Although the Grand Canyon became federally protected in 1893, it did not become a national park until 1919. The park’s uniqueness comes from it sheer size: 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep. In fact, the Grand Canyon is so large that it has two main points of entry, the North and South Rims, which are 215 miles apart for each other.
Fortunately, Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim has Amtrak service close by on the Southwest Chief. You literally have automobile, train and bus alternatives. Here are five tips/hints for effectively traveling to/from the Grand Canyon by land:
One: If you wish to take the train right up to the Canyon, you can board the Grand Canyon Railway. Once you disembark at Williams Junction, you can take the free shuttle service to the Grand Canyon Hotel and Railway. For those arriving from the west, there is a five hour layoff before the 9:30 am departure to the Canyon. If you are going back west, the train leaves the Canyon at 3:30 pm and arrives at the Grand Canyon Hotel at 5:45 pm. This leaves you with about 3 ½ hours before the shuttle takes you back to the Williams Junction Amtrak station.
Coming from the east, it is not as convenient. Since the Southwest Chief arrives in the late evening, you will probably want to take the shuttle to the Grand Canyon Hotel and stay the night. The hotel is well-appointed and resembles the original Santa Fe Railroad hotel in Williams. After a good breakfast, you will be ready for the 9:30 am departure described above. Going back east, you may also wish to rent a hotel room since the train leaves Williams Junction in the early morning.
Two: If you prefer to travel by bus to the canyon, there is convenient service from the Flagstaff Amtrak station provided by Open Road Shuttle. For those arriving from the west, there is a three hour layover before the 8:00 am departure to the Canyon. If you are going back west, the bus leaves the Maswik Lodge at 6:15 pm and arrives at the Flagstaff Amtrak station at 8:00 pm, which is about an hour before your departure on the Southwest Chief.
Coming from the east, again, it is less convenient. Upon your late evening arrival in Flagstaff, you will probably want to reserve a hotel room before taking the 8:00 am departure described above. Going back east, you may also wish to rent a hotel room since the train leaves Flagstaff in the morning.
Three: You may wish to reserve a rental car for maximum flexibility. Since the Amtrak arrivals and departures in the area are not doing normal business hours, you should probably rent from an airport facility that has extended hours. Your best bet to find such a facility by the Grand Canyon is at the Flagstaff Pulliam Airport. Check with your rental car agency to see whether they can pick you up at the train station or if you will need to take a taxi to get there.
Four: If you really want to go to the North Rim and do not have a car, there is a bus service run by Transcanyon Shuttle. The service leaves the South Rim at 1:30 pm and arrives at the North Rim 4 ½ hours later. The return bus leaves the North Rim at 7:00 am. Obviously, the service runs only form mid-May to mid-October when the North Rim is open.
Five: The Southwest Chief is an all-reserved train. Whether you are experiencing Amtrak’s coach service or the Superliner sleeping accommodations, you must make advanced reservations. By buying your tickets in advance for both Amtrak and local transportation services near the Grand Canyon, you may be able to receive discounted advance purchase fares or special fares for students and seniors.