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9 AWESOME Things to Do in Williams, AZ (+ Helpful Guide)

Map on side of building of Route 66.

Heading to the Grand Canyon and considering staying or stopping in Williams, Arizona?

Williams, Arizona is a popular town to stay and explore for visitors heading to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Affordable lodging, a good variety of restaurants, and excellent tourist activities, including the Grand Canyon Railway, make it an appealing option for travelers. Williams was the last town bypassed by I-40 and still celebrates its Route 66 heritage with its old-fashioned diners, gift shops, and hotels.

I’m Cheryl and I’ve been to the Grand Canyon several times. My husband and I write travel guides to help people have amazing trips to the West. If Williams, AZ is in your future travel plans, read on to see our favorite things to do, the best places to stay, and top local picks of where to eat.

1. Ride the Grand Canyon Railway

Man standing on back of train
Grand Canyon Railway
Man playing fiddle on train

The Grand Canyon Railway transports hundreds of guests every day from the town of Williams, AZ to the Grand Canyon Village of the South Rim. The train ride travels 63 miles and lasts 2 hours and 15 minutes each way and allows guests just a little under 4 hours to view the Grand Canyon. The price of round-trip tickets begins at $70 per adult and goes up from there.

What we loved about the Grand Canyon Railway is that you feel like a wealthy tourist from 100 years ago traveling in luxury. The workers provide top-notch service and wear uniforms (down to the white gloves) that train conductors would have worn. Not only that but entertainment is provided too!

You begin with a western shootout at the train station. Once you board, each train car has its own tour guide who will tell you lots of interesting stories about the Grand Canyon and about the plants and animals you see along the ride. We also got to listen to a talented fiddle player.

Food is also served depending on the type of car you choose to ride in. Check out The Grand Canyon Railway: Our Full Review + Helpful Tips for more.

2. Bearizona

entrance arch to Bearizona

Bearizona is a drive-through zoo in Williams, AZ.

It is one of the BEST zoos I’ve ever seen. They have grizzly bears, jaguars, donkeys, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, bison, white bison, reptiles, javelinas, badgers, and an area to feed animals.

The two highlights are driving through the wildlife loop, where you can see the large animals like black bears up close, and seeing the three grizzly cubs in the walk-through section. Bearizona adopted these three cubs when their mom was euthanized and they built a huge enclosure for the cubs. They are gorgeous!

3. Route 66 Zipline

zipline along route 66
Route 66 Zipline

Want a fun way to see Route 66? This zipline has been going since 2013 and is the least expensive zipline I’ve ever seen (I’ve done a few). You can save even more if you ride tandem. You can check out prices on their website. They close a few weeks of the year- mainly January through mid-March, but they also do seasonal events like riding with Santa around Christmas. It’s a quick way to spend $20, but zip lines are usually what my kids remember most about vacations.

4. Canyon Coaster Adventure Park

Canyon Coaster at adventure park

Here’s another great option for a quick adrenaline rush! The Canyon Coaster Adventure Park is home to a mile-long alpine coaster. I prefer alpine coasters to alpine slides because you are attached to the track. This coaster is a mile long and gives great views of the mountain scenery on the way up and a fun ride on the way down.

They also have a summertime tubing hill which is a fun idea. I haven’t done this particular tubing hill, but I have done it elsewhere and I enjoyed it! This hill is a 400-foot ride. It’s wonderful to get the fun of tubing without having to climb up the hill to go again. You can pay per ride or purchase a pass for 2 hours.

They also have snow tubing available in the winter.

5. Grand Canyon Deer Farm

baby deer
man feeding baby deer with bottles

This place gets a 10 on the cute scale and a Google rating of 4.8! This little stop takes about an hour. The big draw is the deer (including baby deer!) that you can feed but you can see other animals too including zebra, kangaroo, porcupine, camel, peacock, and reindeer.

Some people complain that it’s a bit pricey for what it is, but it’s been going for 50 years so I think most see the value of it. The deer can be a bit pushy when you feed them but it’s cool to get so up close.

The Grand Canyon Deer Farm also does some seasonal celebrations like a pumpkin patch for Halloween and having Santa visit for Christmas.

6. Go to the Local Lakes

Lake

Just 20 minutes outside of town are 3 small lakes that locals go to relax. Kaibab Lake Campground, Dogtown Cape Campground, and Kaibab National Forest. Fishing is permitted and these are all popular places for dry camping and picnicking.

7. Check Out Route 66

Old car with Route 66 advertisement on the side
A fun car parked out Addicted to Route 66

I don’t believe for one minute that any of these stores were built in the early 1900s, but they sure have done a good job of recreating what Route 66 would have looked like back in the day when people drove the interstate across the country.

We were able to walk up and down the main street in 40 minutes and enjoyed window shopping at the souvenir shops and diners. If you are feeling ambitious, you can stop by the visitor center in town and pick up a map for the William’s walking tour.

8. Shop at Addicted to Route 66

inside Route 66 gift shop
Addicted to Route 66

I’m not sure if it was the “World’s Largest Route 66 Sign” or the classic old car parked out front with Elvis as the driver, but this cute and quirky shop lured me in!

They sell cool pictures of icons from the 50s, clever souvenirs, and my very favorite… tiny trinkets that only cost a dime.

