Williams, Arizona is famous for being the gateway to the Grand Canyon National Park and this town is also a prime time Route 66 destination. As can be imagined, Route 66 Williams is a very busy stretch of road during the summer tourist season, so big crowds can be expected from March through September before the ice cold winter air arrives. Williams is well over 6,000 feet above sea level, so the snow can get deep in these parts, so this town is practically empty during the winter season. Summer is definitely the opposite extreme and if you live to experience an exciting sociable fun time on good old Route 66 while on vacation, then Williams is the place to be!
As every nostalgia buff knows, Route 66 definitely is alive and kicking! This is especially true in towns like Williams, which have a strong secondary source of income. Grand Canyon tourism is what keeps the Route 66 arena alive in Williams, because this town is the gateway to the main entrance of this National Park. It only takes about 45 minutes to get to the Grand Canyon from this gateway town, so Williams is the best place to stock up on picnic or camping supplies. Williams is also the depot for the Grand Canyon Train, so this old Route 66 town is the place to park and ride, in order to avoid the traffic jams inside the busy National Park!
The town of Williams was named after a mountain man named William Sherley Williams, a.k.a. "Old Bill." Old Bill did plenty of trading in this area and his network of commerce with the sheepherders in this region spawned the original old west settlement that eventually became Williams. In the late 1800s, the Transcontinental Railroad was routed through this area. Many rail workers settled in this town and things started to boom. Williams was not exactly a sleepy little western town, because the local cowboys lived for the night life that Williams offered back in the old days.
The railroad brought plenty of growth, but this town really came to life when the age of automobile touring began. After Route 66 was routed through this town, Williams shined brightly on the map, because the Grand Canyon was one of the most well known tourist attractions in the early days of the Mother Road. The classic 1940s through 1960s Route 66 scene in Williams seemed like it would last forever, but the Federal Government decided to ruin all the fun. Route 66 Williams was bypassed by Interstate Highway 40 and soon the town slumped into economic hard times. Fortunately, the Grand Canyon tourism business guaranteed that Route 66 Williams would survive as a living time capsule of the past.
After the I-40 project was completed, the time capsule effect kicked in and little has changed since the Route 66 bypass era. The only new changes to Williams are a bunch of modern cookie cutter hotels have been built near the Interstate Freeway. The modern run of the mill chain hotels mostly attract mainstream tourists that have not learned to relish the thought of staying in a restored nostalgic 1950s style motor inn on the Route 66 Strip, which is certainly is a more down to earth experience.
Upon entering Williams, that good old Route 66 feeling immediately kicks in as soon as the main street section of town can be seen. Most of the buildings are originals from the 1940s and 1950s. Classic old Route 66 style bars, diners, malt shops, motels and curios shops can be seen all up and down the street. After driving hundreds of miles to get here, downtown Williams is the perfect place to stretch the legs, do some shopping and get some good old fashioned Route 66 style grub in the belly!
There are plenty of fun things to do in Williams that are family oriented. There is a Zipline that caters to kids of all ages and the Bearizona drive-thru wildlife park is on the edge of town. The most popular activity is to just wander around while shopping, because nowhere else will a visitor find more Route 66 memorabilia shops and antique stores anywhere else on the Mother Road! There are western wear stores, antique shops, art galleries and some of the best native trading posts in the west are in this town, so be prepared to do some serious window shopping while touring the Route 66 Strip!
Williams, Arizona definitely belongs on the lifetime bucket list of classic Route 66 destinations! Williams is far more than just the gateway to the Grand Canyon and it is much more than just an ordinary western style tourist trap. Williams is still a thriving old west trading post in this modern age and the classically cool Route 66 scene simply cannot be beat!
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