Planning your Grand Canyon Rails to the Rim trip
Visiting the Grand Canyon has been on my travel bucket list since I was a little kid and saw the “Grand Canyon or Bust” episode of the Brady Bunch. I’ve been waiting for my kids Nathan and Lucie to get a little bit older. Now that they’re 11 and 8, it seemed like the perfect spring break family trip to drive to Arizona from our home in Colorado.
But I didn’t just want to drive to the Grand Canyon and stay at one of the lodges. No way! Instead, I wanted to experience some of the Old West and take the Grand Canyon Railway to the South Rim. But first I had to plan our trip.
Booking your Rails to the Rim package
The best way to book your Grand Canyon trip is through AAA. If you’re a member, you can save up to 33% on the Grand Canyon Railway’s “Rails to Rim” vacation package. To take advantage of the discount, you must first log into your local AAA website, and find the Rails to Rim link (do a search on their website).
You’ll then be forwarded to the Grand Canyon Railway website, which will show you the discounted AAA pricing. (For the two night package with travel from 3/15-8/13/11 it’s $291.50 per adult and $93.50 per child, age 2-15. For the three-night package with travel from 3/15-8/13/11 $394 per adult and $93.50 per child ages 2-15.)
The two-night package includes:
- Roundtrip Coach Class train travel from Williams to the Grand Canyon
- Guide-narrated motor coach rim tour to scenic overlooks with lunch
- Two nights at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel in Williams in a standard room
- Two breakfasts and two dinners at the Railway's Grand Depot Cafe
- $20 Railway gift shop certificate per adult
- Save 25% off the cost to upgrade to First Class train travel
- Discount coupon book to area retailers and restaurants
The Rails to the Rim Plus package (three-nights) includes all that plus a night at the Maswik Lodge in the Grand Canyon National Park.
Going a la carte
After pricing out the rooms, meals, coach tour, etc. on my own, I found that the Rails to Rim package is an excellent deal even without the AAA discount. However, my family and I wanted a little more control over our itinerary and dining options, so we chose to book lodging, motorcoach tours and dining individually.
If you choose to go a la carte, here are some helpful tips:
- When booking train tickets and the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel in Williams online, first login to the AAA link to the Grand Canyon Railway website. That way you’ll automatically get your AAA discount.
- If you’re not a AAA member, you can book the hotel and train directly at www.thetrain.com.
- To book your lodging at the Grand Canyon National Park South Rim, go to www.grandcanyonlodges.com. One caveat, if you plan to stay overnight at the Canyon, the lodges at the South Rim may be sold out, which often happens often during the peak spring and summer travel months. So booking a Grand Canyon Railway package may be the only way to get a room in the park.
- The Grand Canyon Railway features four classes of service. AAA members receive a 25% discount on upgrading their seats. (If you have kids under 15, you can only sit in Coach or First Class.)
- You can book motorcoach tours here.
- If you want to have dinner at the El Tovar dining room, advance reservations are recommended and can be made by calling 928.638.2631, ext. 6432 or sending them an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Dinner reservations can be made six months in advance with El Tovar room reservations and 30 days in advance without El Tovar room reservations.
- You can also connect with Xanterra, the firm who runs the lodging and dining at the Grand Canyon, on Facebook and Twitter.
Grand Canyon lodging in Williams, Arizona
We chose to stay at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel just for the experience of staying at the original Harvey House hotel built by Fred Harvey . (There are other hotels and RV parks in Williams. Go to your favorite travel website for pricing and booking.)
The Grand Canyon Railway Hotel was recently refurbished and is gorgeous. Standard room rates start from $169 and deluxe rooms from $189. The rooms were attractive, comfortable and clean, though not very big. Staying at a nicer place was worth it since the hotel was just across from the train depot and a quick walk to downtown Williams for dinner at Cruiser’s Cafe 66 Bar & Grill, followed by dessert and breakfast the next morning at the Pine Country Restaurant. We also enjoyed taking a dip in the pool and hot tub before dinner.
The hotel staff was very helpful in explaining how to pick up our train tickets and arrange for our baggage to be picked up in the lobby and taken to our lodging at the Grand Canyon the next morning, too. Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to enjoy Spenser’s Pub, which features an authentic English bar. It looked lovely, but we needed to get to sleep early to wake up for our big day on the train.
If you’re staying overnight at the Canyon, you can check any unneeded bags with the bell captain or leave them in your car.
Grand Canyon lodging at the National Park
When we got to the Canyon, we stayed at the Maswik Lodge, which was a short walk to the South Rim. Our room was much more utilitarian, but clean, roomy and comfortable. All the lodges arrange for your bags to be brought back to Williams, too. (We really liked not having to worry about lugging our bags on and off the train, to our rooms and back again.)
There are other lodging choices at the South Rim such as the upscale El Tovar, where we had several fabulous meals, and the Bright Angel, Kachina Lodge and Thunderbird Lodge. The Yavapai Lodge is located near the visitors center away from the other lodges.
If you’re an experienced and expert hiker, and plan on doing the long and strenuous hike to the Colorado River or an overnight mule trip, you can stay at the Phantom Ranch. (For more information on hiking, go to the National Park Service’s website.) There’s also a Trailer Village if you drive in with your RV.
If all this seems like a lot of planning, you may just want to go ahead and book a Rail to Rim package. If you want more flexibility (like a chance to stay at the El Tovar!) but not all the work planning your Grand Canyon adventure, consider joining AAA and working with one of their travel agents.
More on the Grand Canyon at Mom Central
- Dining at the El Tovar at the Grand Canyon at Mom Central Food
- All aboard the Grand Canyon Railway!
- Making Grand Canyon Motorcoach Tour reservations
Disclosure: I was provided with four media passes for me and my family on the Grand Canyon Railway. I paid for all food, lodging and motorcoach tours.