Grand Canyon with Kids
I can’t think of any place that has made more of an impression on me than the Grand Canyon. It somehow has the power to make a person feel both incredible grandness and infinite smallness at once, in the best possible ways.
My husband and I first visited the Grand Canyon in the summer of 2020, just after national parks had begun reopening following Covid-19 closures. Because crowds were unusually small at that time, we had several stretches of time during our trip where we could see exactly zero other people–in the second most visited national park in the United States.
There is something unexplainable about the feeling of being in a place that is unchanged for thousands of years. I loved to imagine American Indians and European explorers coming across the exact same views we were experiencing in modern times. And I wanted my children to be able to have that same experience!
Before actually visiting the Grand Canyon, I had no intentions of going while my children were small. I had visions that it was basically high-wiring it along cliff edges. Even as an ardent supporter of risky play, the Grand Canyon seemed like an unwise and unnecessary risk.
Until that amazing visit! Then not only did my husband and I want to bring our kids back so they could see it for themselves, but after seeing what the park was like, it felt not only doable, but reasonable to enjoy the Grand Canyon with kids.
Why Visit the Grand Canyon?
Grand Canyon National Park is a wildly popular vacation destination, ranking second only to Great Smoky Mountains National Park as the most visited site in the national park system. It is a truly epic location that isn’t rivaled anywhere else in the world.
It does also have true and real dangers. The cliffs are deadly, as is the climate. Temperatures can reach upwards of 115 degrees Fahrenheit in the canyon in the summer, and visitors tragically pass away every year while hiking the park trails. On-site gift shops sell a book called “Death in the Grand Canyon”, some light vacation reading.
But with some preparation, it can be an awe-inspiring family vacation! The historical and archeological exploration opportunities are beyond measure. Immersing children in natural environments can also inspire them into a deeper interest and care for their environment.
Visiting the Grand Canyon with Kids
On our family visit, my husband and three oldest kids went into the canyon to backpack, and I camped on the South Rim with the four younger kids, ages 10 and under. During our five days of camping, we got to know the rim very well.
Before visiting the Grand Canyon, we did have a serious talk with our kids about safety. Boundaries were clearly established, like that kids must stay on the paths at all times. We also naturally had to include the rule that no one was allowed to even pretend to jump off or push a sibling off any cliff.
There are tons of ways to enjoy the Grand Canyon with kids! We only spent time on the South Rim, which is the more developed and popular side of the canyon. Below are seven great ways for your family to take in its majestic beauty!
Seven Ways to Enjoy GCNP
While there are many more than seven ways to experience the Canyon, the ideas below are ones well-suited to families that include even very small children. Other options not mentioned here include rim-to-rim backpacking, mule riding, and whitewater rafting! Reasons to return when kids are older…;)
South Kaibab Trail to Ooh Aah Point
This is my absolute favorite South Rim hike with kids, and my first recommendation if visitors only have a few hours to spend at the park. It’s only 1.8 miles round trip, so it’s doable for little legs or baby-wearing parents.
The South Kaibab Trail is steeper than other popular nearby trails, which means that you don’t have to go far to feel like you are deep into the canyon. If you’ve visited the Grand Canyon before and been underwhelmed, it could be because you didn’t get to feel those steep canyon walls rising around you, and this is the trail to rectify that!
The trail also has wide scenic variety. The beautiful rock layers of the desert are very apparent along the trail, and because of how it curves around a few bends, you are exposed to multiple views into the deeper canyon. The cliffs above you and the open expanses in front of you are absolutely mesmerizing.
At the actual point itself, there is a nice sign marker–perfect for a photo op and for making little hikers feel like they reached a destination. Enjoy a snack and drink while watching the squirrels try to find ways to sneak your food away before heading back up.
To access the South Kaibab trailhead, take a free village bus right from the center of the village, and it drops you off just steps from the start. You can also drive and park at points along the road leading east of the village and hike a short way along the rim trail.
There is a water spigot and a vault toilet at the trailhead, but no water below the rim along the entire South Kaibab Trail to the Colorado River, so make sure to fill up at the top! As with all hiking at the Grand Canyon, it’s recommended that you avoid the hottest parts of the day and aim to complete your hikes before 10am.
Mather Point is an extremely popular tourist stop at the Grand Canyon, and it’s easy to see why! It’s a 5-10 minute paved walk from the Visitor’s Center and a huge parking lot, which makes it accessible to pretty much any visitor of any age or ability.
There are a few other reasons this a good stop when visiting the Grand Canyon with kids. The point itself is fenced in, although it’s possible to get around the fence with effort. In addition, if you have kids who are really chomping at the bit to do some climbing, there are trees and some large rocks along the short walk there, perfect for scrambling on and nowhere near the rim.
The Visitor’s Center itself is another plus about this stop. It’s air conditioned, has real bathrooms, and features a fascinating video with lots of bench seating. Kids can also pick up Junior Ranger booklets here, or receive their badges upon completion.
