Williams, Arizona – Home of the Grand Canyon Railway!

October 2019 – We have spent a lot of time in the neighborhood of Grand Canyon National Park this year, and in recent days while traveling with our RV along I-40, we paid a visit to Williams, Arizona, the Gateway to the Grand Canyon.

Williams Arizona Gateway to the Grand Canyon-min

Welcome to Williams!

Williams lies at the junction of I-40 and the road that leads to the popular South Rim of the Grand Canyon, so its “gateway” claim is well deserved. But it is also a Route 66 town and was the last town on Route 66 to be bypassed by I-40.

But perhaps it is most well known and beloved for the Grand Canyon Railway, a train ride that starts in Williams and goes through ponderosa pine forests before arriving at Grand Canyon’s South Rim.

Trains cars on the Grand Canyon Railway in Williams Arizona-min

Williams is the home of the Grand Canyon Railway

Mark and I took this delightful train ride nearly 20 years ago as a weekend getaway and loved every minute of it. So, on this trip we wandered down to the train depot to see the train off one morning.

Railroad crossing Williamd Arizona 2-min

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The trees were changing color and the daytime temps were pretty cool. Overnight temps in the area were in the low to mid 20s, and we were glad to have our trusty blue flame heater keeping us warm in our rig.

Fall colors in Williams Arizona-min

Fall was in the air!

The Grand Canyon Railway ride is a great family outing, and the train trip is popular in every season. The ride is especially popular with kids, and there are tons of family amusements all around the depot to keep everyone entertained while waiting for the 9:30 departure each morning.

With Halloween around the corner, the whole area was decorated with pumpkins and ghoulish goodies.

Ticket booth in Williams Arizona at Grand Canyon Railway-min

The ticket booth was decorated for Halloween!

We had fun taking photos of each other with the many props.

Corpse in a coffin at Grand Canyon Railway on Halloween-min

There are all kinds of fun things to keep passengers entertained while they wait for the train!

Pumpkin man and puppy-min

Buddy checks out Mr. Pumpkinhead!

Buddy saw Mark posing as Mr. Pumpkinhead and he wanted to join in the fun too. He spotted a circus lion cutout and wanted to poke his nose through!

Puppy dreams of being a lion-min

Puppy chow!

Suddenly we heard the distant rumble of a train and we looked up to see a Grand Canyon Railway train rumbling down the tracks.

Grand Canyon Railway train arrives in Williams AZ-min

The train arrives at the depot

The train essentially backed into place with the conductor at one end and the engineer at the other. The engineer gave us a wave and then climbed down out of the train.

Train engineer on Grand Canyon Railway Williams Arizona-min

The train’s engineer waves to us.

Train engineer climbs out of Grand Canyon Railway train car-min

It’s a long way down!

The Grand Canyon Railway has been in operation for all but 20 years since 1901. Back when it opened, the fare was $3.95 which was a whole lot cheaper than the alternative $15 stagecoach ride to the South Rim from Flagstaff. It was probably a whole lot more comfortable too!

Sunset Cafe train car on Grand Canyon Railway in Williams Arizona-min

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We walked along the train cars and were astonished to count twelve of them. Could that many people be taking the train to the Grand Canyon on a Tuesday morning in October? We sure didn’t see that many people around.

There were lots of fun references to train travel around the depot grounds, and we noticed a park bench made from two train wheels. After staring at the park bench we had to check out the real wheels on the train cars. Who’d ever think of recycling old train wheels to be park benches? Very cool!

Park bench made from train wheels Williams Arizona-min

This fun park bench was made from train wheels…

Train undercarriage Grand Canyon Railway-min

…so we had to run back and see what the train wheels look like when they’re on the train!

Suddenly we heard a loud train horn blast. Buddy jumped and so did we!

Horns on train car 239 Williams Arizona Grand Canyon Railway-min

Those horns could really let out a blast!

As we walked along the train platform we noticed a large group of people gathered at the far end. As we got closer we realized they were gathered on the edge of an old western town.

Crowd gathers at old west gunfight-min

There was a crowd gathered by a mock-up of an old frontier town.

We stood on our tiptoes and peeked between everyone. To our surprise a midget cowboy was expertly twirling a rope getting ready to lasso someone or something.

Roping

He could really make it spin!

Then we heard a shot, and the midget was on the ground!

Gunfight at the saloon in Williams AZ-min

Uh oh… it’s a shoot out!

We noticed a cowboy reaching for his gun and then there were some more shots and some more cowboys fell to the ground.

Reaching for his gun-min

Watch out!

Old west gunfight Williams AZ 2-min

Two down…

Old west gunfight Williams AZ 3-min

Oh dear, now they’re all dead.

The crowd laughed and applauded and then slowly made its way to the waiting train. A gal walking next to me said, “That was fun to see here, but I hope they don’t do it on the train!”

I just smiled. Back when Mark and I had taken this train all those years ago there was a holdup in the middle of the woods, complete with horseback riders rushing the train and forcing it to stop. The cowboys had jumped off their horses and run through the train cars making quite a commotion!

