The Grand Canyon is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and a must-see for kids of all ages. You can drive to the canyon, but why not consider riding in a refurbished locomotive right to the South Rim? Stunning scenery and yesteryear entertainment make the journey an unforgettable part of your family’s Grand Canyon vacation.
Every morning at 9:30 (except Christmas), the Grand Canyon Railway departs from the historic depot in Williams, Arizona. Be sure to get to there early as there’s a live action Wild West show that you don’t want to miss.
The ride to the canyon takes 2 hours and 15 minutes. The train heads back to Williams at 3:30 pm, arriving at the depot at 5:45 pm. During peak season, there’s an additional train departing and returning an hour later.
Some passengers do the round-trip rail journey as a day trip while others spend a night or more at the canyon, so there’s lots of flexibility.
The train chugs through classic Old West territory straight out of a John Wayne movie. You’ll enjoy sweeping vistas of untouched high plains desert, arroyos and portions of the world’s largest ponderosa pine forest right outside your window. Passengers may spot wildlife including falcons, mule deer, antelope and coyotes. One glorious site after another will glide by until you get to the grandest of them all: the Grand Canyon.
The meticulously restored trains are full of nostalgic charm. Live musicians stroll through the passenger cars, serenading you as they play the banjo, fiddle, guitar and squeezebox. The talented performers encourage you to sing along to the throwback tunes.
Do your kids like cowboys? Expect plenty of live action cowboy shenanigans, including a hilarious mock train robbery that they won’t soon forget.
There are six classes of service, so there’s a ticket to suit every budget. All offer comfortable seating. The more expensive classes provide complimentary Continental breakfast in the morning and light refreshments and beverages on the ride home. The most luxurious classes of service include a Champagne toast for adults on the ride back to Williams.
You may choose to spend the night at one of the rustic lodges inside the park, but many families reserve a room at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel in Williams, just steps from the train depot. With 298 modern guest rooms, dining options, a fitness center, indoor pool and a hot tub, it’s pretty perfect. The playground, basketball court, volleyball court and horseshoe pit will keep children smiling. If you’re traveling with the family pet, there’s even a pet resort on premise where your dog or cat will be treated like royalty.
Williams is fun to explore. Historic Route 66 cuts through the center and the downtown is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, so expect loads of small-town charm.
The canyon is millions of years in the making, but Grand Canyon National Park celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. While a vacation here is always special, 2019 is a great time to visit. The park rangers present a full plate of lectures, guided walks and night sky viewings.
Hiking a section of Rim Trail is a good bet for families. At over a dozen miles long, it connects a series of breathtaking overlooks. It’s paved in most sections and without significant changes in elevation, so it’s just right for pint-sized walkers or for pushing a stroller. The reliable and free shuttle stops along the way, so it’s easy to hike a section and hop on the bus when little feet need a rest.
There are numerous dining options inside the park but when the kids crave something sweet head to Bright Angel Lodge. You’ll find an old-fashioned soda fountain serving up frosty treats and delectable desserts.
By Allison Tibaldi