It’s no secret that railways played a major role in settling the Prairies and Western Canada. So it’s no surprise that there are so many Alberta train experiences that highlight rail travel’s historical importance—while providing unparalleled views of the province’s unique and varied landscape. Read on to learn how you can ride the rails through the Rockies, witness a mock hold-up aboard a working steam engine, enjoy a luxurious lunch in a century-old dining car and much more!
THE CANADIAN FROM EDMONTON TO JASPER
Running parallel and slightly east of the Yellowhead Highway, VIA Rail’s twice-weekly train service (three times a week in summer) from Alberta’s capital to the Rockies affords vistas that you can’t often glimpse from the highway—especially if you are seated in the domed Skyline cars.
JASPER TO THE ROBSON VALLEY
Cross the Alberta-British Columbia border on a five-hour round-trip excursion. The outbound train journey passes within sight of Mount Robson, the Canadian Rockies’ highest peak, before stopping in the town of Dunster, famous for its century-old general store. The van ride back to Jasper features a knowledgeable guide plus side trips to wildlife-sighting spots—including Rearguard Falls, often flush with salmon—and other photogenic points of interest.
THE ROCKY MOUNTAINEER FROM CALGARY TO VANCOUVER
Another interprovincial journey, this luxurious train ride follows the Canadian Pacific tracks that famously connected the West to the rest of Canada more than 125 years ago. A number of multi-day tours (note that not all are available running westward) feature gourmet food, accommodating onboard hosts, stunning views of undisturbed wilderness—and wildlife—and stops in picturesque towns including Banff and Kamloops, B.C.
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All aboard the Rocky Mountaineer
ASPEN CROSSING, MOSSLEIGH
A variety of summertime train experiences are offered along a stretch of track southeast of Calgary: book a dinner theatre excursion, a circus-themed trip, a champagne brunch or wine-and-cheese ride, and many other three-hour tours. For an even more immersive experience, the Aspen Crossing campground boasts three “Caboose Cabins”—spacious train cars that have been outfitted with modern hotel-style amenities—that can be booked for overnight stays.
HERITAGE PARK HISTORICAL VILLAGE, CALGARY
Each Tuesday from the Victoria Day weekend to the end of August, visitors to Heritage Park can experience the timeless glamour of on-train eating during lunch in a vintage rail car. Elegantly restored, the circa-1929 River Forth Canadian Pacific Railway car travels around the park (the dining car is pulled by an antique steam engine) while your party of two or four savours a period-inspired three-course lunch—think trout with potato rosti and summer vegetable ragout—served with wine, naturally.
ALBERTA PRAIRIE RAILWAY, STETTLER
Take in the rolling landscape of Central Alberta on this unique historical journey, an approximately five-hour round trip between Stettler and Big Valley aboard a train pulled by one of either a 1920 or 1944 steam locomotive, or a 1958 diesel engine. The excursion includes oft-changing on-board entertainment (ranging from murder mysteries to teddy bear–themed ride) as well as a buffet dinner in Big Valley. And be on the lookout for bandits: the railway is a known target of the “Reynolds Raiders” gang of (pretend) outlaws.
FORT EDMONTON PARK, EDMONTON
This unique attraction traces the evolution of Edmonton from early 19th-century Hudson’s Bay Company trading post to bustling modern municipality. A restored steam train travels the southern perimeter of the 64-hectare site, taking visitors from the main gates to the 1846 Fort, one of four unique “streets” that recreate important eras in Edmonton’s history. Even more rail-riding fun can be had aboard the park’s turn-of-the-century streetcars, and inside its 1920s freight shed, which features a sizeable model-train display.
GALT HISTORIC RAILWAY PARK, WARNER COUNTY
Built in 1890 by Sir Alexander Galt and his son Elliot (the duo had earlier co-founded the town of Lethbridge), this train station originally straddled the Canada-U.S. border and acted as a customs depot. Fully restored in the early 2000s, it’s now home to a collection of artifacts from the early years of rail travel in Southern Alberta.
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Four Cowboy Trail towns to rediscover on a southern Alberta road trip
FOOTLOOSE CABOOSE LODGE, TOFIELD
Less than an hour’s drive southeast of Edmonton sits a quartet of decommissioned rail cars that have been turned into a small inn and restaurant. The Mount Lefroy dining car is the main attraction, featuring throwback decor and a weekend brunch menu designed for insatiable appetites. The “king sized” hobo omelette with potatoes and smoked sausage will keep you chugging along all day.
HIGH LEVEL BRIDGE STREETCAR, EDMONTON
Each summer, the Edmonton Radial Railway Society offers trips on a historic streetcar line between the Strathcona Streetcar Barn & Museum and Jasper Plaza at 109 Street and 100 Avenue. Currently, three unique trams—including a century-old car salvaged and restored at a cost of $151,000—run along the three-kilometre line, which crosses 49 metres above the North Saskatchewan River.
HOW TO SAVE
Pump up: A car ride out of urban centres is needed to take you to most of these train excursions. Fill your tank and pump more money into your wallet with a prepaid reloadable Esso Card. Pick up a card at any AMA centre to earn 2 percent back in reward dollars on the purchase amount. Plus, earn 2 percent every time you reload the card in-centre or online, or set up Automatic Reload—we’ll maintain your card’s balance as you use it.
Rail deal: AMA members save 10% on VIA Rail travel—in Economy and Business class—anywhere in Canada.