Two engines, at 3.000 horsepower each, are pulling 1.600 tons of steel under my feet. As nighttime falls, I think of the other 300 passengers, resting across 23 wagons, looked after by 30 members of staff. Not one dishwasher is onboard this train, and all food is prepared fresh. “Here is my number, dear Elena”, Jackie insists and hands me a small piece of paper. Her hands are warm, and so is her smile. “If there is anything you need after we arrive in Winnipeg, let me know.” I smile back at her, once again overcome with emotion by the sheer friendliness of the Canadians I am with, as the jagged mountain tops of the Rocky Mountains pass us by in a gently rolling movement.
18 hours from Vancouver to Jasper. Falling asleep, and waking up, to some of the most majestic mountain chains in the whole wide world, is a memory I shall treasure for a lifetime.
Travelling onboard the VIA Rail train that winds its way up and through the Rocky Mountains, climbing well over 1.000 metres of difference in altitude on a steady one degree climb from Vancouver to Jasper, is an experience like no other. Let me tell you more as to why.
Here are some of your top travel tips for getting ready to journey onboard the VIA Rail Train across (Western) Canada.
“I mean, you can always take the train …” – “You are taking the train, Elena?!” – “The train … Oh well, I guess that’s an option. We usually fly or drive. But yeah, let us know how it goes .. Such an interesting journey you’ll be on!”
Taking the train in Canada is almost a guarantee to spark up a conversation with fellow passengers, and making new friends around the country. Which leads to the first in my little list of travel tips for you to consider:
- The distance between Vancouver & Winnipeg in Western Canada is 5.000 kilometres. If you fly, you miss out on the scenic beauty of being on the ground (and closer to the land). If you drive all of the 5.000 kilometres yourself, you are likely to be completely worn out by the end of it. By contrast, if you are on the train, you get to do everything: Appreciate the landscape, talk to fellow passengers, sleep & rest, listen to music, read a book, or simply do – nothing for a (good) change!
- Talking price & distance options for (long-term) travellers: The so-called “CanRailPass” comes in handy for those of you who, like me, like to cover large distances over a matter of several weeks’ travelling. It starts at $699 for an adult, giving you the option to complete seven different journey legs all across Canada within a period of 60 days: http://www.viarail.ca/en/fares-and-packages/rail-passes/canrailpass.
- “Travel Tuesday“: Check the VIA Rail website for Tuesday sale deals on selected fare categories, such as the prestigious “Sleeper Car Plus Comfort” across the Rocky Mountains and beyond. Some great deals are available there if you are still flexible on dates.
- “Ma’am … It’s not like Interrail in Europe!” Never will I forget the expression on this man’s face working at the VIA Rail train station in Vancouver, telling me that “… in Western Canada, we only have trains running every second or third day … it is not like in Europe where they leave every two or three hours!” – “That’s perfect, though!” I beam at him in delight, able to think about my trip in terms of stopping for a couple of days in between journey legs as I move East across the country.
- Get off the train every now and then. Do make a stop in prominent places such as Jasper, Edmonton, Saskatoon or Winnipeg. It will allow you to move across the Rockies, as well as the Great Prairies, gently and slowly, taking in whatever cultural and natural change occurs.
- Prepare your overnight bag before you get on the train. This is a very practical tip, but a useful one at that: Get a small carry-on bag ready as the main part of your luggage will go into a separate luggage car on the overnight leg of your journey.
- You’ll sleep perfectly. Really. There is no need to worry about not being able to sleep, as the train moves rather slowly and hence keeps the interruptions down. Also, after a beautiful meal plus several cups of sparkling wine and happy chats with fellow passengers, you will have no problem of falling asleep …!
- There is so much of that travel adventure on the train. The stories you share with fellow passengers. The different sections to explore onboard the train: Panorama car, sleeper car, dining car, cafe car and what have you. The amazing staff and their ways of looking after you. Never have people failed to impress me on this epic trip of mine moving across Western Canada.
- Pick the right season, and you’ll make the train a journey in its own right, rather than “just another travel option”. This is to say that the months of August to October, especially mid-September (I went on the train from 18-28 September), are among the best weeks to pick in the year for watching the colour change of autumn in the Rocky Mountains. Just. Beautiful. An experience not to be missed, really.
Wining & dining onboard “The Canadian”.
Sure enough, the “Sleeper Plus” options, including all meal arrangements throughout the day, are some of the more expensive travel options while taking the train in Canada. You may, however, get great fare discounts if you book ahead of time and / or watch for those online Travel Tuesday sales I was talking about earlier on. There are always options – especially with a dedicated travel company such as VIA Rail. Check this out.
What else happens on a train “five days, five thousand kilometres” long? Well. You might just be in for the adventure of your lifetime!
I have had some of the most meaningful, deep and long-lasting conversations of my entire Canada trip onboard the VIA Rail train across Canada. I have been able to work, rest, sleep, take pictures and create incredible memories for myself and others. The fact that you move “slow and fast at the same time” satisfies both the slow travel ethos as well as the need to “move on” and reach another destination. It is, in my opinion, the best I could have ever done about overcoming those tremendous distances between Vancouver & Winnipeg in Western Canada.
Here are my final fun facts & photographs of that trip for you:
I have also produced a travel video that highlights some of my travel adventures in Western Canada, all the way from Vancouver to the vast open plains east of the Rocky Mountains. A fascinating, funky take on what has truly been a life-changing journey. Enjoy with sound & smile 🙂
Disclaimer: I have been supported by VIA Rail on this train trip across Western Canada. All opinions are my own.