Vancouver is one of the most popular destinations in all of Western Canada, and for good reason – it’s a stunningly beautiful city that has the potential to satisfy every traveler. Banff, in the neighboring province of Alberta, is a celebrated resort town within Banff National Park, home to breathtaking mountains and turquoise waters that make it perfect for skiing and other outdoor adventures. While you can certainly fly to get between the two cities, taking a train from Vancouver to Banff is an even better way to experience these incredible mountain landscapes.
A train from Vancouver to Banff takes you through three national parks, including Glacier, Yoho and Banff. It’s an amazing experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list. There are several different packages available, from luxury experiences in domed train cars with exceptional service and included amenities to budget options that save you money but don’t sacrifice on experience. You can purchase tickets as a single-day or round trip and travel in either direction, though we recommend traveling westbound on the Rocky Mountaineer so you see all the scenery during daylight hours.
The train begins its journey north from the downtown Vancouver station, which is conveniently located a block away from the Pacific Central station where VIA Rail’s Canadian train arrives. You’ll immediately notice Canada Rail Vacations – Calgary, Alberta the Rocky Mountaineer’s luxurious train cars, which are designed to give you a sense of privacy and spaciousness. Once the train clears the freight yard, it curves right over a long low steel bridge that crosses the Fraser River and then a much higher arch bridge on the left that carries the Vancouver Skytrain metro.
The Rocky Mountaineer quickly leaves the urban sprawl of Vancouver and heads east into farm country where you’ll spot grazing cows, horses and other livestock. As you approach the Cariboo Plateau, pine trees make their debut and you’ll smell the sawdust from nearby timber yards. It’s a softer, more relaxing section of the journey with beautiful views of rolling hills and farmland.
At lunchtime the train passes Lake Okanagan, then heads for the Kicking Horse Canyon. This is a spectacular section of the journey, where the snow-capped Rocky Mountains come into full view and the rivers change their direction of flow. You’ll also pass the first of the famous ‘Spiral Tunnels’, where the train enters a deep wooded valley and emerges further down the mountainside facing the opposite direction.
Day two of the train from Vancouver to Banff is equally as impressive as day one. You’ll travel through the beautiful river valleys of the Fraser and Shuswap, past the headwaters of the Columbia River and the mighty Kicking Horse River. By this time, you’ll have seen some of the most breathtaking scenery in all of Canada.
As the train continues through the Rockies, you’ll soon see imposing Castle Mountain, which was named for its resemblance to a medieval castle. You’ll also witness the glimmering turquoise waters of Seton and Anderson lakes, which were once part of a larger lake that was split by a landslide thousands of years ago. The train will then pass through the village of Lillooet, where you’ll enjoy a short stop in the railway yard.