How To Plan An Epic Vacation to the Grand Canyon with Kids
Visiting the Grand Canyon with kids truly offers an experience of a lifetime for families. Trips to the Grand Canyon is a memory maker at any age. Although many hikes are considered extreme for the average person, there are plenty of family-friendly hiking trails.
You may also prefer to drive up to some of the sightseeing spots without veering too far from the main destinations. Visiting the Grand Canyon is such a fun experience, avoid thinking you have to do and see everything. Stick to a few fun plans and embrace this beautiful destination!
Visitors tend to underestimate the park’s size, so try to map out the things you want to see before you arrive. Planning certain activities around non-peak hours will help you to break away from the crowd as much as possible. We hope the following guide will help you plan the best vacation to the Grand Canyon with kids.
Best Hikes and Things To Do at the Grand Canyon with Kids
It is also important to keep in mind the elevation change if you choose to descend the canyon and prioritize safety wherever you walk since the drop-offs can be very dangerous. Here are our favorite 5 hikes to do with kids:
1. The South Rim Trails
This mostly paved trail is great for younger kids and has some fun and exciting views of the inner canyon. Don’t be alarmed when you see that this is a 13-mile trail, you can hike until you feel that you’re ready to make your way back. You’ll find that there is some shade on this trail and it has a lot to offer even if you’re only hiking for a couple of miles.
2. Bright Angel Trails
This is one of the best hiking trails with kids, especially younger kids. It’s a short and easy, paved half-mile round-trip hike. You’ll find the trailhead located near the visitors center. You’ll experience breathtaking views of the North Rim from this trial and the kids will love the marine fossils embedded in the rocks that they’ll discover along the way.
3. Bridle Trail
Bridle Trail is a three-mile round trip on the North Rim. It’s a great trail for hikers of all ages and skill levels. You’ll be walking through a forest and it’s a great place to ride bikes or take a leisurely stroll. We visited the Grand Canyon with our dog and this trail does allow leashed animals.
4. Cape Royal Trail
This is another short trail that’s only a half-mile round-trip. It is paved and has some breathtaking views of the canyon. Cape Royal Trail is another short, approximately 30-minute hike that also comes out to a half-mile round trip. This path is on the North Rim.
5. Roosevelt Point Trail
Short and sweet– the Roosevelt Point Trail is ideal for families. The trail is only a 15-20 minute hike making it a great one for kids. We started with a couple of these shorter trails and the kids did really well starting slow and working our way up to some of the longer hikes.
Other Activities for Kids
There are other attractions and fun experiences that cater to kids. A couple of our favorites are stops along Route 66 to the park’s Junior Ranger program. Make a game out of spotting canyon wildlife, including the California Condor, Bighorn Sheep, Rocky Mountain Elk, Ringtail Gray Fox, and several birds, rodents, and reptiles.
How to Explore the Grand Canyon with a Family
For many, the Grand Canyon is thought of as a long drive ending in a quick stop for breathtaking views, but this iconic national park is much more than a photo opportunity. However, there are plenty of ways to explore the 227-mile-long canyon and enjoy every part of your visit.
The Grand Canyon is known for its hiking trails, with dozens of paths to choose from. The South Rim Trail is the most popular, which starts at the South Rim. This trail is often recommended for families since there are many restrooms and shade stops along the way, and incredible sightseeing is accessible without having to complete the full hike.
The Visitor Center is located in Grand Canyon Village (South Rim) and should be your first stop to get your bearings and ask any questions you may have before setting off. Just next door are Bright Angel Bicycles and Cafe At Mather Point. Rent from a variety of bicycles and enjoy the safe, paved path on the canyon rim. They offer bike rental rates for both kid and adult bikes as well as burley trailer & tag along rentals (burley trailers hold up to 100 pounds and are equipped with 2 seats and seat belts. It is recommended parents bring their own car seat for any child younger than 2 years old.)
The Grand Canyon Railway offers a completely unique experience, full of history and fun for the whole family. The train ride starts in Williams, Arizona, and continues to the canyon, packing in canyon sightseeing and entertainment along the way. What kid wouldn’t be thrilled to take a train to the Grand Canyon?!
Yes, you can experience the Grand Canyon on a mule ride! Starting in the South Rim, mule trips are offered year-round and offer a fantastic way to enjoy the trails without committing to hiking on foot. Note that children must be over the age of nine and at least 57 inches tall. We have a couple of younger kids who were not old enough to ride the mules when we visited but they’ve asked that we come back to give it try when they’re older. We saw several groups riding mules and it looked like a lot of fun!
