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Arizona Dinner Train Rides (2024): A Complete Guide

Last revised: December 8, 2023

By: Adam Burns

Historically, Arizona was home to two transcontinental main lines; one operated by the classic Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe and the other by the Southern Pacific.  To the west, both of these lines served Los Angeles and other points in California while to the east they linked New Orleans (Southern Pacific) and Chicago (Santa Fe).

The Santa Fe, in particular, heavily promoted Arizona and the entire history of the Southwest in promotional material highlighting its top trains like the Super Chief, Chief, Grand Canyon, and El Capitan.

Its material often featured locations like the Grand Canyon National Park and Monument Valley.  Regarding the latter, a 1950 menu of the Grand Canyon noted this:

"North of the Santa Fe main line in Arizona spreads this unusual valley guarded by its incredible rock sentinels. Unscalable and aloof, these colorful spires, shafts and buttes rise from sloping pedestals on the valley plains.

A few Navajo families with their flocks of sheep
are the only inhabitants of this vast valley. It is reported that these families came into the valley to escape from early Indian wars and through the years the valley has become a shrine to this little group.

Monument Valley is one of the most unusual scenic
creations in the world. It is a part of the great variety
of scenery that vacationists can enjoy in the vast southwest territory served by the Santa Fe Railway.

Monument Valley, by Charles Waldo Love, reproduced on the cover of this menu, is from the Santa Fe collection of famous paintings of the Southwest."

The Santa Fe offered some of the most exquisite on-board dining options of any railroad in the nation.  The Grand Canyon, previously mentioned, was a secondary train but nevertheless offered such dishes as:

  • Bisque of Oysters from Baltimore (Maryland)
  • Grilled Salmon Steak
  • Omelette with Fresh Mushrooms
  • Fricassee of Chicken, Princesse
  • Roast Ribs of Prime Beef au Jus
  • Charcoal Broiled Sirloin Steak

And this was only part of the menu...  The Super Chief was Santa Fe's flagship train.  Its menu options changed over the years but a 1961 sampling offered the following:

  • Poached Medallion of Striped Bass in White Wine with Fresh Shrimp Sauce
  • Charcoal Broiled Filet Mignon au Cresson
  • Roast Young Turkey with Dressing and Cranberry Sauce
  • Charcoal Broiled Sirloin Steak

Unfortunately, you will find no true dinner trains offered in Arizona.  However, both the Grand Canyon Railway and Verde Canyon Railway provide some of the most luxurious rail travel options available anywhere with first-class accommodations (with some food service options) and magnificent scenery.

20983428734723562375838949873.jpgGrand Canyon Railway 2-8-2 #4960 leads a northbound excursion to the canyon rim on May 15, 2011. Drew Jacksich photo.

Overview

Grand Canyon Railway

Does not offer dining service but does feature snacks and appetizers; there are six classes to choose from during your trip and five provide some type of food and drink.  The railroad's car accommodations includes Pullman Class, Coach Class, First Class, Observation Dome, Luxury Dome, and Luxury Parlor service.

This very upscale train offers one the best rail experiences found anywhere in the country.  You will depart from Williams and disembark at the historic El Tovar Hotel (built by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway) along the Canyon's South Rim where dining services and complete accommodations are available.

In addition, you can dine near the railroad in Williams at either the Fred Harvey Restaurant or Spenser's Pub, both upscale establishments.  Once again, the Grand Canyon Railway is one of the finest heritage railroads in the country with its own hotel and restaurant in Williams.

The railroad operates the former Santa Fe's branch to the Grand Canyon's South Rim.  The freight carrier gave up the corridor in 1974 and excursions began in 1988.  The line is a total of 65 miles in length.


Verde Canyon Railroad

The Verde Canyon offers appetizers and alcoholic drinks in their first-class accommodations and snacks within coach class.  They also provide several vacation packages for the surrounding Sedona area.  This is one of the nation's premier scenic train rides between the on-board accommodations and surrounding scenery.  Most trips last about 4 hours.  You can also dine at the Copper Spike Café right near the railroad tracks in Clarkdale.

Some of their more popular specials, which include some type of food or drink includes Ales on Rails, Chocolate Lover's Express, and events for private parities (including weddings). 

The Verde Canyon Railroad also operates a former Santa Fe branch, running 38 miles from Drake to Clarkdale.  The corridor is also an active freight line, operated by the Arizona Central Railroad.  The operation is owned by the Durbano family.  They recently published a book, "Tracking Down The Past," which highlights their history running railroads.   It is a great read for anyone interested in learning more about this tourist attraction.


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It is difficult to truly articulate just how much material can be found at this website. 

It is quite staggering and a must visit!