Across the US / Canada on a train with young kids...

(55 Posts)
pointtopoint Tue 30-Oct-12 20:50:54

... Last year, my children (then aged 2 and [just] 4) did Lands End to John O'Groats by train. Was BRILLIANT fun!

DS is badgering me to do another trip.

After quite a lot of thought... I have come up with this:

New York - Chicago. (Lake shore limited... big deal in train-land)
Chicago - SF (Califonian Zephyr... which if you are a bit train obsessed is a bit of a big deal!)
From SF, we'd go up to Vancouver, and then back across Canada, to Toronto... Niagara Falls and back to NY...

So... good people on MN... What do I need to see on the way? The Grand CAnyon? The Rockies? What's unmissable if you are 3 and [just] 5??

DS (who will be 5, but only just, is train obsessed, so that will be enough for him... ) but DD (who will be nearly 4) would like some other stuff. Animals are a favourite!

ANy advice much appreciated.

Sulfur Wed 31-Oct-12 12:41:16

I have looked at doing a big North American train journey.

What has put me off has been the expense. These journeys are really expensive! The main thing, though, is the timing of the trains. The last time I looked, NYC to Chicago, for example, was an overnight service.

ggirl Wed 31-Oct-12 12:44:47

I wouldn't recommend the across Canada bit, the rockies are worth it but after that there is endless days of prairie , then endless days of thick evergreen trees...not fun at all.

pointtopoint Wed 31-Oct-12 15:18:11

sulfur - We excel at sleeper trains grin one of the big plus points for us!!! My DS didn't want a 4th birthday party - he wanted to take the sleeper to Fort WIlliam to take The Jacobite Express (which is an steam train, running on the Harry Potter train line). When I said he was a bit obsessed, I really meant it grin

Interesting about Canada... Ggirl - can I ask what route you would suggest? There are a few other routes we could look at...

Stuff I definitely want to do:
Niagara falls
Grand Canyon
San Francisico

Stuff I'd quite like to do:

ggirl Wed 31-Oct-12 15:28:44

Sorry I am not up on train routes , only have experience of that one being looong and boring. I would advise flying to Toronto from an airport on the west coast.

Sulfur Wed 31-Oct-12 15:29:41

Yeah, sleepers are good at getting from A to B but not if you are wanting to look at scenery.

The point that I was trying to make is that you need to make sure that the train's schedule matches what you want to do. A lot of cross country trains only operate a couple of times a week. You aren't necessarily going to get a joined up service if you are looking at different Amtrak regions.

If the timetables do work out for you, then it will be a fantastic trip.

Sulfur Wed 31-Oct-12 15:33:03

Niagara Falls is not to be missed.

Toronto, however, is just another big North American city. Its hinterland is great, eg the Muskoka lakes, but not sure how easy to do by train.

Sulfur Wed 31-Oct-12 15:37:22

Washington DC is a great place to spend 2 - 3 days.

If you are into American independence, then Philadelphia and Boston have a lot to offer (one day in each).

There are trains that go across the Rockies, Calgary to Vancouver, though you can to Banff to Vancouver, very expensive and not sure that they are really suitable for kids, otherwise you will be travelling at night, as freight trains use the tracks during the day, we were stuck for three hours behind a broken down one. they have other journeys some of which are shorter, we were very happy we did the trip , we saw bears, moose, different types of squirrels, deer, bald eagles and lots of other wild life but it is a long time on the train, the trip we did, and we didn't like Calgary, wish we had gotten on at Banff as there are glaciers there.

Hope this helps, Vancouver is a great place to visit.

bran Wed 31-Oct-12 15:48:54

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

pointtopoint Wed 31-Oct-12 15:52:13


Thanks for the advice.

I can be flexible and make the schedules work for us (I think) It's just about making sure we see the stuff worth seeing and don't end up on a boring train!! DS is train obsessed - it really is far more about the train than the destination for him, so sleepers are fine. DS will love the train and DD and I will love the destination. Fine, we'll get to look at a bit of scenery, but the bits we miss... it's not the end of the world...

GOod advice about TOronto... Will also look at Philly and Boston.

pointtopoint Wed 31-Oct-12 15:53:39

Bran - I'm hoping to keep the flight time to 7-8 hours max.

