The Verde Canyon Railroad operates as a historic rail line passing through some of the most breathtaking Arizona scenery in the Verde Valley nourished by the Verde River. Riding the Verde Canyon Railroad is one of the most popular things to do on a visit to Sedona.
This beautiful region along the Verde Valley is home to Sedona’s best wineries and stunning ancient ruins. But a train ride along the verde Canyon Railroad offers a unique experience you won’t find anywhere else in the area.
So what is the Verde Canyon Railroad and where does it go?
This is exactly what we will cover in this guide, including:
- History of the Verde Canyon Railroad
- Where to find the Railroad
- How to get tickets
- A complete walkthrough of our experience with many photos
Let’s climb aboard the Verde Canyon Railroad!
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What Is The Verde Canyon Railroad?
The Verde Canyon Railroad is a heritage railway running between the towns of Clarkdale and Perkinsville about 25 miles southwest of Sedona, Arizona.
It originally operated as a 38 mile branch line for the Santa Fe Railway from 1912 to 1988. At the time, this was an essential track linking a copper smelter in Clarkdale to the copper mines at Jerome.
In 1988, David L. Durbano bought the branch line. His goal for the railway was a bit different to its first function because Durbano was inspired by the beauty of the Verde Canyon.
Reopened in 1990 under the new name Verde Canyon Railroad, the train now operates between Clarkdale at milepost 38 and the ghost town of Perkinsville at milepost 18.
Passengers can now sit back and take in the stunning scenery of the Verde Canyon which is sandwiched between the Coconino National Forest and Prescott National Forest.
This treasured sightseeing journey along the railroad features the beautiful wilderness of the American Southwest. Many people ride the historic Verde Canyon Railroad as part of an unforgettable Sedona itinerary.
Historic FP7 Locomotives
The Verde Valley Railroad also offers the experience of seeing vintage diesel locomotives in action. These classic locomotives are two of the only remaining ten still currently in operation in North America.
Originally built for the Alaska Railroad in 1953 by the General Motors Electromotive Division in LaGrange, Illinois, the engines were debuted in 1997 along the Verde Canyon Railroad.
The locomotives, now known as 1510 and 1512, have since been renovated with modern safety features. In 2019, these prized locomotives received a full makeover including an updated paint motif as well as advanced mechanics.
Where Is The Verde Canyon Railroad?
The Verde Canyon Railroad begins in the town of Clarkdale. This is about 20 minutes and 30 miles southwest of Sedona or two hours and 120 miles north of Phoenix.
Address: 300 N Broadway, Clarkdale, AZ 86324, United States | Google Map Location
Clarkdale was one of the most interesting towns we visited during our time in red rock country. This old mining town was founded in 1912 as a smelter town by William A. Clark.
In its prime, Clarkdale was one of the most modern mining towns in the world because it was an early example of a planned community with electric, sewage and even telegraph capabilities.
How Long Is The Verde Canyon Railroad Ride?
A train ride on the Verde Canyon Railroad involves a 4 hour 20-mile (64 km) round trip from Clarkdale to Perkinsville through over 100 years of history.
The historic route follows the meandering Verde River, crosses bridges, past towering red rock buttes and through a 734-ft man made tunnel.
Along the ride you will also see ancient cliff dwellings built by the Native American Sinagua people, historic mining sites and many other treasures only to be found in Arizona’s desert.
How Do You Get Verde Canyon Railroad Tickets?
Tickets for the Verde Canyon train can be booked directly with the Verde Canyon Railroad website here or tickets can be purchased as part of a tour.
If you are renting a car or have you own vehicle, booking directly with the Verde Canyon Railroad will be your best option.
But if you want to let someone else handle the details, check out some of the popular tours below:
Verde Canyon Railroad Adventure – Enjoy a 4-hour sightseeing journey by train aboard the Verde Canyon Railroad (900+ reviews with 4.5 ratings).
Starlight Ride on Verde Canyon Railroad – Take an evening ride on the Verde Canyon Railroad during this “starlight” experience (4.5 rating).
Grape Train Escape – Sample select wines and speciality cheeses from Arizona’s Verde Valley while you listen to winemakers discuss winemaking techniques on board the train (4.0 rating).
