Williams, Gateway to the Grand Canyon
If you’re not staying at the Grand Canyon, then Williams, about 60 miles away from the South Rim, is the best nearby city to use as home base for a trip to Arizona’s natural wonder. Interstate 40 bisects the small city, and Amtrak’s Southwest Chief makes a daily stop nearby. Accommodations, meals and services are a little less expensive than at the national park.
Driving to the Grand Canyon
The drive from Williams, Arizona to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon takes a little more than an hour when traffic is light. Highway 64 heads due north to Grand Canyon Village before turning east to follow the canyon rim to the Desert View Watchtower. Beyond the 70-foot-tall, round tower, the highway moves away from the canyon before ending at Route 89 in Cameron. To continue to the North Rim, take 89 north to 89A west to Jacob Lake. At Jacob Lake, Highway 67 drops south to the visitor services at the canyon’s North Rim. If you don’t want to drive to the North Rim, take advantage of the shuttle service that operates seasonally from the South Rim.
Grand Canyon Railway
Riding the Grand Canyon Railway is a must for train buffs. Travelers choose to sit in refurbished coach, dome or luxury parlor cars for the ride through the forested Colorado Plateau to Grand Canyon Village. Williams Depot, built in 1908 and listed on the National Record of Historic Places, is the southern terminus. The northern terminus, Grand Canyon Depot, also listed on the National Record of Historic Places, was completed in 1910.
Trains leave Williams in the morning for the two-hour-15-minute one-way trip and return mid-afternoon. During peak seasons, an extra trip each way is added.
Amtrak’s Southwest Chief stops in nearby Williams Junction. Thruway bus service, provided by Amtrak as part of the ticket price, conveys passengers to the Grand Canyon Railway station in Williams. The thruway bus arrives after 9:00 p.m., so you’ll need to make hotel reservations for the night and head to the Grand Canyon in the morning either on the Grand Canyon Railway, by shuttle or with a rental car.
Shuttle service to the Grand Canyon
Arizona Shuttle operates shuttle buses serving Flagstaff, Williams and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The shuttles operate three times a day, year-round. Passengers can buy tickets online or at the pickup spot in the lobby of the Grand Canyon Railway hotel and must arrive 15 minutes early. The ride to the Grand Canyon takes about an hour.
Grand Canyon Shuttles offers door-to-door, on-demand service to anywhere in the park, 24 hours a day. It’s highly recommended that travelers make reservations in advance.
Weather in the Gateway to the Grand Canyon
Arizona’s monsoon season runs from June 15 through the end of September, but storms are most likely from mid-July through mid-August. Expect afternoon downpours and thunderstorms. Winter can be snowy. For current road conditions, check the AZ511 map online. Inside Grand Canyon National Park, call 928-638-7496 for road closings. The North Rim of the park is closed in the winter, but the South Rim remains open. Visitors planning to hike into the canyon during the winter should be aware that trails can be icy. To prevent slipping, consider buying “shoe chains” that attach to the bottom of your hiking boots.
Making the most of your time in Williams
When Interstate 40 was completed in 1984, a section of the Mother Road, Route 66, survived. Lined with diners, mom-and-pop stores and gift shops trading on the Route 66 name, the six-block stretch is worth a stroll. Classic car shows, planned and impromptu, highlight the vehicles that used to cruise the two-lane highway.
Bearizona Wildlife Park, a drive-through preserve, is home to local fauna like bears and birds of prey. The small city celebrates its Western heritage with rodeos and team roping championship events. Three miles south of town, the Elk Ridge Ski and Outdoor Recreation Area has two lifts and 10 trails.