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Why is Williams, AZ famous?

Last Update on February 18, 2024
by Sunny Samaroo
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Williams is a charming town nestled in the heart of the Arizona highlands. The town boasts a rich history, stunning natural beauty, and unique claims to fame that draw visitors from all corners of the globe. 

Often referred to as the "Gateway to the Grand Canyon," Williams, AZ is famous for its proximity to one of the world's most awe-inspiring natural wonders. However, don't let that fact overshadow the town's vibrant history and role in American culture. 

This small town, with its historic buildings and scenic landscapes, offers a glimpse into the past while providing access to unforgettable adventures in the present. We stop here all the time on our Grand Canyon and Antelope Canyon Tour, so let's get into all the reasons why Williams, AZ is famous.

A Storied Past on Route 66

One of the key reasons Williams is famous is its significant place along Historic Route 66. Known as the "Main Street of America," Route 66 played a vital role in American history, symbolizing freedom and the pursuit of a better life. 

Williams is the last town to be bypassed by Interstate 40, preserving its stretch of Route 66 until 1984, which makes it one of the best-preserved examples of this iconic highway

Today, visitors to Williams can stroll along Route 66, taking in the vintage neon signs, classic diners, and retro gas stations that hark back to the golden age of American road trips.

Williams, AZ is one of the most iconic stops on Historic Route 66.

Gateway to the Grand Canyon

Williams has a population of just about 3,000, but hundreds of thousands of people visit and pass through the town each year. Why is that?

Williams' proximity to the Grand Canyon National Park is perhaps its most famous attribute. Just an hour's drive from the Grand Canyon National Park at the South Rim, Williams offers a convenient and scenic base for exploring the canyon.

Take a Train Straight to the Canyon

The town is also home to the Grand Canyon Railway. A historic train that transports visitors from Williams to the South Rim in a journey that combines spectacular views with the charm of vintage rail travel. 

This unique experience allows travelers to step back in time and enjoy the grandeur of the Grand Canyon in a way that mirrors the journeys of early 20th-century tourists. 

The train ride measures 65 miles (105 km) and takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes. Conveniently, when you arrive, you can just hop straight onto the Grand Canyon National Park's free shuttle.

Stay in Williams When Visiting the Grand Canyon

Williams is a great place to call your home away from home on a trip to the Grand Canyon. The drive from Williams to the Grand Canyon is about an hour. 

Staying inside the Grand Canyon National Park is very expensive, so many people opt to stay in towns outside of the park. 

Towns like Williams have a wide range of accommodations, including budget-friendly options. Staying outside of the park is also ideal if you intend to visit other nearby attractions, too — not just the Grand Canyon.

Related Reading: What's the Cheapest Way to Visit Grand Canyon? 

The Grand Canyon is just a short drive (or train ride) away from Williams, AZ.

Where the Name "Williams" Comes From

The city of Williams got its name from the 19th-century mountain man William "Old Bill" Williams (yep, his name is William Williams). "Old Bill" was very active as a trapper in the area. The mountain south of the town is also named after him: Bill Williams Mountain.

Bill Williams was a notable figure because of how knowledgeable he was about Native American communities and their languages. He helped as an interpreter, facilitating negotiations between various tribes and the government

Among Native Americans, he was called names such as "Lone Elk" and "Red-Headed Shooter." He lived in the Osage Nation in the 1810s and 1820s and married an Osage woman.

Though his reputation has not been all positive (he was known to have been a bitter man, especially in his old age), his legacy has been commemorated with a statue in the Bill Williams Monument Park in Williams.

Outdoor Adventures and Natural Beauty

Beyond its historical significance and gateway status, Williams is surrounded by natural beauty and offers a plethora of outdoor activities. 

  • The Kaibab National Forest encircles the town, providing endless opportunities for hiking, camping, and wildlife watching. One of the best places within the forest area to hike is Bill Williams Mountain.
  • In the winter, the area transforms into a snowy wonderland, with skiing and snowboarding at the nearby Elk Ridge Ski Area.
  • For fishing enthusiasts, there are plenty of fishing lakes. Cataract Lake County Park is a peaceful spot to cast a line amidst beautiful surroundings.
  • Bearizona Wildlife Park is a drive-thru safari park that lets you see North American wildlife such as wolves, bears, and bison in their natural habitats.
Car Driving to Grand Canyon
The landscape and wildlife around the Grand Canyon and Williams are incredibly varied.

A Hub for Exploring the Southwest

For those looking to explore the broader wonders of the American Southwest, Williams serves as an ideal starting point. 

MaxTour's Bryce, Zion, Antelope Canyon, Grand Canyon, and Monument Valley 3-Day Tour, for instance, offers an immersive experience into the region's most iconic landscapes, with Williams acting as a gateway to these natural treasures. 

This tour allows visitors to delve into the heart of the Southwest's beauty, with a stop to appreciate the historic town that epitomizes the spirit of the West.


Williams, AZ, is famous for a multitude of reasons. It has a rich historic heritage connected to Route 66 and one of the most significant mountain men of the Southwest.

Related Reading: Is Route 66 in Arizona Worth Visiting?

The town also plays a crucial role as the "Gateway to the Grand Canyon," in addition to having stunning natural surroundings and outdoor recreational opportunities. 

This quaint but bustling town captures the essence of the American Southwest, offering visitors a blend of history, adventure, and natural beauty. 

Whether you're embarking on a journey to the Grand Canyon, exploring the scenic wonders of the Southwest, or simply soaking in the nostalgic atmosphere of Route 66, Williams provides a memorable backdrop to an unforgettable adventure. And with tours like those offered by MaxTour, experiencing the best of Williams and beyond has never been easier or more rewarding.


Sunny Samaroo

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