The Verde Canyon Railroad is a historic rail line passing through some of Arizona’s most breathtaking scenery. It’s no surprise riding a train through the Verde Valley is one of the most popular things to do on a visit to Sedona.
This beautiful region in the Verde Valley is home to Sedona’s best wineries and a train ride along the Verde Canyon Railroad offers a unique experience you won’t find anywhere else in the area.
Our Verde Canyon Railroad Experience
We spent eight days exploring Sedona and the surrounding area in December 2021. During this trip, we booked passenger car tickets on the Verde Canyon Railroad.
This guide will show you what we experienced during a 4 hour train ride including our own personal Verde Canyon Railroad photos.
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 and reopened it a few years later as the Verde Canyon Railroad in 1990.
A standard 4 hour train ride takes passengers on a 20-mile (32 km) trip between Clarkdale at milepost 38 and the ghost town of Perkinsville at milepost 18.
Once in Perkinsville, the engine disconnects and attaches to the other side of the train which then makes the return trip back to Clarkdale.
This treasured verde canyon train ride features the beautiful American Southwest wilderness because the railroad is sandwiched between both the Coconino National Forest and Prescott National Forest.
Many people ride the historic Verde Canyon Railroad as part of an unforgettable Sedona itinerary. Join numerous passengers as you sit back and take in the stunning scenery of the Verde Canyon.
Historic FP7 Locomotive Engines
We like the Verde Valley Railroad because you can see vintage diesel locomotives in action. These classic cars are two of the only ten locomotives still currently in operation throughout North America.
Originally built for the Alaska Railroad in 1953 by General Motors in Illinois, the engines were officially debuted in 1997 along the Verde Canyon Railroad.
The cars have since been renovated with modern safety features. In 2019, these prized locomotives received a full makeover including an updated paint motif and advanced mechanics.
Travel Tip: The historic FP7 locomotive engines are numbered 1510 and 1512 so be sure to keep an eye out during your trip.
How To Get To The Verde Canyon Railroad
Address: 300 N Broadway, Clarkdale, AZ 86324 (Google Map location)
The Verde Canyon Railroad originates in the town of Clarkdale. This is a short 30 minute drive from the town of Sedona or a two hour drive north of Phoenix.
Clarkdale is an interesting town in red rock country because this old mining settlement was originally founded as a smelter town by William A. Clark in 1912.
In its prime, Clarkdale was one of the most modern mining towns in the world. It was an early example of a planned community with electric, sewage and telegraph capabilities.
Verde Canyon Railroad Tickets
There are two types of ticket available on the Verde Canyon Railroad:
- Premium passenger car
The Caboose is an expensive option because this exclusive car is designed for one private party up to six people. It features luxurious oversized chairs, large windows and a private outdoor viewing platform.
A personal valet will also prepare appetizers and complimentary champagne, but unfortunately the caboose is not ADA accessible due to its historic nature.
We rode on one of the passenger cars which feature living-room style seating and panoramic windows. These cars are climate-controlled with a restroom and each passenger is assigned a seat for boarding.
A full service cash bar, snacks and premium liquors are available throughout the entire journey. You will also have access to an open-air viewing car equipped with shaded canopies.
Tickets for the Verde Canyon train can be booked directly with the official 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 unless you want to join one of the popular tours below:
- Verde Canyon Railroad Adventure – A 4-hour sightseeing journey by train with Viator
- Sightseeing Train Ride From Sedona – A luxurious train ride with Get Your Guide
- Starlight Ride on Verde Canyon Railroad – An evening ride on the Verde Canyon Railroad under the stars
- Grape Train Escape – Sample wines and speciality cheeses from Arizona’s Verde Valley while you listen to winemakers discuss terroir and techniques
Travel Tip: If tickets are sold out on the official website, you may be able to find a spot with one of the tour groups listed above.
Walkthrough Of Our Verde Canyon Train Ride
In this next section, we will show you exactly what we experienced on our Verde Valley train ride.
1. The Train Depot
Before boarding the Verde Valley Railroad, you will begin at the train depot. It is a southwestern-style depot featuring the Boxcar Gift Store, John Bell Museum and Copper Spike Cafe.
If you purchased your tickets online, you will need to pick up your tickets at the Boxcar Gift Store.
We arrived about 60 minutes 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 neighboring communities.
