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If you’re going to the Grand Canyon South Rim, and driving up from the south, or driving from Las Vegas like I did, a great place to stop at is on Route 66, Williams, Arizona. The small town of Williams is only 1 hour away, and also has some of the most affordable places to stay at if you are visiting the Grand Canyon. There are plenty of hotels, shops, and restaurants right in town.
Williams, Arizona & Historic Route 66
The town of Williams was founded in 1881, and named after a famous mountain man named Williams Williams, or “Old Bill Williams”. Back then many fur traders and trappers were in the area, as well as prospectors looking for gold. The Railway was finally built in 1882, and in 1901 the rail line to the Grand Canyon was finished as well. Thus the title of “Gateway to the Grand Canyon” stuck on the town.
In 1926 Route 66 was completed through Williams, and the town boomed with even more tourists. The railway even took a hit from the amount of automobiles and discontinued service to the Grand Canyon in 1968. It wasn’t until 1989 that they reopened, and today continue to run visitors to and from the South Rim daily. Williams was also the last section of Route 66 to be bypassed by a major highway.
In 1984 the downtown section of Williams was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Places to stay in Williams, AZ
Williams is a great stop over place if you’re heading to the Grand Canyon, or even as a place to stay if you’ll be visiting the canyon for a few days. Here’s a big list of hotels, motels, B&B’s, and even a hostel that’s located right in town!
We stayed at the Grand Canyon Hotel, which is a old historic building built in 1891. It’s said to be the oldest hotel in Arizona, and even though it was updated slightly back in 2004, it retains that old fashioned charm with the decor, old wooden floors, and room styles.
People come all over the world and stay in it, as represented by all the foreign currencies surrounding the main check in counter! We met a couple from Sweden, a man from Korea, and other visitors from different parts of the US. We sat and chatted with them for a while in the common room after dinner in the evening for a few hours. Everyone there was super nice and friendly, the host even let us pick out which room we wanted out of those available(they’re all decorated a little differently with antiques and cool old time pictures). I’d choose stay here again anytime I come back to the area!
Walking Around Route 66
After checking in at the hotel, we went outside to go find a place to eat and check out some of the shops. Everything was in walking distance, but it was chilly and getting late so we didn’t go too far. In each direction there were several restaurants from pizza, to steakhouses, to Mexican foods-which is what we chose, eating at the Fiesta Grill.
Stuff is a lot cheaper here by the way than at the National Parks (so if you want souvenirs, it’s a good place to shop for them!) and there’s a lot of the same items you’ll find at the Grand Canyon gift shop.
Another thing to note too, there is no on street parking from 2am-6am, so if you’re staying at a place right on Route 66, you’ll have to move your car for the night. The Grand Canyon Hotel where we stayed had parking in the back so it wasn’t a problem for us.
As we were walking around, we did see some of the stereotypical Route 66 things you’d expect, like this old fashioned gas station turned into a museum. Also an old car which was advertising another gift shop that it was parked right outside of. And it was definitely working with people coming over to take pictures of it. I fell for it too and snapped a couple!
Grand Canyon Railway
You also can’t forget to walk over and see the Grand Canyon Steam Train! The Railway operates daily going to and from the Grand Canyon with diesel engines, but every first Saturday of the month you can catch a ride on the steam locomotive! More info here at their website.
There was a small visitor’s center right there by the train, but by the time we got to it it was closed for the day(arrive before 5pm!). However there were some signs outside giving information about the surrounding area. Including a place to buy your Grand Canyon park pass! Which I do recommend getting ahead of time as there can be long lines of cars at the entrance.
Kaibab National Forest
The surrounding forests is called the Kaibab National Forest which is split into 3 sections(Williams, Tusayan, North Kaibab). If you like hiking and being outdoors it can be another place to check out besides the Grand Canyon. We didn’t have the time, however I’d have loved to take a hike up Bill William’s Mountain Trail.
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