Nostalgia. Americana. Expansionism. When one first visits Williams, Arizona, you're immediately struck by these three themes. Williams is a small town on Route 66, forty-two miles due west of Flagstaff just off Interstate 40, and it's 60 miles south of Grand Canyon National Park, making it an ideal Gateway to the Grand Canyon. Most visitors will quickly associate Williams with the romance of the railroad and vintage cars; Williams is home to the Grand Canyon Railway that runs to the South Rim daily, returning each evening to the Grand Canyon Railway resort and depot. And because of its location along Historic Route 66, visitors will quickly become accustomed to seeing classic cars and trucks cruising along the Mother Road as it runs through Williams. Experience Williams' history as a railroad town (there is still an Amtrak station here) and even its former houses of "ill repute" turned bed & breakfasts and shops; enjoy the vintage signs preserved all over town; and make Williams part of your Grand Canyon vacation.
One musn't mistake Williams as a tourist town that simply sprang up to capitalize on its close proximity to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. On the contrary, Williams' history as a settlement began nearly half a century before the Grand Canyon was named a National Park.
Founded in 1876 by mountain man and trapper William "Old Bill" Williams, for whom the surrounding mountains are also named, Williams was a settlement run wild with traders, miners and ranchers - men who worked hard and played harder. Williams earned every bit of its Wild West reputation; at the heart of the city lay Saloon Row, a run of bordellos, gambling halls and watering holes frequented by the town's rough and rowdy residents.
By 1919, Grand Canyon National Park had been established and the Santa Fe Railway stretched from Williams to the South Rim. In 1926, Route 66 came roaring into town, with newly popular automobiles barreling into town on the wheels of progress. Rail service to the Grand Canyon ceased in 1968, but was revived and restored as the Grand Canyon Railway by Max and Thelma Biegert in 1989.
Today, Williams is more than just a place to board a train. Explore, challenge yourself and feel like a kid again in Williams; it's a year-round playground and a great jumping off place for all kinds of day trips around the region. Get up close (safely) with spectacular animals at Grand Canyon Deer Farm or Bearizona. Play 18 holes amidst the pines at Elephant Rocks public golf course or discover classic aircraft on display at the Planes of Fame Air Museum. Giggle and squeal as you swoosh down the snowhills at Elk Ridge Ski & Outdoor Recreation Area, or feel a chill run up your spine on the Saloon Row Ghost Tour of haunted downtown buildings.
Venture out from Williams to get in touch with its more ancient past; discover three national monuments where the earth's geologic past and remnants of early inhabitants lie exposed and ready for you to experience. Visit any of three area National Monuments: Walnut Canyon National Monument (44 miles), Sunset Crater Volcano (54 miles) and Wupatki National Monument (61 miles).