We were fortunate enough to experience the Grand Canyon from 2 different locations. For the first visit, we stayed at the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park in Williams, AZ and took the Grand Canyon Railway up to the canyon. For the second visit, we took the Fox into the Coconino National Forest and boondocked a couple miles away from the entrance to the Grand Canyon National Park. They were both very different (but both overwhelmingly positive) experiences. In this post I’ll share the details of our stay at the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park as well as my first time seeing the Grand Canyon!
A Special Visitor
For our first Grand Canyon visit, we had a very special visitor! My dad flew out from Pittsburgh and stayed with Calla and me in the RV while Tim and his friends went backpacking at Havasupai. After some research, we determined that Williams, AZ would be a good launching point for both the backpacking trip and for my dad, Calla, and me to visit the Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon Railway RV Park
Williams is just over an hour from the Grand Canyon by car (trust me, there isn’t much closer…no man’s land) but you can take a train directly from Williams to the Grand Canyon. It runs every day of the year, and some days during busy season it runs multiple times. The same company who runs the train and railway station also has an RV park, called *drumroll please* The Grand Canyon Railway RV Park. This is where we stayed for a week.
The RV park itself…well, it was pretty nice. Asphalt pads, full hook ups (note: you have to use a sewer hose ramp, it’s a requirement there). There wasn’t much room in between spots, but they compensated for that by allowing RV park guests full use of the hotel facilities. That’s right, the same company owns the hotel that is attached to the train depot. It seems like they have a monopoly on the whole Grand Canyon by train experience!
So you get a key that allows you into the hotel grounds, and you can use their playground, exercise room (a big perk IMO!), and indoor pool/hot tub. There is also a laundry room at the RV park. I used it, but it was way too small for the amount of guests and there was a line for the washers constantly.
The park was very well kept. The main downside to it is that it is literally FEET from a main rail line. Not the Grand Canyon train, a commercial one. The super loud kind that honk their horns a bunch of times at crossings…and there is also a crossing feet from the park. So you can imagine that in the dead of night, a big ol’ train rolling through and sounding the whistle would wake you straight up out of bed. And it did for me every single time.
It’s not really anyone’s fault, so I can’t blame it on the RV park. It’s just something to be aware of…don’t expect to sleep through the night if the train rolls through (and it will…).
Proximity to the Train Depot
The main selling point of the RV park is how close it is to the railway. You can essentially leave from your RV, walk 5 minutes, board a train, and go see the Grand Canyon. It’s a nice little concept.
One day, the railway ran a steam engine, which we made a point of going to see. My dad is a railfan after working on the railroad when he was young, and has seen so many unique trains in his life! I don’t think this steam engine was anything that special, but it was cool to see it with him. He certainly is knowledgable about trains and I think I now know more train facts than 99.9% of people my age!
The Train Ride
The Grand Canyon Railway train left Williams in the morning and returned around dinner time. The ride takes 2 hours and 15 minutes each way as it winds through the Coconino National Forest. From the train, you get a view from the highest peak in Arizona – Humphrey’s Peak, over 12,000 feet tall and snow capped.
The train ride was enjoyable. We bought the cheapest tickets – the Pullman class – and found them perfectly fine. I walked through some of the other ‘fancier’ cars and was surprised to see that ours was the only one you could actually open the windows on! We loved looking out the windows while they were open. This reason alone is enough to buy the Pullman seats.
Each train car has an attendant who speaks almost the whole time into a microphone. Some of the facts are interesting and informative (she gave a lot of information on how to see the Grand Canyon) but there were also a lot of cheesy jokes and pointless stories mixed in. It would have been nice to have more silence to enjoy the scenery and talk amongst ourselves.
They also have ‘entertainment’ come through the train cars: a fake robbery, a musician, someone to take your pictures. These were all very cheesy and didn’t provide any entertainment value for adults, but young kids may enjoy it more. We felt like most of their time was spent trying to get tips!
Seeing the Grand Canyon
The train drops you off at an awesome Grand Canyon viewing point at the South Rim. I didn’t realize how awesome it was, until our second visit to the Grand Canyon, when Tim was with us. On the second stop, we went to the main visitor’s center, and HOLY TOURISTS. We will get to that in the next post, but this viewpoint was much better. If you’re wondering where this location is, it’s near the Verkamp’s Visitor Center.
I’m not sure what I can say about seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time other than: WOW. I couldn’t hold back tears, what was before me was just so grand and magical and I was in awe. Any time people ask me what my favorite thing I’ve seen has been, I always mention the Grand Canyon (some spots in Utah have been a tie…). The shock n’ awe factor, if you’re never seen it before, are worth the trip. PLEASE GO SEE IT!!!
I will also add that pictures CANNOT do this place justice. I almost don’t want to post pictures, because you can’t tell at all from the photos just how spectacular it is. You just have to go see it with your own eyes. Promise me, OK? And be sure to let me know how much you loved it!
My dad, Calla, and I walked a bit on the rim trail and then sat down for a picnic lunch. I think we had about 3 hours at the Grand Canyon before we again boarded the train back to Williams.
Walnut Canyon National Monument
My dad, Calla, and I also made a trip to Walnut Canyon National Monument, which is about 45 minutes from Williams. This was definitely a worthwhile outing. The canyon is very steep – expect lots of steps (we had a lot of fun carrying Calla up them…oy). Do not miss the video in the Visitor’s Center! Usually Calla doesn’t sit still for these so we can’t watch them, but I’m glad I got to see this one (thanks, Dad). It was so informative and really gave me an idea for the life of the Sinagua people who inhabited the canyon. They built advanced gardening systems to grow crops, and took advantage of the canyon walls for housing. They were there from about 600-1400AD. I love learning about this part of our country’s history…and to be able to stand in the rooms where they once lived is just amazing.
After the guys got back from their Havasupai trip, we had a few hours to spend together before they had to get a good night’s sleep and fly back to Pittsburgh. We did a little bit of exploring on Route 66, which runs right through Williams. Signs like this were everywhere, and almost every shop was selling Route 66 t-shirts and knick knacks. Apparently Route 66 is a big thing, because we saw big groups of people eating in restaurants that had Route 66 themed shirts on, customized with their names!
To us, it wasn’t much more than a photo-op, and a “wow, how do you have entire STORES revolving around Route 66 merchandise?!”
I’m so thankful for the memories made in Williams and at the Grand Canyon with my dad. It was so special for the 3 of us to spend days alone together. I don’t think that would have ever happened under any other circumstance, so thanks RV life for creating these unexpectedly awesome experiences. And thanks to my dad for being willing to make the long trip from Pittsburgh. I’ll carry these memories with me forever!
Date Visited: Late April/Early May 2018