Popularity is the main downside to visiting Mather Point. If you hope for an uninterrupted peaceful view of the Grand Canyon, you won’t get it here. There is frequently a line to talk to a ranger, and the point is quite busy. But it’s worth a quick stop to get your bearings and give kids a taste of their surroundings!
Bright Angel Trail
This is the most visited hiking trail in the Grand Canyon, which makes sense, since it’s right in the middle of Grand Canyon Village. It’s steps or a single bus stop away from gift shops, restaurants, and many of the lodges. Bright Angel is also a well-maintained and easy to hike trail with a wide view into the canyon.
Kids love to hike to neat points, and you are in luck on this trail! There is a cool rock tunnel about a quarter mile from the trailhead, and if you are more ambitious, there are rest houses at 1.5 and 3 miles down.
Both rest house stops have water and toilets as well, and you can sit in shaded comfort as long as you like–or as long as the kids are willing to “relax.”
If you are interested in some introductory backpacking with kids at the Grand Canyon, this is a perfect trail to start with. The Havasupai Gardens (formerly Indian Gardens) are 4.5 miles down, and feature backpacking campsites, as well as an out and back trail to Plateau Point, an incredible place to see the sunset and get a peak at the distant Colorado River.
Bright Angel is a beautiful trail, but for visiting the Grand Canyon with kids, in my opinion it’s not as good as South Kaibab. The switchbacks are long and open, which makes the hiking slightly easier, but also means that you don’t get in the canyon as quickly, and can leave you feeling like you barely dipped your toe into the experience.
The South Rim Trail is a long trail–13 miles–that extends along the entire developed area of the South Rim. It’s mostly paved, so kids in strollers, wheelchair users, and non-hikers can all enjoy the views of the canyon.
The draw of this trail, in addition to its accessibility, is how well it highlights the variety in scenery and vegetation along the Grand Canyon. Kids can see how even in the desert, scenery can change dramatically in just a short distance! They are also more likely–if slightly–to spot a fossil to the west of the village, and can enjoy lots of charming berry-laden junipers to the east.
The Rim Trail is home to many historic and notable geological points, some of which are accessible by car and others not. One of particular note is the Kolb Photo Studio, where kids may enjoy seeing photos of the Kolb Brothers rigging up rope contraptions to get good camera views.
It was pretty neat to hike west of the village where vehicle traffic is extremely limited and see the canyon from a completely different angle. The tree cover is much more denser there as well, a perfect opportunity to emphasize to kids that the desert is more than just one note!
Portions of the Rim Trail can get quite busy, especially right in the village where the shops and restaurants are most concentrated, as well as near the more popular points such as Mather. However, many stretches of the Rim Trail are wide open for kids to run and explore.
Since the trail is mostly paved, it’s also a good place to bicycle. You can bring your own bikes of course, if that works for your travel plans, but bike rentals are available, including tagalongs and trailers for kids.
Many parts of the Rim Trail are what I would call a safe distance from the actual rim, where even a tall adult could fall down and land completely on level ground. Other portions have walls. However, some parts of the trail are truly right up against the steep cliffs of the rim, so it warrants some caution while using.
Yavapai Point and Geology Museum
This is a cool and unique museum with a gorgeous view! The large windows all along the north side of the museum provide a direct connection between the actual canyon and the models in front of you. It’s a great stop while visiting the Grand Canyon with kids.
Outside the museum is a small amphitheater style seating area, perfect for resting, snacking, or taking in a ranger program for the Junior Ranger book requirements. What better way to feel engaged with your location than by hearing about the layers of the canyon while looking directly at the layers of the canyon?
Yavapai Point can be accessed via the Rim Trail, about 2 miles from Bright Angel or .7 miles from Mather Point. It is also right on the village bus route, or you can park at the parking lot nearby.
The only real downside to this location is that the museum shares an open floor plan with a gift shop, Disney World style. Your kids will be in full view of adorable coyote and squirrel stuffed animals–yes, we own one now–as well as the usual shirts, water bottles, and stickers. So brace yourself, or open your wallet.
Riding the Bus
Riding a bus is almost always a novelty win with kids, and on the Grand Canyon buses, there are very few negatives. They are free, have high frequency, and travel all over the village and beyond. Plus they provide a relaxing almost-day-off at the park while still keeping everyone active and interested.
The buses travel to both ends of the Rim Trail, from Hermit’s Rest in the west to Yaki Point in the east (both unavailable to visitors’ cars), with lots of stops in between at various trails and viewpoints. You can see it all with very little wear and tear on kids’ legs.
They also travel around the inner village to the campground and lodges, as well as to the amenities like the grocery store and the showers, which is super helpful if you are traveling in an RV or just want to avoid parking hassles.
We took advantage of riding the buses around for most of our fifth day of camping when everyone was tired and wanted a break from hiking in the heat. It was just what we needed, and we even managed to spot a California condor from the comfort of an air-conditioned bus seat!
There are several points along the bus routes that are famous for their sunset views, so if you are visiting the Grand Canyon with kids and want to catch a sunset without the effort of a late-evening hike, this is the perfect way.
