As frequent readers might have found out by now: I really love Arizona and there was a time when I spent quite a lot of my holidays there. Last year I had the amazing possibility to visit the Grand Canyon by taking the Grand Canyon Railway from Wililams, Arizona. It’s quite an adventure, I can assure you.
First of all: Of course you don’t have to take the train to get to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, but you can. And you should. Because it’s a very special feeling to ride in one of those lovingly restored cars, some of them date back to the early 20th century. Since its first trip back in 1901 it enchanted millions of people from all around the world. I was commuting to and from work for some years, most of the time in business class coaches. So I thought I might not be too impressed by a train-trip to the Grand Canyon. But once again Arizona and its folks just surprised me. Spoiler alert: Try to just enjoy the whole show, don’t question it, just lean back and enjoy.
The whole experience starts with a little Wild West show before boarding the train. It’s a funny one and if you’re (un)lucky you might be picked from the crowd to star the show. I was kinda surprised that my company wasn’t chosen, cause he’s a natural and would have been a perfect fit for the show. But anyway. I assume they just want to entertain the folks while waiting for the train to arrive and to be ready for bording. It departs every morning at 9:30 from Williams to its 65 miles long journey northbound to the South Rim. The whole ride takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes in every direction. That’s 45 minutes faster than back in 1901 but still all in all a trip that takes you four and a half hours. So choose wisely where you want to sit.
All in all you can choose from six different classes; the cheapest one is the Pullman Car (65 USD per adult and 29 USD for kids), followed by Coach Class with bench-style seating (79 USD for adults, 49 USD for kids), then there’s First Class with oversized reclining seats and plenty of leg room (152 USD for adults, 118 USD for kids), the Observation Dome with it’s glass-enclosed streamliner deck and the panoramic views (181 USD for adults, 149 USD for kids), Luxury Dome Class (219 USD, adults only) and the Luxury Parlor Class (219 USD, adults only). While the first three are kinda okay, we still would recommend to book either the Observation Dome, the Luxury Dome Class or the Luxury Parlor. All three of them include pastries, fresh fruit, snacks, juice and a glass of Champagne as well as plenty of room. Of course we went for the Luxury Parlor Class – we know how to travel in style 😉
After all it seemed like the whole point of the train ride to the Grand Canyon was the train ride itself. I’ve been to the GC before and all it really is is a huge hole in the ground. Yes, it IS impressive, but I wasn’t dying to see that one again. But the train ride was different. It was so exciting to feel surrounded by so much history, to travel through times and different landscapes. It’s simply breathtaking how it changes; of course we couldn’t just stay seated on our cozy seats. We had to get up and visited the Observation Dome (as a Luxury Parlor Class Guest you have access to basically every area of the train), we also went outside to the open air rear platform. You should keep your eyes peeled for the wildlife too; chances are high that you see elks, mountain lions, mule deer, squirrels, skunks, a variety of birds and pronghorns.
And if that’s not entertaining enough: There are folklore singers and tale tellers in costumes on their way through the whole train, also when traveling back there’s a surprise for all those who love the good ol’ Western days 🙂 I personally enjoyed the whole trip a lot, I just wanted to have fun, some amazing pictures and unforgettable memories. And I got all of those. Be warned though: It’s windy on the platform, it can get chilly at the Grand Canyon. So best thing would be to dress in layers. If you’re on a roadtrip like I was it’s best to just stay at the hotel right next to the train station, the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel (haha!) as the train departs from the Grand Canyon around 3:30 p.m. and comes back after 5:30 p.m. Just spend the night in Williams and explore the nice little town.
Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel
235 N. Grand Canyon Blvd.
Williams, AZ 86046