Once, a few years ago, I heard an ad on a local radio station when I was out in Thatcher, AZ, for a trip to see the Grand Canyon by rail. Traveling the Grand Canyon Railroad is a fun-filled, historic experience through some of the most well-known and rugged corners of the U.S.A.
For our family trip, my sister and I took my nieces to stay at the Grand Canyon Railroad Hotel one night and then ride the train to the South Rim the next morning. We were pleased that the hotel has a giant kids’ playground nearby, a beautifully refurbished indoor pool and spa (I’m a little biased because my dad worked on this pool) and a nice convenience store for RV visitors. Also if your family stays at the hotel, you can tour their small on-site train museum and depot, eat in the hotel restaurant and get up early in the morning to watch a live cowboy action show.
We rose early because we needed to check out before we boarded the train. Boarding happens promptly at 9:30, so you do not want to be late!
We were so happy about how much fun this was. The train has many historic cars, refurbished so it feels like you are back in the 1920s. We rode in the Pullman class car, which is literally an old passenger car restored from that era. I was a little apprehensive because I read a review online that this car had no central AC. However, with the windows open, we found the ride to be quite pleasant. Plus, if you need to get up, stretch your legs or get a snack, the cafe car is only one car over.
During your fun ride up from Historic Williams AZ to canyon country, traveling marauders sing country tunes, yodel at you and tell stories. I heard that occasionally the train even gets robbed by bandits!
We loved this experience. The 2.5 hours to the canyon flew by because there was so much to do. We were even allowed to pack our own lunch. There’s a dining car, a bar car, a dome car for better viewing and luxury cars available, too.
The website, however, isn’t the best. I couldn’t figure out much about what the experience would be like from their page. I think they need to make the website simpler and more straightforward. I’m a seasoned traveler, so we figured out things OK. But I feel the ticket ordering process is unnecessarily complicated. You don’t really know what you’re getting when you order. If we hadn’t stayed at the hotel the night before, I don’t know what we would have done about camping. Also, just because you can bring food, doesn’t mean you should bring a lot. We almost brought a giant cooler with us. That would have been a pain in the BUTT to carry around the canyon rim for 3-4 hours!
There’s a rule you can’t buy plastic water bottles inside Grand Canyon because there’s been too much trouble with garbage, so you must bring your own water in and take it out. We were so concerned about the availability of water, we brought way too much. It turns out there are many, many water bottle refill stations along the rim, sometimes you just have to look around or ask.
Also, if you are negligent or irresponsible with your food and a squirrel gets it or you feed them, a park ranger WILL slap you with a $500 fine. We saw a family get fined and get angry just because their kid dropped something. You need to stay away–far, far away from the wildlife. Fleas in Coconino and Navajo counties in Arizona recently have tested positive for the Bubonic Plague. I am not kidding. Do not feed the wildlife.
Finally, visitors REALLY, REALLY need to be told to bring enough water, sunblock and sun shade devices. There’s not much shade on the rim, nor on the trails. You don’t know how many extremely sunburned folks we saw walking around. That’s how you end up with skin cancer.
So, even though the train tickets were quite expensive (I paid more than $200 RT for our little family of four) it was worth it. I would recommend this experience to families, couples, or winter visitors–appropriate for all ages.