Complete Guide to Taking the Train Across Canada – Explore With Lora (2024)

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Wondering about taking the train across Canada? I’ve done it twice in each direction, and it truly is one of my favorite adventures of all time.

Taking the passenger train across Canada is the best way to travel through my beautiful country.

This scenic journey will take you through the Atlantic Coast, Ontario’s great lakes, the Prairies, and the stunning Rocky Mountains of Alberta and British Colombia.

If you’re planning a trip to Canada, taking the train is a wonderful way to get around the country and see all the incredible landscapes.

In this guide, I’ll lay out everything you need to know about the cross-Canada train, including routes, prices, and why this experience should be on your Canada bucket list.

Jump Ahead

How I took the Train across Canada Twice (for free)

I always dreamed of a rail trip across Canada, but I could never justify it on my budget. Then, the most fortunate turn of events happened to me.

I was mid-way through my trip around the world in Vancouver for a family wedding. I wanted to spend the summer going across the country to my hometown, St. John’s, and was trying to figure out the cheapest way to get across the country by land as I was on a tight budget.

Then I got a call from VIA Rail Canada, who told me that I had won their 40th-anniversary contest! The prize was two round-trip tickets for VIA Rail across Canada train tickets. I couldn’t believe it; the timing was perfect.

Even though I had two years to use the tickets, I wanted to go almost immediately. VIA Rail was surprised at how quickly I wanted to redeem my prize, but they kindly accommodated me. Before I knew it, I was off on a VIA Train across Canada!

Canada Train Routes

You have to take two different routes to get across Canada by train.

The Canadian, the Vancouver to Toronto train (or visa versa), and the Ocean, the Montreal to Halifax train.

You can take a regular VIA Rail commuter train to get between Toronto and Montreal. They aren’t as nice but run every day, and it only takes about five hours. By Canada distances, five hours is basically next-door.

The Canadian Train from Vancouver to Toronto

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The train that brings people between Vancouver and Toronto (or vice versa) is The Canadian.It starts in Toronto at Union Station or in Vancouver at Pacific Station.

Toronto and Vancouver are both lovely cities to explore while traveling in Canada.

Toronto was my home for years, and I never get bored of exploring the city with so many things to do.

If you’re looking for a nice place to stay in Toronto, check out my post about the best boutique hotels in Toronto.

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Vancouver is one of Canada’s most beautiful cities, sitting at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. It is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, especially with so many options for weekend trips from Vancouver.

Check here for the best rates on accommodation in Vancouver.

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During the train ride from Vancouver to Toronto, you will pass through the Canadian Rockies with stops in Kamloops, Jasper, and Edmonton – Alberta’s capital city.

The views are breathtaking along the way, passing through some of the most beautiful places in Alberta.

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After leaving Alberta, you enter Saskatchewan. The train journey across Canada was my first time seeing Saskatchewan, and I was pleasantly surprised at how beautiful the landscapes were. The bright green endless canola fields are gorgeous in the summertime.

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From there, the Canadian train stops in Winnipeg, Sioux Lookout, and a long but beautiful journey through Northern Ontario with a stop in Sudbury before arriving in Toronto.

I lovedthis train route, especially the part between Vancouver and Edmonton.

In Edmonton, they add on an extra panoramic window train cart with floor-to-ceiling glass windows, so you get the most stunning views of the Rocky Mountains.

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The Ocean Train from Montreal to Halifax

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The train journey between Montreal and Halifax is called The Ocean. It starts at either Montreal’s Central station or Halifax, and has many stops throughout Quebec and New Brunswick.

This train route only takes 23 hours, which doesn’t give you as much time to get to know the staff and other guests compared to The Canadian.

The train they use for the Ocean route is slightly different from the Canadian. It’s a newer train, but the rooms felt smaller.

The food is excellent (yay seafood!), and the scenery is stunning—especially the section closer to Halifax that goes along the water.

I loved my experience on both trains, but if I had to pick a favorite, it would be the Canadian train route.

What to Expect On the Train Ride Across Canada

Accommodation on the train

Your accommodation on the train depends on the ticket class you have. There are three tiers:

Economy. An economy ticket will get you a regular seat on the train. However, economy passengers don’t have access to the dining/activity carts. There is a place to buy food onboard the economy section, but it’s an additional cost.

Sleeper class. All passengers in this class have access to the dining/activity cars. Plus, meals come with the sleeper class ticket, which is great because the food on the train is amazing. There are various bed options in sleeper class:

The best (and most expensive) option within the sleeper class is the one or two-bed private cabin with a bathroom.

The other sleeper class options are only semi-private. One of them is a bench seat that folds out into a bed, with a curtain to close at night. The bathroom is shared.