Tourists line up to take the train at Grand Canyon Railway in Williams Arizona-min

Everyone made their way to the train platform.

As the passengers filed onto the train we chatted a little bit with the conductor, Bernie. He said today’s train was a small one with only about 500 or so passengers on it. On busy summer days the train would be about twice as long with 1,000 passengers on it.

Taking tickets at Grand Canyon Railway in Williams Arizona-min

.Lots of folks take overnight bags and spend a night at the rim.

During the holidays, from November 8th to January 4th this year, the Grand Canyon Railway runs the Polar Express train. Bernie said about 100,000 people, mostly kids of course, take that ride each year. Wow!!

In no time the train was full. As it pulled away from the depot, a small group of us on the platform waved and the people on the train waved back. We were all grinning. It might all sound a little hokey, but it was all a lot of fun even though we didn’t get on the train this time around.

Grand Canyon Railway train departs from Williams Arizona-min

The train heads off on its two hour journey to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

As we walked through the Grand Canyon Railway yard back into town we noticed a funny looking little train car on display. It was a Cog Railway train car that was used on the Pike’s Peak cog railway in Colorado.

It was tilted forward because it was designed to crawl straight up the mountain.

A few years ago we took the Mt. Washington Cog Railway train ride in New Hampshire up to the blustery tippy top of Mt. Washington in the White Mountains. It was a blast. Ever since then, the Pike’s Peak cog railway ride has been on our bucket list!

Cog railway car from Pike's Peak on display at Grand Canyon Railway in Williams Arizona-min

One of the old cog railway train cars from Pike’s Peak in Colorado.

After all this train excitement, Buddy said he wanted to go to the coffee shop. We’d been going to a really nice place on the main drag called Brewed Awakenings during our stay, and he excitedly led us right up to the back door.

Ready for a puppaccino at Brewed Awakenings in Williams Arizona-min

Buddy led us right to the back door of Brewed Awakenings.

Before my latte order had even been made, Buddy was quickly devouring his puppaccino (whipped cream in a bowl). Yum!

Puppy eats a puppaccino 2-min

Is there anything better than a puppaccino??

If you are traveling to the Grand Canyon and want to go to the heart of the South Rim’s historic Grand Canyon Village, the Grand Canyon Railway is a great way to go. Revived in 1989 after shutting down in 1968, the train has reduced the number of cars visiting the Grand Canyon by some 50,000 since it reopened!

Even if you don’t take the train ride, if your RV travels take you along I-40 in Arizona and you have a hankering to walk the pretty main street of a Route 66 town and join the excitement of the train’s daily departure, Williams makes a great stop!

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8 thoughts on “Williams, Arizona – Home of the Grand Canyon Railway!

  1. Puppaccino – love it! That sweet little Buddy is just too cute.

    A few years back, our then teenaged daughter worked for a local railroad during their winter Polar Express runs. She was a Chef, and had a wonderful time singing and dancing with her colleagues, visiting with the kids and their families, and serving hot chocolate and cookies. There were some families who came from out of state and others who came every year as a holiday tradition. As they say, a good time was had by all – including the staff! There’s just something magical about train rides.

    • I totally agree, Mary, trains are truly magical. I’ve always loved trains. The summer I was 11 I took an hour and a half commuter rail line every day. I always chatted with the engineer and the conductor. I think they liked having a young solo passenger and, of course, kept an eye on me, I’m sure. How fortunate your daughter was able to work on a Polar Express train as a teenager. Those rides seem like such a hoot. What a fun way to get into the holiday spirit!

  2. Emily,
    What an interesting, colorful little town. I’ve seen many train photos over the years, but never a train that tilted forward as the one used for climbing Pike’s Peak. I’m not sure who is the bigger ham in these pictures – Buddy or Mark! Buddy is certainly racking up the puppaccinos.
    Bob

    • There are cog railways all over the world, Bob, although the one we rode on Mt. Washington was the first (blog post here). They use bio-diesel engines now for all but one ride a day. I believe there is a cog railway in Switzerland that is the most sophisticated technology and climbs the highest mountain.

      Buddy is a little hambone and he loves outings like this where he can meet lots of people!

  3. Wonderful pictures as usual from you two! Trains have fascinated me since I was a young boy. There’s just nothing like being up close to the beasts and feeling the immense power they’re ready to unleash. You’ll love taking the cog railway to the top of Pike’s Peak, too. Just don’t run to the gift shop when you get up there! Not much oxygen at 14,000 feet. Ask me how I know! 😂😂😂

    • Very funny! I can imagine you were huffing and puffing in no time at 14k feet! Even being at “just” 10,500 feet camping this summer we found we got out of breath really easily. The weather’s different too! On Mt. Washington, which is only 6,000 feet, the weather was sunny and warm at the bottom but foggy and bitterly cold at the top!!

  4. Astonishing, the numbers of passengers that take this ride…even off-season ! Loved Mark hamming it up in the coffin….

    • I was blown away when the conductor told me there were about 500 people on that train and that it was a small train that day. The company has done a great job, though, and it is a great excursion from start to finish, even waiting around to leave!!

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