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If you’ve got the time, taking the train across Canada is the best way to travel through this 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.

I’ve taken the cross Canada train twice, it’s one of my favorite ways to travel here. If you’re planning a trip to Canada, taking the train is a wonderful way to get around the country. In this post, 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.

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

A train trip across Canada is something I always dreamed of doing, but I could never justify it on my budget. Then, the most serendipitous 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 my summer going across the country to my hometown in St. John’s, Newfoundland, on the East coast of Canada. I was trying to figure out the cheapest way to get across the country by land and was out shopping for used cars. 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 across Canada on the train. I couldn’t believe it, the timing was perfect.

Even though I had until December 2019 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 cross Canada train adventure!

graphic for post

Canada Train Routes

To get across Canada by train, you have to take two different train routes. The Canadian, which is the Vancouver to Toronto train (or visa versa), and the Ocean, which is the Montreal to Halifax train. To get between Toronto and Montreal, you can take a regular VIA Rail commuter train. 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

the canadian train route from toronto to vancouver
The Canadian Train Route. Photo credit: viarail.com

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

Both Toronto and Vancouver are lovely cities to explore while traveling in Canada. I call Toronto home and never get bored of being in the city with so many things to do in Toronto. If you’re looking for a nice play to stay after getting off the train in Toronto, check out the Fairmont Royal York. It’s right next to the train station. Another great thing to do while visiting Toronto is to go and see Niagara Falls, which is just two hours away.

Check here for the best rates on accommodation in Toronto.

Hiking in Squamish near Vancouver
Hiking in Squamish near Vancouver

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.

lora About to board the Canadian train
At Pacific Station in Vancouver – about to board the train with my winning tickets in hand! : )

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

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

mount robson british colombia
Passing through the Canadian Rockies

After leaving Alberta, you enter the province of 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. 

canola fields in saskatchewan
Passing through the Canola Fields in Saskatchewan

From there, the 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 loved The Canadian train ride, especially the part between Vancouver and Edmonton.  They add an extra panoramic window train cart for this part of the journey. The giant glass windows allow for stunning views of the Rocky Mountains and Canyons through British Colombia and Alberta.

train views of BC
Views from the panoramic car through British Colombia

The Ocean Train from Montreal to Halifax

The Ocean train route from Montreal to Halifax
The Ocean train route, photo belongs to viarail.com

The train journey between Montreal and Halifax is called The Ocean. It starts at either Montreal’s Central station or Halifax station. The route 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 as compared to The Canadian.

The train they use for the Ocean route is also slightly different than the Canadian. It’s a newer train, but the rooms felt smaller, which I didn’t know was possible. That said, I still loved my time on the Ocean train.

The food is excellent (yay seafood!), and the scenery is stunning—especially the section closer to Halifax, which 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. Economy passengers don’t have access to the dining/activity carts in the sleeper class. There is a place to buy food onboard the economy section, but it’s at 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 so good. 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 that has a lid that goes over it to turn it into another seat. Sleeping/sitting next to a toilet all day just 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. As far as train travel goes, these rooms are luxurious.

They are soundproof, which is a massive plus on the train because it can be noisy. They include a double bed that folds out, a TV, and massive windows to take in the view. And the best part, they come with unlimited alcohol.

The catch? They cost $10,000. The prestige class carts are only available on the train from Toronto to Vancouver (the Canadian). VIA Rail was kind enough to let me see inside one of the prestige carts for a bit. It was awesome.

lora in prestige cart
Hanging out in the prestige cart

Unfortunately, my prize didn’t come with a prestige class room, but I did get a two-person cabin which, for a backpacker, felt prestigious.  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 coming back as one person, I found it just perfect.

lora on train
The private cabin on the Canadian Train from Toronto to Vancouver

Another perk of being in the prestige class is that they have an exclusive lounge just for prestige passengers.  This cart is much nicer than any of the other viewing carts on the train. BUT don’t be discouraged if you can’t afford prestige class.

After 4 pm they allow all the other sleeper class passengers access. There are limited seats in the prestige cart, 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.

views on train of the rocky mountains
View from the back of the prestige cart

Amazing Scenery

The scenery is, of course, the best part about a Canada train trip. Getting to see the changing landscape of Canada from coast to coast is a fantastic experience. I feel lucky to come from such a beautiful and diverse country.

british colombia canada
Traveling through British Colombia

Some of my highlights on the train ride across Canada were passing through Jasper, Mount Robson, and 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.

vancouver to toronto train
Sunset views from the dome cart, which allows you see above the train

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.

As a bonus, VIA Rail attaches a special panoramic dome cart in Edmonton on the train from Toronto to Vancouver so that guests can take in the views of the Canadian Rockies.

Panoramic cart on the vancouver to toronto train
Riding through BC in the panoramic cart

Incredible Food

Dining on the train across Canada was one of my favorite parts of the whole experience.  I wasn’t expecting much, considering we were on a train, 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. Lunch and dinner both come with a starter and a dessert. Some examples of the entrees we ate included veal, braised lamb, duck, and salmon.  They always include one vegetarian option on the menu.

The dining cart
The Dining Cart on The Canadian Train

They tailor the menu to the region you’re traveling through in Canada, which adds 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?

food on the train trip across canada
Lamb dinner on the train

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

Activities on the train across Canada

The staff on the VIA Rail train across Canada are awesome. 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 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 a 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.

Champagne toast
Champagne toast on the train

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.

They also sometimes have live entertainment on the train in the activity carts. If you are a performer of any kind you can apply to VIA Rail to come on as a performer.