I also saw semi-private rooms with a similar bench/bed combo, but with a toilet inside with a lid that goes over it to turn it into another seat. Sleeping/sitting next to a toilet all day didn’t appeal to me, so I’d probably go with one of the other options.

Prestige Class: The ultimate class. The private cabins used to be first-class, but recently VIA Rail has made upgrades with new prestige carts. This is the luxury train across Canada!

The prestige rooms are soundproof, which is a massive plus because it can be noisy on the train. Inside the rooms, there is an l-shaped couch that folds out into a double bed, a large flat-screen TV, and massive windows to take in the views. And the best part – the rooms come with unlimited alcohol.

The catch? The VIA rail Prestige class price is around $10,000, and they are only available on the Toronto to Vancouver route. Unfortunately the prestige cart didn’t come as part of my prize, but VIA Rail was kind enough to let me see inside one of the prestige carts.

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My prize was the two-person cabin which felt prestigious for a backpacker.It had a set of bunk beds, a sink, and a separate room with a toilet (showers are outside of the room). It’s a tight fit with two people, but I found it perfect when coming back as one person.

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Another perk of prestige class is having access to an exclusive lounge. This cart is much nicer than any of the other viewing carts on the train.

After 4 pm, they allow all the other sleeper class passengers access to the prestige car. However, there are limited seats, so it’s a good idea to get there at 4 pm or even a few minutes before if you want to guarantee a seat.

The best part about the cart is that it’s at the back of the train, so you get views like this.

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Amazing Scenery

The scenery is the best part of a Canada train trip. Getting to see the changing landscapes from coast to coast is an unforgettable experience. I feel lucky to come from such a beautiful and diverse country.

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Some of my highlights on the train ride across Canada were passing through Jasper National Park, Mount Robson, Fraser Canyon in British Colombia, the Canola fields of Saskatchewan, the never-ending lakes and trees of Northern Ontario, and along the ocean near Halifax. All of the sunsets on the train were magical.

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The best part about taking the train both ways across Canada is that you get to see parts of the country where it may have been dark before.

For example, coming back on the Toronto to Vancouver train, we passed a beautiful stretch near the border of Manitoba and Winnipeg, which I hadn’t seen before.

The most beautiful part of the train ride is between Vancouver and Jasper. If you can only do one section of the train, this is what I’d recommend.

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Incredible Food

Dining on the train tour across Canada was one of my favorite parts of the experience. I wasn’t expecting much, but the food was incredible. They serve you three meals a day and do not skip out on quantity or quality.

At each meal, you get a menu with four options. Some examples of the entrees we ate included veal, braised lamb, duck, and salmon, and they always have one vegetarian option on the menu.

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They tailor the menu to the region you’re traveling through in Canada, adding to the experience. Expect great beef through Alberta and fantastic seafood on the East Coast.

Dessert comes with lunch and supper, which almost felt cruel because the desserts are SO GOOD. Like millions of decadent calorie good. Train calories don’t count, right?

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They also provide snacks on the activity cart 24 hours a day, including fruit, pastries, juice, and water. You likely won’t get hungry between meals because the food is filling, and being on the train is a pretty sedentary activity. I actually gained several pounds on the train!

Activities on the train across Canada East to West

The staff at VIA Rail are fantastic. They go above and beyond to make sure you have a great experience.

There are two activity carts on the train where the staff will do onboard activities, many of which are alcohol-related.

When you depart from Vancouver, Toronto, and Jasper, the staff organize a champagne departure toast (Pro tip: you can get seconds or thirds. Just ask).

They also have daily beer and or wine tastings where you can get a chance to sample local brews. There is also a paid bar on the train, but it’s not the cheapest. A beer is $10 CAD.

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In the activity carts, there are board games and cards to play. Sometimes they play movies or host trivia and bingo games with prizes of Canadian souvenirs. Not going to lie; I got pretty into bingo on the train.

Sometimes they have live entertainment on the train in the activity carts. If you are an artist, you can apply to VIA Rail as a performer.

If you get accepted, you’ll get free accommodation and food in exchange for performing a few sessions on the train. What a great opportunity for traveling artists!

Admiring the beautiful scenery along the train ride is the best way to spend time. One thing I loved about the train ride is that the staff will come on the intercom and give visitors information about any points of interest you pass through.

They even slow down for scenic spots, like Pyramid falls in Alberta

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Wi-Fi on the Canada train

There is no Wi-Fi on the Canadian train, and there are many points where your cell phone reception won’t work.

During the stretch through Northern Ontario, I didn’t have any signal for about 24 hours. You will have plenty to see and do during the day, but it’s a good idea to bring some entertainment for nighttime after dinner.

