By Jill “MamaBug” Frier
There is something special about trains. Their size, power and the ability to take us from one destination to another, sometimes through impassable wilderness, is awe-inspiring. Folks settled in Arizona by riding the rails and traveling in carriages and on horseback. In keeping with that spirit, there many opportunities to take a train ride through historic parts of our state. Here are some of our favorite train rides in the state, both big and small.
The Grand Canyon Railway
The granddaddy of historic trains in Arizona, the Grand Canyon Railway has been letting people ride its rails to the canyon since 1901. Headquartered in Williams, Arizona, just west of Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon Railway is a tourist destination – a weekend trip and a fantastic way to get to the Grand Canyon without having to drive. The railway makes several round trips between Williams and Grand Canyon National Park every day, with a wide range of car types and ticket pricing to fit every budget.
Riding the train to and from the National Park has become one of our favorite ways to see the Grand Canyon. The railway provides fun Old West entertainment, beverages and snacks on the 130-mile round trip that takes you directly to the train station outside the El Tovar Hotel. They also have a large, modern hotel available at the station in Williams – a great place to stay for a weekend excursion.
The Grand Canyon Railway hosts special train rides and events, including Steam Saturdays, the Pumpkin Patch Train in October, and the always-popular Polar Express in November and December.
Grand Canyon Railway
233 N. Grand Canyon Blvd.
Williams, AZ 86046
Verde Canyon Railroad
The Verde Canyon Railroad in Clarkdale, Arizona, provides passengers with a historic trip through the Arizona back country near the Red Rock Wilderness of Sedona. This 40-mile round-trip train ride through the Verde Canyon wilderness lets you see wildlife, cliffs, canyons and old mining artifacts from the comfort of a fully-restored vintage train.
This train ride is a fun, luxurious and relaxing trip in climate controlled comfort – but you can also enjoy the beauty outside on one of the open-air platform cars on the train. Located just outside the town of Cottonwood, the Verde Canyon Railroad in Clarkdale makes a great day trip from Phoenix or a fun activity if you are planning a stay in Sedona or one of the surrounding towns.
Calling themselves “Arizona’s longest-running nature show … railroad style,” the Verde Canyon Railroad hosts many different events to entertain passengers. Their seasonal events include: the “Grape Train Escape” Wine Tasting Tours throughout the summer, a Fourth of July “Firecracker Express” for Independence Day, the “Ales on Rails” beer festival in September and October, a Fall Colors tour in October and November, the Christmas Train to the North Pole in December, a Chocolate Lovers’ Valentine’s Celebration in February, and an Easter Bunny Express near Easter. The train also provides special rides throughout the year, including: Saturday Night Starlight Rides, Native Sedona wildlife tours, and Eagle Watch rides.
The Verde Canyon Railroad also provides a venue for a variety of private parties including weddings, birthdays or other events – what a fun way to celebrate your special day!
The Verde Canyon Railway
300 North Broadway
Clarkdale, AZ 86324
The McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park
“I want to go to the train park, Mom!” says many a kid as the weather gets cooler in Phoenix. The “train park,” as savvy parents know, is the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park in Scottsdale. This 30-acre Railroad Park is operated by the city of Scottsdale’s Parks and Recreation Department, and is considered the most unique park of its kind in the country. The park lets visitors take a ride on the Paradise and Pacific Railroad, enjoy the 1950-vintage Allan Herschell carousel, visit a variety of shops and museums, or play on a one-of-a-kind playground in one of Scottsdale’s most beautiful public parks.
This park is home to the Scottsdale Railroad Museum, which features generations of railroad history, artifacts and memorabilia that bring the history of railroads to life. It also boasts a 10,000 square foot model railroad building that houses four model railroad clubs. The park hosts “Railfair” every year in October, a special Holiday Lights display in December, and will book birthday parties and group events at their facility.
McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park
7301 E Indian Bend Rd
Scottsdale, AZ 85250
The Adobe Mountain Desert Railroad Park
A hidden railroad gem, located just north of the Adobe Dam off of Pinnacle Peak Road and 43rd Avenue, is the Adobe Mountain Desert Railroad Park. The 160-acre railroad park is part of the Adobe Dam Recreation Park, and is home to the Maricopa Live Steamers, Arizona Model Railroading Society, Arizona Garden Railway Society, and the Sahuaro Central Railroad Heritage Preservation Society. The Adobe Mountain Desert Railroad Park is generally open to the public during the winter months from mid-September through early May.
Admission to visit these trains is free, but donations are gratefully accepted for park improvements and ongoing maintenance. The 7 1/2” gauge train enthusiasts run an impressive operation out in the desert, and this unique and inexpensive family activity gives kids and parents to opportunity to enjoy a scenic outdoor train ride on the Adobe Western Railroad. And be sure to check out their special Starlight Christmas at the Railroad Park, Fridays and Saturdays throughout December.
The Adobe Mountain Desert Railroad Park
22822 North 43rd Avenue
Visit each website for specific hours, pricing, events and more.
Take your kids and family out to enjoy riding the rails on one of the full sized or miniature railroads around the state – it’s a great way to see the scenery, wildlife and learn about the history of trains. Be sure to check Ladybug’s Blog for a more ideas for great places to get your kids out of the house to enjoy adventures throughout Arizona at www.LadybugsBlog.com