Ticket Types On The Railroad
There are two ticket types available on the Verde Canyon Railroad:
- Premium Passenger Cars
This is an exclusive car designed for one private party of up to six people. The caboose features luxurious oversized chairs, large windows and a private outdoor viewing platform.
A personal valet will also prepare appetizers and complimentary champagne. Additional beverages are available for purchase during the trip.
Unfortunately, the caboose is not ADA accessible due to its historic nature.
Premium Passenger Cars
Each of the 10 passenger cars feature living-room style seating and panoramic windows. A complimentary champagne toast and appetizer is served aboard.
These premium passenger cars are climate-controlled with a restroom as well as meet ADA requirements. Each passenger is assigned a seat when first boarding.
A full service cash bar, purchasable snacks and premium liquors are also available. You will have access to an open-air viewing car equipped with shaded canopies.
The outdoor attendants in the open-air viewing car will share highlights along the route and will point out important sites you shouldn’t miss during your trip.
Special Events On The Verde Valley Train
The Verde Valley Railroad prides itself on special events. These are special train rides which feature a single theme often pertaining to the time of year.
Prices for the special event train rides are more expensive compared to the normal Verde Canyon Railroad ride, but additional activities are typically included in the special event packages.
Here are some of the special events throughout the year:
- February – Chocolate Lovers Special
- April – Easter Express
- May – Uncorked at Verde Canyon Railroad
- October – Fright Night on The Phantom Train
- December – The Magical Christmas Journey
- December – Ring In The New Year
We visited Sedona in December and despite not booking a special Christmas train ride, the train was still decked out in classy decorations when we rode the Verde Canyon Railroad.
Additional featured events:
- Summer Starlight and Moonlight Rides
- Saturday Morning Train Rides
- Ales on Rails (beer festival)
- Grape Train Escape (wine-tasting)
- Locomotive Ride Along
See all special events on the Verde Canyon Railroad here.
A Walkthrough Of The Verde Canyon Train Ride
In this next section, we will show you exactly what we experienced on our Verde Valley train ride.
The Train Depot
Before boarding the Verde Valley Railroad, you will begin at the train depot. It is a southwestern-style depot featuring a Boxcar Gift Store, the John Bell Museum and the Copper Spike Cafe.
If you purchased your tickets online, you will need to pick up your tickets at the Boxcar Gift Store.
We arrived a little early so we could check out the John Bell Museum. This is a renovated boxcar filled with interesting memorabilia including history about the train, the Verde Canyon and the neighboring communities.
At the depot, there are a few storyboards with additional information about the train’s loading platform and the Arizona pioneer spirit. Don’t miss the specific boards detailing the railroad’s vintage FP7 locomotives if this interests you.
The Copper Spike Cafe features a menu of regional favorites sourced from locally grown ingredients. Food can be enjoyed on the outdoor patio or carried aboard the train. See the Copper Spike Cafe menu here.
Boarding The Train
When it is time to board, the whistle will sound. Your seat number will be written on your train ticket which corresponds to both the appropriate passenger car number and seat on that car.
Each passenger can bring one bag, purse or backpack. We had to open our backpack to show the contents when we boarded.
No alcohol or outside food is allowed. However, you can purchase food in the cafe prior to boarding. But appetizers will be served on the train and you will be able to purchase additional snacks as well.
Aboard The Train
Once aboard the train, we found our seats and got settled. We were sat at one of the luxury couches and the group that was supposed to be across from us did not show up.
At our seats, there was already an appetizer box with menus placed on the table. As the train started to move, we were also handed a complimentary champagne toast.
Throughout the train journey, you can listen to an informational narration paired with a selection of classical railroad tunes coming from the speakers in the passenger car.
A full cash bar and restrooms were available. Honestly, we found the food and drinks aboard to be quite expensive so we stuck to the appetizers we were given which held us for the entire trip.
In The Canyon
Once the train begins its journey, you are free to walk between the passenger car and the open-air-viewing car that is attached to that passenger car. You can not explore between each passenger car.
