S loves trains, not just a little bit, but in the way that results in him waking up and hooting like a train as the first noise out of his mouth way. When we learned there was a train ride into Grand Canyon, we knew we had to take it in.
Williams, AZ – Train Depot to Grand Canyon
The train leaves from Williams in Arizona, and pulls roughly 8-10 carriages of people. A word of warning, the train is not cheap, and even children of three pay for tickets. We ended up going with the cheapest coach class which was still $90 for an adult ticket.
We stayed at the Railside RV park in Williams, which we’ll do a review of separately, but it was amazing for S as the train runs literally 25 meters from where we were parked up.
The RV park runs a shuttle service to the train station which is about 15 minutes away, and they’ll book your tickets for you also. It makes it pretty easy to make the train on time when you’re trying to shepherd multiple kids from point A to B, especially when your son gets stupidly excited about a bus ride.
The station itself has a large giftshop, a coffeeshop and an old style ticket hall alongside long platforms and the steam train which runs on the first Saturday of every month instead of the Diesels we travelled on.
Now whilst the train is expensive, there are a lot of add ons which make this better value than some other rides. First up was a Wild West Show. We actually had no idea this was coming but went for the ride.
There is a small wild west set which has a few horses, and three cowboys hanging out with some bleachers seating around.
The cowboys are friendly and happy to chat with adults and kids whilst in character including taking photos. There were three when we were there forming the hapless “Cataract gang”.
Not to spoil anything for anyone, but there’s a shoot out involved and some deaths. They then all dust themselves off and carry on, but it did raise some questions for S, mainly about why people fell over when there was a bang. He’s still quite innocent and whilst he understands death as a concept, he doesn’t understand violence (and we’re trying to keep it that way as long as possible).
It’s the journey that matters not the destination…
So let’s be clear, the train is not fast, it covers 60ish miles in two and a half hours. You’ll then get 3 hours at South Rim to hike, eat something, see some sites before the return journey of another two and a half hours. If you want to spend a lot of time at the rim, drive in, don’t take the train.
There is a lot of amazing scenery to see as you travel from Williams to Grand Canyon. Seeing the plains turn into desert over the course of a slower journey is awe inspiring. There’s wildlife aplenty to see from domesticated cattle, to deer, desert hares and elk.
The train itself has an attendant in every carriage to answer questions and point out interesting sites along the way. Water station and kids occupation items like coloring, and of high importance, a restroom in each carriage (including one with baby changing station).
There’s a dining car which has light snacks, refreshments and some alcoholic beverages for those inclined. It’s not overpriced, but the selection isn’t huge, but the staff are friendly and helpful.
Arrival in Grand Canyon
Two hours thirty later, we arrived and S was still super excited. After leaning against the window so he could see the train on corners, we could get out and stretch our legs. No word of a lie, his first question off the train was “When can we go back on?”
The train drops you off just below the North Rim visitors centre and there’s plenty to fill the three hour wait including the epic views of the canyon. It’s not enough time with kids to do anything extended, but as I said above it’s the journey that’s the adventure.
We managed to get Seb’s junior ranger badge and grab an ice lolly on the way.
Return journey to Williams
The return is more of the same with one extra bit of spice. The Cataract Gang hijack the train thirty minutes out of Williams, riding alongside firing their guns and then board the train. They pass through the cabin demanding cash and jewelery (all in good fun) and crack a few jokes before the marshall chases them out the back.
S was a little scared, but so proud of him telling them off for stopping the train. They weren’t scary, just a little loud, but if you’re only three, that is plenty.
The station is in the centre of Williams and there’s lots of small and big shops along with a brewery and for the more adult, a cocktail lounge…
S adored this trip out, he still talks about it all day, and that’s all you can hope for your kids when you organize a big trip out for them. It’s expensive, and you can pay a lot more for Pullman class (nicer seats), First class (nicer seats, a table and snacks and beverages included) and dome (adults only, has a glass viewing dome on the carriage to see the scenery go by, much like first class), so determine what your budget can afford.
If your kids are train enthusiasts, it’s well worth doing, if you just want to see the scenery, I’d recommend driving in and spending more time at the rim. It’s a magical place and you can spend many days hiking there, so three hours is barely enough to scrape the surface.
You can book tickets online here https://www.thetrain.com/the-train/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwn8_mBRCLARIsAKxi0GKvJ0_jx28lvdEQBbFoX7oT8LuSsElqNXF-GzODTd0qALA12N9ceqQaAqnzEALw_wcB.