What is the Grand Canyon Railway?

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What is the Grand Canyon Railway?

Relive the days when life felt a little bit slower and take a ride on the Grand Canyon Railway.

You’ll see incredible desert landscapes, travel through tall pines, and end at one of the seven natural wonders of the world. All this while relaxing in comfort and style, and even air conditioning if you choose.

If this sounds appealing to you, you’re in luck! The Grand Canyon Railway is an excellent option for your next adventure!

Let’s explore!

What Is The Grand Canyon Railway?

The Grand Canyon Railway is a 64-mile stretch of railroad built in 1901 from Williams, Arizona, to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. The railroad was later abandoned and sat unused for a quarter-century. Currently, the Grand Canyon Railway serves as a popular tourist destination that takes travelers on an experience back in time.

You’ll step into the Old West as you witness a shootout and discover a bandit or two has boarded the train.

Guests enjoy tunes of the West while being treated to elevation and landscape changes during the 2-hour and 15-minute ride. A quarter of a million guests travel on this popular attraction each year, so be sure to buy your tickets early!

Brief History of the Grand Canyon Railway

In 1901 the railway opened as a way to transport ore, lumber, and water to and from the Grand Canyon. In 1968, as automobile and interstate travel was booming, the railway suffered a catastrophic decline in ridership and was forced to close.

The 1970s and early 1980s saw several failed attempts to revive the railway. It looked as if the railway would be useful for nothing more than scrap metal until the Biegerts got involved.

Max and Thelma Biegert saw the potential and were up for the challenge of reviving the railway. Because of their efforts, passenger service was restored in 1989. The Biegerts not only brought back passenger service to the Grand Canyon but included an Old West experience like no other. Once a failed railway, it has since become a thriving tourism industry that includes hotels, restaurants, and even an RV park.

The Biegerts listed the property and all entities for sale in 2006. It was subsequently purchased by Xanterra Parks & Resorts. The future of Williams, Arizona, looks promising because of the two rails that lead straight to the Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon Railway is an excellent option for your next adventure!
The Grand Canyon Railway is an excellent option for your next adventure!

Railway Route and Schedule

This Old West experience departs daily from the Williams train station. For the bulk of the year (January to October), the train departs Williams at 8:30 AM and returns at 5:45 PM. During November and December, the train departs Williams at 8:30 AM and returns at 4:45 PM.

To help handle increased crowd volumes from March through July, they offer double train dates. On these days, the railway adds a train that leaves at 10:30 AM and returns at 6:45 PM.

Pro Tip: Check the schedule before planning your trip to maximize the time you have aboard the railway.

Grand Canyon Railway Entertainment

There’s more to this Old West railway experience than just beautiful scenery and vintage trains. As you pass through pines and plains, you’ll be serenaded by the sounds of the Old West. In addition, each train car has an attendant who provides historical facts about the area and the canyon.

Before departing the station, the town Marshall and the infamous Cataract Creek Gang find themselves in a confrontation.

Then, you’ll witness a wild west shootout before departing for the Grand Canyon. But don’t get too relaxed on the train because the Cataract Creek Gang has been known to attempt a train robbery or two later in the day.

The Grand Canyon Railway is an all-day adventure.
The Grand Canyon Railway is an all-day adventure.

Railway Special Events

With train robberies and shootouts, every trip with the Grand Canyon Railway is a special event. However, on select dates, a rare authentic vintage steam engine comes to life. Be sure to check the schedule to help plan your trip around this rare experience.

During the holiday season, you may catch a glimpse of the Polar Express cruising down the Grand Canyon Railway. Who knew that when the Polar Express wasn’t carrying hot chocolate and kids to the North Pole, it made trips to and from the Grand Canyon?

This special holiday event will be a memory your family talks about for years to come.

How Long Does the Grand Canyon Railway Take?

The Grand Canyon Railway is an all-day adventure. Riders will enjoy the 64-mile journey from Williams, Arizona, to the Grand Canyon. The trip takes approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Once guests arrive at the Grand Canyon, they have three hours to explore. During this time, you’re encouraged to take in the sights, capture as many selfies as they can, and stop by the park’s visitor center. Be sure to keep an eye on the time, so you don’t miss your return train!

