For families visiting Williams, it’s hard to beat the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel’s kid-friendly grounds and nearby shopping and dining options.
Williams – the Gateway to the Grand Canyon – is known for trains, Route 66 nostalgia and natural outdoor attractions like Bill Williams Mountain, Kaibab Lake and nearby campgrounds.
Enter: the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel.
The hotel’s a curious combo of old and new. It’s located near Williams’ downtown stretch and though its roots are historic (the original hotel, which is now part of the depot, opened in 1908), it’s a newer building with clean, accommodating amenities.
Today’s version of the hotel opened in 1995, with expansions in 2000 and 2005. It may not exactly be the “luxury of a bygone era” the hotel claims it to be, but it’s a clean, well-thought out place to stay while exploring Grand Canyon and the surrounding area.
We recently spent a weekend at the hotel and found it to be an ideal home base for getting away and slowing down in an old Route 66 town. Here’s a look at 5 things to know before you consider staying at the Railway Hotel.
1. It’s ideally located right off the train tracks and within walking distance of downtown Williams.
Pulling into Williams, you’ll find it doesn’t take long to wander into downtown and its quirky, vintage streets and blocks.
The Grand Canyon Railway Hotel sits just northwest of the action within a few blocks of shops, diners, bars and more.
And by more we mean this zipline.
It takes just a few minutes to hit downtown from the hotel grounds, and we found it a great way to stroll the town and then retreat to the quiet room for relaxing nights and mornings.
It’s also right off the train track, so if you’re riding the train to Grand Canyon, you don’t have to go far to get on board. We didn’t ride the train this time around, but we’ve taken it around the holidays – Halloween and Christmas are both great times to go.
If you’re in town to just ride the train, everything you need’s right on the property, including the hotel, train depot (gift store), and restaurant. You don’t need to go anywhere else, but there’s plenty to explore if you do.
2. It’s nice, clean and perfect for kids and families.
Though it’s touted as a “luxury” experience, this should be taken with a grain of salt. For Williams, yes, the Railway Hotel can be considered luxurious. But compared to luxury hotels in big cities, the Railway Hotel is closer to your standard hotel.
That said, we found the hotel extremely clean, comfortable and nice in the best way possible. It was easy to feel at home for the weekend, relax and wander around the grounds with our daughters.
The room itself was a standard two-queen number with solid amenities, perfectly clean and cozy but nothing to write home about.
What we enjoyed most was the kid-friendly features like an indoor pool, outdoor playground, basketball court and space to run around outside.
After dinners, the pool was packed, but there were windows in the morning and afternoon where we had it to ourselves; same with the playground and outdoor areas, which we hit between pockets of rain throughout the weekend.
The staff was courteous and attentive, and though it didn’t feel necessarily like a luxury stay, it did feel like a peaceful place to hole up for a few days.
For a more luxurious experience, you can stay in the hotel’s suites or Rail Baron Suite, the latter of which was designed for the railroad’s owners, Max and Thelma Biegert.
3. It’s a great base for exploring Williams’ nearby outdoor attractions.
Aside from Grand Canyon to the north, Williams has enough surrounding natural attractions to keep families busy for days on end.
We spent our time exploring the back roads south of town, through rolling forest hills and near a handful of lakes and water tanks.
We ended up at Dogtown Lake, a quiet home to trout fishing and stellar views of Bill Williams Mountain to the west. After a rainstorm rolled through, the temps dropped to the low 70s, a stark contrast to the triple-digit heat back home in Phoenix.
You’ll find a day use picnic area on the south side of the lake, and a campground with boat ramp and trails on the east side. It’s a quiet pocket of Kaibab National Forest we definitely plan to stay at in the future.
Aside from Dogtown Lake, Williams is also near:
- Kaibab Lake, where you can camp and fish
- Bearizona, where you can see wildlife from the comfort of your car
- Bill Williams Mountain, with hiking trails and a scenic drive
- Sycamore Falls, a beautiful but seasonal waterfall southeast of town
For more outdoor things to explore, check our our favorite Flagstaff-area hikes.
4. The train ride to Grand Canyon is a little over 2 hours.
Though it takes about an hour to drive to Grand Canyon’s south rim from Williams, the Railway ride takes just over two hours. This isn’t a big deal for most visitors, but families with small kids may find the trek a bit long.
It’s a great throwback experience and a unique way to get to the Canyon, but don’t expect a whole lot of scenery from the ride. “There are scenic portions, but also a lot of flat, dry territory with some distant mountains,” says one TripAdvisor reviewer.
If you’re down for a two-hour train ride through the high country, you’ll love the Railway. We’ve done similar trips in Alaska, including a five-hour train ride up to Denali, and it was hands-down one of my favorite travel experiences.
The Grand Canyon Railway offers six types of cars to ride in, from the somewhat-rough Pullman Class (no heat, no AC) to the cushy Luxury Parlor designed to make you feel like a fat-cat rail baron. A sinister laugh isn’t included.
During peak tourist season, two trains run back and forth throughout the day, and you have the option to stay at the Canyon for an extended trip or come back to the Williams depot the same day. Click here to see the Railway’s vacation packages and deals.
5. It’s near plenty of eating options.
Like lodging, dining options in Williams are somewhat limited. There are some highly reviewed restaurants, and a handful of average-but-doable places close to town.
Fortunately, the hotel is close to a lot of options, including on-site dining at The Fred Harvey Restaurant. It’s a buffet-style setting offering breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The menu’s updated online and changes seasonally. Like the hotel itself, the restaurant isn’t anything fancy, but for families with kids and big appetites, it’s a convenient place to eat without having to venture too far.
It’s also a good stop after a long day on the train and cruising around Grand Canyon.
Off the property, there are plenty of nearby restaurants, bars and breweries. The Grand Canyon Brewery is a few minutes from the hotel, near the playground and RV park.
They offer above-average American fares with craft brews like their American Pilsner, Black Iron IPA and Coffee Bean Stout.
Our daughters are fans of breakfast-for-dinner, and there’s no shortage of Route 66-inspired diners around town. We hit Goldie’s Route 66 Diner for a down-home meal of french toast and hot cakes.
No matter where you choose, the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel is close to just about everything, and if you need to venture further out, Flagstaff has unique dining options worth the drive east.
Our Grade: 4/5 Stars
Overall, we had a great experience at The Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, particularly for its family-friendly amenities, closeness to downtown and clean, comfortable rooms.
If you’re expecting a luxurious stay, you may find the Railway Hotel’s digs somewhat lacking, but knowing Williams and the available options in the area, you’ll quickly find it’s one of the best places to stay in town.
The Railway Hotel may be known as a train connection to the Grand Canyon, but even if you’re not hitting the rails, you’ll find it’s a great base to explore Williams’ natural beauty and historic roots.