Winter travel has so much to offer, especially when you skip the holiday rush and head somewhere warm to avoid stressful travel congestion. Even better if there’s a bucket-list experience for your peaceful vacation, like, say, the Grand Canyon.
This story was written in partnership with Experience Williams, Arizona.
Williams, Arizona is the community closest to the Grand Canyon and therefore the ideal place to sneak away to during the winter months. The charming town has so much to offer in the way of Americana, and only about an hour away lies perhaps the most recognizable landmark in the world: The Grand Canyon. Though seeing the Grand Canyon without grand crowds is becoming a rare experience for travelers, it isn’t impossible. For an even more peaceful time, plan your visit mid-week.
Day 1: Slow Down: There Aren’t Crowds to Beat
Sleep in—it’s winter vacation after all! Wake up over a cup of coffee and breakfast at and stroll along the walking tour of the downtown Historic District. You can pick up your map at the Visitor Center and explore at your own pace.
Soak up the blend of historic buildings, classic road trip tunes inspired by Route 66, and the thread of Native American culture in the art and memorabilia. Take another look at it all by taking the Route 66 Zipline over town.
Now that you have a lay of the land, follow your nose to one of the restaurants smoking or grilling up lunch.
With your walking legs warmed up and your stomach full, head out of town for a bit of nature. A fall or winter hike is a special way to connect with a destination–see the landscape through new eyes and enjoy the Arizona climate that allows you to stay cool enough while you seek out waterfall views. The hike to Sycamore Falls will take you through mesquite and ponderosa pine and is even better in the winter when it’s icy or in the spring when the snowmelt floods over the falls.
After exploring Sycamore Canyon and just some of the the 48,000 acres of Wilderness in the area, you’ll be glad to know there are even more restaurants ready to serve up a warm dish and a celebratory cocktail.
Day 2: Get out of the Driver’s Seat
We’ve connected Williams to a quiet Grand Canyon visit for you, but what is the best way to cover the distance between point W and point GC? Train, of course. Depending on the season, the Grand Canyon Railway departs from Williams at 8:30 or 9:30 a.m., giving you just enough time to hit snooze once, grab a hearty breakfast, and “all aboard for the Grand Canyon!”
The two-and-a-half-hour ride in historic train cars is brimming with iconic Arizona scenery, history, entertainers (even a train-robbery reenactment), snacks and gifts, and, of course, access to the famous South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Upon arriving at the Grand Canyon, take a moment to soak it all in. From the train depot, the overlook is a short walk (or shuttle) away. We also recommend strolling the Grand Canyon Trail of Time (fitting, since your mode of transportation was built in 1901) or hiking a portion of the Bright Angel Trail (you have about three hours before the train departs for Williams).
Photo by Lauren Monitz
Pro tip: No matter what activity you choose in the South Rim Visitor Center and Village, be sure to pack water (you can’t buy plastic bottles here and it’s one of our favorite responsible travel techniques), sunscreen, and an extra layer for your winter experience.
Day 3: Pedal to the Metal for Fun
Back in Williams, it’s time to see a bit more of the mountains and forests that surround the community. The Grand Canyon is an attraction on a global scale, but don’t let it overshadow stops like Bearizona, Route 66, and the Canyon Coaster Adventure Park.
Route 66 runs through town, and the Route 66 Museum will take you back to the heyday of American open roads and kitschy adventures. Bearizona’s drive-through tour fits right in with this history, but you can also slow down and enjoy learning about the rescued wildlife in the park on a walking tour. Up next, stay in the driver’s seat and control the speed of your very own roller coaster ride through the forest above Williams on the brand-new Canyon Coaster Adventure Park, which has even more to offer after the coaster ride down the mountain.
After a full day of attractions, belly up for a great meal in town before falling into bed after your final full, but uncrowded, day in Arizona’s mild winter weather and a quiet Grand Canyon visit.