El Tovar hotel – The El Tovar, built just 20 feet from the rim of the canyon, was the first major building in the Grand Canyon Historic Village. The hotel, which opened in 1905, is open year-round, although you must book in advance due to the immense popularity. You may remember seeing this hotel in the classic movie “Vacation” in the scene where Chevy Chase tries to cash a check.

The El Tovar hotel at the Grand Canyon South Rim - photographed from Lookout Studio

The Trail of Time – This fun, paved interpretative trail showcases rocks that are millions of years old, in addition to offering numerous overlook locations which are perfect for photography. The trail is actually only a small portion of the 13 mile Rim Trail which stretches all the way from the South Kaibab Trailhead to Hermit’s Rest. The course is a bit hilly, so make sure you are up for a bit of a workout.

This rock is 1713 million years old!

Horn Creek Granite Rock on the Interpretative Trail at the Grand Canyon South Rim

Great views along the trail!

Gorgeous views along the Interpretative Trail at the Grand Canyon South Rim

Amazing views on the Interpretative Trail at the Grand Canyon South Rim

Endless breathtaking views on the Interpretative Trail at the Grand Canyon South Rim

Yavapai Lookout at the Grand Canyon South Rim

Although even the cheapest option at $65 seems a bit pricey, those who desire a break from driving will be pretty satisfied. In addition, by taking the train, you will save on the $30 entrance fee to the Grand Canyon, therefore, reducing the price a bit.

In my opinion, the more frugal Pullman Car is definitely the way to go. The scenery, although pretty, is not spectacular enough to justify the higher prices of the luxury cars. In addition, you have to pay for your own drinks (with the exception of the wine toast on the dome cars), so you really are not getting much more for your money other than a few snacks, larger windows, and more comfortable seating. If these amenities are worth an $85-150 up charge per person to you, then by all means go for it.

Overall, I would recommend the Grand Canyon Railway to anyone seeking a hassle-free, relaxing ride to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. However, I would highly suggest booking a hotel for at least one night to maximize exploring time at the canyon. Plus, views are even more stunning at sunrise and sunset, as are wildlife viewing opportunities!

Where to Stay While in Town

If you need a hotel for the night, there are plenty of options in Williams and nearby Flagstaff (a 30-40 minute drive). Additionally, both towns have historic downtowns with numerous restaurants, bars, and shops. Why not extend your trip and visit some of the other fantastic sights in the area? Be sure to check out Bearizona in Williams, Walnut Canyon in Flagstaff, Buffalo Park in Flagstaff, and one of the many hiking options in the area – Fatman’s Loop.

Tips for a Smooth Visit

*Visit during the off season for fewer crowds. The spring and summer months see the greatest traffic.

*Be prepared for the various seasons. Summer temperatures are generally in the low-mid 80’s, although it can feel hotter as there is not much shade. In addition, daily monsoons are always possible in July and August. Spring temperatures are generally in the 70’s. Fall temperatures are usually in the 50’s-60’s. Winter temps can dip into the 40’s and snow is possible. This is the ideal time to visit due to dramatically fewer crowds and amazing views of the Canyon covered with snow.

*Remember that both Williams and the Grand Canyon are located at 7000 feet. Due to a combination of high altitude and dry weather, you will need to drink plenty of extra water. There is a complimentary water station located on each train compartment, so drink up. Take it easy while walking around and do not overexert yourself if you are not used to the high elevation.

*Book a night at one of the Grand Canyon lodging options well in advance, as each hotel/cabin tends to fill up well in advance, sometimes even months out. 3 and a half hours at the Canyon just isn’t enough time to see everything. You can stay overnight without purchasing another train ticket.

*Skip the restaurants and pack your lunch. If only staying for the day, you do not want to waste your precious time at a restaurant. The El Tovar room is very popular and often has a wait. Even The Arizona Room took an entire hour to get in and out, and the food and service both were not very good.

*If you need allergy friendly options, be sure to bring your own lunch. I was not impressed with the menu variety, handling of food allergies, or general knowledge of the staff at The Arizona Room. We were told that the Enchiladas were dairy-free, only to have to reorder 10 minutes later when the waiter said he just found out that cream cheese was mixed into the ingredients. In addition, cheese was put on our salad when we requested dairy free, thus wasting more of our time.

*Bring with a tripod for your camera so you do not have to repeatedly ask others to take your pictures. It’s a beautiful place and you want to take the best photos possible!

*Don’t waste too much time in the gift shops at the canyon. Much of the same stuff is sold as the large gift shop located at the Williams depot. You will have plenty of time to browse around after your trip back.

*Book your train tickets in advance. Tickets can sell out during the prime season.

*Bring with a reusable water bottle. You can refill it with natural Grand Canyon spring water at several stations along the South Rim.

*Arrive at least an hour early to give yourself time to browse the gift shop, get coffee, and get a good seat for the Wild West show.

*Wear good gym shoes or hiking shoes. You will be doing plenty of walking on the Rim Trail.

*If limited on time, take the free shuttle to get to and from various attractions.

Have you ever taken a ride on the Grand Canyon Railroad? How was your experience? What were your favorite sights to see at the South Rim?