DS is not great on planes.

I don't think the flight to Oz would go well...

bran Wed 31-Oct-12 15:56:47

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

bran Wed 31-Oct-12 16:00:28

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

GruesomewhereInCanada Wed 31-Oct-12 16:02:24

Vancouver is a lovely city. A train from there to Banff or Jasper will give you the best of the Rockies. Jasper is a lovely small town with the railway right through the middle, so your son would get to see the huuuge goods trains too. Jasper is a 3.5/4 hour drive from Edmonton, which has a good airport with links to the USA. Banff is about 1.5/2 hours from Calgary, which also has a good airport.

Hope that helps?

weegiemum Wed 31-Oct-12 16:04:20

Rockies - yes. Try to get enough of a stop to take a bus or hire car on the Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper, and go on the ice bus on the Athabasca Glacier!

If your dd wants animals, the Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park is out of this world, especially the sea otters and Beluga whales.

Sounds like a great holiday! I only know BC and a wee bit of Alberta so can't be any more help. Vancouver is worth a few days, though, and if yo can get out to any of the gulf islands (Bowen, Galiano, even Vancouver Island) it's great. Last time I went to Vancouver island (a school friend lives there) we were followed by a pod of Orcas the whole way!!

pointtopoint Wed 31-Oct-12 16:15:50

OK, I'm sold on the aquarium... She would love that! This is the sort of thing I need to know about the areas we visit!!

ALso like the idea of Jasper, so will try and factor that in too.

Regarding the islands: Are they from Vancouver? We went to the Orkneys from Jo'G in the summer and they were FAB! so would be interested in those.


Vancouver Island is about an hour, we loved it, we went whale watching, bear watching, although we came across bears when we were just driving. Also from Vancouver you can drive to Whistler which is lovely to visit also can see bears, can you see a theme. The Rockies were spectacular and the freight trains amazing to see they were huge . I have also taken the train from New York to Boston, I really enjoyed that and the scenery, some along the coast, absolutely loved Boston.

When we went bear watching we also saw whales, seals, porpoises, sea otters, deer we went from Telegraph cove on Vancouver Island, I really want to go ad live in Vancouver never felt that about any place I have visited before.

I have also gotten a train from the Netherlands to Berlin its about 8 hours from where I live, but you can go all the way to Poland on the train it takes about 20 hours.

Nandocushion Wed 31-Oct-12 18:02:23

Do Vancouver to Calgary on the Rocky Mountaineer, then fly to Toronto from there. Agree that the in-between is dull.

Would you fly from SF to Vancouver? Going by train is slooooooow, even if pretty.

ggirl Wed 31-Oct-12 18:08:55

I loved banff and Jaspar as a child purely because of the chipmunks!

pointtopoint Wed 31-Oct-12 18:38:39

No planes.. trains all the way.

DS + trains = good

DS + planes = NOT good grin

How long is the 'boring in between bit' in canada? Am feeling happy with the train from SF to Vancouver... stopover at Seattle.

ANd, how do I include the grand canyon without straying too far from the zephyr?

GruesomewhereInCanada Wed 31-Oct-12 19:21:43

I think VIA Rail goes between Edmonton and Toronto and takes about 48 hours.

Canada is HUGE.

pointtopoint Wed 31-Oct-12 19:27:57

I think you lot are underestimating my DS's fascination with trains. When I say he is transfixed by them, I mean: HE IS REALLY transfixed with them grin

48 hours on a train is nothing to my DS... grin

ggirl Wed 31-Oct-12 19:29:37

wow 48 hrs is a lot less than it took about 30 yrs ago when I did it..old gimmer that I am. It took bloody days and days.

ggirl Wed 31-Oct-12 19:30:23

Are you sure only 48hrs?

pointtopoint Wed 31-Oct-12 19:42:25

Oh, dear, Ggirl - I too am an old gimmer...

Will be checking the 48 hour thing grin

Really looking forward to it though. DS is already excited.

GruesomewhereInCanada Wed 31-Oct-12 20:15:29

I've just checked online. 2 days, 7 hours and 48 minutes.