Many visitors do utilize the buses for sunset chasing, so if you jump on that train…or bus…give your family some extra time in case you have to wait for a second or third bus to have space. The seats are great, but may or may not be open at the busiest times. It can be a great chance to teach kids about bus etiquette, as well as courtesy to the elderly or people with disabilities.
Junior Ranger Program
If you haven’t checked out the Junior Ranger program at a national park, definitely do so when you visit the Grand Canyon with your family! It’s a free educational program that comes with a souvenir–a wooden badge with an engraved park name–upon completion of the age-based requirements and participating in a “swearing in” ceremony.
I love the Junior Ranger program for so many reasons, but one big one is that kids (and adults!) can learn directly from the rangers and possibly take in more about the park than they would from their uncool parents telling them the same things. My kids absolutely soaked up their Grand Canyon lesson about the rock layers from Ranger Javier.
In addition, the more you know about your location, the more you care about it. Kids are the current and future caretakers of the earth, and giving them reasons to care about our natural national treasures is a big step toward them continuing to preserve them!
The Junior Ranger booklets also provide built-in opportunities for down time. You know how we always need a vacation from our vacations? Spending some quiet time working on the booklet can mean some much-needed chill time for parents and kids alike.
The booklet requirements are scaled to various ages and include different types of activities, from coloring to trivia. Park rangers sign off on the work done and give each potential junior ranger a fun list of vows to swear to so they can take their official place as a volunteer ranger.
While it is mostly children that participate in the Junior Ranger program, it is available to all ages!
Additional Activities and Tips
When visiting the Grand Canyon with kids, here are a few more activities and tips that will make your trip simpler.
Canyon Village Grocery
There is a grocery store within the Grand Canyon village, walking distance or a bus ride from lodging within the park. It definitely has a monopoly on the food market since the nearby towns don’t have true grocery stores. But it’s actually a decent option!
My experience was that fresh food was pretty reasonable, which makes sense since it goes bad and needs to get sold. The packaged food was much more overpriced–think $10 for a small box of cereal or $4 for a can of beans. Hopefully that helps you plan accordingly!
Places to stay on site at the Grand Canyon include lodges, cabins, and the campground. The lodges are tough to get into during peak season, and prices can run upwards of $400/night on weekends.
On the bright side, the campgrounds are only $18/night! So if you don’t mind roughing it, you can stay at one of the most iconic places in the world for less than it costs to take your family out for one fast food meal. Sites will also accommodate RVs and trailers up to 30 feet, but there are no hookups.
Showers and laundry are available, and both run on quarters. I’d love to challenge you to get more than 4 kids through one 5 minute shower, which is what we had to do with the $2 in quarters that we scraped together.
Okay, that’s a major exaggeration. But most animal injuries are bites to the fingers of well-meaning visitors who think they would enjoy feeding the adorable and friendly local wildlife. Crows will also decimate your campsite in no time.
Keep your food out of reach at all times! Teach kids that even cute little wild animals are still wild and should not be treated as pets. Other animals to keep a safe distance from are mule deer and wild pigs.
The weather in the desert is also a factor that needs to be taken seriously. Kids’ bodies are not as good at heat regulation, and the dry heat of the desert can be deceptively dangerous.
Limit hikes into the canyon to mornings and evenings to avoid the heat of the day, and enjoy midday exploring the campground, riding the bus, or checking out the visitor’s center.
Of course everyone should drink plenty of water, and don’t forget to eat regularly! Both hydration and calories are important in protection against heat exhaustion. Wear appropriate sun-protection clothing as well.
Nights in the desert can cool off substantially. In the warm summer month of June, nights can drop down as low as the 40s! For those night walks on the rim or a stay in the campground, make sure you bring a sweatshirt or you’ll be especially thankful for that Yavapai gift shop.
Desert View Watchtower
For the five days of our camping trip, we saw signs for the 23 mile drive to Desert View Watchtower and wondered, “Is it worth the drive?” We ended up going on our way out of the park since our exit route took us past it.
My personal conclusion is that it is a neat and interesting location and worth driving if you are heading that way. It’s got a cool Middle Earth meets the Southwest vibe, but it’s also a long way out there in a direction you may be unlikely to go.
If you can’t get enough of the viewpoints, make the drive! If your kids are more impressed by watching crows pick at someone’s leftovers, it’s probably not going to grab them, and I don’t think it’s an absolute must-see. Two of our kids didn’t even get out of our van when we stopped.
Grand Canyon Family Vacation
Visiting the Grand Canyon with kids is such an incredible adventure, and it’s one of my favorite things we’ve ever done with our family. I’m so glad we didn’t wait until they were older or not go at all! I would love to return with them someday, but the five days we spent together there were so special.
If you’ve been debating taking children or even decided against it, I hope you will reconsider! It’s such an incredible display of some of nature’s most beautiful features, and a place worth visiting, knowing, and loving.
Grand Canyon National Park is an amazing place to visit, even and especially with kids!
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Grand Canyon with Kids
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