One of the top destinations in the U.S., the Grand Canyon should be on your road trip itinerary through the Desert Southwest. Mingle with visitors from around the globe as all stand on the edge of this majestic landscape. Load up the family and see what to do at the Grand Canyon with kids.
What To Do on Your First Trip to the Grand Canyon
- Stop by the Grand Canyon Visitors Center
- Grab a Junior Ranger Booklet for Kids
- Watch the Grand Canyon movie at the Visitor Center
- Walk along the Rim Trail
- Or rent bikes to explore
- See sunset or sunrise at Yaki or Mather Point
- Tour the Historic Grand Canyon Village
- Walk through El Tovar Hotel
- Shop for crafts at the Hopi House
- Walk through Kolb Studio
- Look over the Grand Canyon edge’s at the Lookout Studio
- Find the Bright Angel Trailhead, it heads to the bottom of the canyon
Around the Grand Canyon Visitors Center
When you have just a few hours to explore, park near the Grand Canyon Visitors Center (open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.). After grabbing the Junior Ranger booklets for the kids, watch the Grand Canyon introductory movie. Take a moment to look over the Junior Ranger booklet to see what’s required to earn a patch.
After exploring the Grand Canyon Visitor Center, walk outside and head to the edge of the Grand Canyon. This where to pick up the Rim Trail to Mather Point, both must-dos.
Kids want tour the Grand Canyon on a bike? Rent bikes next to the Visitor Center, all bike sizes and helmets are available. Pack a cooler and picnic. I found several picnic tables throughout the Mather Point area.
Grand Canyon National Park offers amazing sunsets, or sunrises for the early risers. The best spot to witness a symphony of nature, stop at Yaki or Mather Point. I’ve seen visitors moved to tears at the beauty of this experience.
If time allows, tour the Historic Grand Canyon Village. Save time and take the shuttle bus or walk along the Rim Trail.
Historic Grand Canyon Village
Take a walking tour of the Historic Grand Canyon Village. Check in at Verkamp’s Visitor Center if you missed the Grand Canyon Visitor Center.
Stop by the Log Train Depot to see how visitors visited the Grand Canyon 100 years ago and still do. The Grand Canyon Railroad (GCRR) offers daily departures from Williams, Arizona, along Interstate 40.
Walk up the stairs to El Tovar and see the rustic elegance of historic landmark. If the kids are up for it, take a walk through the lobby or sit in the rocking chairs on the front porch.
Walk through the Hopi House, a building that resembles a traditional Hopi structure. Designed by Mary Colter, buy traditional arts-and-crafts from the Hopi People inside.
The Lookout Studio is made of rock and Colter designed it to blend in with the environment. The Kolb Studio used to be a photography studio. Both studios offer unique vantage points for looking over the rim.
The Bright Angel Lodge features brightly painted details and walk through the lobby to appreciate. Inside find the Geologic Fireplace that displays the layers of rock as they are found in the Grand Canyon.
Pass the Kolb Studio to find the Bright Angel Trailhead. A well-maintained trail the famous mule train uses to get to Phantom Ranch on the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
Not a day hike for most families since it’s 12 miles roundtrip to Plateau Point or 9 miles roundtrip to Indian Garden. Though hike to the first tunnel is .36 miles roundtrip or the first switchback that’s .9 miles roundtrip.
TIP: Wear appropriate clothes and shoes then pack water and snacks no matter how the length of the hike.
Other Places to Explore
Desert View Watchtower
Each time I visit the Grand Canyon with my family, I see a new feature of the canyon, a new viewpoint. During my last trip, I explored the Desert View area and climbed Mary Colter’s Desert View Watchtower, her Grand Canyon masterpiece.
Looking through the tiny square windows that dot the exterior, I saw the Colorado River at the bottom, a ribbon of green water. I envision that Colter framed each view to enjoy, like a painting.
When I emerged from the tower, I took a moment and absorb the surroundings. To my delight, I smelled the desert perfume of pinyon pine and sage after an afternoon rain.
A mule trip to the bottom of Grand Canyon is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, taking about five hours each way. Lodging and meals can be reserved at the Phantom Ranch and reservations are required.
The Market Plaza features a general store, ATM, post office, amphitheater, laundry and pay showers.
Yavapai Lodge and Mather campground are located near the Market Plaza. Find the camper services in the Market Plaza too.
What to do at the Grand Canyon with Kids
The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about this UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the patches that the Park Rangers present them after completing their booklet.
The Grand Canyon Junior Ranger Program hands out a booklet specially designed for each age group. To earn the Junior Ranger badge, families are required to attend a Ranger Program and I found a program list at the visitors centers.
Raven Award–kids aged 4 to 7, though I’ve been helping my youngest since he was 3
Coyote Award–kids 8 to 10
Scorpion Award–kids 11 and older
For night owls, the Grand Canyon offers the Night Explorer Junior Ranger Patch for kids who attend a special Night Skies Ranger Program and complete the booklet that’s available at visitor centers.
If a trip to the bottom of the canyon is in your itinerary, a special Junior Ranger Program, Phantom Rattler Junior Ranger Patch, is awarded at Phantom Ranch, a 10-mile journey, one-way.
