The Complete 2022 Guide to The Best Trip in Canada by Train
Jump on board The Canadian, a trip to Canada by train from Toronto to Vancouver, and enter a different time.
As we rumbled along the track, joyful contentment radiated outward from our very souls. It’s hard to capture the true essence of living on a train for four days, but here goes.
We felt as if we were truly living, as if the vast expanse of the entire human experience was right here, on this train. Time passed. Day’s slip into evenings and dark nights into bright skies. The Earth kept spinning, and our place in the cosmos never felt more right.
Is this as close to heaven as we can get on this side of the universe? We think so.
My wife and I recently disembarked in Vancouver, Canada after a four-day journey starting in Toronto, and then moving through Winnipeg, Edmonton, Jasper. Spoiler alert: We loved every second. We will be back aboard without question.
In this post, you’ll learn everything you need to know about this amazing train trip in Canada, and you’ll be ready to book your next adventure before you finish eating your cereal.
I’ve linked to various pages on VIA Rail’s website several times to speed your research efforts.
So, if you’re ready, here we go!
Pre-Boarding (Where to Get the Best Tickets for This Canada Train)
“Trains are wonderful…. To travel by train is to see nature and human beings, towns and churches, and rivers, in fact, to see life.” —Agatha Christie
Before we ever set foot on the train, I did extensive research to ensure we got the best deal.
The base cost of the trip depends on a variety of factors, but without discounts, here’s what you’re looking at per person, one way, Canadian dollars. (Roughly, and obviously, subject to change):
Economy Class Prices:
- Economy Escape Fair: $581
- Economy: $653
- Economy Plus: $1034
If you’re taking the full trip from Toronto to Vancouver (which you should) Economy class is out. You won’t have meals provided, and there’ll be nowhere to sleep. Unless you plan on roughing it, avoid Economy.
Sleeper Plus Prices (with meals):
- Upper Berth Discounted: $1256
- Upper Berth: $1477
- Lower Berth Discounted: $1476
- Lower Berth: $1737
- Cabin for 1 discounted: $2229
- Cabin for 1: $2622
- Cabin for 2 discounted: $3343
- Cabin for 2: $3933
Sleeper plus has a mix of options that might work well for you. The berths are a comfy alternative, and the cabins give you some privacy.
However, I think the berths are the best option here. Yes, there is privacy in the cabins, but not a ton of space. Especially considering the higher cost (and tougher challenge to get a discount on the cabins), I recommend getting a lower berth if you’re on your own, or an upper and lower berth if you’re a party of two.
Prestige Sleeper Class Price (all-inclusive):
Whoo boy. This is a hefty price tag for even the most voraciously affluent traveler. Is the Prestige Sleeper Class worth the big bucks? Here are a few reasons I might hesitate:
- Huge jump in price: The Prestige Sleeper Class is a huge jump in price from even a cabin. Unless you could find a fantastic deal (and I didn’t see any deals come up for this higher class ticket) you’re spending quite a bit on a four-day adventure.
- Still get access to the Park Car for regular Sleeper Plus: On the train, there are three separate cars dedicated to Prestige class: two Prestige Cars which are upgraded spacious cabins, and The Prestige Park Car which has a bar and incredible views in the dome. Sleeper Plus passengers (and possibly Economy Class as well) can walk through the Prestige Sleeper Cars to access the Park Car at certain times during the day. So, even if you don’t book a Prestige Class ticket, you still have access to the last car. This accessibility wasn’t clear to us until a fellow passenger gave us the lowdown. So, I am guessing the Park Car was less busy than it could have been since it was an unknown commodity.
- Alcohol isn’t a big thing for you: As Prestige Class passengers, you get unlimited alcohol. It’s akin to staying at an all-inclusive resort. So yah, that being said, unlimited drinks are nice, but can you drink enough alcohol to bridge the price gap? Good luck if you try!
- The experience is different: It definitely depends on your preference, but for us, staying in the upper and lower berths, as other passengers have been doing for the last 70+ years, felt authentic to the way the train was meant to be ridden even if it isn’t in lavish comfort.
