Arizona, the Grand Canyon state, is the sixth largest state of the United States of America. Not surprisingly, this state has many beautiful national parks and natural wonders. To see all the wonders this state has to offer you could easily spend an entire month here. However, I did it in less than ten days by train, greyhound and car. Sounds overwhelming? It was. But it is so worth it. Here’s my Arizona itinerary and guide to travelling Arizona by train.
Amtrak: Travelling The US By Train
Let’s start at the beginning. Amtrak is the United States’ railroad service that serves over 500 destinations in 46 states. I have traveled through the whole of the US with Amtrak and I completely fell in love with this way of traveling. The landscape you see while sitting back in the comfortable chairs is amazing and since you don’t have to worry about the road you really can take it all in. Also, the passenger seats are so comfortable you can take a good nap (in case you’re on the train for hours). Every Amtrak train has an observation car, these cars have floor to ceiling windows, so you can sit back and enjoy the view from any angle. The Amtrak rail network covers many cities and states in the US and I highly suggest doing at least one of the beautiful routes Amtrak has to offer.
Now that I have covered the amazing things about Amtrak, there are definitely a few not so amazing details about Amtrak you have to take into consideration before planning your trip. To start with, Amtrak is not the cheapest way to travel. They offer special deals sometimes and they have a Guest Rewards system allowing you to earn points, however, I traveled across the entire country with Amtrak and did not get any of the benefits of the Guest Reward system as you need a ridiculous amount of points to get discounts.
The other challenging thing about Amtrak is the routes. There are loads of trains traveling through the US, but many cities do not have an Amtrak station. Therefore, you sometimes have to rent a car or go by Greyhound to get more inland. Texas, Nevada, and Arizona are three states in particular with limited stops. As I cover my travel through Arizona, you will notice that a lot of the traveling is done by car or Greyhound.
Amtrak has few stops in Arizona so not all national parks are accessible if you just travel by train. If you want to see the most iconic parks you will have to divert to taking Greyhound buses or renting a car.
One of the bigger train stations in Arizona where Amtrak does stop is Tucson. From here, I suggest you travel to Flagstaff, a good base from which you can visit many different national parks.
Tucson is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen, and it is definitely one of my favorite places in the United States. The beautiful red-orange houses with cacti everywhere give it a very warm feel. I was in Tucson mid-January so I can’t speak much about the famous heat the city endures during summer, but I had great weather so it was a nice period to travel. Tucson has plenty of things to do: Saguaro National park, the Arizona-Sonora desert museum, or the old Tucson studios (where Clint Eastwood filmed a few western movies). I stayed in a hostel close to the old town of Tucson, but there is plenty of variety when it comes to booking accommodation.
So this is where your train trip starts…
Perfect Arizona Itinerary
Stop 1: Tucson
From Tucson, you take the Amtrak to Flagstaff – the first main stop on my Arizona itinerary. There are two trains you can take: the Sunset Limited that leaves on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday at 8.30 pm, this takes ten hours so you will arrive in Flagstaff the next day at 5.30 am. You can take a nice and early breakfast and head directly out to the Grand Canyon if you feel rested enough.
Or you can take the Southwest Chief that leaves daily at 6 pm but has a transfer in Los Angeles. As with the option above this train will also get you in Flagstaff in the early hours of the morning.
Stop 2: The Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is by far the most famous National Park the United States has and a must stop on any Arizona itinerary. The Canyon is considered one of the seven wonders of the world and it attracts several millions of tourists each year. It is 277 miles wide and around 6000 feet deep. Aside from casual sightseeing from the South Rim, rafting, hiking, running and helicopter tours are also popular. Visiting the Grand Canyon is a must when you travel through Arizona.
The closest train station to the Grand Canyon is Flagstaff, although this little town is still an hour and a half away from the natural wonder. Fortunately, Flagstaff has gained some fame for being the town closest to the Canyon, so there are many tour operators that offer you different tours to the Grand Canyon.
In Flagstaff you have the famous hotel Monte Vista. It is rumored that scenes from the movie Casablanca were filmed at this hotel.
Stop 3: Antelope Canyon
Antelope Canyon is the most photographed spot in Arizona, and I fully understand why. It’s a beautiful canyon and if you get there during the right time of day you will be able to take amazing pictures with the sunlight entering the Canyon. It is suggested that you visit the canyon between April and September and between 10 and 12 in the morning, but I was there in February and still managed to take gorgeous pictures.
