Williams, Arizona

A century-and-a-half ago, 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. Founded in 1876 by mountain man and trapper William "Old Bill" Williams, for whom the surrounding mountains are also named, Williams shouldn't be mistaken for a tourist town that simply sprang up to capitalize on its close proximity to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.

True, Williams is a small town on Route 66, forty-two miles due west of Flagstaff just off Interstate 40, just 60 miles south of Grand Canyon National Park, making it an ideal Gateway to the Grand Canyon. But everywhere you look in Williams, you'll see remnants of Williams' history that began nearly half a century before the Grand Canyon was named a National Park. Williams' deep-rooted history as a railroad town is in the foreground; since 1989, the Grand Canyon Railway has been running to the South Rim daily, returning each evening to its resort and depot, along the same original Santa Fe Railway line that was established in 1919. And even when rail service was usurped in 1968 by Route 66 roaring into town on the wheels of progress, Williams became part of the legacy of the Mother Road; today, visitors won't be surprised to see classic cars cruising through town. Even Williams' former houses of "ill repute" have been turned into charming (if not haunted) bed & breakfasts and shops.

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).

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Williams has several excellent lodging choices ranging from budget motels to luxury hotels. Williams is a good option if you want to be close to the Grand Canyon but want dining options, markets and shops as well. It offers more things to do than Tusayan, but it's further from the Grand Canyon itself.

Williams hotels cater to Grand Canyon visitors and have helpful and knowledgeable staff that can help you make the most of your trip. Ask about attractions like the Grand Canyon Railway, the drive-through wildlife park and cowboy cookouts. Williams is also only 35 miles from Flagstaff, a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. Staying in Williams is a great jumping off point for travelers who want to spend time at the Grand Canyon and explore Flagstaff and other parts of the Great Southwest.

For nearly a century, since Grand Canyon National Park was established in 1919 and the Santa Fe Railway stretched from Williams to the South Rim, the train has been an integral part of the Grand Canyon's history. Today, riders board the train in Williams in the morning, ride up to Grand Canyon Village at the South Rim and have several hours to spend walking the Rim Trail, taking the shuttles to various viewpoints, visiting the visitor's center, listening to ranger-led talks, taking photos, dining overlooking the rim, and more. Visitors take the train back to Williams in the late afternoon.

In addition to the Grand Canyon Railway, there are fascinating and family-friendly attractions like the drive-through wildlife park, deer farm, cowboy cookouts, Elephant Rocks public golf course, the Planes of Fame Air Museum, Elk Ridge Ski & Outdoor Recreation Area, and the Saloon Row Ghost Tour of haunted downtown buildings.

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A Day At The Canyon from John Burcham Photography. John Burcham is a commercial, editorial photographer based out of Flagstaff, AZ. You can see more of his work at www.johnburcham.com