With low entrance fees and family-friendly attractions, national parks are budget-friendly destinations for family travelers. One of our favorite national parks is the Grand Canyon. We are not alone! With millions of visitors making the trip to the canyon each year, it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States.
We’ve visited the park many times and here are some of our best tips, just a general note, they are specific to the south rim of the Grand Canyon.
Tip 1 There are two public areas of Grand Canyon National Park, the North, and South Rims.
The Grand Canyon has two rims which are hours apart. By car, the trip from one rim to another is 220 miles. However, if traveling by foot, the distance across the canyon is 21 miles via the Kaibab Trails. Deciding which part of the Grand Canyon your family will visit is the first step. This post concentrates on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon area.
Tip 2: The Grand Canyon involves real nature, with its accompanying dangers.
With its busy crowds, too many visitors forget that they aren’t in a theme park. There is considerable danger even in the parts around the South Rim that are developed. From toddlers to teens, keep an eye on your kids.
There have been far too many upsetting stories about people taking selfies too close to the edge of the canyon and falling to their death. Additionally, the Grand Canyon is home to a species of a pink rattlesnake that is only found in the park.
Tip 3: Start at the Grand Canyon Visitors Center.
Plan your visit, and learn about Grand Canyon through the free park film and exhibits. Plus the Visitors Center has an excellent film about the canyon to view. I think it’s such a great way to get a base level of knowledge about the national park you are exploring. The 22-minute film, Grand Canyon: A Journey of Wonder and starts on the hour and half hour.
Tip 4 Start your day off by talking to a Park Ranger at the Visitors Center.
Tell them what you want to see, how much time you have, etc. and they can help plan your day for you. They’ve always given me excellent advice on where and when to go to certain points along the rim and what were the best activities for the age of child I had in tow. The Park Rangers in the park are extremely knowledgeable and are more than willing to give you (more) advice that you are able to handle.
Tip 5 Walk along the Rim Trail.
It’s an easy, paved walk–ideal for children. The .7 mile section between Mather Point (adjacent to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center) and Yavapai Point is wheelchair and stroller accessible. The views are incredible!
Tip 6 Use the Grand Canyon Free Shuttle.
There are Shuttles that run through different areas of the Grand Canyon Park – and are provided for your convenience. A free South Rim shuttle operates on four scenic routes. The Shuttles have various stops on different routes that will allow you to drink in the wondrous views and enjoy the Park to the fullest extent. The Hermit Rest Route is one of the most favored Shuttle Rides. Shuttle rides are great for all ages. Shuttle buses offer bicycle racks, wheelchair ramps, and a “kneel” to reduce step.
Tip 7 Walk to Shoshone Point.
Even young children can hike to this quiet South Rim overlook, which is accessible via a level, gated one-mile dirt road. The path meanders through the ponderosa pine forest and ends at Shoshone Point, where there are picnic tables next to the rim. There are restrooms but no water available.
Tip 8 Hike Bright Angel Trail.
A few very small number of the people visiting the Grand Canyon actually go below the rim.
While some trails are steep and not very well developed below the South Rim and are not suitable for young children, the Bright Angel Trail is wide (as far as trails go) and fairly graded with spots to rest located a mile-and-a-half and three miles below the rim (a good place to turn around). Just remember that if you go down, you have to go back up that same distance.
Tip 9 Visit museums or historical buildings.
Historical buildings are scattered throughout the South Rim and all of them are worth checking out. Native Tribes have created art and souvenirs that are on show at Tribes. Many stores and bookstores – like Verkamp’s Visitor Center – house historical information, art galleries, Native Tribal art or Grand Canyon souvenirs for sale – and are also worth stopping in to browse at your leisure.
Tip 10: Get a feel for geology.
The Yavapai Geology Museum has educational displays on Grand Canyon’s geologic history, but the most interesting and tactile for kids is the large topographic relief model. This 3D map that is designed to be touched can be studied by young visitors to put the massive canyon into perspective. After a tour of the museum, walk on the interpretive path, the Trail of Time, to see samples of Grand Canyon rocks.
Tip 11: Become a Junior Ranger.
