Grand Canyon Railway and South Village

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It’s been 4 years since Eric and I went to the Grand Canyon South Rim Village where I saw the Grand Canyon for the first time! I will never forget how it took my breath away when I saw the immensity and depth of it. So when my mom planned a 7-day visit to Arizona for the summer, I knew I wanted to take her to see the Grand Canyon too!

This post is meant to share what my mom and I experienced and loved first-hand, not an all-encompassing guide. (I also have my previous post with other recommendations and packing tips – click here.) However, if you have any questions at all, definitely ask in the comments or on an Instagram post, and I’ll do my best to answer.

A Few Planning + Travel Tips:

  • Book 6 to 10+ months in advance. This way you get the best rooms and rates plus can pick a lodge that’s close to the Rim near Bright Angel Lodge. In my opinion, getting a Canyon view room isn’t worth the extra cost as you will have many opportunities to view the rim all over the South Village Rim trails.
  • Make at least one dinner or lunch reservation at El Tovar’s Dining Room. It was our favorite spot to eat both times I’ve visited the Grand Canyon, and the wait staff are so friendly!
  • Ask your receptionist for recommendations on trails, views, sunsets, and more! We checked in at Bright Angel and Kurt was so knowledgeable and helpful. Don’t hesitate to ask for advice and opinions on the best things to see/do!
  • Beat the lines! Visit the snack bars and restaurants before the Grand Canyon Railway trains arrive each day (11:45AM and 12:45PM)! Once they get in, there will be larger lines for the food truck and snack bars.
  • Plan to wear athleisure or athletic wear. The South Village is very casual, and most people are in sneakers and hiking gear. I always pack denim shorts and sandals for when we are just in the village, but if you plan to take any trails you will want something more comfortable for walking and hiking.
  • In the summer it will be hot and very sunny! Bring sunscreen, and reusable water bottles (like a yeti). They have some water filling stations, but we also brought a few jugs of water for our room. We also brought some granola bars to keep in our bags in case we were hungry during walks, hikes, or early mornings.
  • See more tips in my previous post. Keep in mind that due to the pandemic, there have been quite a few changes since I wrote that post in what is open including restaurants, bus routes, and buildings. Check their website for up-to-date information.

Williams, Arizona:

Route 66 + The Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel

Since our Route 66 roadtrip E and I took back in April, I have been looking for reason to spend more time in Williams, Arizona, which was the last Route 66 town to be bypassed by Interstate 40. It is also known as the Gateway to the Grand Canyon, and has unique things to do like visiting Bearizona Wildlife Park, taking the Grand Canyon Railway Train, and experiencing nostalgic culture and dining on Route 66.

My mom and I enjoyed the 2-2.5 hour drive from the Phoenix area into Williams. The Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel offers packages to ride their train up to the Grand Canyon, is walking distance to the train depot, and is a block away from Route 66 shops and restaurants. (We booked it back in April and got a package that included train tickets.)

Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, William AZ

While we were in Williams we stopped to enjoy the following spots:

  • Williams Visitor Center: If you have any questions or want recommendations for the area, they are knowledgeable and helpful!

  • Cruiser’s Route 66 Cafe: Live music, great BBQ, nostalgic decor indoors, and a wonderful patio outdoors. They had live music when we were there on Saturday! Another spot that hosts live music sometimes is the Canyon Club patio.

  • Route 66 Shopping: Cruiser’s Route 66 Gift Shop, Thunder Eagle Gift Shop, Colors of the West (a favorite!), and a few others across the street.
  • Goldie’s Route 66: We stopped here for a shake and it was a fun way to cool down!

  • Barrell and Bottle House: The food was SO good! A favorite was their pretzel bites – I’ve never had better. They have a fun patio downstairs, and a rooftop patio, too (if it’s not rainy or super windy out)!

  • Brewed Awakenings: Coffee, breakfast sandwiches and wraps, pastries, and frozen yogurt. They serve food until 2PM and are open until 8PM. Get there early if you’re ordering food or want a spot to sit! It is very popular and the wait for food and tables can be somewhat long. (They also have a drive-thru.)

Grand Canyon Railway Experience

The Railway and Train experience was such a highlight of our excursion to the Grand Canyon! We had a memorable time enjoying the views, snacks and drinks from the Cafe Car, some live banjo music, a knowledgeable and friendly service attendant, and time together where one of us wasn’t driving.

First Class Car

On our way to the Grand Canyon in the First Class Car!

