Our recent family trip to the Grand Canyon is one of the most memorable travel experience we ever had. However, I would be lying if I was to say what visiting the Grand Canyon with kids in tow didn’t make me nervous.
We had never been to the area before, so I had no idea what to expect about accessibility and had the most varied questions. Is the Grand Canyon dangerous for kids? Are the viewing point fenced? Are the roads precarious or problematic if you suffer from motion sickness?
To my great relief, I quickly discovered on arrival to the canyon that most of my worried were misplaced.
The Canyon is very enjoyable with children and while some tips are useful to make the visit safe and fun, I would recommend anyone to add it as a stop on a road trip itinerary in this area.
If you are thinking of visiting the Grand Canyon with kids and worry about practicalities, this is my guide!
Visiting the Grand Canyon with kids was one of the highlight of our American Road trip but required some preparations. In this guide, we share our best tips for visiting the Grand Canyon South Rim with kids.
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Tips for visiting the Grand Canyon with kids
Pick your rim
The two rims of the Grand Canyon are very far from each other and offer very different experiences to visitors.
The South Rim, which is the one we cover in this article, is the best equipped with visitors facilities and offers the largest selection of accommodation options.
This is the one usually recommended for families and the one that stays open all year round, although it is also the one with the highest number of visitors.
The usual recommendation is to visit the South Rim if you have younger kids and the North one for a more intimate and remote experience.
Stay in the park
The Grand canyon stretches over a vast area and picking accommodation near the rim is one of the best ways to minimise driving time and make the most of your day.
I find this is exceptionally important with kids: reaching the canyon is likely to require several hours of driving pretty much no matter where you come from. Being able to leave the car once on site and stretch your legs will go a long way to making kids enjoy their stay.
Some of the places you can consider staying are El Tovar Historical Hotel, Yavapai Lodge, and Bright angel lodge (rustic). They are family friendly and in good locations inside the park for both sightseeing and access to facilities such as shops, restaurants and visitors centers.
Use the free shuttles
The park operated an excellent shuttle system that connects the main viewpoints and sites of interest one to the other.
Using the shuttle is fun for kids and a life saver for when they are tired. The shuttles follow different tours and stop at the various visitors centre making access to facilities and food very easy.
The buses run every 10-15 minutes during the day and every 30 minutes in the hour before sunrise and after sunset.
Strollers are allowed on the buses but some rules must be followed: for instance, strollers must be collapsed before boarding and no oversize or jogging strollers are allowed.
Bicycles are allowed on the buses but not if attached to child trailers or tag-alongs. You can find these rules and exact location of shuttle stops on the free maps provided at the visitors centers.
Get the kids into the Junior ranger program
The park participates in the junior ranger program, devised specifically to get kids engaged with the part and teach them about it in a fun and natural way.
It works like this. You collect a junior ranger activity booklet at one of the various rangers station and work your way though it. The booklet has information and activities organised by age and requires the kids to learn something about the park and then put it into practice.
At the most simple level kids are asked to sit, observe and then draw a picture of what they see or how they feel about the park.
For older kids, the activities get a little more demanding. One I remember was an explanation of a special type of poetry from the area and an activity based around creating a short poem about the park.
While this may seem daunting, the exercise provided all the necessary info to complete the activity and only took a few minutes.
The program is non competitive in nature and supports your own learning and expression: there are no daunting marks of comparisons with other kids.
As well as the booklet, the program requires the kids to listen to ranger talk and then head to the ranger station to show them your completed booklet.
The rangers on duty usually ask a couple of questions to check your interest in the park and then get them to pledge to protect the park.
After that, the rangers present a badge to the children to have as a keepsake of their achievement.
The program is amazing for the kids and get them to engage with the park in a way that is meaningful and truly enjoyable. We discovered it when visiting Joshua Tree NP and now we seek in out every park we visit!
Walk the rim trail
You can walk along the Grand Canyon South Rim following the rim trail, a large path easily accessible to children as well.
The path is fenced in the most part (not all!) and connects the several viewing points along the rim. One of the shuttle routes runs parallel to the trail and this means you can easily hop on motorized transport if needed.
This is excellent and it means families can start the tail and hop on a bus should the children get tired or the weather turn.
We visited when our kids were 6 and 8 and felt the rim trail very safe. However, attention is paramount here and,with toddlers, I would highly suggest extra supervision and the use of carriers or reliable child reins for safety.
Check the historical buildings
The Grand Canyon has several historical buildings that are interesting for the kids to see.
Our favourite were the ones at Verkamp’s visitors centre where you can also see the local museum and, at certain times, catch a display of Hopi culture.
And the geology museum
One of the most interesting aspects of the grand canyon is its rich geological history.
You can get a clear site of it simply watching the canyon and its several rocky layers but you can also learn in a much more structured way at the local geology museum at Yavapai Point.
Stock up on water
The canyon is well equipped with cafes and supply shops but has vast stretched with just nature. Before heading off onto any of the hikes, make sure you stock up on water as running out of it here is easy and dangerous.
The canyon has a strong stand on consumption and sells refillable waters that you can fill for free from water fountains available in visitors centres and at the general store
Get a bike trailer
One of the most enjoyable way to visit the grand canyon is by bike. Older kids and teenagers can get their own but for younger ones you can get trailers that make for pleasant and safe carriages.
This is a great choice and one we availed of when we visited Yosemite National Park. Trailers are heavy but excellent to cover long distances without the kids getting tired or running risks. Our littlest one usually falls asleep in them so they are good for facilitating naps too!
Go to bed late (and stargaze)
One of the most beautiful moments we had at the Grand Canyon was when we went to bed late and stayed out stargazing.
Admiring the stars is easy and if you get a clear night you don’t even have to stray too far away from your accommodation.
From Yavapai lodge, we got wonderful views of the Milky Way, Mars, Venus and Jupiter and our kids learned to recognize the Big Bear constellations (which my daughter identifies resembling a shopping trolley!). This was one of the most special moments of our stay and one I highly recommend to try include in your itinerary.
This may sounds really stupid, however, the main thing you need to remember at the Grand Canyon is that the canyon is effectively a massive whole in the ground!
Depending on the age of the children and the exact lookout, you need to be more or less watchful. However, if you have toddlers, I would not let them get any close to the canyon or even the fence without holding them tight.
Bring older kids rafting, hiking or on a mule ride
Older and adventurous kids may enjoy active pursuits such as rafting, hiking and braving the canyon on a mule! Check with the individual provider for age limits, suitability and safety precautions.
Visiting the Grand canyon with kids: what to bring
- Good walking shoes (sneakers are ok unless you plan on going hiking)
- Refillable water bottle
- Child Carrier
Facilities at the Grand Canyon South Rim
The Grand Canyon South Rim is very well equipped for visitors and has many facilities for families too. Among others, we want to highlight:
- Canyon Cafe and Yavapai Tavern (informal meals, excellent for the whole family),
- General Store (great to stock up on supplies)
- The restaurants and cafe in El Tovar (both for longer sit down meals and faster, cafe style snacks)
I hope you found these tips for visiting the Grand Canyon with kids useful. Safe travels!
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