If you want an unforgettable experience when taking the train to the Grand Canyon with no regrets and get the most out of your money, then you’ve come to the right place!
I’m going to share with you all that we have learned, mistakes we’ve made and things we wished we would have done instead.
Where to book:
Go to The Grand Canyon Railway website to book your train tickets. You can book up to a year ahead.
We booked everything five months before our trip.
Here’s the thing to keep in mind, you can wait to book your train tickets if you have to because the train company will just add more cars BUT they can’t add more hotel rooms.
It’s very probable that you will be staying a few days in the area, so I would suggest booking early. They have an RV park as well but they were packed!
They do give you up to 72 hours before your trip to cancel and get a full refund if you need to. Be sure to double-check that as it could change.
Where to take the train
The train to the Grand Canyon originates at the town of Williams, Arizona at the Grand Canyon Railway Train Depot.
Park at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel parking lot and walk to the gift shop/ticket building to the right of the Fred Harvey Restaurant. (I’m telling you this because we kept getting lost and couldn’t find it!…LOL)
How long is the train ride?
From Williams to the Grand Canyon the train ride is about 2 1/2 hours. The scenery is beautiful so enjoy it!
What to take with you
Cash for snacks and alcoholic beverages: The Cafe Car where you can buy food and drinks only takes cash and we’ve been told the credit card machine in the Luxury Class has issues and oftentimes cannot process credit cards.
Cash for tips: This is, after all, a big tourist attraction and there will be entertainment. It is customary to give cash tips to the entertainers and your Passenger Service Attendant.
Also, if you book a tour while at the Grand Canyon, it is customary to tip the driver of the bus as he will also be your tour guide.
Bring water: Always bring each person a bottle of water. You can purchase a water bottle at the train depot gift shop and fill it up there before you get on the train. You’ll be glad you did!
Which car on the train to the Grand Canyon should you choose?
There are many choices to consider when booking your train tickets and I’ll show you what each one looks like.
There will be entertainment provided for part of the trip in all cars as the entertainers make their way through the whole train.
Adults are 16 years of age and up.
Children are 2 to 15 years of age.
Children under 2 years old ride for free
One Way Ticket Price 2019: $41 / Adult ($82 roundtrip) & $25.50 / Child ($51 roundtrip)
All ages can be accommodated.
This is the most economical way to go with bench-style seating like on a bus.
There will also be entertainment provided for part of the train ride.
You can explore the other coach class cars up to the Cafe Car where you can purchase food and drinks.
I’m going to take a moment to tell you about the Cafe Car.
If you’re riding in Coach Class this is as far as you can explore on the train. But that’s okay because they have so much to offer here. Plus, the Lady that runs it is so fun. When I asked if I could take her picture, she immediately pulled off her hair tie, shook her hair out, posed and smiled!
They have chips, juice, ice cream, wine, beer, and other snacks to choose from.
Be sure to have cash on hand as they don’t take credit cards here, as I mentioned earlier.
One Way Ticket Price 2019: $79.50 / Adult ($159 roundtrip) & $60.50 / Child ($121 roundtrip)
All ages can be accommodated.
These cars are very comfortable with lots of legroom, reclinable seats with big windows.
Hot and cold drinks with pastries, fruit, and snacks are complimentary.
Each car has it’s own bar where you can purchase alcoholic beverages.
You can explore anywhere in the first-class cars and any cars forward towards the front of the train but you cannot enter any of the Luxury cars.
One Way Ticket Price 2019: $94.50 / Adult ($189 roundtrip) & $76.50 / Child ($153 roundtrip)
Ages 3 on up. Children ages 2 and under are not permitted.
This is a fun way to go. I mean, you can see everything from on top with glass windows all around you.
Hot and cold drinks including juice, pastries, fruit, and snacks are included in your ticket price.
On the way back they provide a white wine toast and each car has its own bar to purchase alcoholic beverages.
One Way Ticket Price 2019: $113 / Adult ($226 roundtrip)
Adults only, no children permitted
There are many, many children that go on this trip and let me tell you, children get tired quickly on a trip like this so many will be cranky.