Not sure which area of the Grand Canyon to Visit?

Download our Free Quick and Easy Guide to the Grand Canyon’s 4 Areas!

9. Get Seasonal

There are a few special events that Williams hosts throughout the year. First is the Historic Route 66 Car Show which hosts 500 vehicles, a live auction, and a burger burn. It lasts 2 days and is usually held in June.

The Jack Fuller Roping Event happens every year over Memorial Day weekend. This small-town rodeo gives guests the chance to connect with Western culture. There is also facing painting, pony rides and food trucks.

Every December, the Grand Canyon Railway is turned into the Polar Express. It is very popular with children. They ride in their pajamas, are served hot chocolate, and make the journey to the North Pole.

This is a much shorter ride than the one to the Grand Canyon. It’s 90 minutes total, done in the evening, and every child gets a gift from Santa. I haven’t done this but it sounds really fun. Learn more about it here.

Grand Canyon railway Christmas lights
The North Pole on the Polar Express, Used with permission from the GCR Instagram

Williams and the Grand Canyon

Map showing route from Williams, Arizona to Grand Canyon Village
Google Maps

The biggest draw to visit Williams, AZ is because it is one of the closest towns to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Although there is lodging at the Grand Canyon Village as well as in Tusyan, AZ which is only 10 minutes outside of the park, many people choose to make the hour-long drive from Williams, AZ because it has cheaper lodging options and lots of nostalgic charm.

Although you can’t see the Grand Canyon until you actually enter the national park, the drive to get there is pretty. It offers views of the wide-open West with Ponderosa, Pinyon Pines, and Juniper trees. You may even see a prairie dog or antelope!

Just hop on AZ 64 and enjoy your drive into the park.

Check out Where to Stay at the Grand Canyon: Options & Our Recommendations (South Rim).

Best Spots To Stay

Lobby of Grand Canyon Railway Inn
Grand Canyon Railway Hotel

Classic Experience: The Grand Canyon Railway Hotel

We have stayed at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel (book here). Even though the hotel is decorated to look like it was built in the early 1900s, it was actually built in 1995 and has amenities that guests are used to like a fitness center, indoor pool and spa, mini-fridges and microwaves in the rooms, and a full counter in the bathroom (pedestal sinks are the worst!)

Our room was clean and our bed was comfortable. I would stay here again.

The lobby was incredible with a huge chandelier, flower arrangement, and 2 giant couches that sat next to a large fireplace. It’s a wonderful atmosphere and we loved sitting there and meeting other guests.

When guests book their stay, they can book train tickets and meals at the Fred Harvey Restaurant at the same time. It’s nice to only have to pay once.

Outside view of The Red Garter hotel
Certificate of haunted building at The Red Garter hotel

Historic Experience: The Red Garter

The Red Garter (book here) used to be a brothel. We didn’t stay here but we did a little tour. It was super cool inside. Each room is unique and the whole place has a feeling that not much has changed over the past 100 years.

One of their biggest claims to fame is that it is haunted. I’m not sure if it was the certificate from the International Ghost Hunters Society or the tingle I got up my spine as I was exploring all the rooms, but I wouldn’t stay here and risk seeing a ghost.

Best Budget Motel: El Rancho

Outside view of El Rancho motel

Who doesn’t want to sleep in a nice clean place without spending a fortune? Us and probably most people! When we visited in April of 2024, we stayed the night at El Rancho (book here) and it only cost $100.

The walls were a little thin, but our room was big, clean, and comfortable. It was also nicely maintained and I could tell that this family-run place is well taken care of.

Great Places to Eat

latte
Brewed Awakenings, used with permission from their Instagram

To be 100% honest, I have only gone inside these places or talked to locals about their favorites. Since we stayed at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, we ate all our meals at the Fred Harvey Restaurant. We enjoyed the dining room atmosphere and thought the breakfast and dinner buffets were ok. Next time we head to Williams, these are the places we are going to check out.

Red Raven is the local favorite. It’s possibly the fanciest restaurant in town and serves steak and pasta. You can count on a meal costing you around $30.

If you are looking for your morning coffee or need something for breakfast or lunch, Brewed Awakenings is another local favorite.

Cruiser’s Route 66 Cafe is the most visually appealing building in Williams. There was fun decor outside and the neon lights drew us in. They serve soups, salads, burgers, and sandwiches and you can count on your meal costing around $18. Their pulled pork sandwiches looked divine!

Don’t miss The Best Places to Eat at the Grand Canyon: Your Food Guide for the South Rim.

pulled pork sandwich and fries
Pulled Pork from Cruisers Route 66 Cafe, used with permission from their Instagram

Williams, AZ is a charming Route 66 town and a great place to stay when visiting the Grand Canyon. Because of the affordable lodging options, good places to eat, and fun activities, it’s worth being part of your Grand Canyon road trip.

Need a game plan so you don’t miss out on the best things to do in the Grand Canyon? Check out our itinerary. 

Most travelers want to visit the most popular sites and still avoid the crowds. We have a detailed itinerary that gives you a step-by-step game plan so you can get to the best places at the right times!

But that’s not all! Our itinerary includes a free audio guide to listen to while driving with over 3-hours of stories about the park!

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