I recommend a Kindle E-readerwith a Kindle Unlimited Subscription, which gives you access to 1 million titles for just $9.99 a month. As a frequent traveler, I love having the Kindle unlimited subscription since it gives me access to so many books for less than the cost of one.

There was Wi-Fi advertised on the Montreal to Halifax train, but I couldn’t get it to work for me. Nevertheless, the train is the perfect way to detox from life – so make sure to bring a good book and enjoy the ride!

How long does it take traveling across Canada by train?

To go from Vancouver to Halifax, you can expect to be on the train for five to six days.

The Vancouver to Toronto train is three nights/four days, and the train from Montreal to Halifax is one full day (24 hours). The commuter train between Montreal and Toronto takes about five hours.

Delays on the train are common because the Canadian National Railway owns the railway tracks, and VIA Rail rents the use of them.

Since there is only one track, CN Railway has the right of way, and therefore VIA Rail has to stop to get out of the way when a freight train is coming.

They don’t know how much freight traffic there will be, so delays are common. On my first trip across the train from Vancouver to Toronto, we were 12 hours delayed by the scheduled time.

However, in November 2018, they updated the schedule to more accurately reflect how long it will take.

When I came back on the train from Toronto to Vancouver the new times were in effect, and we were right on schedule. Just prepare yourself to frequently stop because of freight traffic and that a delay can still occur. VIA Rail Canada doesn’t advise booking any onward travel the same day as scheduled to arrive.

You can view the most recent train schedule times on the VIA Rail Website.

Can you get off at stops?

Presuming the train is on schedule, they allow you to get off at some stops. Unfortunately, because we got so delayed on the train from Vancouver to Toronto, we only had time for quick 10-minute stops.

However, coming back West from Toronto to Vancouver, we had longer stops. The two main stops on the train ride from Toronto to Vancouver are a two-hour stop in Winnipeg and a three-hour stop in Jasper.

Both train stops are in great locations for exploring. The train stop in Winnipeg is centrally located, and they even make arrangements with a tour guide that will meet you at the station for a sightseeing tour of the downtown area for an additional $10.

Jasper is a small town, and the train station is right off the main strip, so you will have time to explore the charming downtown area of Jasper.

You can even head into some nearby trails in Jasper National Park if you feel like a hike. If you can, I suggest getting off at Jasper and spending a few nights. It’s one of my favorite places in the world.

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Best time to take a train ride through Canada

The train across Canada runs year-round, and there’s no “perfect” time to take it. All the seasons have pros and cons.

I love summer, so taking the train in June/August was perfect for me. I loved the sunny days and long nights, allowing lots of time to soak in the scenery.

On the other hand, taking the train during winter would be a pretty magical experience. Imagine seeing the snow-covered mountains while being warm and cozy inside the train. But you’d need to bring warm winter clothes with you!

Then you have autumn when the leaves are changing color. One of the staff members told me this was their favorite time to be on the train, and I can imagine why.

One of the best parts about Canada is that we experience all four seasons, so pick your favorite one and take the train then!

Cross Canada Train Ride Cost

Taking the train in Canada is not the cheapest thing to do, but there are ways to make it work even on a budget.

The sleeper train across Canada cost varies significantly between economy, sleeper, and prestige class. Economy is the cheapest but has the fewest amenities.

I haven’t taken the train in economy class, so I can’t speak too much about it, but I know others who have said they enjoyed the experience. You get the same scenery, and it’s easier to meet people since you’re all on the same cart.

Check the VIA Rail website for the most recent prices. They frequently have sales, so it’s good to keep your eyes out (and for contests)! Tuesday is the cheapest day of the week to buy train tickets.

Downsides of Cross Canada train trips

While taking a train across Canada is a magical experience, there are some downsides.

It isn’t a quick way to travel across Canada. If you’ve got limited vacation time and want to see a lot of the country, flying may be a better option.

The reality is that Canada is a massive country, and it takes a long time to get between places. The train is also prone to delays, so if you’ve got a tight schedule, it may not be the best option.

My biggest pet peeve with the train is that it doesn’t truly go across Canada because Newfoundland isn’t part of the train route. This is no fault to VIA Rail, the Toronto to Newfoundland train stopped working years ago due to a foolish decision by the government.

If you want to experience all of Canada, then you’ll have to include Newfoundland on your itinerary because it’s unlike anywhere else in the country.

The best way to visit Newfoundland after taking the train cross Canada is to rent a car in Halifax, spend a few nights, and then go on an East Coast Canada road trip.

From Halifax, you can drive to Cape Breton Island (which is home to one of Canada’s most scenic road trips). And from Sydney, Cape Breton, there is a ferry that goes to Newfoundland.

