Grand getting there – to the Grand Canyon

Posted by on May 27, 2012 in Hiking Adventures, National Parks | One Comment

If seeing the Grand Canyon is on your bucket list, a great way to get there is by hopping the Grand Canyon Railway, which leaves from Williams, Arizona. Taking the train for the two-and-a-half hour ride to the Grand Canyon gets you there relaxed and in style.

As in bygone days, the Grand Canyon Railway chugs along through what can be boring desert landscape that turns to pine forests. With such anticipatory delight as seeing the Grand Canyon, that scenery seems bland until you get to your destination after the 65-mile journey.

Grand Canyon Railway

At mile marker 57, we are only eight miles from the Grand Canyon’s South Rim

However, the Grand Canyon Railway provides entertainment to make the trip go quickly with a roving group of individual entertainers who fiddle, play guitar and banjo, and offer up jokes, singalongs and other participatory opportunities.

The customer care attendant (the staff member in charge of each car) does his or her best to make everyone feel at home. To the extent of that car’s offerings (there are four classes with varying perks and amenities provided), the passengers can experience plush, couch-like lounges, to large cushy seats in the domed observation cars, to Naugahyde double seats like an upgraded bus. The top two classes include a champagne toast at the end of the trip. Snack foods are offered in the three upgraded classes; coach class can find snacks for sale in the café car.

Grand Canyon Railway - Coach Class

Coach class has comfortable, two-person bench seating and large windows to catch the views.

Grand Canyon Railway - Observation Dome Car

Mark is the customer care attendant in one of the Observation Dome Cars.

Grand Canyon Railway - Luxury Parlor Car

Carol, a 12-year veteran of the Grand Canyon Railway, serves passengers in the Luxury Parlor Car.

After the trip, passengers disembark to spend almost four hours at the Grand Canyon before re-boarding at the Train Depot for the trip back to Williams. If four hours doesn’t seem like enough time at the Grand Canyon – and you are right – it isn’t – you can book a night at a hotel at the Grand Canyon through the Grand Canyon Railway. Then, you can stay another day – or more – so you can explore, hike, and see more sights.

At the Grand Canyon

When you arrive by train, you are near the shuttle bus that takes people around the Grand Canyon Village to places like the Visitor Center. You can start there, or you can climb the paved path that winds back and forth that takes you to the famous El Tovar Hotel and head past it to the Rim Trail just beyond it.

Grand Canyon Lodging at El Tovar

El Tovar has been providing lodging to visitors at the Grand Canyon since 1905!

And, beyond the Rim Trail is why you have come. You will see the Grand Canyon – stretching on forever, deep and layered, and hazy. Yes, lately it is hazy in the distance since there have been fires in Arizona whose smoke have drifted there and that make it harder to see some of the details further away. It is almost mysterious-looking. Vast is a great word to describe the endless layers and depth.

South Rim Grand Canyon

At almost 7,000 feet high, the rim of the Grand Canyon is breath-taking in many ways!

South Rim Lookout Studio

Every view of the Grand Canyon gives visitors inspiring new perspectives. (seen with Lookout Studio to the left)

There are a number of vantage points from which to see the Canyon, but you can walk any number of miles of the 11+ miles of the Rim Trail for an easy, paved walk. If you are staying for multiple days and are intrepid, you might have time for a hike down the canyon, a mule ride, or a group tour.

We didn’t have a lot of time as we stopped for a lunch and had some stops to make. However, we certainly can see what all the fuss is about!

Wending our way back to Williams

After our all-too-short stay at the Grand Canyon, we returned to our Luxury Parlor Car on the Grand Canyon Railway by 3:30 PM and settled down for a comfy ride back to Williams. We knew the Railway had more planned to entertain us.

Our attendant, Carol, alerted us that there was going to be a bank robbery. And, we had rules to follow! (Don’t hurt the robbers, put your hands up so they think you are surprised, etc.)

What a hoot!

When the train slowed and the bank robbers boarded and worked their way through the cars, whom should they be but the very funny Cataract Creek Gang who had entertained everyone before we boarded the train in the morning!

Robbery on Grand Canyon Railway

The quick-witted Cataract Creek Gang entertains passengers as they “rob” them. It’s all in jest.

A talented lot, they could ad-lib as needed and rise to the occasion when challenged by the passengers.

When one passenger challenged one of the robbers who was wearing sunglasses – “Since when do robbers wear sunglasses?” – the robber responded with a quiz on which two famous robbers had glasses. (His comrade in robbery coached the audience with the right answers.)

They were gleeful and looked for willing “victims” to perform their hijinx.

They certainly did not disappoint. As they headed to the next car, the “sheriff” showed up to apprehend them. However, as in the Old West, the law enforcement was not much more honest than the robbers. When asked how the “victims” (this is purely voluntary, by the way) could get their money back, the sheriff replied, “Money taken is kept as evidence in the Old West.”

The audience laughed appreciatively.

Back at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel

The Grand Canyon Railway Hotel is affiliated with the Grand Canyon Railway, so the timetables and services are all nicely coordinated. All personnel are professional and friendly.

Grand Canyon Railway Hotel Lobby

The Grand Canyon Railway Hotel’s two-story lobby evokes a bygone era of luxury travel.

Grand Canyon Railway Hotel Standard Room

A standard room offers two queen beds and free wifi.

The hotel also has four classes of rooms that range from $109 per night (Standard Room with two double beds) to over $349 per night for the “Rail Baron” highest upgrade. The Standard Rooms are immaculate, while not fancy, but they are now sporting free WIFI in each room. All rooms now have triple-layered sheets which ensure that all bedding is clean. They have banished the bedspreads and just have contrasting decorative swags near the bottom of the beds.

Bathrooms are spacious and clean. They are now using the typical shower amenities in dispenser bottles that are fixed in place and have a pine scent. This is also part of their recycling campaign, as they also have small recycling bins in each rooms, as well as garbage wastebaskets.

The hotel also has Spenser’s, a dark-wooded pub, which was attracting a crowd, who seemed to be enjoying themselves. With a small menu, Spenser’s had a “Shepard’s” pie and a few other items.

Spenser's at the Grand Canyon Hotel

Spenser’s offers a place to kick back, grab a meal, and meet friends after a busy day at the Grand Canyon.

The hotel also has “The Buffet” restaurant that includes a pasta and meat carving station with soup and salad bar, and comfort foods like meatloaf and mac and cheese.

We opted to try one of the other restaurants in Williams and wound up seeing the Cataract Creek Gang perform in the street outside our restaurant. Those fellows sure work hard!

For a quick visit to the Grand Canyon – or a longer stay – we recommend a ride on the rails – it sure puts life in perspective and is a memorable experience.!

  • Herry

    You guys are awesome!! Thanks so much for tinakg the time to make this and share it with us. We have a short vacation coming up and were planning on doing rim-rim-rim backpacking, not running because unlike certain people we are not insane but we’re going to Zion instead. I’m regretting it a little bit now that I’ve seen this video!