Canadian rail adventures

Hop aboard these trains for a day of outstanding scenery and adventure.

For train enthusiasts, the consummate rail journey in Canada is the Canadian – a trip from Toronto to Vancouver that traverses 4,345 km (2,700 miles) in four days, showcasing everything from immense boreal forests to the Prairies and the peaks of the Rockies. But not every traveller has time for a transcontinental odyssey. These day trips allow you to experience the romance of the Canadian rails, soak up some great scenery and maybe even get back in time for dinner.

Sea to Sky Climb, British Columbia

Running from Vancouver to Whistler, this luxury trip aboard the Rocky Mountaineer takes passengers along island-studded Howe Sound before climbing into the snow-capped Coast Mountains. Opt for seats in the domed car for panoramic views of waterfalls, canyons and turquoise rivers – a true glimpse of the wilds of Western Canada.

Runs: mid May to late September. Duration: 3.5 hours, one-way.

Yukon Adventure

Built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush, the narrow-gauge White Pass and Yukon Route is an engineering marvel through the mountains of Canada’s far north.  The 109-km (67.5-mile) rail adventure takes passengers from sea level in Skagway, Alaska, high up to the 879-metre (2,885-foot) White Pass Summit, then down to a restored 1903 station and on into Carcross, Yukon. Expect glaciers, waterfalls, cliff-hugging turns and unforgettable mountain scenery.

Runs: late May to late August.  Duration: six hours, one-way.

Agawa Canyon Tour Train, Northern Ontario

This 183-km (114-mile) excursion transports passengers north of historic Sault Ste. Marie, originally settled by French missionaries and fur traders, and into the forests of the Canadian Shield – a dramatic landscape of lakes, rivers and granite rock formations. The highlight is the dizzying 153-metre (500-foot) plunge to the floor of Agawa Canyon, where travellers disembark to explore waterfalls and scenic overlooks. This trip is particularly popular in autumn to see the fall colours.

Runs: late June to mid October. Duration: 10 hours, round-trip.

Polar Bear Express, Northern Ontario

This passenger train serves as a vital artery between the communities of Cochrane, Moose Factory and Moosonee in remote northern Ontario. For travellers, the 299-km (186-mile) route offers stark scenery, a fascinating glimpse into local First Nations culture and an experience well off the beaten path. Keep in mind that creature comforts aboard are limited and actual polar bear sightings are rare.

Runs: year-round. Duration: 5.5 hours, one-way.

Le Train du Massif de Charlevoix, Québec

Traversing cliffs, fjords and bays along the St. Lawrence River, this 140-km (87-mile) journey takes passengers from Québec City to the 200-year-old resort town of La Malbaie in the historic Charlevoix region. Multi-course gourmet meals highlight local fare as colonial river settlements, towering waterfalls and teeming wildlife reserves slide by outside.

Runs: January to mid October. Duration: 12 hours.

VIA Rail Canada – all the scenery without the driving

VIA Rail is the public passenger rail network in Canada. With over 12,500km of track reaching from coast to coast and north to Hudson Bay, it is the perfect choice to explore Canada at a more relaxed pace.

‘The Canadian’

Probably the most popular train VIA Rail operates is ‘The Canadian’. Running between Toronto to Vancouver it takes four nights to complete its epic journey if you do it in its entirety. The scenery changes every day, from the lakes and forests in the east to the Rocky Mountains in the west and the prairies in between, but it’s not only the varied scenery that keeps travellers glued to the windows, wildlife such as bears, moose and elk can often be seen from the train.

Staying on ‘The Canadian’ for the whole, 2765 mile journey is one option but most passengers choose to break their journey en-route or only do part of the journey. Some choose to break the journey in Jasper and spend time exploring the Rocky Mountains while others choose to visit the cities of Edmonton or Winnipeg. With year-round departures from both Vancouver & Toronto, travelling on ‘The Canadian’ is an exciting way to see the real Canada.

Jasper to Prince Rupert

The two-day journey from Jasper to Prince Rupert is probably the most scenic rail journey in all Canada and is not to be missed. An all day time trip, it meanders through the incredible landscape of Jasper National Park, the Rocky Mountains and Northern BC before arriving in Prince Rupert on the Pacific coast. On this train you’ll spend the days on board, but you’ll overnight in a hotel in the town of Prince George.

It services very small communities such as Penny with a full time population of 10 and the even smaller Dorreen (population 2). So you’ll get to see the real Canada and if you’re lucky the train will make an unscheduled stop to pick-up passengers from besides the rail track. This train operates year round and not only is there stunning scenery to captivate you, but also bears, elk and moose are often seen from the train, and it’s not uncommon for the guard to make an announcement such as ‘bear on the left’ or ‘moose on the right’.

‘The Ocean’

‘The Ocean’ runs between Montreal in Quebec and Halifax on the east coast. It departs Montreal in the early evening en-route to Sainte Foy (across the river from Quebec City),and it follows the St Lawrence river before turning in the early hours of the morning, into New Brunswick and arrives in Halifax, Nova Scotia in the afternoon.

This is an ideal journey to make if you want to experience both the English and French speaking cultures of Canada. Many passengers choose to combine a trip on ‘The Ocean’ with a self-drive tour through the Maritime Provinces or perhaps a city break in Montreal and Quebec.

Winnipeg to Churchill

Adventure and wildlife enthusiasts should consider VIA’s service between Winnipeg and Churchill. It’s a 2 night journey taking you through the province of Manitoba north to the sub-arctic tundra and the small town of Churchill, famous for being the ‘Polar bear capital of the world’. It passes through a very remote and sparsely populated part of Canada, in fact for much of the journey there are no roads so the train is the lifeline for local communities. In Churchill in October and early November visitors can observe polar bears in their natural habitat as they gather on the shore of Hudson Bay waiting for it freeze over so they can go back on the ice to hunt. In summer (July – August) Churchill is where you’d go to see Beluga whales in their thousand’s, you can even snorkel with or kayak amongst them!

‘The Corridor’

The ‘Corridor’ services conveniently connect the major cities in the east of Canada.

Regular and frequent services allow you to travel between some of the most popular cities in Canada with ease. Destinations on the ‘Corridor’ services include Canada’s capital Ottawa, the French Canadian cities of Montreal & Quebec and the cosmopolitan city of Toronto. It’s an excellent alternative to a fly-drive holiday with no traffic jams, finding your way around strange cities or parking fees. And often it’s quicker than flying when taking into account the train is city centre to city centre with no long check-in times, weather or ATC delays. And your bags will arrive with you as well!

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