The Grand Canyon Skywalk is one of the most popular stops in the park, located at the Hualapai-owned Grand Canyon West. The glass-floor bridge steps out 70 feet at about a mile over the canyon floor. Those with a fear of heights may prefer to enjoy the view from the Sky View restaurant (reservations are recommended). The kids will love eating a cheeseburger and seeing the incredible view!
Dry clay is probably the first image that comes to mind when you think of the Grand Canyon, but you can actually float through it, too! The Colorado River streams through the canyon, and there are a few tour companies that offer single or multi-day rafting expeditions for adults and older kids.
We’ve been rafting with our kids a couple of times in other destinations and it’s a lot of fun. It’s definitely an experience better suited for an adventurous family with older kids.
No one will have better advice on how to best experience the canyon than the local experts, so whether it is a walking, rafting, or driving tour, anyone will benefit from a tour guide. Even safari-style tours are available and will show you the best sunset views, sightseeing lookouts, and historic monuments.
Helicopter (a special treat for mom and dad)
If you are planning a special trip or want to get the absolute best view of the canyon you can book a helicopter tour with one of the area’s many tour companies. It may not be the best option for a family trip or those traveling on a budget, but the helicopter experience is perfect for a special occasion.
Packing List for the Grand Canyon
Make sure to come prepared with more snacks and drinks to stay hydrated and energized than you would typically pack for an outdoor trip. Here are a few other items that we appreciated having on our visit.
Reusable Water Bottle: Bringing plenty of water is a top priority when exploring the Grand Canyon.
External Battery: You’re going to want to take a lot of family photos on this trip so come prepared with a way to recharge your phone.
BackPack: You’re going to want a backpack to hold everything you need for a day out with the kids. A durable one made for the outdoors is best.
Sunscreen: Don’t forget the sunscreen! It can be easy to forget about sunscreen when you’re on shaded trails but a few too many minutes in the sun can result in a nasty sunburn.
Hand Sanitizer: If you ride the shuttle bus you’re going to want to carry some hand sanitizer with you.
Carabiners: Anyone who has ever traveled with me will tell you that I’m obsessed with carabiners. The truth is, vacationing with three kids meant that I needed to keep my hands free so I’ve just attached everything to my backpack with carabiners.
Baby Wipes: Yes, this is even for those families without babies in diapers. Baby wipes are a staple in our hiking bag, there are so many times that they’ve come in handy for us.
Rain Ponchos: Sometimes a rain shower sneaks up on you. These rain ponchos are easy to pack and you won’t know how much you love them until you need them.
Binoculars for Kids: These came in handy during our visit and I highly recommend having a pair of binoculars to make exploring even more fun for the kids.
Where to Stay When Visiting the Grand Canyon
There are many options for families when it comes to lodging options for your vacation to the Grand Canyon. We will mention it several more times but be sure to make all of your reservations as far in advance as possible.
Camping and RVing
Many people will claim that the best way to get the full Grand Canyon experience is to camp at one of the park’s recommended campgrounds or RV parks. Camping is the most adventurous way to enjoy the canyon’s natural beauty, catching every moment of the sunsets and sunrises illuminating the clay surroundings. You won’t want to miss the breathtaking starry sky and sounds of wildlife in the quiet night. It’s also a budget-friendly option for families.
We stayed in an RV at the Trailer Village. We loved that we could walk to the shuttle and get to several walking trails and restaurants (even a grocery store) without having to drive anywhere. Due to the popularity of RVing, it’s recommended that you make reservations as soon as possible.
We highly recommend renting an RV for this type of family vacation. We saved money by cooking all of our meals in the RV and we loved the entire experience. We rented our RV through RVshare and will continue to rent RVs for our future family road trips.
Stay right in Grand Canyon Village at the South Rim at the El Tovar hotel, the Bright Angel Lodge, or Yavapai Lodge (voted a favorite by many visitors). If you are making the trip to the canyon floor, spend the night at Phantom Lodge before traveling back to the top. When the North Rim is open (May-October), you can stay at the Grand Canyon Lodge.
Alternatively, there are plenty of hotel options in nearby towns like Tusayan, Williams, or Flagstaff. Keep in mind that reservations tend to fill up, so try to book far in advance.
Another great option is to stay at a nearby Vrbo and drive to the canyon for day trips, this is a popular option for families. There are plenty of kid-friendly rentals for private homes, hotel suites, historic ranches and cabins, or even RV’s and trailers.
When traveling with a family, vacation rentals can often be just as or more affordable than hotels. You can enjoy a socially distant vacation by staying in a vacation rental and not a crowded hotel.
Regardless of how you choose to visit the Grand Canyon, have fun and enjoy your visit, and remember that you are experiencing one of the Seven Wonders of the World!
Read more: Check out this other fun gem in Arizona–The Petrified National Forest.