Canadian Trains Through the Rockies

Canada has some great scenery! Traveling through the Canadian Rockies by train has to be one of the best experiences in the world. This article will tell you what trains roll through the Rocky Mountains and how you can ride them.

For the most part we will be talking about passenger trains, but of course many freight trains roll through the Rockies as well.

Passenger Trains in the Rockies

Today there are two trains you can take through the Rockies: the VIA Rail Canadian and the Rocky Mountaineer.

The VIA Rail Canadian

VIA Rail's "Canadian" in a golden sunrise
VIA Rail’s “Canadian” in a golden sunrise

The Canadian offers coach, sleeper and luxury accommodations on board a train from Toronto to Vancouver, or the other way – or any point in between!

Along the way between Vancouver and Toronto, you’ll pass through mountain ranges like the Selkirks and the famous Rocky Mountains, the wide open prairie of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and the Canadian Shield in northwestern Ontario.

The train stops in major cities like Vancouver, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Toronto, along with smaller but no less important locations like Jasper, Portage la Prairie, Sudbury and Thunder Bay. Sadly, major cities like Regina and Calgary are not served by VIA Rail any more.

Dome cars on the Canadian in Jasper, British Columbia
Dome cars on the Canadian in Jasper, British Columbia

Currently the train takes just under 96 hours (four days) to travel between Vancouver and Toronto. This might not be comfortable sitting in coach for that long, but it is the least expensive option.

You can choose from several types of sleeping accommodations, depending on whether you want to share the room with someone and if you even want a door! The price is significantly higher than coach, though. For example, a “cabin for 1” costs more than 4X a coach seat – but you get comfort, privacy, a shower, and dining car access, so you have to factor that in. An upper or lower berth is not as expensive, but you are basically sleeping in a bunk bed on a corridor, so there is less privacy.

All passengers can access the famous dome cars of the Canadian, which is a huge benefit.

A dome car on the VIA Rail Canadian train
A dome car on the VIA Rail Canadian train

For a brief description of the VIA Rail Canadian experience, read this article about traveling out and back on the Canadian from Winnipeg.

For those looking for more luxury, look to…

The Rocky Mountaineer

The Rocky Mountaineer train along Kamloops Lake, British Columbia
The Rocky Mountaineer train along Kamloops Lake, British Columbia

The Rocky Mountaineer is a luxury train that travels on several routes through western Canada, and more recently in Colorado. The train has only coach service (two classes) and offers luxury dining on board. The train pauses overnight in towns like Kamloops or Glenwood Springs and guests stay in hotels. It is a “cruise ship on rails” experience.

In 2022 there are four routes, which all include the Rocky Mountains in some way:

  1. Vancouver to Banff, overnight in Kamloops – “First Passage to the West”
  2. Vancouver to Jasper, overnight in Kamloops – “Journey Through the Clouds”
  3. Rainforest to Jasper, overnight in Whistler and Quesnel – “Rainforest to Gold Rush”
  4. Moab to Denver, overnight in Glenwood Springs – “Rockies to the Red Rocks”
The Rocky Mountaineer by Castle Mountain near Banff-Lake Louise
The Rocky Mountaineer by Castle Mountain near Banff-Lake Louise

There are three levels of service on board the Rocky Mountaineer – SilverLeaf, SilverLeaf Plus and GoldLeaf. All levels are luxury experience, but GoldLeaf guests enjoy a bi-level dome and dining in a dining room instead of at their seat. This page explains the differences.

Freight Trains in the Rockies

Freight train by the Bow River
CP 8875 by Storm Mountain, July 8, 2021

Canada’s two transcontinental railways, Canadian Pacific Railway and CN, both run many freight trains through the Rocky Mountains. CP’s trains run a more southerly route between Savona, BC and Calgary, AB, while CN’s run north between Savona and Jasper, AB and also farther north between Jasper and Prince Rupert, BC.

Between Savona and Vancouver, CN and CP’s main lines both run through the Fraser River Valley, on opposite sides of the mighty river. The two railways share their tracks and exercise “directional running”, with all westbound trains travel on CN’s tracks and eastbound trains travel on CP’s. This increases efficiency by having fewer trains having to stop to meet opposing trains.

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