Grand Canyon’s Western Gateway

Photo by George Miller

Williams, where old Route 66 culture thrives

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Williams is Grand Canyon’s western gateway. Named for the famous scout and mountain man, Old Bill Williams, this town came into existence in 1881, boomed with saloons and brothels during the railroad days, and later thrived as a stopover on Route 66, then almost died in 1984 when I-40 bypassed it. Now with old Route 66 attractions revived and prospering and the Grand Canyon Railway offering daily trips to the national park, Williams once again gives visitors plenty of reasons to stay over.

To catch the flavor of both the old and new Williams, stroll down Old Route 66 anytime of the day. During business hours, traditional business–like the Grand Canyon Hotel (the oldest hotel in Arizona) and De Berge’s Saddlery and Western Wear (think boots, hats, and handmade saddles)–compete with Southwest art galleries, kitsch tourist traps packed with fridge magnets and Mother Road memorabilia, and storefront museums.

For family fun, visit Wild West Junction, decorated like a Old West movie set with gunfights, BBQ, and a B&B with movie-themed rooms.

Saloons, steaks, and comfort food

The sidewalk doesn’t totally roll up a night. If you want the classic Old West saloon, scoot you boots into the World Famous Sultana Bar where dusty cowboys, bikers, and city slickers hit up the blond barmaid. Or park your Harley at Cruiser’s 66 Café for the best of outdoor dining, burgers, and micro-brews.

In the mood for comfort food? You can choose pizza at Station 66 Italian Bistro and spicy dishes at the Dara Thai Café. For more refined taste, the Red Raven Restaurant specializes in delicately prepared fish, steaks, pasta. Of course, Williams has its steakhouses. For a dish of history, try Rod’s Steak House, which opened to feed Mother Road travelers. Or stop in Doc Holliday’s Steak House at the Holiday Inn.

After a hearty breakfast at the Pine Country Restaurant (with 45 flavors of pie), cross the tracks in time for the outlaw shootout at 9 a.m. at the Grand Canyon Railway. Then relax and ride the rails in style for 2 hours, 15 minutes to the Grand Canyon National Park with onboard cowboy entertainment and snacks.

The Grand Canyon Railway has become the major tourist hub of Williams with the Grand Canyon RV Park and the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel. Packages include nights at the hotel, sumptuous breakfast, lunch, and dinner buffets at the Grand Canyon Depot Café, and railroad tickets.

Drive-through game park, golf, camping

Besides the railway excursion, Williams offers two more favorite attractions. Bearzonia, a 160-acre, drive-through game park, features black bears, wolves, dall sheep, mountain goats, and a herd of normal and white bison. High Country Raptors, a group dedicated to promoting raptor conservation through education, presents free-flying bird shows at three times a day.

Elephant Rocks Golf, an 18-hole, par-72 championship course, challenges with narrow fairways and unforgiving roughs, but golfers love it. At 7,000 feet elevation, your drives carry a little extra zip.

If you yearn to be closer to the outdoors, the Kaibab National Forest with hiking, camping, fishing, and enjoying peaceful nature, has three campgrounds near Williams, open May 1–September 30. Kaibab Lake, Dog Town Lake, and White Horse Lake campgrounds are both on a small fishing lakes and offer forested tent and motorhome sites with water and pit toilets.

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