Personally, we loved the open-air viewing car and we spent most of our time on the train here. Each car has a shaded canopy and an outdoor attendant who pointed out important sites as we passed by.
We learned about the canyon’s history and saw many different types of wildlife. It might be a little cheezy but the outdoor attendant pointed out rock formations in the canyon and we all tried to guess what they looked like.
As the train runs down the tracks, you are surrounded by towering crimson cliffs and red rock pinnacles. Keep an eye out for both bald eagles and blue herons soaring into the sky.
Since 1992, the Verde Canyon Railroad has partnered with Arizona Game & Fish to help with bald eagle restoration and help to preserve eagle habitats in the Verde Valley area.
Overall, it was a fun experience as we hurled through the Verde Canyon enjoying the surrounding views and learning about how this railroad was critical to the history of this area.
History Of Perkinsville
After about 2.0 hours, the train will come to a complete stop at the abandoned Perkinsville train station. The engine will disconnect and then utilize a siding to reconnect at the opposite end of the train for the return trip.
The town of perkinsville is named for farmer A. M. Perkins who established a cattle ranch in the early 1900s. However, in 1912, the short line was opened in Perkinsville which included a depot, water tower and the stations master house.
Perkinsville was important because of a nearby limestone quarry and a kiln which was essential for producing lime. This lime was then used as a flux for the Clarkdale copper smelter.
During this time, Perkinsville supported about 10 families with a small school, general store, section house and even a post office. But not for too long unfortunately.
The quarry and kiln was no longer needed with the 1950s closure of the copper smelter. The invention of the diesel locomotive also eliminated the need for the Perkinsville water stop.
Perkinsville become a ghost town. However, it did have a small revival in the 1960s when it was used as a filming location for some of the scenes in How The West Was Won.
Is The Verde Canyon Railroad Worth it?
Yes, the Verde Canyon Railroad is worth it.
We spent an action packed eight days hiking and driving the best 4WD off road trails in Sedona. So we booked tickets on the Verde Canyon Railroad on our last day in the area as a relaxing last hurrah.
Riding the train was a completely different and relaxing experience compared to the running around we had just done in Sedona. This is what made the Verde Canyon Railroad worth it for us.
However, tickets for the train are expensive and the train turns around in Perkinsville so you will technically see the same route twice. But this doubled route is great for photography in case you miss something the first time.
If you are looking for something to do in Sedona that is low key and great for the kids, this is definitely it.
Pros And Cons To Riding The Verde Canyon Railroad
- Staff aboard the train were helpful and knowledgeable
- The open air cars allowed you to have great view of the Verde Canyon
- Ability to see historic sites along the old train route
- Offers a unique experience near Sedona
- Journey seemed to drag on towards the end
- Food and drinks aboard the train were expensive
- Limited to passenger and open air car for entire trip
5 Tips For Your Visit
- Tickets tend to sell out so book early if possible
- Sit in the open-air-viewing cars for the best views
- Arrive about an hour early to check out the train depot
- The right side of train (if you are looking out to the open-air car) has the best views
- Don’t forget your camera for the beautiful scenery
Our top tip for the Verde Canyon Railroad:
Take advantage of the information from the outdoor attendants found in the open-air-viewing cars. They have a wealth of knowledge and are very friendly.
We learned so much about the Verde Canyon from our attendant and he was open to any questions we had about the area.
Verde Canyon Railroad FAQ’s
Let’s take a look at some of the most asked questions regarding the Verde Canyon Railroad.
There is no train that goes through Sedona, but the Verde Canyon Railroad is located about 20 minutes southwest of Sedona.
The Verde Canyon Railroad is over 100 years old. It originally ran for the Santa Fe Railway from 1912 to 1988 and has been running as a historic railway line since 1990.
The Clarkdale train goes to the ghost town of Perkinsville. The engine disconnects in Perkinsville and attaches to the other side of the train which then goes back to Clarksdale.
The Verde Canyon Railroad is just a short 30 minute drive from the town of Sedona or a two hours drive north of Phoenix.
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We hope this guide to Verde Canyon Railroad helps with planning your visit!
Please let us know if you have any questions about the Verde Canyon Railroad or your visit to Sedona in the comments below.
Mark and Kristen
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