Top Tips for Visiting Grand Canyon National Park with Young Kids
One of the Seven Naturals Wonders of the World, Grand Canyon will surely take your breath away. I visited Grand Canyon with my mother when I was twelve, and this time around I'm the mom bringing the kids! There is no age limit to appreciate this unique geological marvel, but if you're visiting the Grand Canyon National Park with toddlers or young kids, here are my top tips to ensure a safe and pleasant family trip.
1. Visit Grand Canyon's South Rim
On our recent trip, we visited the Grand Canyon National Park's South Rim with our toddler and preschooler. We flew to Las Vegas airport and combined with a road trip down Highway Interstate 40 to Sedona that is located two hours south of Grand Canyon. The main reason for visiting the South Rim is that it has most of the iconic Grand Canyon vistas, visitor centers, and on-site lodging. The South Rim also grants closer and easier access to the river valley down beneath. The North and West Rims are more remote, and unlike the South Rim, are not open year-round. For a trip to Grand Canyon with young children, the South Rim is probably the more adequate choice.
2. Choose Lodging Inside the National Park
As much as I enjoy staying at unique boutique hotels or Airbnbs (use this link and get $25 on me for your next trip) when I travel, when it comes to visiting Grand Canyon or Yosemite National Parks, I really prefer staying inside the parks during our visit.
First of all, the national parks are big, and when most of the scenic trails or points of interests are inside the park, we really like to stay at the center of actions instead of having to drive more than 30 minutes single trip in and out of the park at night. This is especially true when we travel with kids. Second, the lodging options inside the national parks are unique and full of history and character, many of them are registered National Historical Landmarks. Choose among the charming cabins of Bright Angel Lodge, or stay at the handsome El Tovar Hotel. Last, you can easily visit all the major sites at the South Rim from the lodging "Village" by the free shuttle bus should you and your little companions get tired.
For the best rates and more options, make sure you book several months in advance on the official Grand Canyon National Park Lodges website.
3. Have a Hearty Breakfast at El Tovar Dining Room
El Tovar Hotel first opened in 1905 in the heyday of the Santa Fe Railway that brought visitors from the East Coast right to the feet of the Grand Canyon. El Tovar resembles a Swiss chalet, a luxury destination that sits a stone's throw away from the rim of the canyon. El Tovar Dining Room gives you a sublime view of Grand Canyon and a glimpse of the bygone era when ladies and gentlemen dressed for breakfast.
I recommend having breakfast at El Tovar Dining Room for several reasons: (a) you need a hearty breakfast to start the day to have energy for the trails, (b) breakfast is the most economic option at this restaurant, (c) you most likely won't need to make a reservation in order to get a table during breakfast hours (6:30-10:30AM).
In the European chalet-style interior of the dining room, you will spot murals that depict local Native American tribes (Havasupai, Hopi, Navajo...), and find dining ware that faithfully replicates the Mimbreño china service that was used in the Santa Fe railway dining cars. The earthy animal motifs were sketched by Mary Colter, the architect that also designed many buildings on the South Rim. You can buy these chinaware here.
We enjoyed the El Tovar Arizona Prime Rib Hash and Harvey House Breakfast, both were generous and satisfying. The El Tovar Belgian Hot Chocolate was served with real melted chocolate chips in a demi-tasse with an extra teapot of the delicious elixir. The view of the Dining Room overlooking Grand Canyon did not disappoint, and the food definitely did not either.
4. Walk the Trail of Time on the Rim Trail
The Rim Trail extends from the lodging village to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center over a distance of around 2 miles (3.4 km). It is a paved and highly accessible trail that allows for hiking with strollers. As its name suggests, you walk along the rim of the canyon, with spectacular views at every step.
The middle section of the Rim Trail has a geology exhibit, the Trail of Time. Consider it a geology buff's dream where you can see and touch rock samples, follow the self-guided tour with the panels along the way, and try to identify rocks in the distant Grand Canyon valleys.
5. Get Familiar with the Flora and Fauna of Grand Canyon
The young kids will dance with joy when they spot bunnies and lizards along the trail, and there are plenty! You would probably want to warn them about the cacti before they reach out those curious little fingers, for there are plenty of those as well.
