8 Scenic Train Rides in Arizona That Will Take You to the Grand Canyon, Through a Former Movie Studio, and More

Take a journey through the desert on trains both large and small — and we mean really small.

If you imagine the Old West, you likely picture cowboys, railway towns, and, well, the railroad itself. And all of that still exists in Arizona today. While train travel is not the main form of long-distance transportation these days, there are both long and short scenic rides across the state that offer views of impressive landscapes, from the high desert to the red canyons.

Aerial view of Grand Canyon Railway, in Arizona

Courtesy of Xanterra Travel Collection

Whether you want to take a steam locomotive to the Grand Canyon or a miniature train ride through a former movie studio, here are eight of the best train rides in Arizona.

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Grand Canyon Railway

Grand Canyon Railway on bridge in Arizona

Courtesy of Xanterra Travel Collection

What's the most fun way to get to Arizona’s most celebrated natural wonder? Via historic train, of course. Departing daily from Williams, Arizona, this train has six classes, so you can ride in style (in an adults-only domed observation car with a private bar) or on a budget (in a 1923 Harriman-style Pullman car with bench-style seats). Those seeking the ultimate luxury train experience can even charter their own private car. No matter how much you’re willing to spend, you’ll be treated to gorgeous views of ponderosa pine forests and prairies on the three-hour trip — with the final stop at the spectacular Grand Canyon itself. Special rides include an annual Polar Express experience and journeys powered by steam locomotives.

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Verde Canyon Railroad

Aerial view of Verde Canyon Railroad in Arizona

Courtesy of Verde Canyon Railroad

On this railroad, two vintage FP7 locomotives haul passengers through 20 miles of natural beauty near Sedona that are only accessible by this train. Over four hours, you can take in high-desert vistas — including a red rock canyon — via panoramic windows in air-conditioned cars or from one of the signature open-air viewing spots. But one of the train's highlights isn't actually the views, but rather the lack of one. Passengers are plunged into darkness in the railroad's famous 734-foot tunnel. Special itineraries include moonlight and starlight rides, as well journeys focused on wine and beer tastings, wildlife spotting, and, of course, holiday-themed fun.

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Amtrak Southwest Chief

Aerial view of Amtrak Southwest Chief in Arizona

Courtesy of Amtrak

Take a ride across the great American West as you travel between Chicago and Los Angeles on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, which makes three stops in Arizona. Winding through some tight canyon passageways, you’ll be treated to one of the most comprehensive and scenic train rides in the country. If you'd like to make a little off-train detour to the Grand Canyon, you can hop off in Flagstaff, take a Thruway bus to Williams, and then hitch a ride on the Grand Canyon Railway.

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Amtrak Sunset Limited

Exterior of Amtrak Sunset Limited in Arizona

Courtesy of Amtrak

Traveling between Louisiana and California, Amtrak’s Sunset Limited takes you across the southern half of Arizona, making stops in four Arizonan cities: Yuma, Maricopa, Tucson, and Benson. As the name implies, the desert sunsets along this route are pretty epic, especially when traveling through the flat desert with mountains along the horizon.

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Superstition Scenic Narrow Gauge Railroad

People on open train car aboard the Superstition Narrow Gauge Railroad in Arizona

Gregory Clifford/Getty Images

This 20-minute “haunted” train ride on a narrow-gauge track circles the ghost town of Goldfield, a former gold mining settlement that was hit first with a flood, then by a fire before the residents abandoned ship. Perhaps you'll spot an apparition of a miner during your ride, but you’ll more likely just get a fascinating glimpse into American history and the Old West. Along your brief but memorable journey, you’ll see recreations of the mine, saloon, and bordello, with the aptly named Superstition Mountains looming in the background.

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Maricopa Live Steamers Railroad Club

Maricopa Live Steamers Railroad Club in Arizona

Courtesy of Maricopa Live Steamers Railroad Club

Have you ever ridden a miniature train before? Well, here's your chance. The dedicated Maricopa Live Steamers Railroad Heritage Preservation Society operates 18 miles of 7.5-inch gauge track for club members, but it does offer free public rides on Sundays. (A modest donation is recommended to help keep the trains running.) Although the trains might be small, you’ll be treated to some mighty views of desert landscapes in the greater Phoenix area.

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Daisy Mountain Railroad

Waterfall in Park at Daisy Mountain Railroad in Athem, Arizona

Norm Lane/Getty Images

While the suburbs aren't usually the most scenic places in the country, the planners who designed the community park in Anthem, Arizona, did a pretty good job zhuzhing up the place. The park is home to the Daisy Mountain Railroad, a 24-inch gauge train that passes by multiple waterfalls, through a tunnel, and alongside a small lake. The railroad is also a particularly great option for kids.

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Old Tucson Studios

Train at Old Tucson Studios in Arizona

Jo?l DUCANGE/Getty Images

Take a trip through cinema history via a miniature railroad at Old Tucson Studios, the filming location of silver screen classics such as "Rio Bravo," "The Outlaw Josey Wales," "Tombstone," and "Little House on the Prairie." Today, the studios are a small theme park through which the train runs. On your ride, you'll see Hollywood’s version of a historic mission, railroad station, grand hotel, and livery stable as you wonder if John Wayne himself might’ve once ordered a drink just a few feet away from you.

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