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The Rocky Mountaineer train in the Canadian Rocky Mountains

6 Classic Rail Vacations in Canada

By Stephanie Hood

Alive are the days of classic rail travel, where scenic landscapes slip past your window, wildlife is spotted from the comfort of your seat and excellent service levels raise the bar of your standards.

This article was originally published by our team on Canada Rail Vacations. Image courtesy of Rocky Mountaineer

Rail vacations in Canada have long held a glamorous reputation, and the charm certainly hasn’t diminished in more recent years. Let images of domed viewing cars, cozy bunks and gourmet meals fill your mind as we take you through the Rocky Mountains, along the East Coast and over to the Maritimes.

Canada by Design team members, Eve and Steph, in a dome car on VIA Rail

Of course, a classic rail vacation wouldn’t be complete without world-class accommodation. Canada’s prestigious Fairmont Hotels were built as early as 1893 by the Canadian Pacific Railway company, and their reputations have only become more iconic over time. There are 19 Fairmont hotels spread out across the country –11 in Western Canada, one in Winnipeg and seven in Eastern Canada—and a stay in at least one is essential for any classic rail vacation.

Image courtesy of Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac

Before we dive in, here are some FAQ’s regarding rail vacations in Canada:

What trains can I take in Canada?
There are two different trains that you can take on a rail vacation in Canada: Rocky Mountaineer and VIA Rail. While the former services routes in Western Canada with a focus on the Rocky Mountains, VIA Rail covers the same area as well as other routes across the country.

What's the difference between Rocky Mountaineer and VIA Rail?
The main difference between the two trains is that Rocky Mountaineer operates during daylight hours only, stopping overnight for you to sleep in a hotel. If you want to experience sleeping onboard the train, you can do so on VIA Rail. Image courtesy of VIA Rail

What amenities can I expect on Rocky Mountaineer and VIA Rail?
Both Rocky Mountaineer and VIA Rail have excellent service standards and a long list of amenities to keep you comfortable and entertained. Both trains have kitchens serving gourmet meals on board, plus viewing cars and lounge cars with large domed windows. On Rocky Mountaineer, hosts will tell stories about historic sites, flora, fauna and wildlife as you go, while VIA Rail has on-train entertainment and activities for kids.

Do I sleep onboard the train in Canada?
VIA Rail is the only train with onboard accommodation, and our packages always include your own comfortable, private cabin. Some class types have washrooms within your room, while others have these amenities just a few feet down the hall. Rocky Mountaineer is for daytime travel only, meaning that your journey will pause to overnight in hotels along the way. Image courtesy of VIA Rail

Are VIA Rail and Rocky Mountaineer family friendly?
Yes, both trains are family friendly, however children should be up to spending many hours per day onboard.

Do trains in Canada operate year-round?
VIA Rail operates year-round across the country, however Rocky Mountaineer travels only between April and October. Please note there are currently some changes due to COVID-19.

What are the best train tours to take in Canada?
We’re glad you asked. Read on for our full list of rail vacation recommendations!

Image courtesy of Rocky Mountaineer Image courtesy of Rocky Mountaineer

Classic Rocky Mountain Rail Circle

  • DAY 1 Vancouver to Kamloops | Rocky Mountaineer
  • DAY 2 Kamloops to Banff | Rocky Mountaineer
  • DAY 3 Banff | Freedom of Choice - Choose 1 of 3 Excursions
    Option 1. Discover Banff & Its Wildlife Tour + Banff Gondola
    Option 2. Discover the Grizzly Bears Lake & Waterfalls
    Option 3. Cowboy Horseback Cookout BBQ Lunch or Dinner
  • DAY 4 Banff to Lake Louise | Coach
  • DAY 5 Lake Louise to Jasper | Sightseeing with picnic lunch
    Ice Explorer Ride onto the Athabasca Glacier + Glacier Skywalk
  • DAY 6 Jasper | Freedom of Choice - Choose 1 of 2 Excursions
    Option 1. Morning Maligne Valley with Medicine Lake Tour
    Option 2. Evening Discover Jasper & its Wildlife
  • DAY 7 Jasper to Kamloops | Rocky Mountaineer
  • DAY 8 Kamloops to Vancouver | Rocky Mountaineer

The Classic Rocky Mountain Rail Circle Tour is one of our best-selling packages in Western Canada, taking you through the towns of Jasper, Banff and Lake Louise from the coastal city of Vancouver. Opting to ride aboard Rocky Mountaineer, the first stretch takes you from the coast to Kamloops in the Okanagan, where you’ll spend one night in a hotel before continuing to the Rockies. Here you’ll enjoy a number of select tours highlighting wildlife, horseback riding, picnicking and cruising Medicine Lake before re-boarding Rocky Mountaineer for Vancouver.

