The Grand Canyon is a must-see for families, but how do you explore a 277-mile long natural wonder? Fortunately, this established park has you and your crew covered. Whether your kids are toddlers or teens, there’s plenty to do, see, and experience.
The first order of business is getting there. Visitors to the popular South Rim fly into Phoenix. From there, it’s about a four-hour drive to the Grand Canyon. Plan to spend a few days on either end of your trip in Scottsdale, a Phoenix suburb with plenty of great family-friendly attractions and activities no matter what season.
Get in the Spirit on the Grand Canyon Railway
One way to experience the Grand Canyon is to do it by train – like folks did for decades before cars. Book tickets for your family on the Grand Canyon Railway which departs daily from Williams, Arizona – a town just 30 miles west of Flagstaff and less than three hours from Phoenix. Drop your car off at the depot in Williams and enjoy a two-hour train ride north to the South Rim. The entertainment starts with an Old West shootout before boarding, and while riding, you’ll enjoy the roaming fiddlers and singers making their way through the cars. The train makes its return trip in the afternoon, allowing your family plenty of time to explore the Grand Canyon.
Kid-friendly Fun at the South Rim
You could, of course, drive directly to the South Rim. The South Rim is open year around and brims with hotels, restaurants, and other park services. Leave your car in the nearest lot, and then sightsee on foot, or use the park’s free shuttles to quickly get to the various viewpoints and destinations.
No surprise, the main attraction is the views of the canyon. The National Park Service makes it easy, putting visitor centers at the best viewpoints and clearly marking the rest of the vistas on the park map. Each one has its own perks, and you can make the experience interesting for your family by trying to catch different weather patterns, such as clouds, the sunrise, or sunset.
Trails for Everyone
Avid hikers should head to Bright Angel Trail, one of the main routes that descends to the Colorado River. Although you can hike down and up in one day, the Park Service doesn’t recommend it (it’s 8 miles one-way to the river and 9.5 miles to get to the campground). With advanced booking, you can camp at the bottom. The hike down takes about four to five hours, and returning can take almost twice as long. You can choose to hike part of the way down and back — or even take a mule ride.
Families with strollers or youngsters who can’t handle a rugged path or steep climb can venture onto the mostly flat, mostly paved Rim Trail that, as its name suggests, borders the Grand Canyon rim. The Rim Trail and accompanying roads are also ideal for biking. Bright Angel Bicycles at Mather House offers bikes and trailers for rent.
More Family Entertainment
It’s a gorgeous view, but after a while the kids might need a change of scenery and activity. Fortunately, there are plenty of things to do that don’t involve sightseeing.
In the summer, the Hopi House showcases traditional Native American dancers outside while you can browse for souvenirs and gifts inside. Check the schedule when you arrive. The Hopi House is just across from the railway station and El Tovar Hotel.
Take in a Film
A six-story IMAX movie screen fills your visual world with more of the Grand Canyon than you can see from the rim or by hiking. You’ll learn about the Native American tribes that lived there 4,000 years ago, and feel like you’re rafting down the Colorado River like the explorers did in the 1800s.
Junior Ranger Program
Immerse your kids in learning about the park through the Junior Ranger program. With free booklets, activities, and ranger-led programs, your kids may take over the planning of each day.
These are just a few of the many ways to enjoy the Grand Canyon. Get more inspiration for your family road trip on Facebook.