While every visit to the Grand Canyon is special, the National Park Service has designed a Junior Ranger Program to help make the experience extra special for children ages 4 to 14. Kids learn about the Grand Canyon’s natural and cultural history while completing in fun activities. Kids can get sworn in as a Grand Canyon National Park Junior Ranger and receive a certificate and a badge – just like regular park rangers wear.
Tip 12 Bike the Grand Canyon South Rim.
Family-friendly biking can be enjoyed by riders of all ages along the paved Greenway section of the Rim Trail between Grand Canyon Visitor Center and the South Kaibab Trailhead. This 5-mile route (one way) is mostly level and has no car traffic. Bicycles for adults and older kids, as well as Burley trailers to carry small children, can be rented from Bright Angel Bicycle Rentals, which is located at Grand Canyon Visitor Center.
Tip 13 See the sunrise or sunset.
Viewing the enormous expanse of the Grand Canyon at sunrise or sunset are Bucket List experiences and there is no better place than the South Rim to experience this majesty. The Grand Canyon is over 200 miles long and it is 11 miles wide at the South Rim. The mighty Colorado River flows through the Inner Gorge over a mile below the South Rim viewpoints…no other place on earth rivals these views.
Tip 14 Ride the Train.
Make a trip to Grand Canyon on a restored WWII-era passenger train. The train has a glass roof, friendly staff, a mock train robbery and Wild West shootout, and of course fabulous views from around the canyon. This is a trip every age will enjoy. The ride can take 2 to 4 hours and can include lunch. If you don’t arrive at Grand Canyon by train, you can at least watch the train arriving daily (11:45 a.m.) and departing (3:30 p.m.) from the historic station at Grand Canyon Village.
Tip 15: Attend a Ranger Led Program.
Learn about fossils, geology, native birds and animals, stories and tales of the canyon, as well as the history of the park. There are even ranger-led walks and night sky programs. Pick up a park newspaper when you arrive or go online ahead of time to check out the schedule for the day(s) you’ll be at the park.
The Grand Canyon is a marvelous destination for families. As one of the 7 Natural Wonder of the World and a National Park, the Grand Canyon is one place that everyone should visit, at least once in their lifetime.
Hotels Near the Grand Canyon South Rim:
El Tovar Hotel (inside the park)
The El Tovar Hotel has a very rich history, it opened in 1905 and sits right on the rim of the Grand Canyon.
From the website: El Tovar has 78 rooms, many of which are suites. Due to the historic nature of the hotel, no two rooms are alike, giving the hotel distinctive charm. There are 12 hotel suites, each one with a unique name, identity and decor. For example, the Zane Grey Suite – complete with an attached sitting area and balcony – is appointed with unique wall art specific to the author.
Thunderbird Lounge (inside the park)
The breathtaking views of the Grand Canyon is the biggest appeal to those booking a stay at the Thunderbird Lounge. The hotel is very functional and nice, but it isn’t considered to be a luxury property.
From the website: The big appeal of Thunderbird is its proximity to the edge of the Grand Canyon. In fact, it’s just steps from the Rim Trail, a well-regarded and easy path that runs along the Canyon’s edge for about 12 miles. Visitors can hike in either direction, and easily reach additional landmarks and attractions like the Yavapai Geology Museum or the Trail View Overlook. Thunderbird Lodge is also quite near to the start of the Bright Angel Trail Head, a more challenging trail that the active guests will enjoy.
Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel (outside of the park)
This hotel is a 298 room property, so it can accommodate more guests than the previously mentioned hotels. The guest rooms have recently been renovated, and is a mecca for those who love history with their travels.
Train rides are also an option for those who want to see the beautiful scenery by train.
Check out the Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel Website for more information.
The Grand Hotel (outside of the park)
The Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon is a Three – Diamond rated hotel and is firmly in the luxury category. This luxurious hotel is one mile from the South entrance to Grand Canyon and the South Rim of the Canyon just a short car ride away.
You can read more about the beautiful Grand Hotel on their website.
The Grand Canyon is in northern Arizona–a state abundant with amazing attractions. Check out our post 10 Must See Attraction in Arizona.