Canada by Train: Planning Tips

by Julie Ovenell-Carter on December 5, 2010

by Julie Ovenell-Carter | December 5th, 2010  

The romance of the rails doesn’t come cheap in Canada. But you’re sure to fall in love.

A train trip across Canada seems to be part of the iconic Canadian “brand”–up there with moose, Mounties and maple syrup. It’s a bucket-list topper for locals and visitors alike.

Take a day-trip aboard the Whistler Mountaineer between North Vancouver and Whistler, BC

Trains are important to the Canadian psyche. It was, after all, the railway that united Canada both literally and figuratively more than a century ago.

In 1881, the federal government, anxious to bring the West into Confederation and shut out U.S. expansionism decided to push a railway through to the West Coast.

It was a formidable task, fraught with scandal and financial instability.

But with the pounding of the Last Spike at Craigellachie, BC in 1885, Canada suddenly became an international tourist destination.

So here’s the good news:

Canada offers a range of breathtaking train tours.

Followed immediately by the bad:

They tend to come with breathtaking price tags.

I’ve recently been in a lengthy Twitter exchange with a European train enthusiast who was completely disheartened by the costs associated with train travel in Canada.

He was all set to give up his dream of seeing Canada by train. I told him it would never be “budget”, but that it could be done without busting the bank.

Here’s how:

  • Take smaller bites: I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it–Canada’s a big country. It will take you almost a week of travel to cross by train. Forget the budget question for a moment–can you really afford the time?  A shorter trip will cost you less and still deliver some spectacular scenery. (And it allows you to skip the boring bits of a cross-country trip. It must be said: while the flat Prairie landscape has its own appeal, it does get a little redundant after the first 12 hours…)
  • Hunt for deals: There are all kinds of opportunities to trim the bill: student and senior discounts; two-for-ones; flexi-passes;  early-booking bonuses; seasonal specials. Stalk the VIA Rail and Rocky Mountaineer web sites–or better yet, sign up for RSS notifications from them–and be ready to pounce on the right price.

Don’t miss a chance to see even a tiny piece of Canada by train. Even a small investment in a well-chosen train journey will pay off in lifetime memories…

Do you have a favourite Canadian train-travel memory? Or a route you particularly like? Please share it below!

>>Related links:

>>Ready to book your trip to Canada? Use the search tool below to find the best rates on flights and hotels.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

andrea December 22, 2010 at 2:25 pm

Compared with European train travel, anyone coming here from there will be floored by our prices. Its bloody ridiculous. I contemplated a relaxed train ride across canada, and decided to fly instead. Train what a joke here.

Julie Ovenell-Carter December 22, 2010 at 4:27 pm

Andrea, I agree that our prices are high compared to European train travel, but I think that’s an unfair apple/oranges comparison. Europe is much smaller and has more trains running and more people using the rails. That is why I recommend thinking of a Canadian train trip more as you might think of a cruise–an extra special travel experience for which you’re willing to pay more than you would pay for the cattle-car experience of air travel.

Certainly if efficiency and budget is your priority, DON’T travel by train in Canada. It should not be thought of as a replacement for air travel in this huge country. If cost is an issue, once again I recommend taking shorter train trips rather than one epic cross-country trip.

Boomergirl August 30, 2011 at 6:49 pm

I love the train and take it often along the Windsor – Quebec City corridor. Check for deals on Twitter @ViaRail before you book and you can usually get a better price. The train is a place where I can get a lot of work done if I want to but I also enjoy checking what wildlife I can spy out my window. I get almost obsessed counting what I see. My biggest thrill was seeing a stag and two doe just east of Kingston, Ontario. Have seen plenty of other wildlife too, including coyotes, red tailed hawks, wild turkeys, osprey and blue herons.

Sailor September 2, 2011 at 5:54 pm

Very interesting article. Canada has a lot to explore and the choice of going by the train is an excellent idea!


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