Tips for Visiting the Grand Canyon with Kids

There are certain places you should take your kids before they grow up, and visiting the Grand Canyon with kids definitely belongs on that list. The sheer immensity of the view just leaves you in awe. It’s the kind of place that teaches a child that the world is much bigger than they could even imagine.

I was so excited to kick off my year of travel with an Arizona road trip.  After a long winter of being cooped up, it felt so great to get back on the road exploring the world. We had a wonderful time visiting Monument Valley, Sedona and Mesa. But a trip to Arizona wouldn’t be the same without a stop at Grand Canyon National Park.

I’ve now been to the Grand Canyon three times. I have to admit, visiting the Grand Canyon with kids is much different than going alone. Before I had kids, I used to just “wing it” on vacation. Now, I always make sure to do my research and come prepared. Because the right preparation can make all the difference when traveling with kids. So here are my tips for visiting the Grand Canyon with kids to help you have a successful trip.

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Woman at Grand Canyon National Park

Plan Your Visit

North Rim or South Rim

The first question to address with any visit to the Grand Canyon with kids is which rim you should visit. The Grand Canyon is obviously huge, and visiting both the North and South Rims in one trip is infeasible. I’ve been to both rims, but, personally, I think the South Rim is better when visiting the Grand Canyon with kids. It’s not just that I prefer the view at the South Rim – which I do. It’s partly because the North Rim has no decent equivalent to the Rim Trail which offers such a great view without requiring you to hike far if you don’t want to.

Currently, the entrance fee is $30, though it is going up to $35 after May 31, 2018. We actually got into the park for free with our National Park Annual Pass ($80) that we purchased last fall for a separate trip. If you plan to visit any other National Parks within a year, it’s completely worth the purchase. We seem to buy one every year, but we are a bit of National Park addicts. With five National Parks in Utah alone, it’s hard not to be.

Related: Monument Valley: What to Know Before You Go

When to Go

Honestly, the Grand Canyon is a sight to see in any season. As with any tourist attraction, summer is the busiest season of the year at the Grand Canyon. If you visit in the summer, the higher elevation keeps it from getting too hot – especially when compared to other Arizona destinations like Phoenix. Also, the North Rim is much cooler than the South Rim.

Spring Break is also a really busy time. We visited the first week of April, and it was busy enough to make parking difficult but not impossible. It didn’t feel too crowded until we stopped at the Visitor Center. The crowds at Mather Point were so thick that we decided it wasn’t worth attempting to muscle through with little ones. The shoulder season usually gives you the best mix of weather and crowds. I think later April to mid-May is the magic month in the spring, and after Labor Day is a great time in the fall.

I’ve heard the Grand Canyon is magical in winter. But don’t plan on visiting the North Rim in the winter. From mid-October to mid-May, the roads into the North Rim are closed due to snow. A few years ago, a family attempted to visit the North Rim in December and got stranded on back roads in the snow. Luckily all of them survived; it could easily have been much worse.



View at Grand Canyon National Park

Parking

If you are like me, being unable to find parking is one thing guaranteed to get my aggravation level up. It doesn’t help that since “We are Here!” the kids are asking me millions of questions. I get so agitated and have the habit of snapping at the kids. Never a great start to the day.

For a visit to the Grand Canyon with kids, I advise parking at the Visitor Center and take the shuttle bus out to the West side viewpoints. As with most any attraction, it is always better to arrive early to ensure proper parking. If you can manage to arrive early at the Grand Canyon with kids, I applaud you. We are never great about getting an early start.

We skipped the Visitor Center and drove west hoping to park at Grand Canyon Village. Between taking the wrong way, construction, and difficulty finding parking, it took an hour before we actually started our hike. We luckily snagged the very last available parking slot or we would have had to return to the Visitor Center.

Speaking of the Visitor Center, I’ve been to many national parks, and the Visitor Center was a bit disappointing to me. The complex is separated into multiple buildings (restrooms, visitor center, gift shop, bus stops). Personally, I prefer the exhibits at the Geology Museum. The best part of the Visitor Center has to be the fantastic view from Mather Point is fantastic. Just to be warned, it was extremely crowded when we visited.

Related: Arizona Road Trip: Discovering the Magic of the Southwest

 

Father with children on the shuttle bus at Grand Canyon National Park

Shuttle Buses

To reduce traffic congestion, there are four shuttle bus routes that run in the park. When visiting the Grand Canyon with kids, shuttles buses are a great way to get around. Plus, kids love riding buses. My oldest described the buses as the highlight of our visit. Better than my 2-year-old who, when asked about the Grand Canyon, responded, “I don’t like it.”

Village Route (Blue)

If you are smart and park at the Visitor Center, the first line you want is the blue line. This line circles the various facilities at the park and gives you access between the Visitor Center and Grand Canyon Village, where most of the viewpoints are. You can drive this route, but parking in Grand Canyon Village is difficult to find.

