British Columbia, Canada by Rail
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Here are some great train options for gliding your way through Canada’s most scenic western province of British Columbia. Rail journeys are a multi-generational favorite for relaxing travel. Here are some great train options for gliding your way through Canada’s most scenic western province of British Columbia. Rail journeys are a multi-generational favorite for relaxing travel.

Rail travel in British Columbia is what rail travel is meant to be: relaxing, with exhilarating landscapes, varied terrain, social atmosphere and plenty of pampering. From refurbished vintage to the ultimate in luxury, often combining both, rail services in BC offer some of the greatest travel experiences in Canada.

With a wide array of routes to choose from, trains are one of the best ways to tour BC’s magnificent landscape. Trains go places in BC that road vehicles simply can’t, whether hugging cliffs that drop to the sea or winding historical passes through the craggy Rocky Mountains. Regular schedules and a leisurely pace encourage exploration of many site stops, combined with Northern BC fishing, Canadian Rockies hiking, ranch and spa resorts or winter ski and snowboard havens.

From the Rockies to the Shore

For soft adventure, nothing beats viewing the Rockies than by train. Running between Jasper or Banff on the east side of the Rockies, and Prince Rupert and Vancouver on the Pacific coast, you’ll be rubbing shoulders with history. You’ll follow ancient trading routes used by aboriginal peoples, you’ll cross Yellowhead pass in the Rockies, Yoho National Park and you’ll travel through the inner plain of British Columbia and Bulkley Valley. You’ll follow river valleys and like the first European explorers that came here about 200 years ago, you’ll reach the shores of the Pacific. At every stage, you’ll discover rich Native culture and fascinating fauna and flora. Treat yourself to a walk in unspoiled nature, even a few days of camping. The region abounds in opportunities for outdoor and sporting types: rock climbing, downhill and cross-country skiing, long hikes, horse riding, mountain biking, to name a few.

Rocky Mountaineer Railtours (877/460-3200) is known for their rail travel packages, with over 40 different tours exploring Canada’s West and the Canadian Rockies with complementing side trips, attractions and activities. Ranging in length from three to 17 days, all include the acclaimed Rocky Mountaineer rail journey between Vancouver, B.C. and Banff, Jasper or Calgary, Alberta.

The towns of Banff and Jasper are connected by the stunning scenery of the Icefields Parkway and the emerald waters of Lake Louise are just a few minutes away.

Exploring BC’s Northern plateaus, Via Rail’s (888/842-7242) Skeena train reaches high-altitude towns like Smithers in the mountains and ranchland Houston. Ending in Prince Rupert, Aboriginal carving arts are prominent, standing legends and markers of history.

The Skeena departs from Prince George, where passengers may have already partaken of a number of outdoors activities. Some passengers connect from BC Rail’s Cariboo Prospector from North Vancouver; others board the Skeena in Jasper, Alberta to experience its complete 1,160 kilometres (725 miles). Up here, it’s open vistas and wildlife sightings, including moose and bear. Everyone is in awe over one of the best views of a glacier from a passenger train in all of Canada, the Kathlyn Glacier and Twin Falls.

The end of the line is Prince Rupert, a seaside town with tidy houses and churches. There are totem poles everywhere and the Museum of Northern B.C. (250/624-3207), set in a Native longhouse, exhibits the 10,000 years of history along this coast. You must visit Cow Bay – once industrial and now touristy – located on the picturesque harbour. This is the place to book a water excursion so that you can explore some of the tree-covered islands and wilderness coastline.

The Queen Charlotte Islands, known as ‘Haida Gwaii’ (islands of the people) to the Haida people, are a day’s ferry ride from Prince Rupert, and are well worth the trip. Ancient forests, archaeological treasures, rare plant life, a few towns and a spectacular array of bird and wildlife make the 150-island archipelago a special place.

Another option from Prince Rupert is to take the ferry to Port Hardy on the northern tip of Vancouver Island, to find Tofino and Victoria on the southward trip. For day tripping from Victoria and Vancouver, you can enter the Coastal Mountains on either beautifully restored vintage trains or new luxury editions.

Departing from North Vancouver, BC Rail’s Pacific Starlight Dinner Train is a train that takes you back. Back to a time when Ernest Hemingway first graced our bookshelves. When Fred and Ginger danced their way into our hearts. A time that embraced the romance of the golden era of train travel, made all the more enjoyable by the company of someone special. Roll into twilight along the scenic shoreline of Howe Sound all the way to beautiful Porteau Cove.

Relax in restored period coaches so magnificent they compete with nature’s train along the way. Savor fine West Coast cuisine and enjoy elegant service as you create your own special memories. As an evening excursion while visiting Vancouver, the Pacific Starlight Dinner Train makes a special occasion.

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To Whistler & Beyond

Launched in 2001, the Whistler Northwind is a new luxury tour train featuring single-level full-domed passenger cars, white linen gourmet service and luxuriously appointed lounges.

The three-day, two-night northbound or southbound trips include overnight stays in the resort town of Whistler, another in the Cariboo ranch country, and in the northern forest town of Prince George, with plenty of time at each stop for sightseeing or activities.

The Whistler Northwind offers two choices of service, Summit or Panorama. Summit Service passengers enjoy the exclusivity of a private, classic, round-end lounge car with meals served in a magnificently refurbished vintage dining car. Panorama Service passengers take pleasure in a beautifully appointed mid-train lounge car with cocktail bar while meals are presented à la carte at-seat in the dome car. The menu features the best of British Columbia’s rich harvest, presented in a contemporary style. All meals are served on English fine china, with glassware, linen and spotless tableware.

The trip is designed to provide plenty of time to explore at each stop, with a selection of activities ranging from nature walks to hiking, horseback riding, line dancing, storytelling or pampering spa treatments. There are also numerous packages that can be added onto the basic tour, including longer stays at Whistler at a spa retreat or at one of BC’s oldest guest ranches.

British Columbia emerges from the Rail. In fact, it’s the province’s history, with the Last Spike that tied Canada together part of Rocky Mountaineer’s itinerary. Rail touring’s popularity is on the fast rise (like our mountains), as more international travelers spread the word that discovering super natural British Columbia is natural by train.

For More Information

In addition to the rail lines mentioned above, the staff at Tourism British Columbia ( 800/HELLO BC or 800/435-5622, toll-free in North America) run a helpful reservation and information service. You can research your BC getaway through the site, or call to speak with a travel expert who can provide free help with planning or booking — from travel ideas and tips to booking your accommodations, tours, and transportation — for any type of BC vacation. You can also order your free copy of the “BC Escapes Getaways Guide,” or read more from Christine Spinder, the Tourism British Columbia writer who provided this helpful riding the rails roundup.


This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.