Riding the overnight train from Vancouver to Jasper with VIA Rail
Surprisingly, we’ve never taken an overnight train in Canada. It’s always ranked high on our travel wish list but, for some unknown reason, it hadn’t become a reality until our recent experience riding the overnight train from Vancouver to Jasper.
I often wonder how people from around the world view Canada as a travel destination. I like to think I have a general idea, but it’s always interesting to learn about our home country through the eyes of a first time visitor.
“This is so exciting”, said Walter, a retired banker from Liverpool, England. “We’ve been planning this trip across Western Canada for over three years”, he told me.
Walter and his wife Sharon were enjoying the complimentary glass of sparkling wine served in the observation car as the train slowly pushed out of the downtown Vancouver station. This train experience was the centerpiece of their first trip to Canada.
Their enthusiasm and excitement was contagious.
We love train travel. The simplicity of the boarding process, the lack of invasive security checks, the ability to get up and walk around. We find it to be the most enjoyable way to travel with our little ones.
As the train began to pick up speed, the entertainment host gave a briefing to the guests in the observation car. He asked the group where they were coming from and where they were going.
To my surprise, we were the only Canadians in the group. Most guests were from either western Europe or the southern United States. The majority were taking the overnight train from Vancouver to Jasper but a few were traveling across Canada to Toronto and Montreal.
I was reminded of our trip to Europe two summers ago, when we traveled through Germany, France and Switzerland via train. I remember how exciting it was to be overseas experiencing Europe by train. I can only assume our travel companions felt the same way about this train experience through western Canada.
To say that Braydon was VERY excited to ride the train would be a huge understatement.
What is it about little boys and big trains? He’s been a big fan of the popular kids show Thomas the Tank Engine for as long as we can remember, which has undoubtedly contributed to his love of all things train.
His excitement and curiosity kicked into overdrive as soon as we boarded the train and found our room. He climbed from one chair to the other and ran up and down the hallway yelling “Weeeeeeee”.
And this was before the train departed.
The private sleeper room on the train
We’ve taken overnight trains before so we had a general idea of what to expect (although the overnight trains in India are a unique breed). Because we are now a family of four, the team at VIA Rail converted two adjoining rooms into one larger room by removing a retractable wall.
It’s quite amazing how functional these small rooms are. The designers have certainly found creative ways to maximize every inch of space.
Sleeping arrangements with an infant and toddler
The sleeper room set-up is similar to bunk beds, with one bed on the bottom and one on top. However, because we had the retractable wall removed to make one large room, we had two bottom beds positioned side by side.
There was a 6-inch gap between the two bottom beds that ate Braydon’s little legs a few times before we wised up and plugged the hole with a couple pillows.
There were no bed guards to protect him from rolling off the bed (which was a surprise) but we managed to keep him safe by tucking pillows with sheets, creating a barrier between him and the floor. Fortunately it was a smooth ride with no sudden stops.
We brought our portable traveller crib for Connor (this is the model we use). Connor is too small to sleep in his own bed, especially without bed guards, so we set him up on the floor in his portable crib, next to Nicole’s bed.
Cam slept in the top bunk above Braydon.
Of course, Braydon had to test out his new bed by jumping on it. And yes, this did result in multiple head bonks on the bed above. You’d think he would have learned after the first time. Boys will be boys!
The sun rises early in Canada during the summer, so we opened the blinds around 6:30 and watched the forests and mountains pass by while laying in bed. It was a fun and unique way to start the day.
We didn’t have the best sleep because both boys woke up periodically throughout the night but we did manage about 6 hours of sleep, which is a lot more than we thought we’d get with all of us packed into one room.
After everyone was fully awake and ready to visit the dining car for breakfast, the train attendant removed one of the bottom beds for more space.
It was nice to have the flexibility to change the layout of the room throughout the journey. This gave us more room to roam while still keeping a proper bed for Braydon to nap later that morning.
The overnight part of the trip passed through central British Columbia, which meant that the day time views were of eastern British Columbia and western Alberta.
The views along this part of the journey are fantastic, but I found myself more interested in watching the curiousity and imagination of Braydon as we passed through the varying landscapes.
Oh, to see the world through a toddler’s eyes!
The best way to view the mountain landscapes is to sit in the domed observation car.
Dining car on the train
Watching nature slowly pass by your window is a fun way to enjoy a meal. I was impressed by how quickly the kitchen sent out the food, considering it’s prepared in such a small space while the train sways back and forth. You’ve got to have some serious balance strength to work that kitchen.
Breakfast is served on a first come, first serve basis. The menu is limited but it offers the traditional options you’d expect, such as eggs, bacon, toast, pancakes and fresh fruit.
Lunch is served by group seating. Those that ate breakfast early received the first lunch seating, followed by the second and third seating. There are only so many seats in each dining car so this prevents a mass gathering of hungry guests wanting to eat at the same time. Like breakfast, the lunch menu is limited to a few options, ranging from pasta to sandwiches to salads.
There were no children’s high chairs in the dining car, so keep that in mind if you’re traveling with little ones. Fortunately, we brought our baby carrier that has the ability to convert into a portable chair (this is the baby carrier we use).
During lunch, the train conductor announced that a black bear was spotted on the right side of the train. Everyone in the dining car stood up and looked out the window. Within 5 seconds we spotted the big black bear about 10 meters from the train tracks. What a stoke of good luck!
Braydon didn’t make it through lunch. All of the excitement and limited sleep the night prior left him exhausted. He actually fell asleep in the dining car before his food arrived.
The railroad engineer slowed the train to a snail pace as it passed this beautiful waterfall, allowing snap happy tourists enough time to capture a few images like the one above. It was a nice touch.
About 2 hours after lunch we approached our final destination.
We arrived in Jasper just after 4:00 PM central time, about 18 hours after we departed Vancouver.
Although 18 hours of travel sounds like a very long time, it actually went by quickly. Having a luxurious private room with beds certainly made this train experience a memorable one.
A few things to know before you go…
- Departure and arrival times change depending on the season. Trains do not depart every day, so make sure you do your research ahead of time. Here is a link to customize your train schedule.
- Price will vary considerably depending on your destination, travel style and seat selection. Sleeper cars are convenient, private and comfortable, but they are not cheap.
- Breakfast and lunch was included with our sleeper class tickets. Alcohol is not included. We had a couple beers, priced at $6 per bottle.
- There is not a lot of extra room in the sleeper rooms, so it’s best to check your luggage. We checked everything, including car seats and double stroller, except for an overnight bag and portable travel crib for Connor.
A big thank you to the people at VIA Rail and Travel Alberta for providing us complimentary tickets on the overnight train from Vancouver to Jasper. As always, expressed opinions are entirely our own.