From the Visitor Center, the shuttle makes only a few stops on its westbound route. It stops at Market Plaza, Shrine of the Ages, the Train Depot, Bright Angel Lodge. The blue route ends at the Hermit’s Rest Route Transfer where you can hop on the red line.

However, heading east back to the Visitor Center is full of stops. The route stops at Maswik Lodge, Backcountry Information Center, Center Road, Village East, Shrine of the Ages, Mather Campground, Trailer Village, and Market Plaza before returning to the Visitor Center. Shuttle run every 15 minutes most of the day, with the last bus running at 9pm.

Hermits Rest Route (Red)

Whether you take the blue shuttle from the Visitor Center or park at Grand Canyon Village, the red line the is the line you absolutely want to ride. The road from Grand Canyon Village to Hermit’s Rest is only open to vehicles from December to February. The rest of the year you have to access the viewpoints using the park shuttle (or by hiking or biking).

Going west from the Village Route Transfer point, the red line stops at each of the eight viewpoints before reaching Hermit’s Rest: Trailview Overlook, Maricopa Point, Powell Point, Hopi Point, Mohave Point, The Abyss, Monument Creek Vista and Pima Point.

Nestled in at the end of the line, Hermit’s Rest as toilets, a snack bar and a small gift shop. The route eastbound is much quicker, only stopping at 3 points (Pima Point, Mohave Point, and Powell Point) before arriving at the Village Route Transfer. Buses run every 15 minutes throughout the day, so they are incredibly easy to access.

Kaibab/Rim Route (Orange)

Another year-round route is the Orange Route, which is actually two routes combined together. Though the Visitor Center is considered a starting point for this route, it’s actually in the middle of the route. From the Visitor Center, you can either board the Rim Route, which takes you to Mather Point (just another stop at the Visitor Center complex) and  the Yavapai Geology museum before returning to the Visitor Center. I will admit that I enjoyed the exhibits at the Yavapai Geology museum much better than the ones at the Visitor Center.

For the Kaibab portion of the orange route, the shuttle goes from the Visitor Center to the South Kaibab Trailhead, Yaki Point and Pipe Creek Vista. Be aware that both the South Kaibab Trailhead and Yaki Point are closed to private vehicles, so you will need to walk or bike there if you do not ride the shuttle. Yaki Point is an excellent spot to view sunrise and sunset at the Grand Canyon. The last bus leaves 30 minutes after sunset, so make sure you don’t get stuck out there.

Tusayan Route (Purple)

If you are staying in Tusayan or are visiting during peak crowd season, the purple route is the way to go. From March to September, the free shuttle runs every 20 minutes from Tusayan to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center. You must have a valid park pass purchased before you board the shuttle. The shuttle has four stops in Tusayan: The IMAX Theater, the Best Western Grand Canyon Squire Inn, the Grand Hotel, and Big E Steakhouse & Saloon.  The ride time is estimated to be about 40 minutes.

Young girl at Grand Canyon National Park

Junior Ranger Program

My favorite thing to do at the Grand Canyon with kids, or at any national park for that matter, is the Junior Ranger program. Start your day by visiting the Visitor Center and pick up a Junior Ranger book. Generally, the youngest recommended age is 4, but they gladly gave my toddler a book as well. The book has a bunch of little activities kids can do at the park. To become a Junior Ranger, you have to complete four of the activities suggested for their age level. Just to warn you, at the Grand Canyon, they want you to attend a park ranger program or watch the park film as part of the Junior Ranger program.

Once you finish, you just return your book to a ranger at the Visitor Center. Your child is then sworn in and given a badge and a sticker. My children love doing the Junior Ranger program, and my older two have quite the collection now. Another bonus is that the book makes for great entertainment on the car ride home.

Related: How to Survive a Red-Eye Flight with Kids

 

There are certain places you should take your kids before they grow up, and visiting the Grand Canyon with kids definitely belongs on that list.

Hiking with Kids

Honestly, the best thing to do at the Grand Canyon with kids is to go on a hike. With my gaggle of little children, I prefer the Rim Trail. I know the largest worry for parents hiking at the Grand Canyon with kids is the heights. The Rim Trail is paved and placed a bit off the edge in most spots. Your child will be fine as long as the stay on the trail. As a precaution, I always kept my 2-year-old right by my side and on the inside of the trail.

Even though the trail is paved, it is too steep in places for strollers. I know lots of people use baby carriers, but we bought a backpack carrier when our oldest was a baby, and it has been a lifesaver to get us out on the trail.

Another tip for hiking with kids: Make them carry their own water. My 2-year-old refused to wear his hydration pack, but my older two love having a backpack of their own. My oldest has the Camelbak Scout Hydration Pack, and it has plenty of space without being too big for him. And it’ll be quite a few years before he outgrows it. My other two have the Camelbak Mini M.U.L.E. backpacks. They are perfect for preschool age kids. Besides the water pouch, my daughter’s backpack fits a small snack, sunglasses, a small flashlight and her hiking hat.

