Grand Canyon Railway. Worth The Trip!

This is a tale of three canyons.  Chances are you haven’t heard of at least one and maybe two.

Here’s what I plan to cover in this trip report, mostly in order:

You’ve heard of the Grand Canyon, right?  How about Grand Canyon Railway.  It’s a unique way to get to the Grand Canyon.  Ideally suited to folks who are just looking for a day trip, the train departs Williams, AZ a couple of times a day to the South Rim.

The ride is just over 2 hours in each direction.  It’s a pleasant ride with nice views, although there are much better ones when you get to the Canyon.  The train route dates back over 100 years and some of the train cars are almost as old.  They’ve been renovated to include most of the comforts you’d expect from a new train.  With a variety of riding options, they cover a number of price points.  That’s a good thing, as the train ride can get quite pricey.

Pricing Options

There are 6 pricing options for the train ride.  In parentheses are the round-trip prices for adults and children.  I also took pictures of the actual seats to compare with the website photos:

Pullman Car ($67/$32):  These are true old-fashioned Pullman cars dating back to the 1930s.  The seats looked comfortable enough.  Be aware in the summer time that the Pullman cars don’t have air conditioning.

Pullman Car

Pullman Car Seats

Coach Class ($82/51): Similar to Pullman cars but with air conditioning and maybe a bit more padding on the seats.

Coach Class

Seats In Coach Class

First Class ($155/$121): These are nicer seats than Coach Class.  They face each other, which can work better for families.  You’ll also get a very light continental breakfast.

First Class

Observation Dome ($184/153): A special car with a glass observation dome on top.  The padded seats face forward in sets of two.  These seats include a very light continental breakfast as well.

Observation Dome Seats

Luxury Dome ($219): Adults only dome with upgraded food and a complimentary glass of wine.

Luxury Parlor ($219): Ride on the back of the train and hang out on a private, open-air platform.  Comfortable indoor seats with breakfast and a glass of wine included.

On a hot day, I would imagine the Pullman cars would be uncomfortable.  Given the price difference between Coach Class and First Class, I’m not sure I would pay the extra for a slightly better seat and a snack.  The views are the same.  Riding on the back of the train and being able to stand outside sounds like a cool option.  But, it’s also a pretty pricey one.

A Bit Of Strategy

All of the different classes of service are priced for one-way travel.  For example, the Coach Class fare of $82 is actually $41 each way.  Want to experience the observation dome or luxury parlor and still save a few bucks?  Book that upgrade for just one leg.  That’s what we did.

Our son loves trains.  We knew this excursion needed to be part of our trip, but we also didn’t want to break the bank riding the train.  We chose the Observation Dome on the ride up to the canyon and chose Coach Class on the way back.  This was a mid-summer trip with temperatures well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  If it wasn’t summer, I’m pretty sure we would have opted for Pullman class.

Lastly, Grand Canyon Railway offers a AAA and AARP discount.

Another Bit of Strategy

You generally have a little over 3 hours to explore the South Rim of the Grand Canyon once the train arrives.  However, at peak times they run two trains.  If you depart on the early train and book the later return train you can get closer to 5 hours at the canyon.

The Experience

We arrived at the station about an hour before the train was due to depart.  There’s plenty of parking available onsite.  The train station has a gift shop filled with plenty of train memorabilia for purchase as well as some snacks.

Prior to departure, guests can wander around the train yard and look at vintage trains.  There’s also a brief show to kill some time while you wait to board.  Charlie definitely wanted to spend his time exploring the trains.

Once onboard we proceeded upstairs to the observation dome.  We settled into our seats and were offered a choice of juice, coffee and soft drinks.  When the train left the station a short while later a small continental breakfast was setup at the foot of the stairs.

Up To The Observation Dome!

Observation Dome

Observation Dome Continental Breakfast

The journey took just over two hours. At the outset, there wasn’t much to see other than a holiday display hanging out at a repair station.  That being said, the dome car really does offer a pretty cool perspective for a train ride.

We took some time to walk through the cars and see the various offerings.  The kids also wanted to stop in the snack car and pick up a bite to eat.

Snack Car

Snack Car

As we got closer to the Grand Canyon a musician spent some time performing in the car.  The server assigned to our car was happy to discuss strategies for the time we had to visit the canyon.  The closer we got to the Grand Canyon the better the view got.  After a leisurely 2 hour train ride we arrived and disembarked.

When it was time to return, we boarded the train and found our seats in the Coach Class cabin.  It had been a very hot day and the kids were ready to relax.  They took a brief nap while Michelle and I cooled off.  About halfway back to Williams our train was “hijacked” by performers on horseback.  The kids had a great time with that.

The Final Two Pennies

I wouldn’t have known about the Grand Canyon Railway if it wasn’t for a timely post by Mommy Points when we were planning our trip.  Her dad did a great job describing the particulars of the train ride.

One last tidbit to finish up.  Williams, Arizona is the town the movie Cars was modeled after.  You’ll find lots of neon and plenty of things that look like Radiator Springs, the fictional town from the movie.  You’ll also find Pine Country Restaurant where you can get a truly excellent piece of pie.  There’s also a night-time performance in the streets.  Even if you don’t plan on taking the train, Williams is a good place to stop.

Grand Canyon Railway

With our AAA discount a ride to the canyon in the observation dome and ride back in coach cost us almost $500.  Considering that you can park a car for $30 at the Grand Canyon, the train is one heck of a premium.  We had fun with it, though I suspect if we went again we would just do Coach or Pullman class next time to save money.  I’d probably file this under a one-time experience.  You can find all the information for booking on the Grand Canyon Railway website.


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11 Comments

  1. We visited the Grand Canyon last weekend. We drove, explored the south rim. We enjoyed going to the Watch Tower. We ate dinner at the Bright Angel Inn, near where the train stops. The food was very good and prices were reasonable.

    I didn’t realize that the movie Cars was modeled after Williams, AZ. Now, I wish we would have stopped.

  2. Thanks for this. I had no idea. I am putting this on my list of things to do. I love trains. Once after surgery, the docs didn’t want me to fly for three months. I took the train from San Francisco to Chicago. What a great ride. Going through the Rockies took a full day at about 35 mile/hour – all daylight. We saw bear, elk, and even wild horses.

  3. I have always preferred anything about trains to planes so I enjoyed your story. Just want to give a shout out to your daughter. That IS the way to attack a slice of pie!

  4. We did this a year ago, but stayed overnight for a night at the canyon. This gave us an opportunity to do a little more exploring, which we really enjoyed (plus it was more leisurely and not a rushed feeling of doing a one day up and back trip). If you check on the website for the train, they are planning to once again for 2018 run a steam locomotive every month on one Saturday, from March through October. We took this on the going portion up to the canyon, and it was awesome! Definitely want to plan for that if you’re a railroad fan!

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