At the depot, there are storyboards with additional information about the train’s loading platform and 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.
2. 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 and seat on that specific 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. Appetizers will be served on the train and you can purchase additional snacks as well.
3. Our Panoramic Seats
Once aboard the train, we immediately found our seats and got settled. We sat on 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 which held us for the entire trip.
5. The Open Air Car Is Best
Once the train begins its journey, you will be free to walk between the passenger car and the open-air-viewing car that is directly attached. You can not explore between passenger cars.
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.
The historic route follows the meandering Verde River, crosses bridges, past towering red rock buttes and through a 734-ft man made tunnel.
We learned about the canyon’s history and saw many different types of wildlife. It might be a little cheesy but the outdoor attendant pointed out rock formations in the canyon and we all tried to guess what they looked like.
Along the train ride you will also see ancient cliff dwellings built by the native Sinagua people, historic mining sites and other treasures only to be found in Arizona’s desert.
If you are interested in ruins, don’t miss the best ruins near Sedona during your trip.
Travel Tip: Depending on the time of year, you may want to consider the weather if you want to stay in the open air car. We definitely needed a thick coat for our December visit.
6. Views In The Canyon
As the train runs down the tracks, you will be surrounded by towering crimson cliffs and red rock pinnacles. Keep an eye out for bald eagles and blue herons soaring into the sky.
Since 1992, the Verde Canyon Railroad has partnered with Arizona game and fish to help with bald eagle restoration and 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 learned about how this railroad was critical to the history of this area.
7. The Historic Stop In Perkinsville
After 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. Then in 1912, a short line was opened in Perkinsville including a depot, water tower and station masters house.
Perkinsville was important due to the nearby limestone quarry which was essential because this lime was used as a flux for the Clarkdale copper smelter.
During this time in history, Perkinsville supported about 10 families with a small school, general store, section house and even a post office. But unfortunately, not for too long.
In the 1950s, the quarry and kiln were no longer needed thanks to the closure of the copper smelter. The invention of the diesel locomotive also eliminated the need for the Perkinsville water stop.
Perkinsville quickly become a ghost town. However, Perskinville had 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.
After the train turns around in Perkinsville, the train makes it way back to Clarkdale along the same route. This is great for photography purposes because you will be able to capture anything you may have missed.
Is The Verde Valley Railroad Train Ride Worth It?
Yes, the Verde Canyon Railroad is worth it, but the train is time consuming and expensive so it might not be the best option for everyone.
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 for our last day in the area as a relaxing last attraction.
Riding the train was a completely different experience to the running around we had just done in Sedona. This chilled vibe is what made the Verde Canyon Railroad worth it for us.
However, tickets for the train are expensive and if you only have a few days in Sedona, we wouldn’t recommend a train ride.
But if you are looking for something to do in Sedona that is low key and great for the kids, a ride on the Verde Valley Canyon Railroad is definitely worth your time.
Pros And Cons To Riding The Verde Canyon Railroad
Still on the fence about taking a train ride along the Verde Canyon? Here are a few pros and cons to help you make the best decision:
- 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
Special Events On The Verde Valley Railroad
The Verde Railroad prides itself on special events. There are numerous 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 always 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 ride, the train was still decked out in classy decorations when we rode the Verde Canyon Railroad.
Additional featured events not pertaining to a holiday:
- 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.
Tips For Visiting The Verde Canyon Railway
After taking this train ride ourselves, here are a few tips to consider prior to your visit:
- Tickets tend to sell out so book early if possible
- Sit in the open-air-viewing cars for the best views
- Arrive 30-60 minutes early to check in at the train depot
- The right side of train has the best views
- Don’t forget your camera for the beautiful scenery
Take advantage of the information offered by the outdoor attendants 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.
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Want more Arizona content? Head over to our Arizona Travel Guides to explore the best of Grand Canyon, Sedona and beyond.
We hope this guide to the Verde Canyon Railroad helps with planning your visit!
Please let us know if you have any questions about Verde Canyon Railroad tours or your visit to Sedona in the comments below.
Mark and Kristen
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Mark and Kristen Morgan are travel, hiking and photography experts. Over the last 6 years traveling full time, they have explored more than 40 countries and 30 US states.
Their work has been featured in USA Today, Gestalten, Get Your Guide, CityPASS and Condé Nast Traveler along with various other publications.