Grand Canyon National Park History
The first human artifacts found in Grand Canyon National Park date back 12,000 years. Though the Colorado River started carving the Grand Canyon long before that. To date, it measures 18 miles wide, one-mile deep and 277 river miles long.
First protected in 1893 the Grand Canyon was proclaimed a national park in 1919. The Fred Harvey Company, a NPS concessionaire, defined the look of this park, along with others in the area.
One of the most notable buildings is the El Tovar Hotel (1905). Built with local limestone and Oregon timber giving the hotel a rustic elegance. As I walked through the doorway, my eyes glanced up to the rough-hewn logs that surround me in the lobby. I can only imagine the relief of a well-heeled, dusty traveler would have felt finding this oasis of luxury in a land of harsh extremes a century ago
Mary Colter, the head architect at the Fred Harvey Co., designed buildings that blended seamlessly into the environment by using local materials and motifs of the Southwest. She designed the Bright Angel Lodge, the Phantom Ranch, the Hopi House, Hermits Rest and Desert View Watchtower, all registered National Historic Landmarks.
The Civilian Conservation Corps worked in the Grand Canyon during the 1930s to make it more hospitable to visitors. They worked on improving the Rim Trail and the trails to the bottom of the canyon.
Spending the Night at the Grand Canyon
If you are spending the night, park your car near your lodge and use the shuttle bus to get around. Since the majority of the lodging is located around the Historic Village, check in at Verkamp’s Visitor Center (open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.).
For our adventure at the Grand Canyon, I choose the Bright Angel Lodge (1935) located steps from the El Tovar on the south rim. A historic property that’s the perfect backdrop for my kids to conjure up a western adventure.
From the brightly painted, hand-carved doors of the lodge to the log and stone cabins sprinkled along the rim, the kids love rambling through this property. In the Bright Angel History Room, I find the Geologic Fireplace to show the kids the rock layers of the Grand Canyon as they are found on the canyon wall.
The cabins feature modern bathrooms and furnishings though it’s a tight fit for most families. Most Bright Angel cabins have one queen bed with room for a pack-n-pack or rollaway. At the Bright Angel Lodge, we enjoy breakfast featuring Southwest-inspired items along with traditional items and kids’ menu.
El Tovar Hotel is the premier historic property on the South Rim. Each room or suite is individually decorated, a great choice for adults.
One day I hope to take the famous mule train to the Phantom Ranch (1922) on the Grand Canyon floor. For this once-in-a-lifetime adventure, the trip takes about five hours each way. Lodging and meals are provided and reservations are required.
Or stay at one of the four modern lodges built in the 1960s. The Kachina Lodge and the Thunderbird Lodge are on the rim. The Maswik Lodge and the Yavapai Lodge are not. A good option for families who need more space.
Where’s the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is divided by the North Rim (open seasonally) and the South Rim. I’ve visited both and recommend the South Rim for your first visit.
The Grand Canyon South Rim is located 59 miles north of Williams, on Highway 64. The South Entrance is the most popular gateway taking visitors through Tusayan, a tourist town full of food and lodging.
For the East Entrance, drive north from Flagstaff on U.S. Route 89 to Highway 64. This route is a great alternative to the South Entrance and provides a scenic drive along the rim from Desert View Watchtower to the Grand Canyon Village.
Williams (WMA) is an Amtrak destination and a stop for a regional bus service. The closest airport with commercial flights is Flagstaff, Arizona (FLG), 80 miles away.
For a unique experience, visitors can take a historic train into the park with the Grand Canyon Railroad (GCRR). The GCRR offers daily departures from Williams, with several packages. You arrive at the historic Grand Canyon Train Depot, located across from the El Tovar Hotel. The Grand Canyon Train Depot is a log building train station, the only one in the U.S. still in operation.
Getting Around Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon National Park remains open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. Admission is $30 per vehicle for a 7-day pass or you can use an America the Beautiful annual pass or other park pass ($80).
I found the most parking at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center. Depending on the season, Grand Canyon runs several free shuttle buses that run along the south rim. Please check with GCNP for all current routes and times.
Need More Information
I own several National Park Guides. I use a combination of Moon Travel Guides and National Geographic Maps. Both offer more information if you need plan an extended trip. Or course, the National Park Service website is another source of information, especially for current conditions and closures.
Visiting during the Winter so have I.
Know Before You Go
- Make reservations for lodging and tours as soon as possible. Lodging reservations can be made 13 months in advance.
- The cabins are cozy in the winter though they don’t feature air conditioning for summer guests.
- The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is closed from October 15 to May 15 due to seasonal road closures.
- Be prepared for winter weather including several inches of snow.
- The roads in Grand Canyon National Park are not plowed as frequently as the highway leading into the park.
- There are year-round campgrounds for those prepared for winter camping and a full-service RV park.
- I found restaurants at El Tovar Hotel and Bright Angel Lodge. Or try the snack bars at Maswik Lodge, Desert View and Hermits Rest.
- For the Phantom Ranch Mule ride, riders must be 4’7” and weigh less than 200 lbs.
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