Travel to the Grand Canyon by Rail

Ride the Railway into the Grand Canyon

grand canyon
••• Colorado River in the Grand Canyon with a double rainbow. Getty

Carved over time by the powerful Colorado River, the spectacular Grand Canyon reveals 2 billion years of the earth's geological history. Layers of limestone, sandstone, lava, and other rocks compose the breath-taking panorama, where shades of every color delight the eye.

How to Reach the Grand Canyon

While the Grand Canyon's natural beauty never disappoints in any weather, there can be problems getting to do what you want at the destination: The Grand Canyon attracts some 5 million visitors a year, and reservations for popular activities such as rafting and mule trips are booked up to a year ahead.

Here's one way to visit in style if you haven't planned that far in advance: Board the classic Grand Canyon Railway for a day long adventure to the world's ultimate scenic wonder (for reservations, call 800-843-8724).

From Arizona's Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Hotel, for example, it's a two-and-one-quarter hour drive to the historic Grand Canyon rail depot in Williams, Arizona, where this fully restored, circa 1923 steam train picks up passengers and carries them 64 miles to the Grand Canyon National Park's South Rim.

Sit back and relax in your rail car or enjoy the view from its outdoor platform. During the journey musicians serenade and free refreshments are offered. Passengers have three-and-a-half hours to explore the Canyon before reboarding. The most pleasant hikes are along the Rim Trail, and motor coach tours and free shuttle service to the Grand Canyon are also available.

From Scottsdale one could also take a flight seeing tour (800-528-2418) that includes transportation from your hotel and back, a half hour helicopter ride over the North Canyon, a stop at the South Rim, lunch, Grand Canyon National Park entry fee and admission to the IMAX theater.

Last-minute visitors can take their chances on the waiting list and hope for cancellations. For Grand Canyon National Park information, call 928-638-7888. 

Places Where You — and Your Pet — Can Stay Overnight

If you're planning to spend a few days at the Grand Canyon, the best hotel for couples is El Tovar (check rates now).

It's close by the train terminal and a landmark that has welcomed guests for more than a century. Its location couldn't be more scenic: El Tovar hotel is located a mere 30 yards from the edge of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Designed by architect Charles Whittlesey, El Tovar was created to complement without competing with the geologic wonder of the Grand Canyon.

The Fred Harvey Company, now Xanterra Parks & Resorts, managed El Tovar from opening day in 1905. The famed Harvey Girls staffed El Tovar and went a long way toward “civilizing” the then-Wild West. Many of the region's prominent families today are descendants of the Harvey Girls.

El Tovar Dining Room is considered the top restaurant at the Grand Canyon. Traditional yet, warm, it is constructed of native stone and Oregon pine. To complement the dinner menu, the restaurant offers a tempting selection of red, white and sparkling wines available by the half bottle.

Outside the park, the The Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon (check rates now) is a 3-diamond hotel with an indoor heated swimming pool and spa. It's one mile from the south entrance of the Grand Canyon, with the South Rim a a short car ride away.

If you're planning to visit for a shorter time, you can stay right next door to the train depot in Williams, Arizona: The Grand Canyon Railway Hotel (check site) is also just a block away from downtown Williams and historic Route 66 and offers packages in conjunction with Railway tickets.

It features an indoor heated swimming pool and spa.

If you're traveling with your dog or cat, The Pet Resort (check site) accepts both canines and felines and is available to guests of the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel as well as Grand Canyon Railway passengers and the general public.


Includes tour and roundtrip transportation from Flagstaff, Arizona.