Antelope Canyon consists of two parts: the Lower and the Upper Canyon. To get to Antelope Canyon you can takea tour from Flagstaff, or you can drive to Page, a small town four miles from the canyon and book your tour there. Do take into account that both canyons are located on Navajo land and the only way to see them is by taking a guided tour.
Over the years, the Lower Antelope Canyon has become a favorite gathering place for photographers, tourists, and visitors from around the world. The tour through the Lower Canyon takes about an hour; it’s a small canyon and very popular, so be prepared for crowds and waiting times to take pictures.
The Upper Antelope Canyon is located a few miles away on the opposite side of the road. This canyon is more accessible because it doesn’t have the stairs that the Lower Canyon does. However, this Canyon is narrower and therefore more crowded, so taking a perfect picture will be more difficult. Would I suggest one over the other? Probably I would suggest the Upper Canyon as it is the best Canyon to capture great photos. I don’t think visting both canyons would be necessary as it is crowded and in a way they are kind of the same.
Stop 4: Horseshoe Bend
Just a sixteen-minute drive from Antelope Canyon you can find Horseshoe Bend. It overlooks one of the most spectacular views on the Colorado River, four miles south of the Glen Canyon Dam, and seven miles north of the Grand Canyon. You can perfectly combine a visit to Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend in one day. Horseshoe Bend is a great place to enjoy a good hike and enjoy some space after being in the narrow Lower and Upper Antelope Canyons.
Stop 5: Lake Powell
Lake Powell is a ten-minute drive from Horseshoe Bend and while you are in the region I would definitely suggest a visit. You can go to the Lake with a three hour guided tour or do a boat experience to get a good idea of the sheer size of the lake. As Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend won’t take too much of your time, you could even do all three parks in one day.
I would advise ending with Lake Powell, as it takes more time than the others you don’t have to rush or feel pressured because you want to still see the other parks. Lake Powell also offers amazing camping sites if you prefer to spend the night surrounded by nature. I, however, decided to drive from Lake Powell to Las Vegas to end my day in nature with some of the vibrant colors and high energy the city has to offer.
Stop 6: Sedona
To get to Sedona national park, you have to take the Greyhound bus from Flagstaff to Phoenix. The bus runs about five times a day and the trip takes around two and a half hours. I would suggest spending the day in Phoenix and enjoy what the city has to offer.
Now, to get to Sedona you will have to rent a car. Of course you can book many different tours, but renting a car can be cheaper and it gives you way more freedom to decide where you want to go and how long you want to stay. The trip from Phoenix to Sedona is about two hours, and if you leave early you can easily see Sedona in a day. It is up to you if you want to stay in Sedona for the night or travel back to Phoenix and spend the night there.
Train To Arizona And Beyond
My trip through Arizona consisted of traveling by train, Greyhound, and car. When it comes to renting a car I discovered that renting through European websites is a lot cheaper. I rented a car through a Dutch car rental agency and it was at least 40% cheaper than anything American companies had to offer.
Arizona is a state (along with Texas) that is easier to discover by car rather than by train, but the train trip through the state is definitely worthwhile. Keep in mind that Amtrak is not the cheapest way of traveling and it definitely saves money when you book well in advance. However, the downside of booking in advance can be that you don’t have a lot of flexibility when it comes to changing your schedule. The mistake I made a few times during my trip was that I decided to change my itinerary and had to cancel my ticket and then buy a new one that was far more expensive.
So after my national park adventure through Arizona, I drove four and a half hours from Horseshoe Bend to Las Vegas. Las Vegas is a city that you either love or hate, and I love it. I’m not a big gambler but I love the atmosphere the city has to offer. The luxury hotels available for fairly cheap prices are also something I enjoy, especially after being on the road for a few days straight and running around like a monkey in a banana factory.
The other benefit Las Vegas has to offer is that from here it is easy to continue your journey any which way you want to.The airport is huge, the Greyhounds go from Las Vegas to many other places and there is also an Amtrak station. And if you enjoyed Amtrak and you feel like taking a real big train adventure, you can take the Amtrak from Las Vegas straight to New York. It will take you about 74 hours on average, but I can guarantee you a great view of the United States.