If you get accepted you’ll get free accommodation and food in exchange for performing a few sessions on the train. I didn’t know this before going 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, such as gorgeous pyramid falls below.

pyramid falls alberta
Passing by Pyramid falls in Alberta on the train through Canada

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-reader with 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. 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 the train across Canada take?

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 night/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, which runs the freight trains that go across Canada, owns the railway tracks. VIA Rail just rents the tracks from 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, and therefore delays are common. On my first trip across the train from Vancouver to Toronto, we ended up being 12 hours delayed by the scheduled time.

However, in November 2018, they updated the schedule so that it now more accurately reflects how long it will take to get across the country. The new times were in effect when I came back on the train from Toronto to Vancouver, and we were right on schedule. Just prepare yourself that you will 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. Because we got so delayed on the train from Vancouver to Toronto, we only had time for quick 10-minute stops to stretch your legs/have a smoke break.

However, coming back West from Toronto to Vancouver, the train was on time, and we got to get off at places. 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 right downtown. They even make arrangements with a tour guide in Winnipeg 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 Canada/the world.

Find accommodation in Jasper here.

Jasper alberta
Watching the sunset over freight trains and mountains in Jasper, Alberta

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 wintertime would be a pretty magical experience. Imagine seeing the snow-covered mountains while being warm and cozy inside the train.

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

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

Train Across Canada 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 cost of taking the train varies significantly between economy, sleeper class, and prestige. Economy class 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 and said that they enjoyed the train 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 a good too keep your eyes out (and for contests)! Tuesday is the cheapest day of the week to buy train tickets on the VIA Rail website.

Downsides of Taking the Train Across Canada

While the 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 various cities. 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, unfortunately, Newfoundland’s railway stopped working years ago due to a foolish decision by the government.

If you truly want to experience all of Canada, then you’ll want 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 across Canada is to rent a car in Halifax and do 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). 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, which is just three hours away. From there, you can drive to 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. Given that delays are common, don’t book onward travel for the same day you arrive. 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!

Other Canadian Train Trips

Aside from these two train routes, there is another Canadian train trip you can take called the Rocky Mountaineer. It’s a separate train that has three rail routes that go 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. You can learn more about that train here.

How long does it take to go across Canada by train?

The Vancouver to Toronto train is three night/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 most diverse train trip in the country.

Is there a train that goes across Canada?

Almost! There is a train that goes from Vancouver to Toronto (the Canadian), and a train from Montreal to Halifax (the ocean), but there is no train to Newfoundland.

I loved my experience taking the train across Canada. I can’t thank VIA Rail enough for this incredible opportunity; it made my entire year! Taking the train across Canada is the best way 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; I’d love to hear about it!

Planning a trip to Canada?

From the Rocky Mountains on the West Coast to the charming fishing villages on the East Coast of Canada, there’s so much beauty to discover in Canada.

Get inspired for your trip to Canada with these 25 Bucket List Experiences.

See all Canada posts in this Ultimate Guide to Visiting Canada.

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16 Comments

  1. What an amazing opportunity! It sounds like an awesome trip. One I’ve always wanted to do (at least the Edmonton-Vancouver route) but the price has always stopped me (as you mentioned is a problem). It’s nice hearing about a trip from someone who actually did it, rather than just reading about it on the via rail website.

    1. So glad it was helpful! The Edmonton-Vancouver route is definitely the best part about the trip if you do decide to do it! I think that part goes on promotion with via rail sometimes too so hopefully you could get it at a decent price!

  2. Hello Lora,
    Happy to found this awesome and informative blog. This is the best touring post of outdoor activity. The natural beauty is fine and the internal bus environment is not bad. It is very interesting, there have a separate sink and toilet facility. thanks again share with me more.

  3. Sounds marvelous, overnight train travel seems so luxurious. I am happy to hear that the food was great and I love the panoramic viewing carts! I fear only getting to see the scenery passing by and not having the chance to get out and hike through it or spend more time in it would be too much of a tease for me to handle but there is only one way to find out. Thanks for the informative post and glad to hear you enjoyed your trip so much! (P.S. Why are so many train stations called Union Station?)

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post! You could always book separate train tickets so you have time to go out and explore. For example, take the train from Vancouver to Jasper, stay for a few days to explore the mountains, and then take another train from Jasper to Toronto. I’m the same way, I have to get out and explore the area. Especially in the rocky mountains, it’s just stunning and there’s so much great hiking there!

  4. I have yet to go cross Canada by rail(Looking at doing it 2020), but I have done several long distance Amtrak routes.
    I have done Boston-Sacramento
    I have also done Seattle-Hartford CT

  5. Hi Lora,
    It’s a great read! Couple years ago I wanted to do the same trip, but I couldn’t! Hopefully one day I will, it looks so amazing!!!

    I tried to pin this post, however when I click on the Pinterest button, the 2 pin images you share for pinning aren’t working. I mean I don’t see them as ones I can pin, I can only pin some other images that are not optimized for Pinterest. Have you had this problem yourself?

    1. Thanks so much, I hope you can do the train trip someday! I just checked the post and when I clicked the Pinterest button it brought up all the images, including the pins. It may be because the page wasn’t fully loaded when you tried, as the pins are at the bottom so this would be the last thing to load. But if you scroll down to them you should be able to pin from there!

  6. Hey Lora Thanks for the insight on your train experience. Beautiful pictures. And helpful information. Ive took the train a few times to the east coast. But never saw the west as would be different for me. I’ve always loved the idea of being on a train. Hope to do this adventure soon

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