15 Top-Rated Things to Do in Williams, AZ
The small town of Williams in northern Arizona is probably most well-known as being the gateway to the Grand Canyon. If you do plan a trip to visit the Grand Canyon, making a base in Williams and staying for a few extra days in the area affords a nice vacation that combines outdoor adventure, historical attractions like Route 66, and insight into the Old West.
Williams is surrounded by the Kaibab National Forest, where you can take in a day of hiking and other things to do outdoors. The Sycamore Canyon and Bill Williams Mountain are also nearby to appease your senses, with scenic views, rustic trails, and tranquil waterways.
The town is an intriguing crossroads for people hopping on board the Grand Canyon Railway or exploring Route 66, which runs right through Williams. There are some great nostalgic attractions, both on the main thoroughfare and off the main drag, to explore on your own that make Williams one of those small-town unforgettable treasures. Carve out a little time to grab a piece of fresh homemade pie from the Pine Country Restaurant, which has 55 varieties available.
For more sightseeing ideas, check out our list of the top attractions and things to do in Williams, Arizona.
1. Grand Canyon Railway
Most people end up in Williams because it is the gateway to the Grand Canyon, and one of the best ways to see it is by taking the Grand Canyon Railway to the South Rim.
Hopping on board is a trip back in time to the early 1900s, when the railway made its first trips to the Grand Canyon. The 2-hour-and-15-minute train ride takes you past the cattle ranches and mountains that define the landscape.
During the train ride, passengers learn about the Old West and the Grand Canyon as they keep an eye out for mule deer and elk outside the windows.
Once the train arrives on the South Rim of the canyon, you have several hours to take a guided tour or explore on your own along the rim trails and overlooks. You have time for lunch at the historic El Tovar Hotel before hopping on board the train back to Williams, where you might encounter an old-fashioned and family-friendly train robbery.
Address: 233 N. Grand Canyon Blvd., Williams, Arizona
Official site: https://www.thetrain.com/
2. Bearizona Wildlife Park
The Bearizona Wildlife Park should be one of the top places to visit in Williams during your stay. The wildlife and conservation park enables you to get up close to animals like black bears, wolves, bison, and mountain goats in a unique way.
The drive-through part of the park can be done with your own car or on the shuttle bus provided at Bearizona.
The other side of the park enables you to walk the grounds where the animal enclosures allow you to watch the daily activities of otters, foxes, and jaguars.
Be sure to catch one of the Birds of Prey demonstrations to learn about the great horned owls and hawks. Feel the wind of a hawk's wing brush above your head as the handlers showcase the stealth flight patterns of these magnificent animals.
You can walk or drive through the park areas as often as you like with a day ticket.
Address: 1500 E. Historic Route 66, Williams, Arizona
Official site: https://bearizona.com/
3. Stroll Route 66
Historic Route 66 goes right through the heart of Williams, so it is easy to park the car and walk to the many gift shops, restaurants, and historic spots. Be sure to pay close attention to the brass plaques on the sides of some of the buildings that explain what it used to be.
You will find the old post office, fire station, grocery store, bank, and more that have been converted into quirky shops. The town comes alive, especially at night with original neon signs on the businesses and music from the 1950s piping out of old diners.
There is a two-mile route that loops around Williams, so it is best to park on one end and walk to the end of the strip.
4. Grand Canyon Deer Farm
While there are many vintage attractions along Route 66 in Williams, the Grand Canyon Deer Farm is a favorite, especially for families who are visiting. The 10-acre deer farm has been operating for more than half a century.
You can get up close to deer and other animals that are hand-raised and used to human interaction.
Walk through the park and see bison; llamas; wallabies; camels; peacocks; goats; and one of the famous residents, Mozart the cockatoo. You can even feed hand-feed some of the deer.
The Grand Canyon Deer Farm is a unique attraction that allows you to see some of the local wildlife that you might not get a chance to see in their natural settings.
Address: 6769 E. Deer Farm Road, Williams, Arizona
Official site: https://deerfarm.com/
5. Pete's Route 66 Gas Station Museum
For those who love the nostalgia of Route 66, some of the best finds are in Williams, including the restored Pete's Route 66 Gas Station Museum. The small gas station is full of Route 66 memorabilia and information about historic gas stations.
You will find old model cars sitting out front and a garage filled with signs, gas pumps, and more.
It is open daily through the summer. During off-season, it is best to call first before stopping by, but you can always peek in the tinted windows.
Address: 101 E. Route 66, Williams, Arizona
6. Kaibab National Forest Petroglyphs
One of the most spectacular things to experience in Williams is the prehistoric evidence of inhabitants in the Kaibab National Forest that dates back more than 1,000 years.
Hike along the Keyhole Sink Trail as you make your way through the pine forest to the ancient petroglyphs that are carved into the canyon walls.
