Via Rail Canada’s map resembles a constellation, with 19 train routes connecting such stars as Prince Rupert, B.C.; Ottawa; Churchill, Manitoba; and Halifax, Nova Scotia. The tracks pass through the prairies and the Canadian Rockies, French Canadian cities and Atlantic coastal towns. Daryl Adair, who wrote the “Canadian Rail Travel Guide” and runs a train-travel tour agency in Winnipeg, shared his favorite rail voyages as well as tips on when to drop the book and gaze out the window.
– Jasper-Prince Rupert: The two-day daylight trip (guests spend the night in Prince George; hotel is extra), boasts beauty-pageant views of Jasper National Park, Bulkley Canyon and the Rockies, as well as waterfalls, the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies (Mount Robson) and totem poles. Water is a prominent feature, with Moose Lake, the Skeena River and the mighty Pacific on view. Adair calls the route “the best-kept secret in Canada” for its railside scenery. Keep your binocs handy for such wildlife sightings as bears, elk, bald eagles, seals and wolves.
– Winnipeg-Churchill: The train departs from the capital of Manitoba (visit the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and the Forks Market before boarding) and spends two days chugging through sunflower fields, prairies, boreal forest and uninhabited Arctic tundra. The train often stops on First Nation lands and at other isolated communities to pick up passengers from the side of the tracks. At night, sleep with your eyes wide open so that you don’t miss the Aurora Borealis. Adair said one guest compared a stretch south of Churchill to “traveling on the surface of the moon.” In Churchill, a subarctic region on the Hudson Bay, watch for polar bears or beluga whales, depending on the season.
– Sudbury-White River, Ontario: The day-long journey sets out from Sudbury, an outdoors-centric city with the country’s largest Franco-Ontarian population, and travels to the Lake Superior region and through the Canadian Shield. The train stops in remote communities with no roads, only train access. White River is famous for a certain bear: In 1914, a soldier purchased an orphaned cub from a trapper at the railroad station. He named the bear Winnipeg, or Winnie for short. Author A.A. Milne discovered the bear at the London Zoo – and the rest is Pooh history.