The shorter ferry option is to go to Port Aux Basque, which is on the West coast of Newfoundland. This is a great place to start your trip if you want to visit Gros Morne National Park, just three hours away. From there, you can drive through Central Newfoundland all the way to St. John’s.

Tips for a Train Trip Across Canada

  • Book on Tuesday. VIA Rail has the cheapest offers posted on Tuesdays, so wait to book then. They also run promotions frequently, so keep an eye out for deals.
  • Pack light! The cabins are cozy so there won’t be much room for extra luggage. We shared a two-bed cabin with a 75L backpacking bag each and managed, but there wasn’t much additional space.
  • Expect delays. Although the train times are updated, delays are still prevalent due to the unpredictably on the freight trains.
  • Don’t book onward travel for the same day of arrival in case of delays. Instead, spend a couple of days exploring these amazing Canadian cities
  • Be prepared to disconnect. The train does not come equipped with Wi-Fi, and there are large parts of the journey where your cell phone won’t work. Embrace this time and enjoy the views!

Facts about Canada

Canada has two official languages – English and French. English is widely spoken throughout the country, but French is the main language in Quebec.

Visa requirements: Many countries, including the United States and those within the EU, can enter Canada for six months without a visa.

Consult the Government of Canada website to see what your country’s requirements are. An electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) is required for all visa-free travelers except Americans. It cost $7, and you can apply online.

Staying Connected – Canada has some of the worst cellular data rates in the world. The cheapest plans are with low-cost carriers like Sprint, but the service will be spotty outside of major cities. Bell, Rogers, and Telus/Koodo are the three main carriers that provide coverage across the country.The easiest and cheapest way to get data in Canada is to get an eSIM from one of these providers.

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Arriving in Canada

Flying:Canada has 17 international airports, with the biggest being Toronto Pearson (YYZ), Vancouver International Airport (YVR), and Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL).

If you are flying from another country you will likely land in one of these airports and connect to the other provinces via a regional flight, although sometimes you can get a direct international flight.

Land:Canada shares the world’s largest unmanned border with the United States. There are several points of entry in each province. Road-tripping is one of the best ways to visit Canada.

By Boat:Canada is connected to both the Atlantic and Pacific ocean as well as some of the biggest lakes in the world. Thousands of cruises come here every year. There are port authorities in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, and British Colombia.

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Safety and solo travel in Canada

One of the best parts about traveling to Canada, especially for solo female travelers, is that it is incredibly safe! Canada ranks six on the Global Peace Index, making it one of the safest countries in the world to visit.

Canadians have a reputation for being some of the friendliest people in the world, and I like to believe this is true (I’ve also been told it is by many people).

We LOVE to help people, so if you’re lost or have a question, don’t be afraid to ask. Locals are friendly and love to chat. If you ask a local a question in Newfoundland, you’ll probably end up having your ear talked off and then be invited in for a cup of tea (which is perfectly safe to do).

It’s easy to meet people in Canada, making it a great country for solo travelers.

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Other Canadian Train Trips

There is another Canadian train trip you can take called the Rocky Mountaineer.

It’s a separate train with three rail routes through the Rocky Mountains in British Colombia and Alberta, including stops in Banff National Park, Lake Louise, and Jasper National Park. I haven’t had a chance to take this train yet, but it’s definitely on my bucket list.

How long does a trip across Canada by train?

The Vancouver to Toronto train is three nights/four days, and the train from Montreal to Halifax is one full day (24 hours). The commuter train between Montreal and Toronto takes about five hours.

What is the best train trip in Canada?

The Canadian train, which goes from Vancouver to Toronto, is the best way to travel across Canada. You’ll get a taste of all the diverse landscapes in Canada, from the rocky mountains of the west to the great lakes of Ontario.

Is there a train that goes across Canada?

Does via rail go across Canada? Almost! There is a train that goes from Vancouver to Toronto and a train from Montreal to Halifax, but there is no train to Newfoundland from Toronto.

I loved my experience taking the cross Canada train. I can’t thank VIA Rail enough for this incredible opportunity; it made my entire year! It’s one of the best ways to see the diverse landscapes of this country without having to worry about driving.

Have you taken the train in Canada before? Or do you have a similar train route in your own home country? Let me know in the comments below!

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    Lora Pope

    Lora is a full-time digital nomad on a quest to visit every country in the world and pet as many dogs as she can along the way. Over the last 15 years, she has traveled to 70+ countries and six continents solo. She currently calls Puerto Vallarta, Mexico home and enjoys ending each day with sunset and tacos on the beach.

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Complete Guide to Taking the Train Across Canada – Explore With Lora (2024)


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