I wanted a fun way to introduce my kids to one of the world’s natural wonders, the Grand Canyon. I discovered I could do this through riding the Grand Canyon Railway. It was magical, the kids were not only well behaved and enjoyed every minute, but we adults also enjoyed the ride and the beautiful sites of the Grand Canyon. It was history, geography and entertainment all bundled into one package. There are many ways to get to the Grand Canyon, but I would highly recommend the Grand Canyon Railway.
The Grand Canyon Railway
Since 1901 the Grand Canyon Railway has been a popular way for visitors to explore the natural wonder in a restored train car. The whole ride is 130 miles round-trip from Williams, Arizona to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. In the 2 hours and 15 minutes it takes to go one way (which is 45 minutes faster than when the train first opened in 1901), visitors will experience the plants and animals that call that area home, and a true Wild West (simulated) train robbery.
The Pullman car was built in 1923 by the Pullman Palace Car company, and the other cars were constructed in the 1950s and come from around the United States. The train depot in Williams was initially built in 1908 as the main stop for travelers heading to California from Chicago to Los Angeles and used to have a Harvey House Hotel with 43 rooms. The depot in the Grand Canyon was built from 1909-1910 and is a National Historic Landmark. It is one of only three of the 14 original train stations built with logs in the United States, and the only one that still serves an operating railroad.
The whole experience is a true trip to the Wild West, from the train cars to the depots to the train robbery itself. While today we worry about attacks as we board our airlines, back in these times people traveling by train had to worry about losing life, limb, family or possessions in just an average train ride like this. Despite the genuine threat of the real act it is based on, the train robbery is more of a comical show.
There are two places to get on the train – Williams, Arizona, which is about 30 miles west of Flagstaff on I-40 and Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim.
Depending on the time of year, and the car/class you select (the Pullman Car through Luxury class), tickets range from $65 – $215 for adults and $30- $145 for children. Children are not permitted on the Luxury class cars. Look for AAA or Groupon discounts.
Some of the cars include snacks, while you have to pay for snacks on others. You are allowed to bring your own snacks. Some of the First Class cars include seats so that parties of 4 can turn and face each other.
Visitors can book a train trip only or a trip that includes a stay at a lodge in the Grand Canyon.
The train departs Williams at 9:30 a.m. and arrives at the Grand Canyon at 11:45 a.m. The train departs the Grand Canyon at 3:30 p.m. and arrives in Williams at 5:45 p.m. During peak hours there are two departures.
Autism Travel Tips:
- The ride (which can be rocky at times) and the show might be overwhelming for people with autism. Parents should try to show their kids a video or reading a book before going so they can understand the robbery is not real.
- Coach Class and First Class cars are handicap accessible and have room for wheelchairs and scooters, but let them know when you make your reservation.
- The train doesn’t go all way into the canyon, so if you want to see the Grand Canyon, this may be a fun way to get there, but isn’t the best way to see it.
- For 360 degree views, upgrade to the car with the glass roof.
- There are snacks and drinks available on board, and a depot stop with food as well. You can bring your own snacks in case of diet restrictions.
- During certain times of the year, the train hosts special events, such as the Polar Express trip during Christmas!
- Book your tickets ahead of time – the train rides can sell out months in advance.
- Make sure that you’re facing the way that the train drives if you tend to get motion sickness.
- Try taking a selfie with the conductor for a cute memory, especially for kids who have never been on a train before!
- There are bathrooms on the train. It is recommended to carry hand sanitizer.
- The train is in continuous motion and it rocks, so make sure you walk with your child from cart to cart.