Guests hop back on the train and make the 64-mile trip back to Williams, Arizona. The smooth ride back to the station is the perfect time to recap after seeing such an impressive sight. The day winds down at approximately 5:45 PM most of the year and 4:45 PM during November and December.

How Much Does It Cost to Ride?

The Grand Canyon Railway offers pricing to accommodate a variety of guests. It currently provides six different riding experiences ranging from basic to luxury. Some cars only allow people over 16 years old, so be sure to look out for that if you have younger children.

The Pullman Class has is a value option and has bench-style seating and windows that open to a fresh mountain breeze. Tickets for the Pullman Class are currently $67 for guests 16+ and $32 for children ages 2-15. Passengers under two are free on all levels of the Grand Canyon Railway.

Upgrading to the Coach Level provides air conditioning in the warmer months and is ADA accessible, but tickets are $82 for 16+ and $51 for ages 2-15. That said, this is the best value to ensure a cool ride back after a hot few hours at the Grand Canyon.

The next few levels First Class, Luxury Dome, and Luxury Parlor, are a substantial price increase, but the amenities may be worth it. First Class is the best you can get if you have children under 16 because the other two are only for adults and children 16 years or older.

Prices for First Class are $159 for 16+ and $121 for ages 2-15. Travelers enjoy views through the massive windows, oversized seats, and complimentary snacks. The Luxury Dome and Luxury Parlor offer access to a private lounge and exclusive cocktails, each at $226 per passenger. The Luxury Parlor allows riders to step out on the rear platform and see the incredible landscape from a unique perspective.

Stay At The Grand Canyon Railway 

Whether you’re traveling in an RV, with a pet, or just want to extend your experience, the Grand Canyon Railway has lodging for you. Each of these lodging options continues the Grand Canyon Railway’s theme of nostalgia and luxury.

The Grand Canyon Railway Hotel has 298 luxurious rooms. You’ll be within walking distance of both the train depot and historic Route 66. Take a dip in the indoor pool, relax those tired muscles in the hot tub, or fill your stomach with one of the delicious dining options. You’re making a grand choice when you choose to stay here.

RVing to the Grand Canyon via historic Route 66 is a piece of the idyllic American Dream. The Grand Canyon Railway RV Park is the perfect place to unwind and relax after spending the day adventuring. Whether you’re riding the rails or seeing the beautiful town of Williams, this RV park offers all the amenities and campsite styles that you could ask for in an RV park. All spaces are 50-amp and come with high-def TV, wireless Internet, pool and hot tub access, shower, and laundry facilities.

Don’t feel like you have to leave your four-legged friends at home! The Grand Canyon Railway Pet Resort is the same luxury living you’d expect in a resort, but for pets. This resort can accommodate 28 dogs and 16 cats in their climate-controlled atmospheres. Your furry friends will be as comfortable as if they were in their very own home.

Is The Grand Canyon Railway Worth It?

If unique and memorable experiences are something you and your family enjoy, then this is worth it. Your family with talk about the knowledge and memories gained from your Grand Canyon Railway experience for years to come. With a little bit of planning and preparation, you’ll get the most value for your money.

Step Into the Past with the Grand Canyon Railway

The Grand Canyon Railway is more than a train to the Grand Canyon. It’s a flashback into an iconic time in American history where life’s pace seemed a little bit slower. Hop on the train and enjoy a refreshing adventure into the Wild West. Have you ridden on the Grand Canyon Railway? Tell us about it!

Local guide: Check out our list of the best free camping near Grand Canyon National Park.

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2 comments

  1. That looks like a lot of fun!! Thanks for the info – it is now on my list of vacation ideas!!

  2. Thank you Kyle & Olivia for shouting out to our Grand Canyon Railway video. Your viewers and website audience is an awesome force that we immediately felt in the engagement with this video. We followed you guys way before we met you at Nomadfest, and will admit to being starstruck! We have often referred to your YT channel when discussing RV finances on ours. Our style is for retirees in a motorhome, but a much more popular style was yours. We loved referring folks to study the travels and lifestyle of a young family that was full time while still working. Saw mid 2020 you stopped RVing full-time. Looking forward to seeing what is in store for the family as time goes on!

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