Canada By Rail: Top Highlights In The Great White North

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Being a massive nation filled with almost every sort of natural wonder, Canada finds itself on the bucket lists of countless boomers chopping at the bit to travel once they have completed their tour of duty at their jobs. With so much to see, taking a short 1-2 week vacation barely does this country justice, so when they finally pass into the promised land of retirement, taking an extended journey through this expansive nation suddenly becomes an achievable reality.

While you could buy/rent an RV and putter your way across Canada, being the more romantic type, you tend to gravitate towards train travel, and in a country this size, it is an incredibly luxurious way to see the landscape. Sold on the idea rolling across the Great White North on a ribbon of steel? Here are some highlights of rail travel in Canada that you won’t want to miss for the world.

Whistler, British Columbia

The Sea to Sky climb is not a public rail line, so the cost of doing this will be a bit higher than other trips you’ll be making during your time in Canada, but the majestic mountain and coastal scenery along the way to Whistler will make the added dollars a wise investment. Upon arrival in this alpine village, home to many of the alpine and sliding events in the 2010 Winter Olympics, you’ll be overwhelmed by the options for fine dining, shopping and options for simple but rewarding hikes within easy reach of the town site.

One quick day trip that you should do while here should be to Bradywine Falls, a short walk of 500 meters (just under a mile) to a cataract that conveys the power of nature in a dramatic way, as a glacial fed river tumbles over a steep limestone cliff into a deep gorge below.

Jasper, Alberta

While the Coast Mountains of Whistler will prove to be a bold welcome to Canada, one of the most sought after sights in this country is that of the Canadian Rockies. While you can tour the Rockies in Banff through Rocky Mountaineer (Jasper as well), you can take Canada’s passenger train service Via Rail to the town of Jasper to the north.

This town is smaller than Banff, but has more of an authentic mountain town feel due to its lesser reliance on tourism, and its isolation from major population centers (Edmonton is 4 hours away, while Calgary is barely more than 1 hour away from Banff). Jasper’s natural scenery is no less impressive than Banff’s, with the seemingly permafrozen Mount Edith Cavell dominating the skyline to the west, and one of the biggest gems of the Canadian Rockies, Maligne Lake, being a short 45 minute shuttle ride to the southeast.

The Canadian Shield

The Canadian Prairies are awe-inspiring in their flatness, vastness, and the massive sky that such an unobtrusive horizon line affords. After a while though, it can become monotonous, so when you pull out of Winnipeg, watch as you head east for changes that occur in a major way. The forests grow thicker. The ground gets strewn with boulders. Suddenly, the earth becomes little more than exposed bedrock, studded with lakes and hardy trees that can grow in minimal/no soil.

Once you reach Sault Ste. Marie, hop off the VIA train and take a day long trip on a private rail spur known as the Agawa Canyon train. This journey will take you through lakes, cliffs, hardwood forests that burst into figurative flames in the fall time (red and orange leaves abound!), and eventually to the bottom of a 500 foot deep canyon.

Atlantic Canada

Canada’s east coast differs measurably from the west both in terms of its people and its topography. Cheap lobsters and seafood are readily available around the region (especially in the summer … keep your eyes open for community suppers that serves up the good stuff), and subtle mountains, carved by a billion years of erosion, will appeal to those that are looking for a relaxing place with exceedingly friendly people, but without the crushing crowds present out west.

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