Train Ride Across Canada: How to Survive A 27-Hour Journey

How to Survive a 27-Hour Train Ride Across Canada

Check out these survival tips to get the best out of your journey by train in Canada.

“27 hours?!” was the incredulous remark with horrified faces I got from newfound friends I met at the backpackers I was staying while in Vancouver. Three girls — an Australian, a British, and a Swiss — shared a mix of awe, pity and shock as I told them that I’ll be taking a 27-hour train ride across Canada: from Vancouver to Edmonton!

Having just survived a 17-hour flight from Singapore to Vancouver transiting at Beijing, it is no surprise I got such a response. After all, it’s going to be a long, arduous journey confined to a vehicle space, not to mention… no bed! My excitement turned to mild fear as I neared the timing of my rail adventure.

Beginning my train ride across Canada

The journey just had to start off dramatically as my carriage personnel Ryan couldn’t find me when they were doing a headcount before setting off. I had gone to the other tail end of the train to try to detect some railway station Wi-Fi. You see, I had to send a last-minute WhatsApp message (how would I know every person still needs to be recounted even after boarding?!).

They were hunting for me throughout the train before it set off, so since that incident, I have been labelled ‘The Wandering Girl’ whenever I bump into any of the train personnel on the 27-hour journey.

The rail company I opted for was VIA Rail The Canadian. It had affordable Tuesday Promo/ Youth deals, not to mention I have seen videos of the ‘Dome’ carriage; which turned out to be my favourite corner in my train journey.

Some of the VIA train routes have onboard Wi-Fi, but the route I chose didn’t have that — or phone reception for that matter. Hence, all passengers on board are forced to be away from telecommunications for hours. Though, honestly, it could be a good thing to just immerse in the scenery!

The sights along the way

rail journey

My assigned seat on board the Canadian, VIA Rail. Watching the world go by.

Let’s start off with the scenery you get throughout this train ride across Canada.

Sunrise view at 6.30am in the morning on The Canadian

Not labelled one of the world’s best rail routes for no reason, the view you get is unbelievable, you get to see a mix of blue lakes and rivers, to acres of green pine trees, to fields of pastures with goats and cows. Then, the scenery can suddenly change to autumn foliage of yellow and red, then to snow-capped mountains, from cloudy skies to snow to golden sun rays. It’s like travelling through 4 seasons on the train! If you don’t believe me, check out the photos.

rail journey

View from the Dome Carriage as you enter The Rockies Zone

Go past a beautiful lake on your route. The cloudy skies and eerie mountains add to the mystical effect of this segment.

Here’s hoping that I’ve shown how you’ll truly enjoy every view on this train ride across Canada!

Surviving 27 hours from Vancouver to Edmonton:

Now, moving on to the list of survival tips to stay sane and happy throughout that long journey. This is especially true for those unwilling to pay SGD$400 for a sleeper carriage bed… therefore staying in a seat the whole time!

1. Prepare for some cold nights

The New Zealander on The Canadian. Stu, my new friend next door I made on the long ride on the train. Caught in his periodic snoze;) I could tell a blanket would have made it a lot more comfortable.

Bring a small inflatable pillow and a thin blanket to make overnight segments cosy and comfortable. Also, bring a pillow/ jacket to lean on and cuddle you through the night!

2. Bring snacks to last the whole train ride across Canada

Come with a stash of goodies to last you through the long hours and hunger pangs.

Depending on your budget, you can always get all your hot meals on board. If on a tighter budget, bring some food to survive the night. Not expecting to be eating all my meals at the diner for the whole 27-hour journey, I got a stash of supplies at IGA, the local supermarket.

Snapple enjoyment. A bottle costs only CAD$1.50 here!

My stash consisted of granola bars, juice (Snapple is only SGD$1.50 here), buns, cup noodles, and hot cocoa.

Eating area for those who brought their own food. The staircase up leads you to the dome carriage for the 360 degrees view of the surroundings.

One can always get lucky like me, where I was just browsing through the breakfast menu, when I got forced into being a translator to two helpless tourists from China who couldn’t read English and communicate their meal options to the restaurant manager. Hence, given I was at the right place at the right time, my half-passable Chinese became the lifesaver of the restaurant manager, who insisted I sit in the subsequent meal in the diner complimentary.

Breakfast served on board The Canadian in the dining car. Nice hot poached eggs with toasts/ tea and juice for a good perk up to the morning. For an economy seat, you would need to pay for the meals onboard, and this one costs about CAD$12, which is around SGD$13.

Lovely seafood lunch option on board the VIA Rail. Lunch needs to be reserved beforehand and comes in 2 slots – 11.30am or 1pm.

3. Bring a book and/or a good playlist

Bring music and entertainment to last the long journey on VIA Rail.

Though I foresee that half the journey will be spent sleeping, it is not survivable without some form of entertainment. So bring magazines, a book you’ve never got to finish reading, or some drama series on your gadgets!

However, please use majority of the time to enjoy the view too, it is so much better.

4. Bring a good camera!

Pyramid Falls spotted along the route. Small trickle compared to its furious gushing power in summer.

You will regret it if you don’t bring a decent camera, as the scenery is not going to be captured with an ordinary phone camera without an anti-shake feature.

Look out for the Pyramid Falls on your right at approximately 15 hours into this train ride across Canada. There will be announcements made over the intercom when nearing, so keep an ear out for it.

Throughout the day, always make time to go to the Dome carriage to marvel at panoramic views. Truly beautiful, especially when the golden rays reflect off the river, snow-capped mountains, and fall foliage; converting the landscape to a sea of golden trees.

Also read: 10 Must-Know Packing Tips to Help You Survive Long Train Rides

Below is a summary of how to pass the time during this 27-hour train ride across Canada:

1st to 10th hour (overnight segment)

Read a book, listen to some soothing music to get yourself ready for bed

11th to 18th hour

Wake up for the sunrise and catch a nice hot breakfast/ lunch at the meals carriage. Enjoy the views outside the window and expect periodic sunshine, cloudy skies, and light snow!

19th to 22nd hour

Enjoy the remains of the daylight after lunch as the train closes into Jasper. This stretch is the most breathtaking stretch with the most spectacular lakes, trees, and mountains. So stop being glued to your screen and look at the view.

23rd to 27th hour

It will start turning dark so there will slowly be nothing much to see. Prepare for another night and a short nap. Squeeze in hot cocoa and catch up on reading as you close in on Edmonton at 11.00pm For tourists visiting Canada for the first time, I would strongly suggest to just do the stretch from Vancouver to Jasper, as you will reach before it turns dark, and the bulk of the scenic area is the route around the Rockies.

Hence, this concludes my 27 Hours Successful Rail Journey on The Canadian Train #2. A definite must-try for those hoping to experience beautiful Canada in a different mode, and be lost in the moment.

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Train stopover at Jasper before another stretch to Edmonton. The Rockies surrounding the train station is truly spectacular.

Also read: Explore Several Countries by Train: 6 Epic Rail Journeys to Cross Off Your Bucket List!

Thus concludes my story about surviving 27 hours on a train ride across Canada!

Contributed by Lydiascapes.

About Author

Lydia Yang

Lydia is an outdoor enthusiast who loves to travel and indulge in all things extreme - from rock climbing to skydiving. Last year alone she achieved a pinnacle in her travel log when she covered exotic lands such as South Africa, Dubai and New Zealand. She is also the author of Lydiascapes, a travel blog dedicated to sharing travel tips and adventure stories with people who have the aching desire to explore and venture forth.