We had so many other tips that were spot on including dinner at Elote Café, hiking the Devil’s Bridge, the Pink Jeep tour, and all the fantastic vortex hikes.
I only knew about the Verde Canyon Railroad experience when I popped into the visitor center to get a Sedona map.
I overhead a staff member telling a couple about the train trip and mentioning that it was not only one of the top Sedona attractions and things to do in Arizona, but one of the top four attractions in the USA!
That’s massive kudos. I knew then it was something for us to experience.
Our girls insisted that we do it in style – first class!
We were hosted by the railroad, but for you I would also recommend First Class. The good news is it’s only $20 extra than a regular ticket and I think well worth the price.
In the First Class carriage you get appetizers, champagne toast upon arrival, access to a cash bar, and comfy seats large enough to lie down on – not just for the children; I spied a few adults resting after a couple of glasses of wine!
That’s the style and pace of the Verde Canyon Railroad.
After a week of challenging hikes in Sedona and thrilling off-road adventures, we LOVED the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the canyon without having to walk, climb, drive, or hold on tight.
We could even enjoy a glass of wine and a toasty winter blaster liquor coffee while doing it.
And I could actually wear jeans, a pretty top, and my favorite cowgirl boots! Sometimes it’s nice to dress up after days in the wilderness.
It also made for great timing to go to the Elote Café for dinner after the train ride. Since we were dressed a little more fancy and not all sweaty for a change it made sense.
Besides, who wants to cook after a little bit of luxury?
What is the Verde Canyon Railroad?
The Verde Canyon Railroad is a 40-mile return journey through 100 years of history, culture and dramatic scenery.
It follows the Verde River and the riparian ecosystem it carves along the way with cottonwoods and high sandstone cliffs flanking its sides.
This is a region that is only accessible by train – unless you want to strap on the boots and do a bit of hiking, but we’re talking about taking a break from that.
The Rail Road was completed in 1912 to service the mining town of Jerome. The mining era ended in 1962, but the railroad endured and in 1990 the first passenger excursion of the Verde Canyon Railroad began.
Now passengers can travel through the same isolated and rugged landscape that those early pioneers saw as they were struggling to blast and lay the tracks.
For the train buffs, the train is powered by Vintage FP7 locomotives, only two of 10 remaining in service in North America
What is the Railroad Experience Like?
It’s very easy for me to slip into the gentle swaying of train travel.
I caught the train every day to school, to University, and to my big girl job. I love how rail travel offers a space to contemplate, relax, switch off and connect.
This train is no different. The moment you step aboard the train you’re greeted by friendly staff holding a tray of champagne ready for a toast.
Hello Verde Canyon!
Our carriage had loads of energy.
I’m not sure if it was the $16 bottle of wines everyone seemed to have on their tables, or just the natural spirit of the experience bringing out the joy.
We were probably the youngest on the train, but everyone was friendly and curious and kind to the girls. Like all good train journeys we struck up many conversations with strangers who felt like friends.
Most of this happened on the return journey – which is what I liked so much about this experience.
On the first leg of the Verde Valley journey, we spent most of the 90 minutes out in the open air viewing cars.
Every carriage no matter the class gets access to an open air carriage. As the windows within the carriages aren’t super large, this is how you’ll get your best views.
I was worried that since we had already experienced so many striking Sedona colors, vistas and Red Rock landscapes that it may be a little blasé, but no. I don’t think you ever could with the scenery out here.
In the open air carriages our guide, Shu, shared many stories about the history and culture of the region.
He pointed out caves where they once saw mountain lions, alerting us to rock face names like Turtle and Elephant Rock, Abraham Lincoln and Nixon, and the ancient cliff dwellings from the local Sinagua tribe. who built their stone structures in caved perched precariously above.
The guides are very good at alerting you to when good photo opportunities are arriving. Counting you down to cameras at the ready for curves, bridge crossings and tunnel approaches.
I loved following the Verde River and getting a glimpse at the land it carved. I can only imagine how pretty it must be in the spring and fall when those beautiful deciduous trees are in full bloom shading the river.
Keep an eye out for the different plants: cottonwoods, walnuts, askes, alders and oaks, and various cactus and indigenous plants like banana yuccas.
You may even spot some wildlife, at least birds if you don’t see any of the bigger animals. We saw deer out the window on the way back.