GruesomewhereInCanada Wed 31-Oct-12 20:23:31

I know it's last minute and all but just for an example, 1 adult and 2 children leaving tonight in a 3 bed cabin meals included would be almost $2,700 CAD.

Northernlurkerisbehindyouboo Wed 31-Oct-12 20:38:27

My sister took the Zephry last year. I think she enjoyed it as an experience but she was so ready to get off the train at the end! It was also about 3 hours late I think. She went to the Grand Canyon by flying to the next state and doing it as a seperate trip altogether.

pointtopoint Thu 01-Nov-12 07:22:59

Thankyou Gruesome... Think I better start saving!! haha! Would you mind linking to the website you got that from?

I'm only planning to travel from Vancouver to Toronto (I think) and then down to Niagara Falls before heading back to NYC.

I bet that last 48 minutes feels like an eternity!! hahaha!

I have to admit, it's going to be more expensive that I considered... If the train across the US is around the same as Canada, then I'm in for a about £5K once I add on the additional trains to get from SF to Vancouver... and then there are hotels along the way... and then the flights confused

Think it will have to be the children's christmas and birthday presents next year!!!

pointtopoint Thu 01-Nov-12 07:27:06

Northern - can I ask how old your sister is (approx is fine wink)?

I have looked at several rail tour operators and most people who seem keen to take train trips are much much older than 4!!! grin

There is one tour operator that runs a great trip, taking in Washington DC and the Grand Canyon, but talking to them, 90%+ of their customers are 65+, and I think we wouldn't fit in well with them... I can just imagine getting some very snotty looks when my DS has been making train noises for 2 days, 7 hours and 45 minutes grin

pointtopoint Thu 01-Nov-12 07:45:11

Also, Northern - Can you ask your sister if she could answer some questions for me?

7to25 Thu 01-Nov-12 07:51:59

How about going to San Diego rather than San Francisco? Much more child friendly and so much for them to see and do. The Zoo is world class and would enthral your younger child.

mignonette Thu 01-Nov-12 08:01:52

Oh lucky, lucky children (and you). The Rockies alone are incredible, just jaw dropping because you really do travel in them and get such a powerful sense of what it must have been like to have gone west in the pioneer days.

Have a google to see if there are any places nearby where gold mining predominated as some offer 'panning' for gold as a tourist attraction.

Grand Canyon is magnificent but Bryce Canyon in Utah (one hell of a place to lose a cow) is so stunning-

Idaho, Montana or Yellowstone in Wyoming would offer more than prairie. You can go to dinosaur/fossil finding tourist attractions in Montana as some of the biggest dino's have been dug up there. Another idea is the Dakota Badlands.

Have you considered returning via the southern half of the USA, maybe aiming towards New Mexico/ Texas? Plenty of exciting rodeo for your sons to watch...

pointtopoint Thu 01-Nov-12 08:12:56

Thankyou, Mignonette...

I will check that link. I have considered coming back on the southern side (The crescent?) but (and this is a really long story... so won't bore you with details on why)... I know my parents will be much happier if I stick to Canada rather than Texas.

I think I am going to have to miss the Grand Canyon... There is no easy way to get down there. Love the idea of panning for gold, though... grin

7to25 - My Dh and I honeymooned in SF... We got married in Vegas. I wanted to spend so much more time there... Was lovely! I guess I have a romantic notion of taking the children there. WIll check out San Diego zoo though. thanks!

mignonette Thu 01-Nov-12 08:23:02

SF is great for Children- Fishermans Wharf is wonderful albeit full of tourists.

As you know, you can see great wildlife along the Pacific Highway beaches, especially if you head up towards the Oregon/Cali border- Seals etc.

I think the scale of the Grand Canyon can be lost on very young children whereas a place like Bryce whilst possessed of vast canyons too, has geological features that your children can engage with more actively such as slot canyons. You may benefit from booking a trail guide. Also, check you don't need permits in advance though like the GC demands if you want to trek down.

