whenever we want to blissful silence is actually worth the price alone.
Are you ready to climb aboard?
This post is part of a paid partnership with Rocky Mountaineer. As always, my opinions are my own. When they aren’t you will be the first to know. This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking one of those links I will receive a small commission.