Activities

Why you should ride the Grand Canyon Railway

Grand View train siding

The Grand Canyon is renowned for its natural beauty, but there's man-made beauty too, as exemplified by the Grand Canyon Railway.

Built in 1901, the rail service was the first motorized transportation to and from the Grand Canyon from the nearby town of Williams, Arizona, shrinking an eight-hour stagecoach ride to just two hours by rail. Cars have since become the most popular way to get to Grand Canyon National Park, but the railway service remains a way to turn a mere drive to the canyon into an experience. Is that experience worth it? We look at the top reasons visitors should take the Grand Canyon Railway.

Grand Canyon Railway view from seat

Take in the diversity of the Northern Arizona landscape

The 64-mile trip from the Williams train station to the Grand Canyon passes through multiple ecosystems, and the train gives you a front-row seat to all of them. Start off among the ponderosa pines and junipers near Route 66 before transitioning to sweeping vistas of scrub prairie. As you approach the canyon, the scene transitions again to lush pinyon pine forests.

Sure, you can see some of the same stuff if you drive, but the view from the highway isn't as good, especially when you've got to keep your eyes on the road.

Pullman car Grand Canyon Railway

Travel aboard historic train cars

Visitors can travel through time just by walking through the train's historic railcars, each type from a different era. The star of the show is the original 1923 Pullman car, which features benches that flip so families can face one another and windows that open so you can cool down the same way travelers did in the old days.

Other options include 1950s streamliner cars, retired Amtrak cars, and the more modern First Class and Luxury classes.

Banjo player Grand Canyon Railway

Enjoy Old West performances

A trip through the history of the West wouldn't be complete without music, and travelers can enjoy performances on outbound and return trips. Hear the stylings of a singing cowboy on guitar, then switch things up with the twang of a banjo. In between, each car has its own attendant to point out the sights and share facts and history during your journey.

On the way back, be on the lookout for outlaws. Train robberies aren't as common today as in the Old West, but be prepared for some uninvited guests just in case.

Directions street sign Grand Canyon Railway

Skip the headaches of traffic and parking

One of the biggest perks of taking the train is not having to worry about traffic and parking. By car, Grand Canyon National Park is only accessible by State Route 64; the entrance is about an hour's drive from Williams without traffic. SR 64 is a two-lane highway with few passing lanes, however, so the trip can be substantially longer even in mild traffic. There can also be a long line of cars at the entrance waiting to purchase entrance passes. Once inside, parking can be scarce during busier parts of the year. Train travelers don't have to deal with any of that—Grand Canyon Railway's AAA packages already include the National Park Service admission fee.

Tour Buses Grand Canyon Railway

Make the most of your time during a day trip ...

If you've only got a day to see the Grand Canyon, the train integrates with two of the best ways to cover lots of ground quickly: the Freedom and Grand bus tours. These tours are only available to train passengers and offer visitors the best sights without having to spend lots of time walking or shuttling the long distances in between. There are two options: The Freedom Tour is an hour and a half long, whereas the two-and-a-half-hour Grand Tour includes an hourlong buffet lunch. Both board at the train depot at the Grand Canyon and allow time for free exploration. Best of all, each option is available as part of Grand Canyon Railway's AAA-exclusive Rails to the Rim package.

South rim Grand Canyon sunset

... or stay the night to get a fuller Grand Canyon experience

Want to spend the night at the canyon? Pick Grand Canyon Railway's AAA-exclusive Rails to the Rim Plus package, which adds a one-night stay at the South Rim's Maswik Lodge just a few minutes' walk from the canyon's edge. Staying the night means you'll see the sun set over the canyon and rise the next morning, an unmatched National Park experience. It also leaves more time for self-directed exploration: Learn how the Grand Canyon formed at the Geology Museum, trek out to Hermits Rest for a front-row seat of the sunset, and shop for Native American crafts at the Hopi House. Don't worry about schlepping your luggage between hotels: The railway takes care of it, door-to-door.

Caboose view Grand Canyon Railway

Upgrade to Gilded Age luxury and an exclusive outdoor view

The Grand Canyon Railway's First Class cars are plenty comfy, but for the ultimate train experience, ride the Luxury Parlor car. Plush sofa and booth seating awaits, along with fruit, pastries, coffee, and juice on the outbound trip. On the way back, enjoy complimentary sparkling wine.

Unique to the Luxury Parlor car is an outdoor viewing platform that looks back from the end of the train. Travelers can feel the fresh air blowing by, watch the scenery fly past, and hear the train passing over the tracks. For an extra-cool view, hang on the platform until the train turns, then look back along its length to see the whole train in profile. 

Spensers Pub Grand Canyon Railway

Accommodations apleanty at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel

The Grand Canyon Railway Hotel in Williams is a AAA Three Diamond establishment right next to the Grand Canyon Railway depot. Each of the recently remodeled rooms has a coffee maker, refrigerator, and free Wi-Fi. There's also an RV park and the Pet Resort, which boards cats and dogs for a daily fee (even for patrons not staying at the hotel). There are two dining options on-site. The Grand Depot Cafe offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner buffets, with a carving station and pasta bar in the evening. Spenser's Pub opens for dinner and features an oak bar from England that was hand-carved in 1887.

Route 66 Store Grand Canyon Railway

Walk and shop along historic Route 66 in Williams

The small town of Williams bills itself as the Gateway to the Grand Canyon and was the last town on Historic Route 66 to be bypassed by Interstate 40. The town center is just a few minutes walking from the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, so pop on over to shop for '50s- and '60s-themed souvenirs, watch travelers drive by on their Route 66 road trips, and take your pick of the local dining scene—many of the restaurants in Williams are AAA Diamond-rated. Plan your evening early, as most establishments in Williams close at 9 or 10 p.m.

AAA members get to experience the train for less

Grand Canyon Railway offers two exclusive packages to AAA members. The first is the two-night Rails to the Rim package, which includes a stay at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel in Williams and a daytrip by train to the Grand Canyon. The second is the three-night Rails to the Rim Plus package, which adds a night at the Maswik Lodge at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

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