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This article was updated more than 6 months ago. Some information may be outdated.

Dave Pellatt shares his memories and advice following his journey taking the train across Canada.

Taking ‘The Canadian’ across Canada is a fantastic experience – if you like trains, of course.

It’s Canada’s answer to the Trans-Siberian, or the Orient, it has scenery to rival any, and if you want it, luxury too!

The full 4.5 day journey is really worth the time if you are looking for a more interesting alternative to flying, and if you’re savvy with looking for a deal it can be nearly the same price. There are a few things to consider, though.

The main draw of course is the scenery.

The train gives you a great cross section of Canada’s landscapes, with each day presenting different views, from the forests and lakes of Ontario to the grand majesty of the Rockies in the west.

If you’re going from east to west the mountains make for a stunning finale to the journey.

The scenery is best viewed from the dome carriages; these have plenty of comfy seats, and as the name suggests dome windows which give you a full 360° view.

This is particularly useful in the mountains as you will pass stunning vistas that might look even more fantastic from another angle as the train goes away.

It goes without saying, if you’re planning to take the train across Canada, invest in a decent camera. It’s one of those places where you have to take photos, but make sure you see it with your own eyes too.

I remember after leaving Jasper I descended into a gasping mess, spilling free champagne all over myself every time the train rounded a corner, and I was presented with another stunning view.

The scale is difficult to put into words, and the pictures here can’t do it justice.

the rockies

I slept on an upper berth, the cheapest of the flat bed tickets, which gave me essentially a luxury shelf to sleep on, complete with a hotel-style towel and soap pack, curtain, and baggage hammock.

Food was also included in my ticket, which was five-star and included the best chocolate cake I have EVER had.

Bedding on the Canadian

This costs about $1,000 one way, and is the middle of the range.

It’s a lot more than a flight, but if you book it during a sale, and travel in the off season (basically winter) you can get it for closer to $480, very competitive with the likes of Westjet and Air Canada, and VIA Rail is more generous with baggage.

You can of course go in a lower class and save even more. This comes with a couple of warnings though.

The experience in the economy class is more akin to a hostel on wheels: food isn’t included, and you sleep in bus style seats, albeit nicer. The scenery is amazing for everyone on the train of course! If you’re a seasoned backpacker this will likely be no trouble.


The only other thing to bear in mind is that at night the driver makes extensive use of the train’s very loud horn, so if you’re a light sleeper (as I am, especially on buses/planes) it may be better to go for a berth; they are further down the train where you can’t hear the horn.

There are always interesting people on the train across Canada – in fact one of my roommates later on in my journey turned out to be on the same train as me! If only I’d spent more time down the front.

Overall the journey is fantastic, but there are some logistical things to bear in mind:

  • DO NOT plan anything major for the day of you arrival, especially things like onward flights. My train across Canada was three hours late on the way to Vancouver, and 13 on the way back! Compensation for late arrival is limited at best to a Via Rail credit note (the only way I could afford a return trip). I’d like to note that these delays are almost always Canadian National (CN)’s fault (the track owner) who I think give VIA Rail a very bad deal. Cargo has priority and passenger trains are treated like second class citizens.
  • Take some form of entertainment. The scenery is stunning for the most part, but if you get stopped in say, a cutting, you will get bored. My laptop was invaluable here.
  • If you can, avoid getting on half way. We were many hours late into some of the midway stations. They are pleasant, but austere. You wouldn’t want to spend seven hours in one.
  • Remember, it’s the journey, not the destination.

Factor these things in and you’ll have an unforgettable experience.

Dave is travelling around Canada on three years of working holiday visas. He’s aiming to see as much of the country as possible and have the true Canadian experience along the way! He has a great interest in the outdoors, and is always drawn to fun activities outside.

He records the highlights of his trip in his blog, which is regularly updated. The blog’s additional pages contain helpful advice about what to bring, and any challenges that he encountered during his adventure.

Main image: Jasper Lake with mountains in the distance as seen from the Canadian passenger train. Taken by Steverelei at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0.

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