A ride on the Grand Canyon Railway is more than just a cool way to get to the South Rim of this landmark attraction. It’s a trip back in time and a remarkable adventure that your whole family will enjoy. And when you stay at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel in Williams, Arizona, the experience becomes all-encompassing.
The Grand Canyon Railway Hotel is the ideal home base for visiting the Grand Canyon National Park. It is located adjacent to the train station that will take you there, and just a block away from downtown Williams and historic Route 66.
Designed to resemble an Old West train depot, the hotel is relaxing while still offering the modern amenities families look for in a vacation destination, including free wi-fi, good dining options, an indoor pool, and lots of fun recreational activities.
What Works for Families
• Newly renovated hotel rooms
• Indoor pool and spa
• Free internet access
• Kid-friendly entertainment and activities
• Game room for children
• A large courtyard with barbecue
• Outdoor playground
• Basketball and volleyball courts
What Doesn’t Work for Families
• Remote location takes a while to drive to and does not offer a lot of excursions beyond the Grand Canyon
• Old-fashioned décor may not be very appealing to kids
• Hot summer weather and cold winter temps
The Grand Canyon Railway Hotel was designed to resemble the historic Fray Marcos Hotel and Williams Depot structures that stand nearby. Hotel guests enter a lobby kept cozy during the wintertime with a roaring fireplace. Lots of dark wood and furnishings give the space a Victorian feel.
The hotel has been undergoing upgrades and offers guests the choice of 297 rooms, including Value-priced rooms (not yet updated), Standard rooms, Deluxe rooms, 2-room Suites, and the unique Rail Baron Suite. All rooms feature two queen beds, a coffee maker, and full bathroom with bathtub and shower. Suites have a bedroom with two queen beds and a separate living area with a pullout sofa. The living area has a microwave, refrigerator, wet bar and coffee maker. Two suites and eight standard rooms are accessible to those with limited mobility.
The indoor pool area features a large glass wall with a southern exposure allowing plenty of light to fill the pool area. Word to the wise: the “indoor” pool was a bit misleading. Of course visiting in January we were excited about this amenity. Who wouldn’t want to luxuriate in a bubbly spa and play in the pool with their child while watching the snow drift down outside through a huge glass wall of windows? So we checked in, gathered up our swimsuits and robes, only to discover that you had to walk outside to get to the indoor pool. Suddenly those snowflakes weren’t sounding so appealing!
An exercise room is adjacent to the pool area. It features a multi-station weight machine and 11 pieces of cardiovascular equipment including treadmills, an elliptical step machine, an elliptical climbing machine and recumbent bikes.
Spenser’s Pub, located adjacent to the hotel lobby, serves beer, wine and mixed drinks as well as appetizers and meals. The centerpiece of Spenser’s Pub is an antique bar that was hand crafted in the 19th century.
Grand Canyon Railway’s Grand Depot Cafe is located across from the hotel. The restaurant has a wide selection of buffet items for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
We didn’t realize what an adventure we were in for until we boarded the meticulously restored 1920s Pullman car.
Like most people riding the Grand Canyon Railway, my family was prepared for the grandeur of the Grand Canyon, but the grandeur of the train took us by surprise. The Club Class car featured a beautiful mahogany bar and original upholstered bench-style seats. There were almost as many children on board as adults, all brimming with the same excitement that had overtaken my son.
After departing the Williams Depot, the train travels across 65 miles of classic Old West terrain, including high desert plains and portions of the world’s largest ponderosa pine forest. Trip highlights include a daily Wild West shootout at the Williams Depot prior to departure, and roaming entertainment aboard the train.
The Grand Canyon
While the journey is an adventure in itself, it was the destination we were there to see.
President Theodore Roosevelt once called the Grand Canyon “the one great sight which every American should see.” He made this proclamation on May 6, 1903, after traveling to the South Rim aboard Grand Canyon Railway.
One of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon is five million years in the making. After about a two-hour ride, the train arrives at the Grand Canyon Depot, which is located in the heart of the Grand Canyon Village and just a short walk away from the incredible vistas of the South Rim. Constructed in 1909, Grand Canyon Depot is part of the Grand Canyon National Park Historic District and is a National Historic Landmark.
The Grand Canyon Railway offers bus tours that will take you to breathtaking vantage points and drive down roads where private automobiles are not permitted, but we chose to explore the South Rim on our own.
There are numerous shops and restaurants to explore in the Grand Canyon Village, and the Bright Angel History Room is an educational spot not to be missed. There is also an easy walking path to enjoy the views and see a little more of the canyon. The ground was icy, so we didn’t venture too far, but it’s definitely on our list for next time.
Get Your Kicks on Route 66
Back in Williams, take some time to explore this sleepy and historic Old West town.
Stirring up images from the movie Cars (you can almost hear James Taylor singing in the background), Williams was the last town in America on Historic Route 66 to be bypassed by the freeway. Interstate 40 replaced the last surviving segment on Oct. 13, 1984.
The Historic Downtown District covers six square blocks including the Williams Depot and Grand Canyon Railway Hotel. Visitors can take a self-guided historic walking tour of this Historic District and famed Route 66 with the help of a brochure available at the Visitor’s Center.
When To Go
When is the best time of year to visit? We were there on a weekend in the winter; the hotel itself was sold out but the Grand Canyon was delightfully uncrowded. A summertime visit would of course be a likely choice, especially if you have school-aged children.
Your best bet, if you can, is to visit in the spring or fall. The weather is still warm enough to enjoy all the outdoor activities, but hotel rates are typically lower and you won’t have to deal with summer crowds.
No matter what time of year you choose to visit the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel and ride the rails, you are guaranteed a memorable experience aboard this Old West gem.