It is believed that this ancient form of communication was useful to original inhabitants who hunted in the area. The petroglyphs are a stunning site to see and have been respected and protected by visitors over the years.
The Keyhole Sink trailhead is about 20 minutes from Williams and is relatively easy to navigate.
Address: Kaibab National Forest, Williams, Arizona
7. Williams Depot
Whether you plan on taking a trip on the Grand Canyon Railway or not, you should book some time in your itinerary to visit the Williams Depot. The historic train station is a restored piece of history and an important part of the transcontinental railroad that first ran through the town in 1882.
The depot now serves as the departure point for the Grand Canyon Railway where passengers can experience a trip from Williams to the Grand Canyon's South Rim the way they have since 1901.
Usually in the mornings before the train departs, you can see a family-friendly cops and robbers reenactment outside the depot, which sets the mood for a day in the Old West.
Be sure to tour through the depot and see some of the original structures, vintage railroad cars, and enjoy lunch in the depot restaurant.
Address: 233 N. Grand Canyon Blvd., Williams, Arizona
The hiking star of the show near Williams are the trails at the Grand Canyon, about 60 miles away, but the area has dozens of other nearby hiking opportunities. You can take a guided tour and hike with a local outfitter or set out on your own.
Some of the recommended trails include the four-mile round-trip Bixler Saddle Trail and the Dogtown Lake Trail, which is a 1.8-mile loop around a lake.
For more aggressive hiking, you might want to take the Kendrick Mountain Trail (eight miles round trip) to the 10,418-foot summit for unmatched views of the Grand Canyon in one direction and Oak Creek Canyon in the other.
9. Valle Travel Stop
At first glance, you will assume that the Valle Travel Stop is a typical travel plaza, but it is worth a stop to check out some of the unique gift items inside.
You can find local products like Native American jewelry, artwork, vintage signs, southwestern gifts, and even antiques. The Valle Travel Stop is frequented by people going to and from the Grand Canyon.
The Valle Travel Stop has a Williams address but is about 30 minutes north on route 64 and well worth the drive. The Rocks and More store located in the plaza complex has rare and jaw-dropping rocks, minerals, fossils, and jewelry.
The mammoth $80,000 amethyst and boulder-sized crystal in front of the store will let you know that you are in the right place.
Address: 317 South State Route 64, Williams, Arizona
10. Scenic Drives near Williams
There's no doubt that the Grand Canyon and Route 66 are tops for scenic drives near Williams but there are several other routes that give you picturesque vantage points to view the stunning landscape and mountains in the area. These routes span from a few miles, which are perfect for a short drive to see the sunset, to nearly 30 miles, which can fill a day with stops along the way.
The Bill Williams Mountain Road loop is a nice drive to take for a combination of natural scenery and wildlife. The 12-mile round trip takes you to some of the best overlooks on Bill Williams Mountain. This is an easy drive because it is a loop, so you can start and end in Williams.
The Bull Basin Road drive is a popular scenic route that starts east of Williams and goes through the Kaibab National Forest. It is a 17-mile round trip that will take you to see the highest peaks of Kendrick Mountain. Open the car windows to take in the fresh air and aroma of the surrounding pine trees.
Another drive that gives you a different view of the area's natural landscape is the Grand Prairie Road scenic drive. The 21-mile route goes through the Garland Prairie, one of the largest in the region, where you can see flowers, open landscape, and maybe even a pronghorn antelope in the summer or fall.
11. Wild West Junction
Learn about the Wild West and life in Williams in the early 1900s at the Wild West Junction. This is a fun place to visit, especially if you are unfamiliar with the Old West. The complex has the Dover's Inn bed and breakfast, a restaurant, and historical re-enactments.
It is set up like an old western town with a make-shift jail and town hall. It's a fun gathering place, especially in the summers when the activity at the Wild West Junction is in full swing.
Address: 321 E. Route 66, Williams-Valle, Arizona
Official site: https://www.wildwestjunction.com/
12. Sycamore Canyon
Another hiking and scenic opportunity in Williams is in Sycamore Canyon. The landscape is more wilderness than touristy, so trekking beyond some of the main entrances is suited for more experienced hikers. The canyon is the second largest in Arizona, extending for 21 miles.
Sycamore Canyon is a great spot for rock climbers, fishing, wildlife viewing, and hiking for those who are looking for a challenge. The reward for the journey into Sycamore Canyon is dramatic vistas, rock formations, and stunning colors. It is a premier example of Arizona's Red Rocks in an untouched setting.
Some of the most popular trails are the Parsons Trail, located in the Wilderness Area, and the Sycamore Rim Trail, which has spectacular views on the rim of the canyon. Since Sycamore Canyon is mostly wilderness, you should pack proper provisions, like food, water, sunscreen, and first aid with you.
