Since 1901, the Grand Canyon Railway has been taking people on a fabled journey into the heart of one of the seven natural wonders of the world. For those fortunate to have traveled on this iconic train, the Grand Canyon Railway is more than just a mode of transportation: It’s a trip back in time to what many consider the most awe-inspiring place on Earth.
More than a century after its creation, the Grand Canyon Railway is delivering passengers to the canyon’s South Rim on a ride that blends adventure, history and culture.
The path this one-of-a-kind railway took to today’s popular service is an interesting one. It was established in the late 1800s as a means of hauling mined ore from Buckey O’Neill’s Anita Mines. But its owner quickly realized that hauling tourists could be lucrative, too, and probably more so. Unfortunately, Buckey was killed in the Spanish American War serving with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders and never saw the railway’s completion to the Grand Canyon. The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway completed the line to the South Rim in 1901. In 1905 the Santa Fe Railway opened El Tovar on the South Rim, which would become one of the great national park lodges. With a deluxe hotel perched on the edge of the spectacular gorge, and a comfortable way to get there, Grand Canyon tourism took off in earnest.
Automobile travel had long usurped rail travel by 1968, when the GCR passenger train made its final run. But the service was resurrected in 1989 as an excursion train ferrying visitors along 65 miles of track from Williams, Ariz., to the South Rim. The renewed service pulled out of the Williams depot on Sept. 17, 1989, exactly 88 years after its maiden run. Xanterra Parks & Resorts bought the railway in 2007 and continues to expand the property and refine the experience.
We took the train from Williams AZ up to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. There we spent a night at the Maswik Lodge, enabling us to spend a little over 24 hours inside the park including a sunset and sunrise experience, before taking the return train to Williams. If you're planning a visit to the park, we highly recommend taking the train. This was truly one of those "once-in-a-lifetime" experiences.