Noren Thu 01-Nov-12 08:26:31

On phone and not sure if it's already been mentioned, but check out website for train info.

pointtopoint Thu 01-Nov-12 08:29:44

Thanks Noren - Seat61 is one of my favourite websites!! train porn grin

Mignonette - thanks. I want to spend a few days in SF.. Take them to ALcatraz, the pacific ocean, Fishermans Wharf, the trams grin I take your point re. the Grand Canyon... Will look at a trail guide.

Anyone know anything about Portland? I've always had a bit of a dream to go there, and it would be an ideal stop over from SF to Vancouver.

mignonette Thu 01-Nov-12 08:35:21

It rains a lot in Portland but it's a youth filled vibrant city. Temperate rain forests in Oregon and Washington are magical. Seattle with it's Baimbridge Island ferry is exciting for kids plus they might like the Totem Poles and Native American museums/installations. Pike St Market is seriously fun albeit busy, busy, busy.

pointtopoint Thu 01-Nov-12 08:45:53

Excellent. Portland it is. Train times work well. We can take The coast starlight from SF to Portland and then Amtrak Cascades up to Vancouver.

In Vancouver, we will go to the aquarium.. and then take the train back to TOronto.. (OK, this is for me, but I really want to go to the CN tower before heading to the Niagara falls)

The timings I'm getting are 3 days and 13 hours (July '13)... I am not sure DD and I are really up for almost 4 days on a train... so will look to break it up by stopping somewhere along the way.

Someone said it earlier, but Canada really is HUGE, isn't it???? grin

pointtopoint Thu 01-Nov-12 08:54:38

Gruesome - do you have a site which would give me the times for the Canadian trains?

I'm looking at possible stop offs, but can't find times the train arrives at different stations?


pointtopoint Thu 01-Nov-12 14:31:56

Gruesome - I found the times...

Where would you say is good to stop between Winnipeg and Toronto... with two kids?

GruesomewhereInCanada Thu 01-Nov-12 14:39:23

It was me that said Canada is huge smile.

I've not made it east of Alberta yet, so can't make any recommendations for places to visit. I'm out at a play date this morning with a lot of Canayjuns though, so will ask.

Sulfur Thu 01-Nov-12 14:42:42 is the official website of the Canadian railway.

It has timetables for the trains.

Do make sure you are pass by places you want to sight see during the day.

The Vancouver - Toronto train has so many stops, especially in Ontario, some as close as 4 minutes apart. No wonder it takes 4 days!

How long are you planning to spend on this trip and, if it's not too rude, what is your travel budget?

pointtopoint Thu 01-Nov-12 14:47:06

Overall, I think it's going to be around a month.

The plan (as it stands) is to head to NYC on 8th July and fly back to the UK around 2nd August.

This will see us spend time in:
Glenwood Springs (never heard of this place, but it looks nice)
(Somewhere in between Winnipeg and Toronto)
Niagara Falls

Budget: I'm hoping for £6K but got a feeling it's going to be closer to £8K with about another £1K for spending money.

I am officially saving!!

pointtopoint Thu 01-Nov-12 14:51:45

AM really open to any other suggestions of where to stay and also of where to go in the places we are planning to stay over.

Sulfur Thu 01-Nov-12 15:15:36

Here is the schedule from Vancouver to Toronto.

If you want to get off the train between Winnipeg and Toronto, it looks like Winnipeg is your best bet. You can wiki the intermediate stations that you will pass through at reasonable times, but none of the are famous.

What do you want to do at each destination? One of the problems of travelling by train is that you are going from city to city to city. In a month long holiday, I woul expect that you would want a decent amount of time away from cities, eg in a resort or national park, where you can swim, kids can do camp, etc.

Personally, looking at your choice of cities, I think it would be a real shame not to go to Washington DC, which has a lot more to offer than, say, Chicago.

What do you anticipate doing in each city? You can only see so many aquaria, art galleries, and city parks.

I don't want to rain on your parade, but having lived in North America with small children, I know that cities are not their favourite destinations. They are great for adults who like culture and fine dining, but kids usually want to just run around.

I think your budget is pretty low for your plans and am assuming your transatlantic flights are not included. Train fares are high, and I suspect your plans exceed the Amtrak and Canada rail pass allowance. You need to also figure in sleepers and/or hotels, and the cost of eating on trains.