The parents of these kids are tired too so they will be acting the same way…LOL
So, If you are not up to hearing them cry and whine, this is the one for you.
Both my husband and I love kids but we were so glad we booked the Luxury Parlor both ways. The bus tour we took at the Grand Canyon was half kids and by the time we got back on the train, we were so relieved to finally have some quiet!…LOL
These areas are more spacious than the Dome Class as you will see in the pictures. It has great panoramic views all around.
The same amenities are included as the Dome Class (hot and cold drinks with snacks and white wine toast on the return trip) but you are able to go downstairs and enjoy the Mary Colter Car plush parlor and full bar.
One Way Ticket Price 2019: 113 / Adult ($226 roundtrip)
Adults only, no children permitted
These cars are very spacious and luxurious as appropriately named.
If you book early enough you can call to request the best seats. If you look in the pictures you’ll see that there are some seats that are more preferable than others.
We were lucky to have been assigned one of the widest seats. It was very comfortable indeed!
You get all the amenities of the Dome Class plus the ability to go outside the car and ride on the open-air rear platform.
Plus, you can go upstairs in the Luxury Dome and sit there as well as there is plenty of room.
There is also its own private bar where you can purchase alcoholic beverages.
Mix It Up
You can mix it up. Let’s say you’re on a budget but you want to be able to feel what it’s like to travel in luxury.
You can go one class on the way to the Grand canyon then return in a different class on the way back to Williams.
The way I would do it is to book the Coach on the way up because you’re still feeling fresh with lots of energy and full from the free breakfast you just ate at the hotel. (Not the Grand Railway Hotel, unless you bought a package deal, there’s no free breakfast there)
You won’t need any snacks at this time and you have the water that you brought with you. You’re good.
On the way back you can book the Luxury Parlor or Luxury Dome so you can have some rest and relaxation without any children around.
Plus, there is a white wine toast included with your ticket that isn’t available on the morning trip. And, the snacks are wayyyy better than in the morning.
When you book your tickets they will ask you if you want to go the same class each way, that’s your opportunity to change it up.
Things To Consider Before You Book The Train To The Grand Canyon
We had a wonderful time on this Grand Canyon trip but there are some things I wish I knew before booking the train tickets and tours that would have saved us some cash and made our experience even better.
To Tour Or Not To Tour
The train will arrive at the Grand Canyon at around 11 AM and will depart at exactly 2:30 PM. This will give you 3 ½ hours to explore.
Watch your time closely as the train will not wait for you.
Your Passenger Service Attendant will give you a map and go over it with you so you can have an idea of where to go.
Some people will take the train up, spend the night at the Grand Canyon then take the afternoon train back. Look on their website for these packages.
There are 2 bus tours you can take and that will make sure you are back to the train depot on time.
Some people like to explore on their own but these bus tours are a great way to see spots that are too far to walk with the amount of time that you have.
The Grand Tour
Price as of 2019: $53.50 per adult and $40 per child
This bus tour will take you to two different spots where you can explore for about 20 to 30 minutes.
One of the stops has restroom facilities available for use.
Then you’ll go for a buffet lunch for about an hour. You need this hour as the line is long and multiple busses will stop at around the same time.
I have to say the lunch was terrible. Very generic food that looks like it all came from a box. Salad, tasteless pasta, meatballs, beef stew, chicken stir-fry, and hard white rice.
There was also some soup but no bowls provided. You had to put it all on your shallow bowl-like plate with everything else.
The desserts consisted of dry chocolate cake that tasted like cardboard and vanilla pudding. If you want dessert, be sure to grab one early as they do not replenish it towards the end.
When you get back to the train depot, you’ll have about 30 minutes to explore a bit.
The Freedom Tour
Price as of 2019: $40 per adult and $27.50 per child
Everything is the same as the Grand Tour except it does not include lunch.
I wish we got this one instead as I said earlier, the lunch was terrible.
Plus, you get more time to explore the various areas around the train depot.
Buy a National Park Pass
Buy your National Park Pass ahead of time so you’ll get it in the mail before you book.
You cannot download it so you won’t get it immediately. You have to wait for it in the mail.
