Midway between Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon, Williams' small-town charms invite lingering. This gateway to the Grand Canyon boasts a vibrant historic downtown district, plenty of lodging and dining options, and access to outdoor recreation.

Located near pine-covered Bill Williams Mountain and surrounded by the Kaibab National Forest, Williams was one of the last U.S. Route 66 communities to be bypassed by the interstate in 1984. At the time, many thought this small Northern Arizona city would shrivel and become a mere pitstop between Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon. Instead, the resilient borough—founded in 1881 as a ranching, lumber and railroad center—blossomed as an iconic place to visit in Arizona, making the most of its small-town charm.

Start your visit to this Arizona town at the Williams-Kaibab National Forest Visitor Center, housed in a 1901 train depot, where you can learn about the area's natural and human history.

Get your kicks

You'll find many Instagram-worthy sites along Williams' well-preserved section of Route 66, which once connected drivers from Chicago to Santa Monica. This part of the Mother Road serves as the main artery through the town's historic district, so look for old road signs, diners, bars and shops offering a retro vibe. Car buffs should plan a visit to coincide with June's annual Williams Historic Route 66 Car Show, when owners of vintage cars do a slow roll down the old road.

Station to station

Sure, you'll get to the Grand Canyon from Williams faster by car, but the Grand Canyon Railway offers a scenic ride, steeped in history. The Williams train to the Grand Canyon features diesel locomotives that chug vintage passenger cars through high-desert grasslands and pine forests. Along the way, be on the lookout for singing cowboys and train robbers. The railway's full-service hotel at the historic Williams depot lets you make a weekend of it. During the holidays, the railway's Polar Express is a family-friendly Santa fest.

Bear witness


Slowly drive through Bearizona Wildlife Park and you'll spy black bears, grizzly bears, wolves, bighorn sheep, deer, bison and other animals ambling around, uncaged. The 160-acre drive-through wildlife park features scores of confiscated, orphaned or rescued animals that roam through a natural, forested environment while you sit safely in your car (ahem, keep those windows rolled up). Want something a little more up close? Look for animal encounter programs or glimpses of smaller critters like river otters and porcupines in the park’s walk-through section. Don't miss the Canyonlands Restaurant, where you can dine right next to the jaguar exhibit.

It's all downhill from here

Need more thrills than forest bathing or hiking the miles of trails that spiral out of Williams? Canyon Coaster Adventure Park, the town's newest attraction, features a roller coaster built into the side of a mountain. You control the speed as you dip, twist and spiral down the mile-long track. Try tubing down the park's special hillside track during warmer months or visit in winter, for snow tubing. Either way, conveyor lifts make getting back uphill easy.

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