Ride Into Holiday Magic On The Polar Express, Williams, AZ

by | Dec 2, 2021 | Destinations, Family Adventures, South West, USA

(This article may or may not contain affiliate links. What does that mean?)


Spending time with my kids during the holiday season is one of my favorite winter-time activities. As my kids grow, this tradition is more important than ever. This year – tales of magic, fresh baked cookies, a steamy cup of cocoa, and a beautiful golden ticket to the North Pole is on our holiday agenda. We’re heading to Northern Arizona to take a train ride on the Polar Express to visit Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, and all of their friends. 



PIN FOR skip into holiday magic and take a ride on the polar express


Visiting Williams, Arizona

Sitting at just over 6,500 feet, Williams, in Northern Arizona, is chilly in winter with temperatures ranging between 17 and 43 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’ve never visited this region of Arizona and are planning to go in the near future, you’re in for a magical experience. 


beautiful lake in williams, az: ride the polar express

© London Howard | Dreamstime.com


The Polar Express Train Ride, based on the Chris Van Allsburg classic children’s book and the Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. movie, recreates the magic of the classic story in Williams, Arizona – a small town of just over 3,000 residents that’s about sixty miles from the red rocks of Sedona and a thirty-four-mile drive from the college town of Flagstaff.


Red rocks of Sedona: skip into holiday magic and take a ride on the polar express

Red, Red, Roooooocks in Sedona ….. ~Photo IG – @kyle.kempt


There are many things to do for families in Arizona’s pine country. Williams, Arizona has historical buildings, family-friendly eateries, hiking trails, and nature spots. It is known as the “gateway” to the Grand Canyon, as it’s about 60 miles from the Southern Rim. We plan on taking advantage of all the wonderful things that this region of Arizona has to offer during this time of year. From hiking to exploring, we’re all in.


beautiful lake in williams, az: ride the polar express

Almost untouched ~Photo London Howard | Dreamstime.com


The Polar Express lives at the Grand Canyon Railway Station. The Grand Canyon Railway is a part of the refurbished Grand Canyon Railway Hotel that sits on Route 66. People from all over the world come to visit the Grand Canyon by train from Williams, Arizona. Throughout every season of the year, the Grand Canyon Railway has been delivering train rides from Williams, Arizona up through desert and pine terrain into the peaceful scenery of the Grand Canyon South Rim. During the holidays, this train also offers train rides to the North Pole on the Polar Express, giving families a festive journey.


Christmas Presents from Santa Claus - Take a Ride on the Polar Express Williams, AZ

Awww, you shouldn’t have! ~Photo Ty Tomlinson on Unsplash


DON’T MISS! Best Things To Do With Kids In Santa Cruz


What is the Polar Express, really?

Every holiday season, the Grand Canyon Railway transforms its railway to give travelers, as well as locals, a spectacular winter experience. Families, couples, and children are invited by the Grand Canyon Railway to come and enjoy a magical one-hour trip, with sounds of the motion picture soundtrack accompanying them, up to the North Pole to meet Santa Claus and his reindeer. Throughout this Polar Express ride, Santa’s helpers serve hot cocoa and delicious cookies, read an enchanting story that is sure to fill the hearts of all those journeying with wonder, and sing Christmas Carols. All this will leave wonderful memories to last a lifetime. Once everyone arrives at the North Pole, just like in the Polar Express book, Santa will give a special gift to each child, a silver sleigh bell. Then everyone gets back onto the train for the return trip back home with their keepsake sleigh bell. (And if having their own sleigh bell isn’t enough, there is a bright gift shop at the end of the magical journey kids can visit.)



A Silver Sleigh Bell - Ride the Polar Express in Williams, AZ

Sleigh Bells Ring….Are You Listening??? ~Photo Elizabeth Villalta Unsplash


There are limited spots on the Polar Express train cars, and this event is only available during the months of November and December. Tickets can be purchased online for this event. Additionally, there are Polar Express packages that families can add to their excursion during their time in Williams. Those that jump aboard this magical trip can also book a stay at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel after their visit to the North Pole, making it a well-rounded and easy family trip. This train ride also runs on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Departure times and ticket prices can be seen on the Grand Canyon Railway’s main website


Pro Tip: Book your tickets early for this magical experience. Tickets sell out for this holiday excursion that only lasts two short months.


Santa Claus in the North Pole

Well, hello there! ~Photo Tim Mossholder on Unsplash.


When You Go



Getting to Williams, AZ From Los Angeles

It is about 430 miles from Los Angeles, CA to Williams, AZ depending on where you come from and, of course (traffic), the time you leave. Plan on about 7 hours if you’re going to drive the I-10E to the I-40E – longer if you want to stop for gas, snacks, or to pee.

If you take a bus, it’ll be about a 10-hour journey.

You can take an overnight train from Union Station right to Williams, AZ. It’ll take about 14 hours. Perfect for getting settled and then sleep through the ride.

Delta, United, and American fly non-stop to Phoenix and it takes under 2 hours.

An excellent discount site for flights (and cars, hotels) is Expedia!


Where to Stay In Williams, AZ 

Williams, Arizona, is a beautiful place to visit, and it is filled with some wonderful lodging options. Here are a few spots to consider: 


The Grand Canyon Railway Hotel

This Grand Canyon Railway Hotel is a part of the Grand Canyon Railway, which makes it the perfect hotel for the Polar Express experience. This option is just a block away from downtown and is right next to the train station. Known by visitors and locals to be one of the best places in this town, this spot is one that you shouldn’t pass up. 


DON’T MISS: Cutting the Line – A How To Guide For Your Favorite Amusement Park


Holiday Inn Express, Williams, AZ

The Holiday Inn Express is centrally located and very close to the Polar Express. It’s reasonably priced for families looking for an alternative hotel to the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel. It has an indoor pool and free WiFi. The Holiday Inn Express at Williams, Arizona is surrounded by nature, kid-friendly, and just a few minutes from the main town.


Days Inn by Wyndham

If you’re looking for a budget-friendly place to stay, the Days Inn by Wyndham is the way to go. Located just off Interstate 40 and only two miles away from the Grand Canyon Railway, this four-star hotel is the perfect option for anyone that’s looking for something near the train station and centrally located to many nature spots, the downtown region, and the train station.


Is the Polar Express Worth It? 

As a family, we have enjoyed this holiday favorite more than once. It’s as if you are giving yourself the first gift of Christmas just by experiencing the fun. The stresses of life fall away, and your presence in life is what you get when you hear that silver sleigh bell ring.



PIN FOR skip into holiday magic and take a ride on the polar express