It’ll take 2 to 5 days to receive it if you live in the US and 5 to 9 days if you live in Canada
You can have it shipped overnight but that’s more money.
Why do you need the National Park Pass before booking?
When you purchase your tickets they will charge you a $35 Park Entry Fee ($20 if only one person). This is a fee charged by the National Park Service for entry into the Grand Canyon.
I tested for up to 5 adults on the online booking form and it only charges one $35 fee for everyone. I don’t know when it goes up if it does at all.
If you have a large group you’re booking for, please let me know in the comments if you were charged more. Thanks!
Here’s why I wish we bought the pass. We paid $35 when we booked the train tickets then we paid another $30 when we hiked Walnut Canyon the next day.
We would have done more hiking (there are so many awesome hiking places in Northern AZ) but we didn’t want to pay more just to get in the park. Next time we know!
So if you are into hiking or are planning to visit more National Parks get the Annual Pass, especially if there are a lot of you.
When you book your train tickets there’s a place you can enter the number of your pass so they won’t charge you the entry fee.
Cost: A regular National Park Pass is $80 plus a $5 handling fee. It is good for a whole year from the date of purchase. So if you order it on any day of November 2019, it’s good until the last day of November 2020.
Good For Up To 2 Owners: The pass will arrive with no names written on the back. Once you get it you can put 2 names (signatures).
Let’s say you and your best friend like to go to National Parks. You and your family can take the pass and use it, then when your best friend goes on a trip with his/her family you can pass that on to them to use.
So long as both your names are on it, you each can use it.
Who is covered by one pass: It depends on where you’re going and how they charge.
Remember, all children 15 years of age and below are always free.
If Charge is by vehicle: Up to 15 people so long as you are in a non-commercial vehicle and the owner of the pass is in the vehicle.
If Per Person: Then it’s good for up to 4 adults including the pass owner.
If you have more than one vehicle each vehicle must have a pass with the pass owner in it.
Senior National Park Pass: The are 2 types of passes you can purchase, the Annual for $20 and the Lifetime for $80. Both have a $10 processing fee that will be added when purchased.
Free passes are available for Military Personnel and Individuals who have Medically Determined Permanent Disability. To find out more go to https://store.usgs.gov/access-pass
Where To Stay In Williams, Arizona
I looked at the vacation packages on the Grand Canyon Railway website and because we’re on a budget we chose not to book our stay with them.
There are a few hotels to choose from that are reasonably priced. We decided to stay at La Quinta Inn & Suites. It was nice and clean with a free breakfast in the morning.
I also liked that they had a coffee machine in the lobby that was available 24 hours. You could get a Cappucino, Hot Chocolate, any other different types of coffee.
The breakfast was okay but my favorite was the waffles. Try spreading some cream cheese and pouring syrup on them, delish!
It was also just a couple of blocks away from the train depot that you could walk there.
Next door was a Holiday Inn that I’m sure would have been nice as well.
I gotta tell something about this little town. It may be small but it’s kind of hard to get used to driving around it.
There are so many one way streets that it can get confusing and frustrating! I guess eventually if you’re there long enough you can get used to it.
It is a quaint little town. We got there on my birthday and had dinner at the Red Raven.
I chose the Red Raven because it had really good reviews on Yelp but if you enjoy exotic flavors as I do, the food is just blah.
I ordered the Lamb (I love lamb) but this was not what I expected it to be.
My husband ordered the steak dinner and he said it was good.
I did really enjoy the Trio-Chocolate mousse/cake though.
Double-check Train Departure Time
You may receive conflicting train departure times on the website and the email reminder they send you.
Here is the email they sent me:
I’m so glad I checked the day before because I found out we needed to check-in at the ticket counter at 7:30 AM, the show started at 8:15 and the train leaves at 8:30!
All in all the train to the Grand Canyon was a wonderful experience and I would definitely recommend that everyone do it at least once. Being able to see one of the 7 natural wonders of the world is awesome in itself but doing it in style on the train is the best way possible.
So, which car are you booking on the train to the Grand Canyon? I’d loved to hear about it. Please comment your answer below!
Another trip you might be interested in is Sonoita, Arizona, the original wine country of the Grand Canyon State.