For more than a century, the tiny town of Williams, Ariz., has always been a popular overnight stop for tourists, given its proximity to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Williams is also home of the historic Grand Canyon Railroad, which first started taking tourists to visit the South Rim in 1901, including such notable passengers as Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir, according to the Arizona Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds.
But Williams has seen even more tourism with the opening of Bearizona, a drive through wildlife park that opened in 2010. The park features black bears, goats, Dall sheep, elk, as well as arctic and tundra wolves. A jaguar exhibit opened last year.
These attractions, combined with other smaller attractions such as the Williams Train Depot and the Grand Canyon Deer Farm, are strong enough draws that they encourage people to spend more nights in Williams than before.
All of this is good news for campgrounds in the Williams area as well as other tourist-oriented businesses.
“Bearizona really kicked up tourism, making Williams more of a destination,” said Clint Bell, whose Kampgrounds of America (KOA)-franchisee family owns and operates the Grand Canyon KOA in Williams.
In fact, the Bell family also acquired the Circle Pines KOA in Williams from another family seven months ago, based on their confidence in the continued growth of the Williams economy with the draw of the Grand Canyon Railroad and Bearizona.
But while the Grand Canyon KOA has been open all year long since 2010, the Circle Pines KOA has not. That’s changing this year, however, as the Bell family plans to keep both campgrounds open all year in response to the growth in visitors to the Williams area.
“There are a lot of people who like to see the Grand Canyon in the wintertime,” Bell said, adding that the Grand Canyon Railroad also launched a Polar Express ride during the winter months, which is drawing more tourists to Williams during the coldest months.
Meanwhile, the Grand Canyon itself is also seeing a dramatic increase in tourism, which is drawing more tourists into Williams and other gateway communities to the national park. More than 6 million tourists visited the Grand Canyon last year, up from 5.5 million in 2015, according to U.S. National Park Service statistics.
Bell said the Williams/Grand Canyon KOA caters to overnight travelers, while the Circle Pines KOA has more on-site amenities and is designed to accommodate guests who would like to spend several days exploring attractions in Williams, as well as the south rim of the Grand Canyon.
The difference in the KOA campgrounds is in the amenities. Both parks offer RV and tent sites and rental accommodations, as well as bike rentals, mining sluices, cable TV, a snack bar and breakfasts between Memorial Day and Labor Day. However, the Circle Pines KOA also offers dinner as well as an 18-hole mini golf course, a go-cart track, a paved bike bath and ATV trails, an indoor swimming pool, hot tub and sauna, a dog park, big-screen movie nights, weekend craft activities and occasional Western entertainment during the summer season.