Image courtesy of Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge Canada by Design team members, Abbie and Teagan, enjoying views from Banff Gondola

Majestic Canada Rail Vacation through the Rockies

  • DAY 1 Vancouver to Jasper | VIA Rail
  • DAY 2 Arrive Jasper | VIA Rail
  • DAY 3 Jasper | Freedom of Choice - Choose 1 of 2 Excursions
    Option 1. Morning Maligne Valley with Medicine Lake Tour
    Option 2. Evening Discover Jasper & its Wildlife
  • DAY 4 Jasper to Lake Louise | Sightseeing Tour with Picnic Lunch
    Ice Explorer Ride onto the Athabasca Glacier + Glacier Skywalk
  • DAY 5 Lake Louise to Banff | Coach Transfer
  • DAY 6 Banff | Freedom of Choice - Choose 1 of 3 Excursions
    Option 1. Discover Banff & Its Wildlife Tour + Banff Gondola
    Option 2. Discover Grizzly Bears, Lakes & Waterfalls Option 3. Cowboy Horseback Cookout Lunch or Dinner
  • DAY 7 Banff to Calgary | Coach

If you’d rather take a trip to the Rockies overnight on VIA Rail, consider our week-long Majestic Canada Rail Vacation. Operating one way from Vancouver to Calgary, you’ll ride on VIA rail overnight to Jasper before embarking on either a Maligne Valley or wildlife tour. Traveling by coach from Jasper to Lake Louise the sights are simply stunning, and you can soak it up with a picnic lunch, Ice Explorer ride on the Athabasca Glacier or from the Glacier Skywalk. In Banff, the choice between three more tours is yours to make, either experiencing the gondola, discovering Grizzly Bears or riding horses to a cowboy cookout.

Image courtesy of Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel Image courtesy of Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

Christmas in the Canadian Rockies

  • DAY 1 Vancouver to Jasper | VIA Rail
  • DAY 2 Arrive Jasper | VIA Rail
  • DAY 3 Jasper to Banff | Coach
  • DAY 4 Banff | Freedom of Choice - Choose 1 of 3 Excursions
    Option 1. Discover Banff & Its Wildlife Tour
    Option 2. Snowshoeing at Paints Pots
    Option 3. Johnston Canyon Icewalk
  • DAY 5 Banff | Horse-Drawn Sleigh Ride & Christmas Dinner
  • DAY 6 Banff | Lake Louise Sightseeing Tour
  • DAY 7 Banff to Calgary | Coach

This Christmas classic has its fair share of winter wonderlands, magical sleigh rides, snow-covered castles and decadent meals. Traveling on VIA Rail overnight from Vancouver to Jasper, you’ll stay at the cozy Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge before continuing by coach to Banff. Canada’s ‘Castle in the Rockies’, the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, will be your home over Christmas as you enjoy winter walks, ice skating, world-class shopping and alpine dining. A special feast is served after a classic horse-drawn sleigh ride on Christmas day, after which you continue to Lake Louise before ending in Calgary.

Image courtesy of VIA Rail Image courtesy of Tourism Nova Scotia and Acorn Art Photography

Atlantic Maritimes Explorer by Rail

  • DAY 1 Halifax | Arrival
  • DAY 2 Halifax | Freedom of Choice - Choose 1 of 4 Excursions
    Option 1. Coastal Cruise Lighthouse & Lobster Traps
    Option 2. Peggy's Cove Tour
    Option 3. Lunenburg & Mahone Bay Tour
    Option 4. Halifax Hop-On Hop-Off Tour
  • DAY 3 Halifax to Charlottetown | Private Transfer | Island Drives & Anne of Green Gables Tour
  • DAY 4 Charlottetown | Freedom of Choice - Choose 1 of 2 Excursions
    Option 1. Morning Lobster Cruise
    Option 2. Morning Charlottetown Highlights Tour
  • DAY 5 Charlottetown to Moncton | Evening Departure VIA Rail
  • DAY 6 Montreal | Freedom of Choice - Choose 1 of 3 Excursions
    Option 1. Montreal Half Day Sightseeing Tour
    Option 2. Walking Tour of Old Montreal
    Option 3. Beyond the Market Food Walking Tour
  • DAY 7 Montreal | Quebec City & Montmorency Falls Tour
  • DAY 8 Montreal | Departure