Address: 200 W. Railroad Ave., Williams, Arizona
13. Planes of Fame Air Museum
The mission of the Planes of Fame Air Museum is to preserve aviation history and honor pioneers in aviation. The museum preserves and displays historic aircraft from the early years of aviation to the modern day.
One of the unique features of this aviation museum is that you will often see some of the historic aircraft flying in and out of the base as they head to air shows at public events. You can also learn about the detailed restoration process involved in protecting these aircraft.
The museum is closed part of the year, so call ahead for hours.
Address: 755 S. Mustang Blvd., Williams, Arizona
Official site: https://www.planesoffame.org/
14. Beale Wagon Road Historic Trail
For travelers or history buffs who love stumbling on lesser-known sites, the Beale Wagon Road Historic Trail should be on your Williams must-find list. There is no grand attraction to call you in, but instead, a visualization of what this rustic trail was once used for in connecting settlers from Arizona to California.
This was one of three wagon roads constructed starting in 1857 to provide an east-west corridor to the Mojave Road in California. This rustic dirt road was used by settlers until railroad transportation became available in the late 1800s.
The Beale Wagon Road (built by Edward Fitzgerald Beale) was the first pathway constructed in the same general corridor that historic Route 66 and Interstate 40 pass through today.
Address: Interstate 40, Parks exit to FR 141, Williams, Arizona
15. Bill Williams Monument Park
Since Williams is the gateway to the Grand Canyon, and it played such a vital role in the pathway west, it is nice to gain an understanding of the town's origins at the Bill Williams Monument Park. It is a small unassuming park but an important piece of history for the area. The park holds a bronze statue of William Sherley Williams, or "Old Bill," to commemorate the frontiersman honored by the town's name.
While your visit to the statue and the park will only require a short amount of time, you can also head to Bill Williams Mountain for some of the best views in the region. There are hiking trails and scenic drives with lookout points.
Address: Sixth Street, Williams, Arizona
Where to Stay in Williams for Sightseeing
If you want to stay in a luxury resort, you'll need to head to Sedona, which is about an hour away by car. Williams has more humble accommodation options, although there are a number of good choices in the mid-range and budget categories.
- Best Western Plus Inn of Williams is one of the best three-star hotels in Williams. The upmarket property has a mix of contemporary rooms and suites and caters to families - kids stay free. Other freebies include breakfast, parking, and Wi-Fi. There is a seasonal heated swimming pool, hot tub, firepit, and workout room on-site. Also check out the lobby area with a restaurant, lounge and marketplace.
- Step back in time with a stay at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel. It was designed to look like an early 20th-century train depot and is right next to the railway station. Located just a block from downtown, it has a mix of rooms and suites, including options for families. Amenities include an indoor swimming pool, hot tub, and workout room. There are also two restaurants on-site.
- Holiday Inn Express & Suites Williams is another mid-range option. The hotel is within walking distance of the Grand Canyon Railway station and features clean and comfortable rooms and suites with contemporary decor. A continental breakfast is included in the rate - don't skip the signature cinnamon rolls. There is also a swimming pool and workout room on-site.
- The three-star Comfort Inn Near Grand Canyon is also good value. Rooms are spacious and colorful, and come with microwaves and refrigerators. Amenities here include a free breakfast, hot tub, swimming pool, and business center. Parking is also free.
- Super 8 by Wyndham Williams East/Grand Canyon Area is one of the best budget choices. The two-star hotel has retro-style rooms with huge framed photos of Grand Canyon scenery and bright colored accent walls. Amenities include a free breakfast with hot waffles and cinnamon rolls. There is also a swimming pool and free parking on-site.
- Another top budget option is the Highlander Motel. The motel dates back to the motoring heyday of the 1950s and is located right on historic Route 66. Rooms have a retro vibe, as well as microwaves and coffee makers.
- Also on historic Route 66, El Rancho Motel is another 1950s-era property. Rooms are comfortable and clean and have modern decor. Amenities include a vending machine and BBQ facilities.
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The Grand Canyon: As you plan your Williams trip, you will want some background on the Grand Canyon to get a sense of where to stay and the tours available to make the most of your time. If your trip is focusing on the outdoors, you will also want to review some of the best hiking trails at the Grand Canyon, including the South Rim Trail and the Bright Angel Trail.
Nearby Places to See: If Williams is part of a broader Arizona adventure, plan on seeing some of the most popular and spectacular nearby towns. At the top of the list is the picturesque town of Sedona, just over an hour away. Known for its energy vortexes and as a spiritual center, this town also has spectacular hiking trails, great mountain biking trails, an interesting main street, as well as Native American ruins in the surrounding area. Other popular stops in this area of Arizona are Flagstaff and Prescott.