The Grand Canyon Railway offers a range of day trip and extended tour options for visiting America's greatest natural wonder. Shown: train en route to the South Rim. Photo: Grand Canyon Railway.
Natural wonder and national treasure, the Grand Canyon has been a world-class travel magnet for over a century. These days, some five million annual visitors flock to this 277 mi/446 km Colorado River gorge. They come to experience the Canyon's sheer immensity, brilliant color palette and amazing eco-diversity. They arrive by car, by helicopter, by motor coach, by mule, by foot...
And by train.
In fact, when the Grand Canyon Railway first came into service, train was the only practical way to reach the Canyon's scenic South Rim. A hundred years later, for many, the best way to travel to the Canyon is still aboard the Grand Canyon train. Not only is it more ecologically responsible to leave the car behind... it's more relaxing... and more fun!
The Grand Canyon Railway is based in Williams, Arizona, a time-worn crossroads where Native Americans, ranchers and cowhands mingle with Canyon-bound tourists. Along the town's main street, America's fabled Route 66, one-time saloons and brothels house a variety of shops, restaurants and -- reportedly -- a ghost or two! The landmark Williams Depot, home of the Grand Canyon Railway, is a block away.
A Grand Canyon Railway tour departs the depot every morning at nine-thirty. A live Wild West show keeps kids entertained until they climb aboard. Classic railway cars, hauled by a vintage diesel locomotive, cover the 60 mi/96 km route of ever-changing terrain in just over two hours. Elk, pronghorn and mountain lion as well as bald eagles and California condors are common sights. The train crosses the Ponderosa pine woods of Kaibab National Forest; drops some 1500 ft/2400 m to the dry, open desert below; then returns to high forest for the final approach to Grand Canyon Depot and the South Rim.
The century-old Grand Canyon Depot is America's last operating log depot. The depot is a Grand Canyon Village hub and is located a stone's throw from the canyon's South Rim.
With nearly four hours to explore, there's plenty of time to check out the village, a National Historic Landmark District rich with heritage sites and dramatic South Rim lookouts. For hungry visitors and souvenir shoppers, Village establishments provide for every taste and budget.
The return trip arrives in Williams around six. A train robbery reenactment enroute holds restless youngsters attention, enabling grown-ups to relax and enjoy the ride.
The Grand Canyon Railway offers visitors a wide range of onboard and South Rim experiences. Classes of travel range from Streamliner Coach to deluxe Parlor Car. For those wishing to spend more than a few hours at the Canyon, two-day train tour hotel packages and three-day train tour hotel packages are available.