Skip to Content

Vancouver to Banff Canadian Rockies Train: First Passage to the West

Taking a Canadian Rockies train trip is definitely worthy of your travel bucket list. I recently had the opportunity to travel on the amazing Rocky Mountaineer First Passage to the West route. You can take this train from Vancouver to Banff or the return route from Banff to Vancouver.

Thank you to the Rocky Mountaineer for hosting me on my journey. All thoughts and opinions stated here are my own based on my personal experience.

vancouver to banff train
Traveling by train from Vancouver to Banff through the Canadian Rockies. © Kimberly Tate

Vancouver to Banff Train

The First Passage to the West route is a two-day journey that travels between Vancouver and Banff. Guests can also choose Lake Louise, instead of Banff, as their endpoint/starting point. The route has one overnight in Kamloops. Beyond the two-day trip, you’ll definitely want to plan to spend some additional time in Vancouver and Banff before and after the train journey.

Your mornings will start fairly early, each day we were picked up at our hotel around 7-730 am for an approximate 730-8 am train departure time. The boarding occurs pretty quickly, you’ll locate your train car, the number is noted on your boarding pass, then you’ll board and go to your seat.

As you get ready to depart, you’ll meet your cabin hosts and be given a glass of champagne to toast your journey. Then it’s time to sit back and enjoy the sights.

mountain views from the canadian rockies train
The views are spectacular aboard the Rocky Mountaineer. © Kimberly Tate

What You’ll See and Do on the Canadian Rockies Train Trip

As I mentioned, the First Passage to the West is a two-day journey. One day you’ll travel between Vancouver and Kamloops, the other day is between Kamloops and Banff (or Lake Louise).

During the route between Vancouver to Kamloops, you’ll be journeying through the rich agricultural area of Fraser Valley and entering into a more arid, canyon region of British Columbia. There are some gorgeous bridges on this route, and you’ll get to see the deep river gorge area called Hell’s Gate.

Rocky Mountaineer train crossing bridge in Canadian Rockies
Crossing bridges while aboard the Rocky Mountaineer. © Kimberly Tate

Traveling between Kamloops and Banff is the heart of the Canadian Rockies. You’ll pass more bridges as well as some fun tunnels. One of the most famous is the Spiral Tunnel that routes you through curving tunnels, allowing the train to tackle a steep grade change in a short amount of space.

While on the train you’ll be served food and drinks while you watch all the beautiful scenery pass by. Silver Leaf passengers will be served meals and snacks at their seats. Rocky Mountaineer Gold Leaf is a luxurious experience that includes a dining room where you’ll be served your gourmet dishes.

What to Do in Vancouver

As I mentioned above you’ll want to allow some time beyond your two-day train ride in order to explore Vancouver. I’m lucky enough to live close by and have been to the city a few times.

During this visit to Vancouver, I finally got to experience the Capilano Suspension Bridge. This suspension bridge is really more of a park with a few boardwalk paths curving around the lush forest where the bridge is located. There’s also a crazy glass wall walk along the ravine that the bridge crosses.

capilano suspension bridge
Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver, Canada. © Kimberly Tate

I was pleasantly surprised that this is more than just a tourist trap attraction and something I look forward to revisiting and taking my girls back to experience. It’s probably not a great attraction for those with height phobias.

We also went on the Grouse Mountain Skyride tram. After journeying through the clouds up to the summit we were able to explore a bit of the visitor’s center and see the two rescued grizzly bears they have on display. Unfortunately, the rain kept us from exploring more of the summit but on a dry day, it seems like a fabulous place to hike around.

If you have extra time to explore the west coast of Canada, make time for a road trip along the Sea to Ski Highway from Vancouver to Whistler!

What to Do in Banff

If you’re starting or ending your Canadian Rockies train ride in Banff, plan to spend two days or more exploring that region of the Rockies. Banff is a cute town that has a lot of fun shops and restaurants you can explore. I especially loved our meals at Saltlik, Park Distillery, and The Bison.

We also went on a Banff Highlights & Gondola tour that was about five hours long. We traveled on a tour bus visiting popular sites like Lake Minnewanka, Two Jack Lake, the hoodoos, Bow Falls, and the Banff Gondola.

Banff is one of the best National Parks in Canada!

stuffed suitcase at lake minnewanka in banff alberta
Lake Minnewanka near Banff, Alberta. © Kimberly Tate

If you do the Banff Gondola on Sulphur Mountain, be sure to allow extra time to walk along the paths away from the visitors center. It’s a pretty walk and will offer some extra viewpoints of the town of Banff and surrounding mountains. You can also eat lunch and dinner at the summit at SkyBistro. If you are eating in town, check out these great Banff restaurants.

Seeing the Canadian Rockies by train is certainly a unique experience and worth a spot on your bucket list. I love that the Vancouver to Banff train offers a quick two-day journey, but you can also find three and four-day trips from the west coast into the Canadian Rockies (including to another popular city, Jasper) with the Rocky Mountaineer.

vancouver to banff rockies train ride

Share and Save This Post:

Bethany

Tuesday 12th of January 2021

Hi there I have several questions! I’ve been planning a trip to Banff for years. I also love train rides and would love to do this. But my question is when is the best time to do it? Where do I book it? And what if I want to stay in banff for a few days can I stay and take the train ride back another day ?

Kim

Tuesday 12th of January 2021

Hi Bethany! I'll try to answer these as best as I can. The best time can vary based on what sort of activities you want to see and do while in the region. Winter will have beautiful snow, but some of the activities might be limited and the mountains could be clouded over. Although that could happen any season. I went in the spring and found it a great time. Summer in the Banff region is crazy busy. Honestly, if I could pick I'd tell you to do a late spring or early fall trip. Fall will have beautiful foliage colors for a couple of weeks, just remember that it's normally a bit earlier than what the US experiences. You'll want to book directly with Rocky Mountaineer, I'm not sure if any travel agents have booking rights, but that is a possibility as well. You should check their promotions webpage to see if they have any deals, and they have a chat, call, and email function on their website if you want to talk to someone directly. Lastly, your booking will be for one journey and doesn't allow you to stop. However, they do have an eastbound and westbound option out of Vancouver. Of course, you'd need to book two journeys and allow a few days in between. So you'd book Vancouver to Banff, then book Banff to Vancouver at a later date. Or you could fly to Calgary and stay in Banff for a few days before you do your Rocky Mountaineer trip to Vancouver. You can also book a circle journey which is like a round trip route, lots of options for a round trip from Vancouver (but not a lot of time in Banff), and one option for a round trip out of Calgary which would allow you to add a day or two on both ends of your rail trip to explore more of Banff. Hope this info helps! Feel free to comment if you have any further questions.

Elisa Talinio

Saturday 26th of December 2020

Just asking, do they allow small kids in the train? We are planning to go next year.

Kim

Friday 1st of January 2021

Yes, kids are allowed, although I don't believe they offer special pricing for children.

Abby

Monday 7th of December 2020

Is this a sleep on train?

Kim

Monday 7th of December 2020

Hi Abby, no this isn't. Part of your vacation package that you get when you book your train tickets is for overnight stops in the towns along the way. You can book different hotels based on your preferred luxury level.

Keri Hedrick

Friday 13th of March 2020

We just cancelled our Canada trip today, so busily rescheduling what we can try squeeze in on a re-do, this is definitely very high on my bucket list!!

Planning the Perfect Canadian Rockies Vacation Itinerary [7 or 10-days]

Monday 9th of September 2019

[…] you are driving or taking the Rocky Mountaineer train over from Vancouver, most visitors will fly into either Calgary or Edmonton. There […]