All Aboard for the Grand Canyon Diorama on the Disneyland Railroad

Michele Himmelberg

by , Public Relations Director, Disneyland Resort

With more than 55 years of history at the Disneyland Resort, it’s fun to look back now and then at special dates that have influenced the magical storytelling that happens here every day. Tomorrow, March 31, is the anniversary of the 1958 grand opening of the Grand Canyon Diorama on what was then called the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad.

When you ride the Disneyland Railroad between the Tomorrowland Train Station and Main Street, U.S.A., you’ll travel through a tunnel with two distinct dioramas. Today, we’re celebrating the anniversary of the first of those scenes to appear in Disneyland park.

Going from the bright, natural light of the park inside the tunnel plunges you into darkness, and that gives way to the enthralling vista of the Grand Canyon Diorama. Depicted from its south rim, the canyon is revealed on a canvas that is 306 feet long and 34 feet high, making this backdrop one of the world’s longest dioramas. Another remarkable aspect of this canvas: it’s seamless and handwoven.

The Grand Canyon Diorama on the Disneyland Railroad at Disneyland Park

This replica of the Grand Canyon required 300 gallons of paint to capture its natural marvels, including a snowfall, a storm, a sunset and a rainbow. The scene is based upon Walt Disney’s Academy Award-winning live-action short subject of 1958, “Grand Canyon.”

As passengers are pulled slowly past this famous American landmark, flora and fauna native to the landscape appear in realistic detail. The canyon ridges are filled with all kinds of critters, including deer, mountain lions, skunks and wild turkeys. The mood is set by the click-clack of train wheels, accentuated by music from the “On The Trail” section of American composer Ferde Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite.

I’ve seen this diorama several times while riding the Disneyland Railroad, and each time I’m impressed with the natural wonder of the Grand Canyon. This photograph made me wonder what Walt Disney might have imagined when he was directing the project. Walt visited many spectacular places around the world and many of his “mental photographs” later became a part of Disneyland park – almost like a 3D scrapbook of his memories. I’m glad he decided to share these special marvels with all of us.

Have you visited the Grand Canyon via the Santa Fe and Disneyland Railroad? What are your favorite scenes along the Disneyland Railroad journey?


  • I miss, when I used to work at Disneyland, walking from Harbor House to the backstage area and hearing the music play on board a train as I passed under the tracks between the present-day and prehistoric sections of the diorama.

  • I love going on this train BUT since I was a child (I’m a grandmother now) I’ve kept my eyes closed through the tunnel with the grand canyon and dinosaurs as they were so real to me the first time. My grandkids love it though.

  • Is there a plan to update the figures in the diaramma to aduio anamatronic?

  • Despite the fact that I love Disney, steam trains and dinosaurs, the dioramas along the DLRR somehow came as a total surprise to me. In all the research leading up to my first trip to Disneyland in 2005, knowledge of their existence eluded me. So one can imagine how shocked and elated I was when I arrived and took that first grand circle tour!

    The DLRR was also responsible for my visiting the actual Grand Canyon. I was never that interested before, but the Grand Canyon Diorama, there along the rails, piqued my interest. Then I found out that there was an actual steam railway that took people from Williams to the Canyon itself, and I HAD to go. Thank you for the inspiration!

    (That same trip required a stopover in Los Angeles on the way back… There was not enough time to visit Disneyland, but we did go to Griffith Park to see Walt’s Barn and the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society. Essentially, my Grand Canyon trip began and ended with Disney’s trains.)

  • The DLR RR has been a traditional ride for our family ever since we first rode it in 1972. We ride it every time we go to DLR. As many others have stated, I love the dioramas and being on the train, hearing the sounds, the smells, everything transports me back to my childhood.

    The first time we rode it, I was 6 and my younger brother was 4. Every time we see the triceratop babies and the eggs, we remember him being scared of the dioramas because the animals were “real”. Nothing we said would convince him that it was all make believe and there was nothing to be afraid of. All he kept telling us was, “Didn’t you see the dinosaurs and the eggs? They were MOVING! Those things are REAL!”. We have been Disney fanatics ever since that first trip and my brother is looking forward to taking his little boys (currently 4 y.o. and 1 y.o.) to DLR in a few years. We can’t wait to hear how they react to everything there is in DLR!

  • The Disneyland Railroad has a particular special meaning for us – especially the dioramas. My husband’s hands were cold and clammy as he mustered up the courage to propose to me, right around the Grand Canyon scenes. After he popped the question and I said yes, we looked out of our private Lilly Belle caboose car and saw the baby triceratops eggs hatching in the dinosaur diorama. We will always ride the railroad remembering those moments.

    On another more practical note, we also like using the train on crowded days to get from one section of the park to another without having to walk and fight the crowds.

  • The Disneyland Railroad has always been my 1st & last impression of the park every time I visit.
    I’ve enjoyed riding the rails at the park for over 40 years and it wasn’t until this year that I found out there’s an armadillo in the Grand Canyon! I guess you really DO learn something new every day!

  • Michele,

    Thank you for spotlighting the diorama, a must-see on every visit. Grand Canyon plus dinosaurs equals unforgettable. A Disneyland classic.

  • Every time I ride this section of the Disneyland Railway, it brings me back to my childhood. I just love listening to the back round music. One time I happened to catch Ferde Grofe’s “Grand Canyon Suite” on a local classical radio station, and I was immediately taken back to the ride. I so wanted to go to Disneyland after hearing that piece. I am happy to report that my teenage daughters also love this portion of the Disneyland Railroad.

  • I love the diorama! I’m so glad that its still there today.

  • I was at Disneyland two weeks ago and was trying to find the Grand Canyon Diorama, but it was not listed on the map, and we thought maybe it had been taken away! We were in line to ride the train around the park, but there was such a long time to wait between trains we didn’t do it. Since it’s such a lovely ride, it should be described on the Disneyland map or listed in the activities, but it was not. I’m glad it’s there, but really sorry I missed it.

  • I’ll be the first to admit that this part of the train is not my favorite. But after reading this and knowing that this was something Walt created and all the work that went into designing it I have a new respect for it. Come June I will be riding the DL RR through the Grand Canyon and appreciating all the hard work and beauty that is in it. 🙂

  • It was our family’s tradition when visiting DL that the last two things we would do at the end of the day was take the train around the park, exit at Main Street and hit the stores to buy one toy (or whatever) before going home. Seeing the Grand Canyon and dino scenes were the best!

  • My family and I went to Disneyland for the first time in 2009 and climbed on the Disneyland train after a particularly exhausting trip around the park on New Years Eve day. When we came to the diorama, I was completely taken aback and enthralled with the detail. It was a very welcome surprise – an aspect of the park that I did not know existed!

  • As a child, the VERY first ride my family would always ride upon entering the park was the Disneyland Railroad, I will never forget the smell, the sound, and feel of that railroad train. Whenever I ride it now I am almost transported back to when I was a child riding it, I am glad to see it’s still the same as when I was a child!!

  • I insisted on riding the railroad on my visit a couple weeks ago because it had been so many years since I saw these wonderful dioramas!

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