“All aboard!” shouts the conductor just before the vintage Grand Canyon Railway train leaves the old depot in Williams, Ariz. Two and a half hours later, it arrives at the Grand Canyon, one of the seven wonders of the natural world.
Williams, situated on historic Route 66, bills itself as “the gateway to the Grand Canyon.” As you drive down the road headed for the train station, you’ll get a sense of the town’s rich history and Wild West heritage.
Riding the Grand Canyon Railway’s vintage train to the South Rim is a great way to go. You can enjoy the journey and the spectacular scenery; no one has to keep their eyes and the car on the road.
All aboard the Grand Canyon Railway! — Photo courtesy of Steve Collins
They offer a choice of six classes of service from luxury to coach to choose from. There's an attendant in each car, and service is friendly. The staff is there to enhance your experience, answer questions and point out sights along the way.
Splurge and opt for one of the two luxury options: Luxury Dome or Luxury Parlor Class. The dome is a double-decker observation car fitted with plush upholstery for a smooth-as-silk ride down the rails. Assigned seats range from forward- and backward-facing to banquettes that are parallel to the windows. These offer a great view of the passing evergreen forests.
The Luxury Parlor car offers tables at each seat, a great place to rest a drink or refreshments as the train heads toward the Grand Canyon.
Going 'round the bend, the view from the back observation platform — Photo courtesy of Steve Collind
The Observation Dome offers splendid views for a slightly lower rate. All three levels include a continental breakfast buffet on the way to the Grand Canyon, as well as a buffet of sweets and savories – such as cheese, crudités and a sparkling wine toast – on the return journey.
There are a variety of First Class cars in service; according to the railway, each is unique. Enjoy oversized reclining seats (Some may even be able to flip so a party of four can face each other.), ample legroom as well as great views out the large windows.
Coach passengers ride circa-1950s cars with bench seating. Both Coach and First Class cars are handicapped-accessible, complete with ADA-compliant bathrooms and power lifts as well as storage space for wheelchairs and scooters.
A strolling musician makes his way through the train stopping in each car to entertain you for a bit. But watch out for train robbers! There’s a gang of them reported to be on the loose. It’s all great fun.
The strolling cowboy musician entertains the passengers car by car — Photo courtesy of Steve Collins
For train buffs, especially those who love riding old trains, it’s a memorable experience, too. You'll love the Pullman cars, built in 1923 by The Pullman Palace Car Company and entirely refurbished. They’ll take you back almost a century,when steam engines pulled trains and rail travel was just about the fastest way to travel.
One of the best parts of the ride is standing outside on the back platform watching the track recede into the distance. Passengers in both Luxury Dome and Luxury Parlor Class can enjoy this experience.
Once you get to the Grand Canyon, take yourself directly to the rim. That view is what this trip’s all about.
The views from the Grand Canyon's South Rim are ever-changing — Photo courtesy of Steve Collins
Visit as many viewing spots along the rim as you can. They’re all different and all literally breathtaking. Photos just don’t capture the majesty and splendor of the views.
The train departs Williams daily at 9:30 a.m. and leaves the historic Grand Canyon Depot for the return trip at 3:30 p.m.
Want to stay longer? Xanterra, the company that runs the Grand Canyon Railway, also operates seven lodges at the South Rim, running from the historic and luxe El Tovar to more basic options. They book up in advance, so plan your trip early.
Also, check out the holiday-themed Polar Express trains, based on the book written by Chris Van Allsburg and offered from early November through New Year’s Day. The little ones will love them.
There’s only one Grand Canyon, and it should be on your must-travel list. What are you waiting for?
The historic depot at the Grand Canyon in snow — Photo courtesy of Steve Collins