Grand Way to the Grand Canyon
Enjoying the ride on the Grand Canyon Railway
Story and photos by Lee Juillerat

High on Adventure, November 2015


A grand way to appreciate the Grand Canyon's grandeur.

Brand Canyon view
Grand views of the Grand Canyon are plentiful

I've made other trips to Grand Canyon National Park but, like most of the five million people who visit the park annually, it was always by car. This time someone else did the driving: the engineer of the Grand Canyon Railway.

The night before my railroad adventure, my friend and I spent a night at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel in Williams, one of the Arizona cities along historic Route 66. We got our kicks on the Chief, a luxury parlor car, for the 65-mile, 2 hour and 15 minute trip to Grand Canyon's South Rim Village.

Grand Canyon Railway
Viewing the train from the train

Relaxing? You bet. From our cushy seats, we snacked on a wide selection of comestibles. When we weren't viewing the scenery, which changed from wide open prairies to pine forests, we wandered the length of the train checking out the variety of cars, six classes ranging from the luxurious to the basic. Throughout the train, guitar-playing cowboy singers, some better than others, sang and performed. Train attendants provided informative discourses on the history of the trains, which date back to 1901, and other lively patter.

  Grand Canyon Railway strolling musician   Grand Canyon Railway lounge car  
Strolling musicians provide entertainment
Relaxing times in one of the lounges

“What kinds of cows can you see out the window?” one attendant quipped, pausing briefly before answering, “Summer cows. Some are black, some are brown, some are bulls.” Many cars had platters generously filled with fruits, cheeses and pastries. And, because they weren't behind the wheel, several passengers enjoyed specialty blended drinks.

Grand Canyon Railway relaxation
Relaxing times on the train

From our seats we savored the views out the window and, even better, stepped outside to enjoy the sights from rear car's open-air rear platform. It hasn't always been a smooth ride for the Grand Canyon Railway. The train made its first trip to the Grand Canyon's South Rim Sept. 17, 1901. In the years that followed, the list of passengers included four presidents – Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower – along with other politicians and celebrities like Clark Cable, King Paul and Queen Fredericka of Greece, Jimmy Durante and Doris Day.

Grand Canyon Rim painter
Artist paints from the rim

By the 1950s the increased popularity of automobiles led to declines in the railroad's schedules. Train service was discontinued in June 1968 when Train No. 14, a diesel locomotive pulling only a baggage and coach car, departed the Grand Canyon Depot with just three people. It wasn't until Sept. 17, 1989, 88 years after the first train chugged from Williams to the South Rim, that the upgraded train made its return. In the years since, cumulative daily ridership has topped about 225,000 passengers annually.

  Grand Canyon trail  



Grand Canyon Bright Angel Trail tunnel

The long and winding trail
A tunnel along the Bright Angel Trail

We spent two nights at the Maswik Lodge, just a five-minute walk to Bright Angel Trailhead. We then walked or took the shuttle to reach the Hermit, Rim and Bright Angel trails for wondrous views above and inside the canyon. One evening we boarded a bus that dropped us at a trio of rim viewpoints for sublime and spectacular sunset views.

Grand Canyon clouds
Clouds over the canyon

Three days later, after one day hike into the canyon and another spent touring, we returned by train to Williams. How was the trip? Just like Grand Canyon – grandiose.  

Grand Canyon grandiose view
Grandiose views of the Grand Canyon

When You Go

For information about the Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel visit their website at or call toll-free 1-800-843-8724. Along with making arrangements for the train, the company provides booking for three different South Rim lodges and bus tours. Special activities include the seasonal Polar Express trains and Steam Saturdays. The various packages offer a wide range of prices and amenities while the cars for passengers include Pullman, Budd and Cafe cars. More costly options include first class observation and dome cars along with luxury dome and parlor cars.

Grand Canyon hiking
Hiking is exceptional

For information about activities in the park visit the Grand Canyon National Park website at The Trip Planner section has details about lodging, hiking, backpacking, fees, weather, South and North Rim information and other general information.

About the Author

Lee Juillerat is a semi-retired newspaper reporter-photographer in Southern Oregon. He is a frequent contributor to several regional magazines and other publications. He has written or co-authored books and brochures about a variety of topics. His most recent book is "Lava Beds National Monument: Images of America." He can be contacted at


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