Go Carless at Grand Canyon National Park
“Not only is it possible to experience the best of the canyon without driving your car within the park’s boundaries, visitors can arrive at the South Rim’s Historic Village in a fun, iconic manner by riding the Grand Canyon Railway.”
Leave your vehicle behind to reduce congestion and pollution
Looking for a way to get more mileage out of a trip to Grand Canyon National Park?
Here’s a suggestion: Ditch the car.
Ride the Rail
Not only is it possible to experience the best of the canyon without driving your car within the park’s boundaries, visitors can arrive at the South Rim’s Historic Village in a fun, iconic manner by riding the Grand Canyon Railway. Park your car in the ample parking lot at the railway’s depot in Williams, Ariz., then climb aboard a historic train car, sit back and enjoy the 65-mile ride across the high desert plateau. The two-hour, 15-minute trip features live Western entertainment both aboard the train and at the Williams Depot. Trains depart daily at 9:30 a.m. and return from the canyon at 3:30 p.m. During peak periods there is an additional departure at 10:30 a.m, returning to the Williams Depot at 4:30 p.m.
Customizable packages include an option of staying one or more nights at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel in Williams, a 1 1/2-hour narrated motor coach tour along the canyon rim and optional lunch, plus two breakfasts and two dinners at the Grand Depot Café. The railway offers six classes of service, ranging from Pullman to Luxury Parlor.
The Grand Canyon Railway also offers a package that includes an overnight stay at the park’s popular Maswik Lodge North. It’s a hassle-free way to spend time in the park. You won’t even have to tote your luggage from the train to your room, as it will be delivered to your guest room.
For a truly carless vacation, consider one of Amtrak’s packages. The rail company has options ranging from four to 10 days that deliver passengers to the canyon’s South Rim.
Take a Hike
The train stops just steps from Grand Canyon’s Historic Village District, site of iconic historic structures, including El Tovar Hotel, Bright Angel Lodge, Lookout Studio and Hopi House gift shop. A paved, mostly flat Rim Trail winds along the canyon’s edge here, with plenty of spots from which to comfortably view the chasm. The entire trail runs 14 miles between the South Kaibab Trailhead and Hermit’s Rest.
When you’re tired of walking, just catch a free park shuttle at designated stops to ferry you to another spot along the route.
Hop a Bus
For an interpretive ride, try Xanterra Parks & Resorts narrated motorcoach tours of the South Rim. (Children 16 and under ride free when accompanied by an adult.) Among the options are a two-hour, 8-mile Hermits Rest Tour and the three-hour, 45-minute, 52-mile Desert View Tour. The company also has sunrise and sunset tours that offer spectacular views of the canyon. Learn more here.
Go by Mule
One of the most time-honored ways to see the canyon is via mule back. The Canyon Vista ride is a three-hour experience (including two hours in the saddle) that winds along a rim-top trail enabling fantastic views. This is a great ride for beginners. The overnight trip to Phantom Ranch on the canyon’s floor covers 10.5 miles. The ride out the next morning is via the shorter, but steeper, 7.8-mile South Kaibab trail. Guests sleep in comfy cabins and indulge in a hearty dinner and breakfast as part of the fare. Both options can be booked here.
Ride a Bike
Bright Angel Bikes, near the park’s main visitor center near Mather Point, rents both cruiser bikes and road bikes for guided or do-it-yourself tours. They also operate a shuttle for cyclists who prefer to do a one-way ride. A series of Greenway Trails that are closed to motor vehicles facilitate cycling here. Visit bikegrandcanyon.com.
Another popular option is the Hermit Road Tour, in which cyclists are shuttled to Hopi Point for a 5.5-mile mostly downhill guided trip by bike. The tour features some of the park’s most scenic vistas.
For more information, visit thetrain.com or call 800-THE-TRAIN (843-8724).
For travel experiences available from Xanterra Parks & Resorts and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.
WRITTEN BY: JAYNE CLARK
Washington, DC-based freelance writer Jayne Clark has been a travel reporter at USA TODAY and several other daily newspapers.