Take the train, avoid the pain: skip the spring break crowds at Grand Canyon

Along with daily train service on restored diesel trains, the Grand Canyon Railway operates a historic steam locomotive on the first Saturday of each month.

Photo/Grand Canyon Railway

Along with daily train service on restored diesel trains, the Grand Canyon Railway operates a historic steam locomotive on the first Saturday of each month.

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — With the beginning of Grand Canyon National Park’s busy season just around the corner, there are a few things to keep in mind when visiting the park: entrance lines will be long, parking will be difficult to find, and whatever time you spend at the South Rim will not be enough.

The Grand Canyon Railway can help alleviate two of those setbacks — by parking at the Grand Canyon Railway in Williams and taking the train to the South Rim, you can avoid lines at the entrance station (which begin backing up as early as 9:30 a.m.) and forget about having to find a parking spot, especially if traveling with a trailer or RV.

Visitors can relax on a restored historic train for the 65-mile trip across the high desert before arriving at the railway depot a short walk from the rim. A train departs at 9:30 a.m. from the Williams Depot every day except Christmas and leaves the Grand Canyon at 3:30 p.m. During peak visiting periods, an additional train departs at 10:30 a.m. and returns at 4:30 p.m.

There are six different classes available to guests, from the basic Pullman class to the luxury domed car named after Southwest hospitality pioneer, Fred Harvey. The ride takes approximately two hours and 15 minutes. Visitors will arrive in the historic Grand Canyon Village near El Tovar Hotel, Hopi House and Verkamp’s Store — all riders have access to the park’s free shuttle bus system, which takes riders as far as Hermit’s Rest to the west and Yaki Point to the east. Those who wish to stay for sunset should make arrangements to stay overnight in the park and return to Williams the following day.

There are package options that include lodging and tours. More information can be found by visiting www.thetrain.com/offers-packages.

Visitors have been traveling to the South Rim via the Grand Canyon Railway since 1901, four years after the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad begin laying tracks north from Williams. At the time, tent camps were the only means of accommodations at the rim. Fred Harvey, in partnership with the railroad, built several structures along the rim to accommodate increased tourism and adding a touch of civilization to the still-wild frontier. In 1905, Harvey constructed the El Tovar Hotel, one of the most luxurious hotels in the Southwest for its time.

As automobiles became cheaper and more readily available, ridership of trains to the Grand Canyon declined, and the railway closed down in 1968. The Grand Canyon Railway reopened in 1989, two decades after service had been stopped for lack of interest. Under the ownership of Max and Thelma Biegert, rails were replaces, depots were restored and service was reinstated. The train now carries more than 200,000 riders per year to the South Rim and is responsible for keeping approximately 70,000 vehicles out of the park.

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