The Rim Trail goes 13 miles from the South Kaibab Trailhead all the way to Hermit’s Rest. A popular section is the trail from Grand Canyon Village to Hermit’s Rest, which is only accessible by shuttle bus much of the year. The shuttle out of Grand Canyon Village has a crazy long line when we visited, so we opted to hike to the first shuttle stop, stopping for a snack partway there. Since you never know when your kids will be up for hiking, I love that you can just hop on the shuttle bus and skip ahead to a different section of the trail. We like to hike small sections so we can get a new vantage point without tiring out the kids too much.

The Rim Trail is not the only trail in the park. When visiting the Grand Canyon with Kids, the Bright Angel Trail is an extremely popular choice. I’ve had a 2 year-old and a baby with me each time I’ve visited, so I have always just stuck to the Rim Trail. However, if you have older children, the Bright Angel Trail would be a great choice. My husband really wants to hike Rim-to-Rim someday, and this is the trail that he would take from the South Rim down to the canyon floor.

If you are visiting the Grand Canyon with kids, don’t plan to reach anywhere near the canyon floor. It’s a physically demanding hike and not ideal for the casual hiker. If that’s something you want to do, make sure to do your research and prepare. From our vantage point overlooking the Bright Angel Trail, most of the hikers just went about a quarter-mile or so down the trail. There is a tunnel cut out of the rock that would make a great destination if you want to only go a short way down. If you look, you can see it in the above picture.

Another common route to the canyon floor is the South Kaibab Trail. It is actually a quicker route and sometimes preferred to the Bright Angel Trail. If you are serious about hiking, do your research to decide what trail is right for you. But for most people visiting the Grand Canyon with kids, a short descent down part of the Bright Angel Trail is a better option. In addition, there is also a trail extending from Hermit’s Rest to the east. This trail seems to be more for more experienced hikers, so I wouldn’t recommend it when visiting the Grand Canyon with kids.

Related: My Year of Travel: 10 Places I’m Taking My Family This Year



Toddler boy looking at the view at Grand Canyon National Park

Best viewpoints

West Side

I think the best viewpoint on the west side would have to be Hopi Point. It sticks out further than any other viewpoint on Hermit Road. You can even glimpse the Colorado River down on the canyon floor. Hopi Point, Powell Point and Maricopa Point are all very close to each other. When hiking the Grand Canyon with kids, I think this is a great spot to get in three viewpoints without having to hike terribly far.

For a unique view of the Grand Canyon, The Abyss is a great spot to stop. The sheer drop to the canyon floor makes for some impressive photographs. Pima Point and Mohave Point are also really popular viewpoints. Let’s be honest, at the Grand Canyon, almost every viewpoint is pretty amazing.

Desert View Drive

By the end of the afternoon, our kids were just finished, so we opted to skip the drive on the East Side of the park. I did enjoy driving it the last time we visited. It’s always so fun to see what the park looks like from different vantage points. I’m not sure if I can pick the best viewpoint on the Desert View Drive. They are all extremely spectacular. Personally, I love the wide panorama you get from Lipan Point, but Grandview Point and Moran Point are also extremely beautiful.

Another fun stop when driving the east side of the Grand Canyon with kids would be the Desert View Watchtower at the east entrance. The replica of a prehistoric watchtower perched on the edge of the Grand Canyon will inspire the imagination of any child. If you enter from the east, this is a great spot to start your visit. Look, we are here! If you exit here, it’s a fun place to say goodbye to the park.

Have you ever visited the Grand Canyon with kids? Share your tips in the comments below!

If you are planning a family vacation to Grand Canyon National Park, here are our travel tips to visiting Grand Canyon with kids.

If you are planning a family vacation to Grand Canyon National Park, here are our travel tips to visiting Grand Canyon with kids.
If you are planning a family vacation to Grand Canyon National Park, here are our travel tips to visiting Grand Canyon with kids.
If you are planning a family vacation to Grand Canyon National Park, here are our travel tips to visiting Grand Canyon with kids.

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4 Comments

  • Reply Jessica Friedrichs May 23, 2018 at 1:36 pm

    So much great info here! I’ve been a couple times without kids, but definitely want to take the whole family some day. I will remember to stick to the Rim Trail because I’m terrified of someone falling over the edge! The first time I went, I was actually shocked that there wasn’t a fence around the whole thing, lol. Excellent post, I especially enjoyed the beautiful pictures with your little cuties:-)

    • Reply Rachael May 23, 2018 at 2:36 pm

      Thank you! Just keep a close eye on the kids, and you’ll be fine. Hope you get to go someday!

  • Reply Lana April 30, 2018 at 12:11 pm

    The views are stunning! It would be in my bucket list to visit Grand Canyon if we ever go to the US. It’s just so dreamy!
    Great post, very useful to those traveling there. I hope it will be me one day 🙂

  • Reply Julie April 29, 2018 at 7:48 pm

    WOW, this is just packed full of information! I’m bookmarking so I can come back to it when we decide to make the trip! Great post!

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