ALL ABOARD! If you’re looking for a fun and low-stress way to experience the Grand Canyon, consider buying tickets for the Grand Canyon Railway, a passenger train that departs from Williams and transports you directly to the canyon.
Grand Canyon Railway
You’ll start your adventure in Williams, 4 1/2 hours northwest of Tucson, where you’ll begin your day with a not-so-scary cowboy shootout at the depot. The 15-minute show involves audience members for a somewhat silly performance, where the good guy always wins. Afterward, you are welcome to take photos with cast members, horses, and/or in the miniature wild west town.
After the show, you’ll board the train and find your designated seats. There are six classes to choose from – pullman, coach, first class, observation dome, luxury dome, and luxury parlor. Each class offers different seats and a variety of amenities. If you opt for first class, you’ll be treated to large, reclining seats, pastries and juice in the morning, and veggies, cheese, and crackers in the afternoon.
All classes include entertainment during the ride – singers, accordionists, and visits from The Marshall. A photographer will also come through to take your party’s photo, which you can purchase on the return ride if you so choose.
Northbound trains depart at 9:30am and arrive at the Grand Canyon at approximately 11:45am. You’ll have 3 to 3.5 hours to explore the Grand Canyon before boarding again at 3:15pm for return to the depot in Williams. If you want more time to explore the canyon, you can book a room inside the park and return by train the following day.
On the ride back to Williams, watch out (and give little ones a heads-up!) – the robbers will ride alongside your train and board to “rob” all passengers. Bring a few extra dollars for tips if you would like to participate in this light-hearted (and optional) part of the trip.
- For families, Coach is a good pick because you’ll be comfortable with air-conditioning and/or heating, plus have access to a snack bar.
- Pack a picnic lunch in a cooler for your lunch at the Grand Canyon. There are a number of restaurants and quick-service snack-style shops in the canyon, but our experience has been that the food is mediocre at best. Save time, money, and your palate by bringing your own fare – perhaps salad, sandwiches, fresh fruit & veggies, cookies, etc. There is overhead room on the train so transporting your cooler won’t be a problem.
- Little ones under age 2 ride free as “lap babies.”
- Since the ride is 2+ hours, you may want to bring activities for toddlers prone to restlessness. That said, it may not be necessary since there is some on-board entertainment (described above).
- Disposable water bottles are not sold on the train or at the park. If you do not bring your own, you will want to purchase a refillable souvenir cup for ~$5.
- The off-season is January and February so you may be able to get better rates during those months.
- Don’t forget your camera! You’ll have opps to take photos with the robbers and at the canyon itself.
While At the Grand Canyon
Three hours isn’t very long to explore one of the largest and grandest canyons in the world! If this is your first trip, you may want to spend the night to enjoy the canyon at sunrise/sunset and allow time for hiking. Otherwise, be sure to plan ahead to maximize your time.
The train stops at the South Rim, where you can take in breathtaking views and wander through a variety of lodges, souvenir shops, and historic buildings. Kids, ages 4+, can also stop by the visitor center to pick up a free Jr. Ranger activity guide. If they complete four pages and attend a 30-60-minute Jr. Ranger program, they can take a pledge and receive a badge to become an official Grand Canyon National Park Jr. Ranger.
If you prefer to see the canyon from higher up, you can take a free shuttle to various viewing spots and/or book a bus tour.
While in Williams
You may want to begin and end your journey with a stay at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel. Directly across from the depot, this hotel is an ultra-convenient way to extend your weekend or weekday getaway. Equipped with mostly standard rooms, the hotel also offers an indoor swimming pool + jacuzzi, game room, fitness room, an on-site pub, a playground, a basketball court, and a restaurant. If you book during November or December, you’ll enjoy a plethora of twinkling lights and displays on the property – which will swing you in to the Christmas Spirit in seconds. As an added bonus, this hotel is within an easy walk to historic Downtown Williams, a fun place to buy souvenirs, sip a milkshake, or snap shots of old gas station pumps.
Tired of greasy burgers and fast food fare? You’re sure to be refreshed by the menu at Kicks on Route 66, an upscale bistro that serves food that is mostly local and organic, always delicious. The modern, urban decor will surprise you in such a small town. Grey wood tones, vintage frames, and grass green pallets are reminiscent of a country farm. The menu offers New American cuisine with robust flavors – sandwiches, salads, salmon, ribeye, and desserts to tantalize. A children’s menu is also available – $5-$7 a plate – with healthy and well-prepared dishes. No Kraft mac-and-cheese to be found (thank goodness!). The Executive Chef is a father of three young children from Tucson. He has lived abroad in Vietnam and infuses some Asian influences into his dishes.
On your way in or out of town, you’ll see signs for Bearizona, a large drive-thru wildlife park. Although we haven’t experienced the park, we’ve heard good things from friends. Perhaps worth a visit?
Have you been on the Grand Canyon Railway?
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