I've also learned this random fact: did you know that Native Americans used Juniper tree barks as diapers because they are highly moister-absorbing? I find that ingenious, too bad we can't really try it to know for sure.
And don't forget to try to spot the Californian condors! These majestic birds almost became extinct in the 20th century, but were reintroduced in the Grand Canyon in the 1990s and now they thrive in these valleys.
6. Admire the Blend of Native American Culture and Original Architecture
Lookout Studio and Hopi House in the Grand Canyon Village integrate so seamlessly with the natural surroundings. Along with the Bright Angel Lodge, they were designed by the same architect, Mary Colter, and she's one intriguing lady. Not only was she a chain-smoking female architect and designer ahead of her time, she traveled and researched the indigenous cultures and aesthetics to create site-specific buildings and deco down to the details of staff uniforms and ashtrays.
You can find Native American arts and crafts for souvenirs inside these structures. Quilts with tribal motifs in vibrant colors, turquoise and silver jewelry, leather goods and dream-catchers, if you fancy, you get to bring these South West colors back to your home.
7. Learn About the Grand Canyon at Yavapai Point and Geology Museum
As we walked along the Rim Trail and marveled at the awe-inspiring valleys, we couldn't help but wonder how the forces came together to carve out Grand Canyon valleys. Well, just in time for a geological lesson at the Yavapai Point and Geology Museum. Yavapai Point was studied by a group of experts to be the most representative view of Grand Canyon geology.
The museum does an excellent job at explaining how Nature, through gradual physical and chemical erosion agents, transform the the valley over the years. There are also guided talks if you want to ask some burning questions.
8. Enroll the Kids in the Junior Ranger Program
My kids were too young for the Junior Ranger program, but if your kids are over the age of 4, they can join the various Junior Ranger walks around Grand Canyon National Park. Once they finish the requirements in their Junior Ranger booklets and attend a Ranger-led program, they can receive an official Junior Ranger badge.
Well, for the younger kids, you can always get a Junior Ranger hat to start their awareness and interest in the program! We got ours at Verkamp's Visitor Center, they came in handy for the summer sun, and the adjustable cords were very helpful to keep the hat on from the canyon winds.
9. Get Your Iconic Grand Canyon Photo at Mather Point
A short shuttle ride away from Yavapai Point, you will reach the Grand Canyon Visitor Center and Mather Point vista point. The Visitor Center is a good spot to fill up your water bottles (you can't buy disposable water bottles inside the National Park), go for a bathroom break, get a sandwich, or rent a bike with a kid trailer.
Then walk 5 minutes further to reach Mather Point. This is a great place to take pictures, because it is fenced. Remember to be safe and stay away from the edges, this seems like an obvious tip but don't forget it!
10. What to Wear and What to Bring
Like most people who visit Grand Canyon, we visited during the summer months. I highly recommend wearing light, long-sleeve linen or cotton shirts for sun protection, and don't forget hats and sunglasses. You want to bring tight-fitting hats or ones that come with chin cord, otherwise you will probably see your hats drift off with the canyon winds.
Unless you're hiking down to the valley, I don't find hiking boots necessary for the light-hiking Rim Trail. We were able to walk with strollers and in Birkenstocks! Make sure you bring your own water bottle, there are plenty of places to refill with fresh springs from the Colorado River, and you won't find disposable water bottles inside the National Park. I like this one because it's in stainless steel, insulated keeps drinks cold or hot, has a one-hand-open flip cap that is easy to clean without having to use a brush.
I was really happy to revisit the Grand Canyon National Park some twenty years later with my kids. Since they are still quite young, we didn't go for strenuous hikes down the valley, nor did we see the amazing IMAX movie this time. I remember seeing that movie when I was younger and it really felt like flying through the Grand Canyon! If your kids are over 6, this can be a great experience. You can buy your tickets online to save 20%.
Hope you'll venture out one day to see the Grand Canyon. It's really one of the most amazing places on earth, and so highly accessible that there's no excuse not to bring families of all ages with you.
Have you been to the Grand Canyon? What are your tips and favorite spots?
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