These price ranges are why you want to get a deal. Yes, you get travel, room, access to the business lounge (and a special lounge for Prestige Class) pre trip, and bountiful food during the trip if you choose the Sleeper Plus or above, but it still feels like a slash to your wallet if you had to pay these full prices without maximizing your benefits.
Here are three tactics I recommend to avoid paying full price for the trip across Canada:
- Check out their Tuesday deals and sign up for the weekly email blast.
- Check their deals page and browse accordingly. We ultimately used this page to find our deal for the Sleeper Plus Upper and Lower Berths.
- Check to see if any of their discount codes apply to you. They have discount codes for military, senior citizens, CAA members, Indigenous persons, and other codes for various partnerships. Be careful when applying discount codes to reduce the price if you don’t know what they are for (the codes are all over the internet and not all come with a description). Don’t use the military discount or any other promo by accident. Why? Because apparently, they check for proof of whatever discount you applied before issuing your tickets. I haven’t verified this personally, and I didn’t see it happening, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially when there are deals to be found elsewhere.
Miranda and I chose the upper and lower berth option, and I think this is the sweet spot between value and not emptying your bank account. We lucked out and had an entire section of the train to ourselves for most of the trip (so actually, three berths) so this might have swayed our thoughts here.
“The train is a small world moving through a larger world.” —Elisha Cooper, ‘Train’(2013).
The outside train cars are nothing special. It looks like, well, a train. Hop on board and you’ll feel much the same. Nothing on board will wow you. You might even think, as we did, am I really going to survive four full days on this hunk of metal?
We thrived, and you will too.
Sure, there’s no WiFi on board, and hardly a cell signal as you traverse the majestic landscape, but you won’t need it. You’ll be eating three-course chef prepared meals three times daily with new friends, staring out the window at the incredible views beyond, and chatting with fellow passengers. (Yes, even you fellow introverts. I see you. You’ll be fine).
We brought a few books; we hardly read. We downloaded a few episodes of our favorite shows; we only watched a few. We worried about getting bored on board; we were never without something to do.
I got a bit of writing done, Miranda crocheted, but we fixed our eyes on the scenery 90% of the time. It’s hard to shrug off the awe and wonder of soaking in every bit of this beautiful Earth. The Canadian wilderness was stunning and it was hard to take our eyes off of it.
On the last night of the trip, Miranda and I fell asleep on the bottom berth, holding each other and staring out the window. We couldn’t see much, but it didn’t matter. We didn’t want the journey to be even close to ending. I hope I never forget that night for as long as I live.
A Look at the Various Cars on the Train
On the Canadian, there are several types of cars you might walk through during your four-day journey.
- Economy Car: A car with 2×2 rows of seats designed for comfort over a long journey. We didn’t set foot here as these cars were on the other end of the train.
- Skyline car: This is where we hung out the most on our trip. You’ll join other passengers in a spacious car which features various diner like seating at the bottom and panoramic views at the top. You’ll see 360 degrees as you sit above the train. We called this car the activity car because there is a specially assigned employee who runs events like bingo and movies and is available to answer all questions about the journey. And yes, we played bingo once and Miranda even won a keychain.
- Prestige Park car: Similar to the skyline car, but with even comfier/updated seating and a bar.
- Dining car: You’ll eat all of your main meals here with fellow passengers as you take in the sights.
- Sleeper car: Sleeper cars are composed of the berths, cabins, and employee accommodations.
- Prestige car: This is where you’ll stay in standout accommodations if you choose Prestige.
Will the Train be Late? [Train Timetables]
A question many people ask is whether The Canadian will be late by the time it arrives in Vancouver.
Upon an extensive Google search, I came up with not a lot, other than this PDF download from VIA Rail claiming that 72% of their trains were on time in 2021.
As you’re booking your tickets, you’ll see warnings posted that VIA Rail does not own most of the train lines their cars must operate on. So, they cannot guarantee strict adherence to their stated timetables.
We arrived in Winnipeg several hours late, but got into Vancouver several hours early. Clearly, VIA Rail builds time into the schedule for stops due to freight trains, but it’s largely out of their control.
