The Great Western Way: Canada’s Ultimate Rail Journey

The Great Western Way: Canada’s Ultimate Rail Journey

There is no better way to experience the countryside of the world’s 2nd largest country than to see it by train. The Canadian, operated by VIA Rail Canada, is the only train that offers train travel across the length of the country. The Great Western Way takes you on a nearly 4,500km journey from Toronto to Vancouver, taking you across the Rockies and through the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario.

The journey takes 4 days and 3 nights, offering several different booking classes according to your budget including Prestige, Sleeper Plus, and Economy. Booking a Sleeper Plus Cabin or Prestige Cabin will allow you to have your own private ensuite bathroom during the journey.

 From left to right: Via Rail train: photo by BriYYZ, via rail logo: photo by tony webster

 

The Journey

Before Your Trip

Before you begin your journey across Canada, you first have to get there. Visa-exempt foreign nationals are required to have a Canadian eTA to fly to or transit through a Canadian airport. Your Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) will be electronically linked to your passport and is valid for up to five years or until your passport expires.

As the journey can be taken from Vancouver-Toronto or Toronto-Vancouver, you can choose to fly into either international airport. The Canadian runs year round up to three times a week, and travelling during each season has its benefits. Enjoy stunning vibrant foliage during the fall or choose to travel during the winter when you can book the journey for a much lower cost than high season and will enjoy a much less crowded train.

During the Trip

Delays in the Via Rail schedule are quite common so you should allow for flexibility when it comes to your itinerary. This includes not planning too much during the station stops as you may have more limited time than what has been scheduled.

Sleeper Plus and Prestige Class tickets will give you several meals per day in the dining car while the scenic dome car will give you 360 degree panoramic views of the surrounding natural beauty along the way.

Passengers are limited to two pieces of luggage. It is recommended to pack light to allow you more room during your journey and you should of course dress for the seasons. Winter can be quite cold, so packing a warm jacket, gloves, beanie, and scarf is a good idea.

Note that there is no access to WiFi during the journey. This allows you to disconnect and relax during your time on the train. You may be able to access WiFi at the stations or city stops.

Notable Stops Along the Way

Vancouver

This coastal seaport city consistently ranks as one of the top five worldwide cities for liveability and quality of life. Take in the scenic trails and beaches of Stanley Park or head to the Capilano Suspension Bridge high in the treetops. Other notable attractions include Queen Elizabeth Park, the Vancouver Aquarium, and of course a ferry to explore Vancouver Island.

Jasper

Located in the Rocky Mountains, Jasper is known for its natural attractions. Jasper National Park is home to abundant wildlife such as bears, eagles, cougars, and wolves along with providing incredible hiking through a landscape of lakes, waterfalls, mountains, glaciers, and hot springs.

Edmonton

Edmonton is situated on the North Saskatchewan River and is the capital of Alberta. The city offers North America’s largest mall, West Edmonton Mall, which even has its own indoor waterpark and amusement park. Search for herds of bison and elk in Elk Island National Park or relax in the 240 acre University of Alberta Botanic Garden.

Saskatoon

Located in Saskatchewan, the city is home to Wanuskewin Heritage Park, a National Historic Site of Canada that showcases 6000 years of the history of the Northern Plains peoples.

Winnipeg

The capital of Manitoba, Winnipeg is known for its numerous annual festivals held throughout the year including the Festival du Voyageur and the Winnipeg Folk Festival. See the polar bears of Assiniboine Park Zoo or experience the city’s numerous museums including the Manitoba Children’s Museum, Winnipeg Art Gallery, and the Manitoba Museum.

Toronto

Canada’s most populous city, Toronto has no shortage of attractions to keep you entertained. Highlights include the Hockey Hall of Fame, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, and the St. Lawrence and Kensington Markets. Take in the CN Tower, the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere and one of the top ten largest towers in the world. And no trip to Toronto would be complete without taking a day trip to see the stunning Niagara Falls.

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Author: Michael Jerrard

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