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Drive, Train or Both? The Best Way to Experience the Rockies

Best Way to Experience the Rockies

All You Need to Know to Plan a Canadian Rockies Vacation

The Icefields Parkway is a 232-kilometre scenic drive with jaw-dropping scenery around every bend. Image: Banff & Lake Louise Tourism / Paul Zizka

Pristine waterfalls, raging canyon rivers and placid blue-green lakes that mirror surrounding mountains—the waters that feed the Canadian Rockies create a rich, verdant landscape that one must witness at least once in a lifetime. Once traversed by Indigenous Peoples, explorers and gold miners on narrow, cliff-hanging paths, the inner reaches of the magnificent parts of British Columbia and Alberta are now accessed by highway spans and railways. But the big questions is this: how to travel in the Canadian Rockies? Should you go on a roadtrip or take the train? Is it better to take Rocky Mountaineer or drive? Here's the good news: you can do both.

A road trip is a tempting option.Your traveling partners and you, winding along the mountain passes, stopping to take pictures of towering peaks and stunning waterfalls, taking a dip in natural hot springs, or spending a relaxing afternoon in the storied town of Banff.

One appeal of hitting the road is the flexibility to redefine your path as you go. Drive the Icefields Parkway. Visit a historic church featured in the movie “Unforgiven.” Step out into “nothing” on the Glacier Skywalk at Jasper National Park. With so many tempting turns in the Canadian Rockies, driving lets you explore your own way.

Unfortunately, the romance of a road trip is tempered by another “r” word: responsibility. Driving for days at a time can be exhausting, and the driver needs to stay focused on the road. That’s a lot to ask in mountainous terrain, not only because the winding roads require constant attention, but it also keeps the driver’s eyes off the spectacular views. Adding to the list, road-trippers need to reserve lodging ahead of time (especially in July and August) and keep on top of navigation, food and schedule.

While a road trip through the mountains undoubtedly holds a certain romance, is there way to take in the exhilarating scenery of the Canadian Rockies without the responsibility of driving? Yes, there is!

Rocky Mountaineer gliding by Seton Lake in British Columbia

All aboard! Once you've heard the iconic horn as you pull out of the station, and the gentle clicking of the track, a new world unfolding before you. Railway travel certainly has a romance all its own. Once you board the train, your only responsibilities are enjoyment and relaxation—no driving and no worries.

Here at Rocky Mountaineer, we've been named the “Best Train Experience in the World” by the Society of American Travel Writers, and we've won the accolades because we offer a unique twist on train travel, both in level of service and overnight accommodations.

Water tumbles 91 metres (300 feet) at Pyramid Falls as seen on our Journey through the Clouds route.

With four unique train routes through the Canadian Rockies and along the Pacific coast, you can choose how you want to travel through the dramatic range of landscapes in Western Canada. Each of the routes provides incredible and unique access to some areas you simply can’t see from the road, like an upfront view of the magnificent Pyramid Falls. Your trip can begin in one of several cities, including SeattleVancouver, and Calgary. Depending on your route of choice to BanffJasper or Lake Louise, the scenery will differ, but our team will go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that the views and the onboard experience are consistently excellent.

Each train coach is custom-built for a luxurious ride—glass-domed roofs on the GoldLeaf Service ensure you are fully immersed in the stunning scenery. Our Onboard Hosts are not only in charge of making sure your glass is filled and your needs are met, they’re also talented storytellers with deep knowledge of the area. We’re proud of our sophisticated menus created by executive chefs, who trained at Michelin-starred restaurants, and the onboard team that prepares locally inspired (and locally sourced) gourmet dishes, right on the train.

Enjoy the ever-changing views from a glass-domed GoldLeaf Service coach.

Despite the efforts of railroad legend George Pullman, sleeping on a train has never measured up to a comfortable bed in a hotel. That’s why we pull into station each night, and you’re shuttled to a luxury hotel, where your luggage will be waiting for you. No more dragging heavy suitcases on and off the train! Spend the evening in a charming mountain town, and sleep in a big, comfy bed. The train heads out again in the morning.

Spend a night at luxury hotels such as the Fairmont Banff Springs

Can’t make a decision between hitting the road or travelling by rail? You don't need to worry. Our Discovery Self-Drive journeys, which can be booked along with our First Passage to the WestJourney through the Clouds, and Rainforest to Gold Rush routes, let you experience some of the Rockies onboard the Rocky Mountaineer, but also include a full-size rental car for some self-guided touring. Your hotels will be booked, so you can just explore. Or, if you don't want to drive at all and still want to see highlights of the area, we offer motorcoach or helicopter tours where the travel is once again managed by you. Take an Icefields Parkway tour with a glacier walk between Banff and jasper, or head up into the clouds for a panoramic view of the Canadian Rockies. And if you're feeling even MORE adventurous, consider adding an Alaska Cruise into the mix.

However you choose to travel, the Canadian Rockies are awaiting your visit.