They advise you not to book onward travel arrangements for the day you’re set to arrive, but we did anyway. Still, we kept a buffer of about six hours (scheduled arrival at 8:00AM in Vancouver with a bus scheduled to leave at 2:00PM for Seattle).
So, can the train be late? Of course. But if you remember the point of the trip, to pass beyond time, this doesn’t feel like a major concern. Build in a bit of buffer time and you should be okay.
What We Absolutely Loved (and what Could be Improved)
Our train trip across Canada had way more to love than to complain about. But nothing is perfect.
Here are a few things VIA Rail might consider improving:
- We had to wear masks: It’s high time we moved on from this. Four days is too long to worry about always having a mask on. Hopefully, by the time you book your trip mask use will no longer be mandatory.
- No route guide: We didn’t get access to a route guide on board. We definitely could have asked, and other passengers did, but it wasn’t always clear when and where the stops were. It also wasn’t clear how long we’d stop at certain stations.
- Few outlets: There are very few outlets on the train, and none in our actual berths. There were two (like a whole literal two!) plugs in the activity car you could use, and one in every bathroom if you felt comfortable leaving your electronics in the public restroom for a few hours at a time.
- Cold showers: The showers were accessible to us whenever we wanted to use them, but it wasn’t great. The water was chilly, on an already cold train. With a bit of heat, I’d boost my ratings of the shower to be right at meets expectations.
- Cold on board: Like, freezing! 🥶 This made it great for sleeping, but not great for anywhere else. I was glad I brought a sweatshirt with me because I wore it 95% of the time.
- Tall people beware: I hit my head several times. I’m practiced at ducking, but when the train bounces so do you. Gotta watch those short ceilings!
With these minor inconveniences aside, here’s why we loved the trip:
- No WiFi: Some will view this as an inconvenience, but I loved the forced disconnection. Every time we made a station stop, and we could access their WiFi, I found that I never missed much of importance anyway, even as a stream of texts and emails flooded my phone.
- It’s about the Journey: No one takes the train who wants expedited travel. For every day on the train, you can fly the equivalent in one hour. You’re taking the trip to experience the landscape, to get lost in a sea of extra time, and to reconnect with your core self through quiet introspection. Our fast-paced, high stress, strung out world doesn’t allow for peace amidst the chaos of the to-do list.
- The way we are meant to live: While riding The Canadian, I felt a profound sense of rightness with the world. Between the slow pace, meals with strangers who quickly became friends, and the slow gucha gucha gucha of train travel, we felt at home amidst the vast Canadian wilderness. I have no idea what heaven will be like, but I felt as if I was given a momentary insight here on the train.
- Incredible people: Everyone on board was incredible. The staff were kind and always willing to answer questions, and the other passengers were lovely to chat with. I left feeling a sense of loss because of the wonderful connections we formed on board.
- Exquisite food: We ate like royalty. Comparing what they served us to airline food is impossible; it’s in a completely different category. Each meal had several courses with options at each stage. There are even vegan friendly options, and the staff are happy to accommodate food allergies (we dined with a lady who was allergic to carrots and the staff made extra sure each food item didn’t contain the orange devil).
- A great night’s sleep: Granted, the first night was challenging. I couldn’t get comfy and didn’t have enough leg room, but the first night anywhere new (Grandma’s twin sized beds anyone?) is tough. After the first night, we figured everything out and slept like babies (the kind that actually sleep well).
Thinking about Taking the Train? (Do it!)
Traveling aboard the VIA rail train to Vancouver from Toronto was a once in a lifetime experience I hope to repeat. The food was incredible and the passengers and staff the friendliest I’ve ever encountered, but it was the slow passage of time along the rails that filled my heart with joy.
The lack of WiFi or even a phone signal for most of the trip didn’t phase me. In fact, it was this disconnectedness that calmed my tired soul.
I recommend leaping aboard if you’re needing a peaceful adventure through mountains, prairies, and lush forests. Or, if you just want to feel human again with a deep breath and friendly conversation, this trip is for you.
Good luck and happy travels,