The Grand Canyon Railway started its operations on September 17, 1901 mainly due to the determination of Buckey O' Neill, sheriff of Yavapi County, Mayor of Prescott who realized that money could be made from the mines and tourism in the region.
In the late 1800's, Americans were going west and new forms of transportation were built to help mobility. The main line west was built between Chicago and Los Angels and it passed through Williams, Arizona. At the time, the railroad was used to transport ore in the Wild West, from the Anita mines which were located 45 miles/72kms north of the city.
O' Neill then searched for investment to materialize his vision and got the support of the Lombard, Goode Company from New York and Santa Fe Pacific Railroad. Construction of the tracks to the Grand Canyon begin in 1897 and were finished in 1901. Unfortunately, O' Neill didn't see his completion when he died in 1898 fighting in the Spanish American War.
Santa Fe kept investing in structures along the railroad, mainly lodging and restaurants. The El Tovar Hotel was finished in 1905 and is the finest hotel at the South Rim, offering many amenities to guests and fresh food and milk produced from its herd and greenhouses.
With modern times, automobiles started to be the main mode of transportation. Interstate highways were built paralel to the railroad and its use started to decline until the service stopped in 1968. Due to the determination of entrepreuners Max and Thelma Biegert, the railway was reopened for passenger service in 1989 after rebuilding the decaying tracks and the old depots.
Today, travelling in the Grand Canyon Railway is watching a piece of history, the dramatic surroundings and travel back in time in an important era of American history.
The Grand Canyon Railway departs daily at 09:30 am from Williams and arrives at the South Rim in the Grand Canyon National Park at 11:45 am in a 65 mile/104kms journey. The return trains departs at 15:30 arriving back in Williams at 17:45. During peak times, a second train is added, departing at 10:30 am taking the same amount of time as the first one.
The region geography is set at higher elevations, as the Grand Canyon Country is located in the Colorado Plateau in Northern Arizona with an elevation of 5,000feet/1,524m, which is where Williams and the Grand Canyon are located, although both are set at an elevation of 7,000ft/2100m.
East of Williams the San Francisco Peaks are the highest point in Arizona with an elevation of 12,000ft/3,657m. This means that the landscape changes during the journey, with stunning different views that start with the Ponderosa pine forest around Williams, gently dropping in elevation to a wide open magnificent prairie and going up again into the Pinion pine forest before reaching the Grand Canyon National Park.
The experience inside the Grand Canyon Train depends on the class of service you wish to travel on, as the carriages have different levels of confort and extras. The Luxury Dome Class and the Observation Dome are glass enclosed which allow for a panoramic view of the scenery, which gives you a more immersive experience.
Built in 1923 and refurbished by the Grand Canyon Railway, it allows for seats to flip to face each other allowing for a family to better enjoy the journey together. A Passenger Service Attendant is on board to share the history of the train and help passengers plan their Grand Canyon stay.
The Coach Class features confortable bench style seats in a classic 1950's car with musicians and a Café Car.
With oversized reclined seats, plenty of leg room and panoramic windows, travelling first class is what it means. There are pastries, fruit, coffee and juice available in the morning, snacks and soft drinks in the return trip
A glass enclosed car that opens up the great views of the journey. You will be travelling on the first floor watching everything from high above the train while enjoying the food and drinks available.
Luxury Dome Class
The Luxury Dome Class not only has the views of the Observation Dome but also the elegant and classic furniture which makes for a cosy stay. You are free to stay upstairs and enjoy the views or go downstairs and enjoy a drink at the lounge.
Luxury Parlor Class
The Luxury Parlor Class is the most exclusive of all, having the finest service with a private bar, confortable seats and sofas in a well decorated car. It gives you access to the open-air rear platform where you can enjoy a drink and smell the fresh air.
All cars are handicapped accessible with ADA-compliant rest rooms and power lifts avalable in both stations. You can also store your wheelchair, power chair and scooter but it is always better to contact your reservation agent or Grand Canyon Railway itself to inform them about your needs.
Western characters are also on board to entertain guests with music, and a display of a old West train robbery by Cowboys (you will have to put your hands up in the air) and a shootout will make it all more realistic and give you a feel of how life was decades ago. Be assured that the Marshal will put the bandits in prison!
Prices vary between classes of service as you can see on the table below. You can buy tickets directly on the Grand Canyon Railway website at https://secure.thetrain.com/thetrain/tickets
|Pullman Car||67 USD / 54 EUR||32 USD / 25 EUR|
|Coach Class||82 USD / 66 EUR||51 USD / 41 EUR|
|First Class||155 USD / 124 EUR||121 USD / 97 EUR|
|Observation Dome||184 USD / 147 EUR||153 USD / 123 EUR (1)|
|Luxury Dome Class||219 USD / 175 EUR||(2)|
|Luxury Parlor Class||219 USD / 175 EUR||(3)|
1) Children ages 2 and under are not permitted
2) Children 15 and under are not permitted
3) Children 15 and under are not permitted
The Polar Express and Steam Saturdays
Near Christmas, the Polar Express goes to the "North Pole" travelling in the nightly wilderness of Williams. The experience is a one of a kind for children, who can be dressed in their pajamas, and families who get to enjoy the holidays in the company of Santa Claus and his elves, who offer hot chocolate and chocolate chip cookies. The well decorated train and the station is a magical place where imagination becomes real and stories are told.
Besides the train journey, you can go to the Polar Room to play the Naughty or Nice O'Meter and find out wether you get a lump of coal or a present in your stockings!
The sight of an old steam locomotive is a piece of rail history on wheels and Grand Canyon Railway took the initiative to restore two of them, both being built in the 20's of the 20th century.
In the first saturday of every month, from March to October, you can choose to do this journey in a more classic way into the Grand Canyon. There are also special steam days as you can check below. Trains depart Williams at 9:30 am and the South Rim at 3:30 pm.
March 3 | April 7 | May 5
June 2 | July 7 | August 4
September 1 | October 6
February 17 - President's Day
April 21 - Earth Day
September 15 - GCR Anniversary
Places to visit
The South Rim has plenty of sights and activities to do after the end of your journey. Besides exploring the Grand Canyon in itself, other landmarks and places are there to be part of your experience.
Visit one of nature's seven wonders of the world and contemplate the view from the rocky formations and the Colorado River by doing a bus tour, rafting, go to the Havanu Falls or ride a mule along the several trails.
El Tovar Hotel
El Tovar is located in the Canyon view and offers a premier service to guests. Built in 1905, it is a Registered National Historic Landmark due to his history and significance on the region at the time it was first commissioned in 1902 by the Santa Fé Railroad. Enjoy your meal with a great view of the Grand Canyon.
One of the Grand Canyon's secrets are the Havasu Falls, where you can have a swim or do a picnic around. Don't forget to put the trash in the bin to help keep the site as clean as possible.
Colorado River Rafting
From the South Rim, it is possible to do a rafting tour in the Colorado River. Visit https://grandcanyon.com/planning/grand-canyon-rafting/ to check and book your tour.
Where to sleep
The Grand Canyon Railway Hotel is a good place to sleep and right next to the Railway. This luxurious hotel is very confortable and cosy with plenty of ammenities.
To book your stay visit https://secure.thetrain.com/thetrain/lodging