Fall for the Grand Canyon Railway
A Perfect Time to Take the Train
Are you looking for an unforgettable autumn experience? Take a step back in time and visit the Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel this fall. Experience the luxury of a bygone era with newly refurbished hotel accommodations, charming vintage steam trains, and magnificent views of the vast Arizona landscape on your journey to the Grand Canyon. In addition to the legendary hospitality made famous by Fred Harvey, you’re sure to enjoy historic sites like Route 66 and relish in the rail atmosphere as a model train circles the room at The Fred Harvey Restaurant. Not to mention unique shopping opportunities and endless activities available once you arrive at your bucket list destination, the Grand Canyon. Here’s why we’re falling for the Grand Canyon Railway this fall:
Taking a ride aboard the Grand Canyon Railway is a must-do activity for anyone visiting this Natural Wonder of the World. But it’s not just about getting from point A to point B on this two-hour train ride from Williams, Arizona to the Grand Canyon. It’s about immersing yourself in the sheer beauty of the landscape that surrounds you during this 65-mile journey. From the comfort of your seat aboard the train, you’ll travel up and over Arizona’s 5,000-foot-high Colorado Plateau, passing the red buttes and witnessing the stunning transformation of nature as the leaves turn shades of crimson, orange, and gold. Drink in the beauty of the vast landscape in this region during the fall season – it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will leave you feeling amazed and grateful for the natural beauty of our world.
If you’re looking for a slice of Americana history, look no further than a visit to the historic Route 66 in Williams, Arizona. This legendary road has been the inspiration for countless songs and movies. Here you have the chance to walk in the footsteps of the early pioneers who once traversed this iconic highway. Maybe it’s the old-fashioned neon signs, or the vintage diners where you can grab a steaming cup of coffee and a slice of pie, but there’s something about this road that just screams “classic America”. Whatever it is, you won’t be disappointed by this epic stretch of “The Mother Road”.
The Fray Marcos Hotel and Historic Railway
The history of the Grand Canyon Railway has its own remarkable story, dating back to 1901, when the first passengers arrived at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. In 1908, the iconic Fray Marcos Hotel was built, with 22 guestrooms and quarters for the legendary Harvey Girls. Fred Harvey, a pioneer in the hospitality industry and the visionary behind the Harvey Houses, created a chain of hotels and restaurants along the Santa Fe Railway lines, and the Fray Marcos Hotel was one of his gems. With a tradition of naming hotels after early explorers (in this case, Spanish missionary Marcos de Niza), Harvey’s hotel was so popular it had doubled in size by 1925. This modern oasis in the rugged town of Williams boasted a lunchroom filled with uniformed “Harvey Girls”, a formal dining room, a cozy fireplace, a cigar stand, and even a news and photograph room. Today, the Fray Marcos Hotel, now known as the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, with its 298 rooms, stands as a testament to the past while offering modern comfort.
Although the rise of automobiles led to a decline in ridership, it was not the final chapter for the Grand Canyon Railway. After ceasing service in 1968, the railway was reborn in 1989, restarting passenger service and undergoing a meticulous restoration process. Recognizing its significance, the Grand Canyon Railway was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. This revival breathed new life into vintage locomotives and expanded the hotel’s accommodations.
Today, the Grand Canyon Railway provides a historic and fun journey to the canyon with the help of authentic western characters who bring the Old West to life. In a fascinating turn of events, this once-threatened train is now a sustainable form of transportation, keeping approximately 50,000 cars outside of the national treasure each year.
Old West Entertainment
Along with the railway’s captivating and storied past, Old West entertainment exudes an undeniable charm that enchants audiences. Each morning, guests arrive at the Williams Depot from all over, filling the stands at an open stage near the hotel for a fun-filled showdown between a stern sheriff and a band of comic cattle rustlers. When the crowd-pleasing show ends (spoiler alert: the good guys win), kids and adults pose for pictures with the cast and their horses.
But the entertainment doesn’t stop there – the journey is so much more than just a train ride, it’s a fully immersive experience complete with authentic costumes, live western music, and Old West entertainment. From stagecoach robberies to cowboy storytelling and a good old-fashioned hoedown, there’s something for everyone. One of the highlights is when a cowboy singer travels from car to car to serenade passengers with classic trail songs.
Standards like “Cool Water,” “Song of the Sierras,” and “Twilight on the Trail” evoke images that are clearly connected to the western scenery outside your window. So grab your boots and saddle up, partner, for a ride you won’t forget!
The Best of Shopportunities
Railroads and shopping have a longstanding partnership. From the 1800s on, railroad stations have been a convenient place for passengers to pick up newspapers, snacks, local souvenirs, and other staples. Occasionally passengers had the added satisfaction of enjoying a meal at the “beanery” — the slang term for a casual, open lunchroom where railroad workers, locals, and travelers gathered for hot meals.
Considering the Grand Canyon Railway is nothing if not reflective of the history of rail travel, it comes as no surprise these same traditions continue at the historic depot. The depot is a “one-stop shop” for railroad souvenirs and Arizona art, making it a popular shopping destination for anyone who enjoys trains and the Old West. And since both Grand Canyon and the Grand Canyon Railway attract visitors of all ages, the store’s inventory appeals to all of them. Books range from train-themed primers rich with illustrations to well-researched histories of railroads, Grand Canyon, Native Americans, and the Old West.
For parents, this is must-stop shopping since most children are, by nature, fascinated by trains. From a hollow wooden-block train whistle to picture books, the store is stocked with affordable gifts.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, skilled shoppers with an eye for elegance can find hand-crafted Navajo necklaces in many price ranges and styles. Here in the land of the Navajo, Native American items are well represented with a selection of artifacts, jewelry, and stunningly beautiful art pottery that can enhance any collection.
Considering Route 66 is only a few blocks away, memorabilia from “The Mother Road” are popular. Even more so are Grand Canyon souvenirs and mementoes, which create the centerpiece of the shop. On shelves, in racks, and in cabinets you’ll find a treasury of T-shirts and mugs featuring photos of one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Without question, the Grand Canyon is one of the world’s most picturesque places, which makes photographs a very popular item. From postcards, posters, and framed prints to limited-edition signed images by renowned photographers, the range of views is just a taste of what you’ll see when you reach the canyon.
And if you’ve just disembarked after arriving via the Grand Canyon Railway, those very same items will remind you just how extraordinarily beautiful the journey was.
Visiting the Grand Canyon Railway in the fall is a truly unforgettable experience. The profusion of color in the autumn foliage, coupled with the views of the South Rim once you arrive at the Grand Canyon, create a breathtaking visual spectacle. Add to that, historic sites to explore from one end of the journey to the other, old west entertainment, and all the unique shopping opportunities – it’s really something! If you’re looking for an extraordinary adventure this season, there are few destinations like the Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel – for solo adventurers, couples, and families wishing to make special memories.