I have logged many thousands of miles across Canada on more than a dozen VIA Rail trains and can honestly say I’ve enjoyed every one. Furthermore, I can really recommend several of them to anyone with a bucket list for train rides.
I’ve taken VIA’s premiere train, the Canadian, no less than five times over the years and it is one of the world’s great rail experiences. It runs between Toronto in the East and Vancouver on the Pacific shore. On one of those occasions, I broke the trip in Winnipeg and rode VIA’s twice weekly train 1100 miles farther north to the town of Churchill on the shores of Hudson Bay. Polar bears are the great attraction there. They spend the summer months on land, but for the entire winter they’re out on the frozen surface of the bay, hunting seals. Toward the end of October, they come into the Churchill area waiting for the bay to freeze over. And that’s when you have a chance to see these magnificent beasts in the wild and up close. If there’s such a thing as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, this is it.
Still, for spectacular scenery, the Canadian, really cannot be topped. The westbound train takes you through miles of forested wilderness above Lake Superior, then across the great plains of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where vast quantities of grain are grown and shipped all over the world. And, of course, from there you enter the amazing Canadian Rockies. On the final day of that journey, the train follows the Fraser River down through the incredibly beautiful valleys of British Columbia to the Pacific Ocean.
Here’s one more Canadian rail itinerary for you and I’d be hard pressed not to rate it on a par with the other two: Start in Vancouver and take the eastbound Canadian through the Rockies to Jasper, Alberta. Spend a couple of days touring the area, then take the Skeena for the two-day trip back to the town of Prince Rupert, some 900 miles north of Vancouver on the Pacific Coast. Most of the time, this is a very small train. When I rode it, the consist was a locomotive, a baggage car, one coach, and one first class car. (Ah, but the first class car has a dome for incredible viewing and a lounge on the lower level!)
There is no sleeping car on the Skeena so the train stops for the night in Prince George, where everyone heads off to their own hotel accommodations. The trip resumes the next morning.
From Prince Rupert, you can take a ferry down an inland waterway to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island. When my wife and I took this trip three years ago, we rented a car in Port Hardy and took two days for a leisurely drive to Victoria at the southern end of the island. From there, you can catch a ferry back to Vancouver. There’s even a high-speed ferry that will take you to Seattle.
Finally, let me note that if you are a member of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP), you will get a 10-percent discount not only on the basic rail fare, but also on the sleeping car supplement. That’s a big deal because the VIA Rail sleeping cars are quite wonderful and your excellent dining car meals are included in the fare on both the Canadian and the Skeena. Meals on the Winnipeg-Churchill train are extra.
OK, there you have three absolutely wonderful train rides, all on Canada’s VIA Rail. If you’re serious about any of these trips and would like additional information, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m happy to help.