A woman and two children cross train tracks in front of a replica steam train next to a miniature platform at a park
McCormick Stillman Railroad Park, Scottsdale

All Aboard in Arizona

Train Travel and Railway Experiences in Arizona

Heed the call to ride the rails and see areas of Arizona inaccessible by car or foot. The Grand Canyon Railway, Verde Canyon Railroad and Pivot Point Interpretive Plaza train experiences offer family-friendly fun that allows you to sit back, relax and take in the views.

Williams, Arizona

Themed trips on the Grand Canyon Railway

In 1901—seven years before the Grand Canyon became a national monument—trains began transporting passengers from Williams, Arizona, to the South Rim of the canyon. The trains ferried visitors along the scenic route until the late 1960s when the depot closed.

Today, the Grand Canyon Railway's restored locomotives chug passengers aboard vintage railcars to the Grand Canyon's southern edge. The tours begin and end at restored depots, both built in the early 20th century, plus, a lengthy stop at the Grand Canyon for exploration.

Year-round, the 65-mile trip includes memorable fun such as a Wild West shootout to kick off the excursion and a surprise boarding that will have you wary of your possessions. Overnight packages offer the option of adding on a stay at a restored lodge in Williams or at the Grand Canyon—and, they'll watch your pets, too.

Learn more about the Grand Canyon Railway's history, including famous passengers and presidents who've ridden its rails, and the two decades when it was abandoned.

Seasonal trips on the Grand Canyon Railway

December: Each year, families anticipate the seasonal Polar Express-themed train, based on the popular book by Chris Van Allsburg. Nibble on cookies, sip hot chocolate and relive the tale of bells and believing as the train makes a magical nighttime trip to the North Pole. Meet Santa's reindeer before the big guy comes aboard to hear wishes and present each child with a special gift. The Polar Express fills up fast, so make sure to book reservations early.

CLARKDALE, Arizona

Open-air train rides on the Verde Canyon Railroad

Savor fresh air and panoramic views of the magnificent Verde Canyon from this scenic train's popular open-air cars. The Verde Canyon Railroad passes colorful and whimsical rock formations, sycamore and other riparian flora, ancient and pioneer ruins, and wildlife such as bald eagles.

The leisurely four-hour roundtrip between Clarkdale (25 miles southwest of Sedona) and the Perkinsville ghost town is fully narrated. The 1940s-era indoor coaches have friendly attendants who answer questions while serving up refreshments.

Themed trips on the Verde Canyon Railroad

Dozens of themed events enhance the Verde Canyon Railroad journey—from memorable date nights to family excursions that children will rave about. Here are some of the more popular events.

Yuma, Arizona

Interactive fun at Pivot Point Interpretive Plaza

Pivot Point Interpretive Plaza is an outdoor exhibit in Yuma that creatively takes visitors back in time to when the first railroad train entered Arizona, in 1877. Fun fact: Pivot Point refers to the concrete pivot on which the rail bridge was swung to let boats pass on the Colorado River.

Here, a restored 1907 Baldwin steam locomotive sets the scene while interpretive panels detail Pivot Point and Yuma's history and the surround-sound audio experience cleverly helps you immerse yourself in that time.

Close your eyes and experience the "ghost train," a modern sensory system that replicates sounds heard upon the arrival of a steam locomotive at the old Southern Pacific Hotel in 1877. You'll hear a steamboat plying the Colorado River, the whine of the swing-span rail bridge cranking open and the whistle of a train that's reached its destination. All the impressive highlights of a historic train's arrival, modernized.

Trains without the travel

Museums, mini trains, and more for railfans

Families and children sit in open cars aboard a miniature train with a blue engine car.
Enjoy the open air aboard the McCormick Stillman Railroad train.

Have a kid who's train obsessed? Or perhaps you love locomotives yourself. Good news: These train experiences throughout Arizona are perfect for enthusiasts of all ages.

Tucson Historic Depot: Here you'll find the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum, which showcases Southern Pacific #1673—choo choo-ing star of Oklahoma—all while cargo trains whoosh and rumble by. (It's still very much an active depot, serving as a stop for Amtrak passenger trains.) Learn about the rail line and the depot's important role in the Southwest's history, including a famous run-in with Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp.

Admire trains both big and very small at McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park in Scottsdale. At the Scottsdale Railroad Museum, several engines include Arizona's "Merci Car"—one of 49 trains gifted to each state and Washington, D.C. as a thank you to Americans for their support throughout World War II. Don't miss the intricate, 10,000-square-foot model railroad building with miniature train scenes and exhibits that are designed for hands-on interaction.

Part visitor center, part train depot, the Benson Visitor Center details the city's history as a stopping point for the Butterfield Overland Stage mail delivery route. Kids of all ages can hop onto the train simulator to play engineer and earn a Souvenir Benson Train Engineer Certificate.

A bearded bartender prepares drinks in a replica train car, complete with wood details and leather seating.
Platform 18 at Century Grand, Phoenix (Credit: Grace Stufkosky)

Now Boarding at Platform 18

Still yearning for train travel without the, uh, travel? Those 21-and-up can book a trip (make reservations) for an evening of cocktails and intimate conversation at Platform 18 in Century Grand in Phoenix.

Inspired by luxury train trips of the 1920s, Platform 18 is designed as a Presidential Pullman train car, complete with dark wood paneling, leather seats and windows that display the moving scenery "outside."

The 90-minute "train ride" accommodates only 36 guests at a time, and features a menu of more than 45 cocktails influenced by classic Prohibition-era drinks and a story chronicling the history of their unseen host, a railroad tycoon and bootlegger.

Writer and freelancer Elena Acoba contributed to this blog. It has been edited and revised by the staff of the Arizona Office of Tourism.

About the Author

Arizona Office of Tourism

These articles are brought to you by the staff of the Arizona Office of Tourism, and occasionally local tourism organizations around the state.

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