Grand Canyon Railway Tours

Grand Canyon Railway Tours

Few sounds evoke images of the wild west than the wail of a train. After all, it wasn’t the cowboys nor the cavalry that conquered the great western wilderness. It was the locomotive. Thus the reason why a journey aboard the Grand Canyon Railway is an ideal way to explore the area how passengers did during the canyon’s pioneer era.

Grand Canyon Railway Tours

Photo by Steele Wotkyns

In operation 364 days a year, the Grand Canyon Railway Tour transports passengers from the historic Williams Depot and to the Grand Canyon Depot, which is the last operating log depot in the United States.

Located in the heart of Grand Canyon National Park’s historic district, near the El Tovar Hotel, Grand Canyon Depot is situated 200 yards from the edge of the Grand Canyon’s South Rim.

The locomotive trip to the canyon covers 65 miles of classic Old West territory, including high desert plains with endless vistas, small arroyos and portions of the world’s largest ponderosa pine forest.

Four classes of service are available:

Coach Class, which features Budd Coach Class, 90-seat streamliner-era coaches named after the famous Budd Manufacturing Company;

First Class, a 42-seat area in the spacious Coconino, Kokopelli, Anasazi or Grand View cars; a 50-seat area in the Colorado River and Buckey O’Neill cars; and a 68-seat area in the Arizona and Bright Angel cars

Deluxe Observation Class, which offers 24-passenger capacity in a unique second-story dome viewing area of the Coconino, Kokopelli or Grand View cars

Luxury Parlor Class, which includes The Chief and Santa Fe, deluxe parlor cars with 41 and 33 seats respectively. The Chief also features an open-air observation platform in the rear.

Trip highlights include a daily Wild West shootout at the 1908 Williams Depot prior to the morning departure and entertainment and live action aboard the train, featuring roaming western singers, as well as the infamous Cataract Creek Gang and the justice of a Grand Canyon Railway Marshal.

Related:  Grand Canyon North Rim opens May 15 for 2024 Season

The railway’s roots date to 1901, when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway completed a branch line from Williams to Grand Canyon Village at the South Rim. The first scheduled train to carry paying passengers of the Grand Canyon Railway arrived from Williams on September 17.

To accommodate travelers, the Santa Fe designed and built the El Tovar Hotel, located just 20 feet from the rim and opened in 1905.

Competition from the automobile forced the Santa Fe to cease operation of the Grand Canyon Railway in 1968. The railway was revived in1988 when the line was bought by a Phoenix couple, Max and Thelma Biegert. They had the railway restores and started operating as a separate company, independent of Santa Fe, a year later.

Xanterra Parks and Resorts bought the railway in 2006. Since the Biegerts relaunched the railway in 1989, it has gained momentum with each passing trip to the canyon. Grand Canyon Railway carries more than 225,000 passengers to the Grand Canyon each year.

During the holiday season, the railway operates The Polar Express™, which brings the classic children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg to life. The journey is a nighttime trip from Williams through the starlit wilderness to the North Pole. Passengers are treated to a special reading of The Polar Express while enjoying hot chocolate and cookies.

At the North Pole, passengers are welcomed by Santa Claus and his reindeer just before Santa boards for the return trip to Williams Depot. On the way back to Williams, Santa makes his way through the train, greeting every child and presenting each one with a special gift – a jingle bell signifying children’s belief in Santa Claus.

Special The Polar Express™ packages, which include The Polar Express™ train trip, one night at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel and dinner and breakfast at the Railway’s restaurant, start at $304 for a family of four (two adults and two children).