It was hard to pull the girls out of the carriage to step outside and soak up the views. They were engrossed in their activity book with crossword puzzles, quizzes, find a words, and word classifying all about the flora and fauna of the region, the history and the culture.
I was most impressed with everything they learned as a result of this clever way to engage the kids. They were most excited to learn that Verde meant green.
When they did come outside they were wowed and were on the lookout for animals that perhaps were sneaking down to the river banks for a drink.
We did see mule deer on the return journey back through the cabin window.
Oh, it was pretty hard to drag them away from the $1 ice cream we bought for them on the way back.
The train stops for 25 minutes in the old ghost town of Perkinsville. It once housed a community of about 20 families, but everyone left.
It was nice to stand out in the warm sun and watch the engine detach from the front of the train and roll along beside us to go to the back ready to return to Clarkdale AZ.
If you are a Western fan, you may recognize the Railroad station in Perkinsville. Parts of the movie How the West Was Won was filmed here.
The return leg was where we relaxed a little more. Chatting with our friends in the carriage and drinking our delicious liquor coffee.
We continued to pop out to the open air carriage, especially going through the tunnel. I never get tired of the sudden blackness a tunnel journey can give to a train experience.
I recommend you keep popping out because even though you have seen the scenery before, it changes with the direction you travel in and the changing light.
The afternoon rays illuminate the canyon in different ways and gives it a softer light.
There wasn’t an absence of a smiling face as we exited from the train saying goodbye to one another and thanking the excellent staff. The Verde Canyon Railroad will be on of the highlights of our USA Road Trip I am sure.
This is a journey that will give you a glimpse of what life in the South-West was like prior to the arrival of humans, who have now taken over most of the expansive Wild West.
It’s a magnificent wilderness route in the isolated high desert.
Planning Your Rail Journey
There is an Online Reservation system for the Verde Canyon Railway.
Alternatively, our partners at Get Your Guide offer a ticket plus a day tour taking in two Native American monuments of Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot.
Our train departed at 1:00pm AZ time in Clarkdale. Departure times can change throughout the months.
It is recommended that you arrive an hour early to give yourself time to check in and board the train. There is a train depot with food, drinks, a small museum, and plenty of information boards for you to peruse while you wait to depart.
Where to Stay in Sedona
We’ve stayed at the Hilton Resort at Bell Rock.
Situated in the Village of Oak Creek, the Hilton Sedona Resort is a nice place to come back to after your daily activities, and it’s just a 15-minute drive into Uptown along the gorgeous Red Rock Scenic Byway 179!
You can get stunning red rock views from your balcony all the way to Bell Rock, and resort amenities include three sparkling pools, an expansive athletic club and spa, and championship golf course.
Our kids loved the games of cornhole, table tennis, and jenga – allowing parents to actually sit and relax during a meal whilst they were entertained.
There’s also fire pits to sit around, and you can dine out on the resort porch area with distant views.
If you want to stay in the heart of Uptown without spending a fortune, consider the Best Western Plus Arroyo Roble Hotel & Creekside Villas.
My parents and sister have stayed here in one of the Creekside Villas and loved the space and location.
Book early because of this hotels proximity to Uptown.
If you’re looking for luxury, consider the L’Auberge de Sedona situated on the banks of Oak Creek in the heart of Uptown. This is an unmatched luxury resort and nature spa with award-winning dining.
Another popular choice is Orchards Inn, which offers panoramic red rock views and is centrally located among Uptowns finest shops, galleries and restaurants.
There are plenty of other great places to stay in Sedona depending upon whether you are looking for Uptown Sedona hotels, Sedona family resorts, or other hotels near Sedona AZ.
For a complete list of options for all the best hotels in Sedona, visit our partner Booking.com.
For a charming and unique local stay, don’t forget Airbnb! From glamping to zen retreats and private cottages with exquisite views, Airbnb has you covered! Click here to see what is available for your trip to Sedona.
More Sedona Tours
Below are other recommended tours and Sedona attractions from our partners at Get Your Guide:
- Pink Jeep Tour
- Horseback Ride, Jeep Tour and Dinner Show
- Helicopter and Jeep Combination Tour
- Vortex Tour
- Ancient Ruins Tour
- Winery and Jeep Tour
- Grand Canyon Classic Tour