Some notes about our Railway trip:

  • We traveled in mid-end of June, which means the temperatures were close to the highs that Williams sees. We had 90-95 degree days in Williams and the Grand Canyon, so plan and dress accordingly if you’re traveling in the summer months! It also rains in Williams quite often, so it is wise to have an umbrella along.
  • The train has a cafe car with snacks for purchase, a few bar/drink offerings, a little bit of live entertainment, and – on the way back to Williams – an entertaining cowboy ‘show’ outside the train windows and a train holdup/robbery. We loved every minute!
  • The Train Cars: The Railway offers 6 different ‘classes’ of cars depending on what kind of experience you are wanting. We rode in First Class (Coconino car) on the way and enjoyed complimentary snacks and soft drinks. The seat was roomy and we had a window view and enjoyed the cool AC. On the way back from the Canyon the following day, we rode in the Pullman car which is their most basic service, and unfortunately didn’t realize at the time I was booking the tickets how hot it would be with the windows open and no AC. I would suggest upgrading to the Coach Class instead if you don’t want to pay for First Class (and above)!
  • When you pick up the train tickets from the Train Depot, let them know if you are taking luggage with you for an overnight stay. They will get you luggage tags, and give you info on where to drop your bags for your trip up and back. We were SO impressed with the handling of our bags and the coordinated efforts the Railway staff have to make sure the bags are in the right place at the right time for you!

Our Grand Canyon Stay

When the train pulled into the South Village, we walked up the stairs near the historic El Tovar Hotel. We walked straight from there to the edge of the Grand Canyon for my mom’s first view of the vast display of God’s handiwork. I will never forget how special it was to watch her see it for the first time!

We had a room at the Thunderbird Lodge which is right off the Grand Canyon Rim Trail, so we made our way over to the Bright Angel Lodge to check in. Our receptionist Kurt was so helpful with all of my questions. (He shared what was currently open or closed, some must-see spots, and the look out points we should prioritize on the Red South Village Bus Route!)

Here is what we did during our 24 hour stay:

SUNDAY:

  • Arrived on the train at 12:45PM.
  • Walked through the Bright Angel Lodge gift shop and went through the historic Hopi House.
  • Ate a late lunch at El Tovar Dining Room. (We split their Traditional Navajo Taco (YUM!), enjoyed prickly pear margs, and finished our lunch with warm apple crisp pie and ice cream.)
Grand Canyon | Grand Canyon Travel | Grand Canyon Recommendations | Teacherfashionista | Jules

El Tovar Hotel, Est. 1905

  • Checked in at Bright Angel Lodge for our room at the Thunderbird Lodge. He gave us a map and recommendations for what to do during our stay.
  • Took the Red Route bus to watch the sunset at Mohave Point. It was windy up there, but a gorgeous spot for golden hour!

MONDAY:

  • We got coffee and snacks at Bright Angel Lodge Fountain.
  • We walked 5 miles roundtrip on the Rim Trails from the Thunderbird Lodge to the Yavapai Geology Museum. Although the trail was beautiful and offered incredible views the whole time, much of the Yavapai Geology Museum artifacts were covered and closed off due to the effects of the pandemic. Hopefully it’ll be completely available soon.

  • We browsed Verkamp’s Visitors Center then got sandwiches and ice cream at Bright Angel Lodge Fountain.
  • Walked through Lookout and Kolb Studios and enjoyed reading through the history and seeing old photographs.

View from Lookout Studio

  • Afternoon activity: We took the “Red Bus Route” west along the South Rim. This route takes visitors out to Hermit’s Rest, which is about 7 miles outside of the Village. It starts at the Bright Angel Trailhead, and makes numerous stops at different lookouts on the way to Hermit’s Rest. There are also nice trails if you prefer to walk between the lookouts or all the way out to Hermit’s Rest. Our favorite stops on the West Trails:
    • Maricopa Point
    • Hopi Point
    • The Abyss
    • Pima Point
    • Hermits Rest
  • Enjoyed a cool breeze in the shade on a swing on one of the El Tovar porches.
  • Boarded the train back to Williams at 3:15PM.

On our way home in the open-air railway car!

What to Pack in June

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In the Village:

  • Shorts and lightweight sleeveless tops or tanks
  • Backpack or Fanny pack & Water bottle (for sunscreen, snacks, shop souvenirs, waters, etc)
  • Kimono (I wore one over my shorts & tank to our nice lunch in El Tovar)
  • Sandals or comfortable shoes of choice
  • Lightweight duster or jacket for cool evenings
  • If you’re getting dinner at El Tovar, you could wear a casual dress or skirt, but it isn’t necessary.

 

For Hiking/Walking Trails:

  • Sneakers or Keens
  • Athletic shorts and top
  • Lightweight long-sleeved hoodie or zip up for cool mornings
  • Drawstring Sackpack & Water bottle (for sunscreen, snacks, waters, etc)

 

Grand Canyon | Grand Canyon Travel | Grand Canyon Recommendations | Teacherfashionista | Jules

Seeing one of the “Wonders of the World” with my mom will be a treasured memory for years to come! I am so thankful for such a special trip this summer.

If you haven’t added this to your bucket list, definitely consider a day or two taking in the beauty of the Grand Canyon and the nostalgia of Williams!

Thanks for stopping by to read! If any info was particularly helpful to you, I’d love to hear in the comments!

xo



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