This 8-day tour in Eastern Canada is incredibly easy to customize, with your choice of tours in Halifax, Charlottetown and Montreal. Beginning in Halifax, choose to cruise around the coast, visit the picturesque Peggy's Cove, see Lunenburg & Mahone Bay or tour the city of Halifax itself. Arriving to Prince Edward Island an Anne of Green Gables tour is in store, plus your choice between a morning lobster cruise or Charlottetown highlights tour. Visiting the French-influenced province of Quebec, you're in for plenty of culture, history and excitement. Go sightseeing, take a walking tour in Old Montreal or taste the flavors of French Canada on a foodie walking tour. Your trip concludes with a visit to Montmorency Falls and Quebec City.

Image courtesy of VIA Rail Image courtesy of Tourisme Montréal and Stéphan Poulin

Eastern Canada Train Tour of the Capital Cities

  • DAY 1 Toronto to Ottawa | VIA Rail Business Class
  • DAY 2 Ottawa | Free Day
  • DAY 3 Ottawa to Montreal | VIA Rail Business Class
  • DAY 4 Montreal | Freedom of Choice - Choose 1 of 3 Excursions
    Option 1. Montreal Half Day Sightseeing Tour
    Option 2. Walking Tour of Old Montreal
    Option 3. Beyond the Market Food Walking Tour
  • DAY 5 Montreal to Quebec | VIA Rail Business Class
  • DAY 6 Quebec | Freedom of Choice - Choose 1 of 3 Excursions
    Option 1. Rendezvous with History Quebec City Tour
    Option 2. A Fabulous Country Tour
    Option 3. Foodie Walking Tour of Quebec City
  • DAY 7 Quebec City | Departure

If larger cities appeal more to you than small, Atlantic towns, look no further than this 7-day train tour through Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City. See the major attractions and experience the different lifestyles of French Canada through sightseeing, historic walking tours or exploring the authentic foods of the local market. Beginning in Toronto and ending in Quebec City, you can tailor every bit of this tour to suit your interests and indulge in the comforts of VIA Rail’s business class from Ottawa to Montreal.

Image courtesy of Rocky Mountaineer Image courtesy of VIA Rail

Canadian Trails Rail Across Canada

  • DAY 1 Vancouver to Kamloops | Rocky Mountaineer
  • DAY 2 Kamloops to Banff | Rocky Mountaineer
  • DAY 3 Banff | Freedom of Choice - Choose 1 of 3 Excursions
    Option 1. Discover Banff & Its Wildlife Tour + Banff Gondola
    Option 2. Discover the Grizzly Bears Lake & Waterfalls
    Option 3. Cowboy Horseback Cookout BBQ Lunch or Dinner
  • DAY 4 Banff to Lake Louise | Coach
  • DAY 5 Lake Louise to Jasper | Sightseeing with picnic lunch
    Ice Explorer Ride onto the Athabasca Glacier + Glacier Skywalk
  • DAY 6–8 Jasper to Toronto | VIA Rail
  • DAY 9 Toronto Arrival | VIA Rail

Perhaps the most iconic and classic rail vacation of all is the Canadian Trails rail journey across Canada. Connecting Vancouver with Toronto and departing from whichever side you want, it combines both Rocky Mountaineer and VIA Rail for the train journey of a lifetime. Spot wildlife and learn local history on Rocky Mountaineer to Banff, then switch to coach through Lake Louise to enjoy pristine beauty and tours of the National Park. Once in Jasper you’ll climb aboard VIA Rail bound Toronto, spending three nights on VIA Rail before your tour comes to an end.

To request rates and check for early booking offers contact our Travel Designers toll free at 1-800-217-0973 or email sales@canadabydesign.ca and the team will gladly personalize your rail vacation.

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