Fortunately, all the info is available on the web for you to make really sound plans smile

GruesomewhereInCanada Thu 01-Nov-12 15:20:01

Jasper - if you stay at one of the hotels on Connaught Drive, the rooms at the front will all overlook the railway. IIRC there is a hire car place in town, so you could drive out on the Icefield Parkway towards Banff.

pointtopoint Thu 01-Nov-12 15:24:51

Thanks Sulfur

I agree, I think adding Washington DC would be good. With less time at Chicago.

I'm planning central park in NY, plus the gereral sightseeing stuff...
Not sure about the middle bit.
SF - the beach, Alcatraz, Fishermans Wharf, trams
POrtland - not sure, but think it's quite a big open space
Vancouver - Aquarium
Toronto - CN tower
Niagara Falls - Err... Niagara falls

I think it's worth pointing out that the main reason for the trip is that my DS has HFA (AUtism). He doesn't get regular holidays. He does get trains. The trains will be the be all and end all of his holiday. I'll make sure DD has other stuff to do, and will leave enough time to plan decent stuff everywhere we stop.

I'm hoping I've allowed enough time to get feedback from those who know (like yourself! smile) on where to go and what to do. ANd to change plans accordingly. I'd like to get some space stuff in there too, as I think they would both enjoy that...

Budget doesn't include flights at the moment... I'm kind of ignoring that part of the trip, as that will be the one bit which is really stressful. DS hates flight. So I am doing on the only decent thing and ignoring grin

Sulfur Thu 01-Nov-12 15:36:45

For space stuff, then you should really make sure DC is on your list.


Every North American city has an aquarium, btw, each better than the last smile

pointtopoint Thu 01-Nov-12 15:44:10

Oh, see... they would LOVE that... I don't think it's a great issue to pop Washington DC on the itinerary and spend less time in Chicago.

I do like the idea of seeing the Whales. DD has never seen whales. SHe has touched a Dolphin, but never seen a whale smile

Honestly, I'm trying to allow enough time to make sure we can gather infomation on all the places we plan to stop. I find it better, with DS, to plan things so I know where we are going / what we are doing... but right now... it's open to the gods!! grin

Sulfur Thu 01-Nov-12 15:53:03

Our last trip to North America was three weeks to Toronto. We spent much of it visiting relatives, but the touristy things we did was:

Half a day downtown, where we mooched around the Eaton Centre and bought nothing. Lunch.

A day in Niagara Falls - looking at the Falls, having lunch in a swanky high rise restaurant. We were planning a boat trip but the heavens opened very spectacularly, so we left earlier than planned.

Lunch at Chuck E Cheese and Dave & Busters (2 different days) - just ordinary American things to do.

A week at a resort in the Muskoka Lakes (2 - 3 hours north of Toronto).

A hike in an Ontario Provincial Park

A day at a water park in downtown Toronto.

We didn't do the CN Tower this time (have done it when my parents visited us from the UK). It was quite pricey when I checked and none of the kids were that bothered. Another good thing to see in Toronto, especially if the weather isn't great, is the Ontario Science Museum. I liked it, anyway, when I first went there 30 years ago, when there weren't many science museums in the UK. The Royal Ontario Museum is meant to be good too, although I have never been.

Another good thing if you are based in Toronto for more than a few days is a day trip to Ottawa (I think you can do this by train).

Don't forget to plan visits to the laundromat smile

pointtopoint Thu 01-Nov-12 15:58:51

Don't forget to plan visits to the laundromat grin

hahaha! Indeed!!

I have friends in SF so planning on asking them if I can clean everything there. I'm pretty good at travelling light though...

Washington has been added to our agenda. Means we only have from 9am till 2pm in Chicago, but I can live with that. Will give us a chance to see the White House and visit Simthsonian.

My dad has his 55th birthday in the swanky high rise place in Niagara smile He is 70 now... Lots of places I want to visit because I went there when I was younger smile

Sulfur Thu 01-Nov-12 15:59:19

For whales, you need to be near Boston (Cape Cod)

Sorry, not helping!

pointtopoint Thu 01-Nov-12 16:00:56

You are helping!! grin

These are things I need to know!!

(I mean there are whales in the aquarium though... not wild ones)

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