Dive into the geological history of the earth–take your children to explore the iconic Grand Canyon. Adventure along its upper rims, where trails cover much of its 277 mile length. Venture down–a full mile down–into the depths of the canyon with the Colorado River at its heart. Whether you’re in for a quick day stop or a week-long backpacking trip, your family’s ideal Grand Canyon experience awaits.
One memorable way to access the park is via the Grand Canyon Railway. This two-hour ride begins in Williams, Arizona, and takes you to the South Rim of the canyon. The train provides attendants in each car who share information about the canyon. The wildlife viewing from the train can be spectacular–bald eagles, mountain lions, pronghorn, and condors.
One your arrive at the South Rim, the National Park Service provides free shuttle buses that run along the trail and through the lodges. These are a great way to see a lot of the park in a short time. The Rim Trail is a level, paved trail that runs 13 miles along the South Rim from Hermits Rest to Yavapai Observation Tower. Families can hike along the Rim Trail in short stretches, then catch the shuttle bus at one of its many stops. For any hiking in the park, be sure to wear sturdy shoes and bring along plenty of water–more than you expect you’ll need.
There are many lodges in the park, but reservations should be made well in advance. Even if you’re not staying over, exploring the grounds of these historic lodges is a treat. Relax on the veranda of El Tovar. The kids will love their hot chocolate–the adults will too!
An easy family stop for lunch is the Bright Angel Fountain, located right on the rim of the canyon. They’re especially known for their ice cream, and you can gather the supplies for a perfect picnic lunch to eat as you hike along the trails.
Just down from the Bright Angel Lodge is the trailhead to the Bright Angel Trail. This is the top suggested trail to hike with children down into the canyon. Aim for the Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse, which has potable water and composting toilets. As you walk the steep 1.5 miles down, note the variety in the layers of rock–limestone, shale, sandstone, metamorphic rock. Over millions of years, the rock layers have eroded at different rates, thanks to their varying hardness levels. The resulting canyon is rich in color, texture, and wildlife. Keen eyes will spot fossils in the rock–sea sponges, corals, even shark teeth.
Families with younger children and less seasoned hikers will likely want to hike back up out of the canyon after the Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse. The journey up is steep and hot, and it’s important not to underestimate the energy needed to get out of the canyon.
Those who feel ready can continue on into the canyon, aiming for Indian Garden which is 4.6 miles from the rim. Here visitors will be treated to a quiet stream, picnic tables, and welcome shade provided by cottonwood trees.
The truly adventurous can plan to trek all the way down to the Colorado River and camp for the night at Bright Angel Campground, or stay in the cabins and dormitories at Phantom Ranch, the only lodge down in the canyon. Phantom Ranch can only be accessed by mule, by foot, or by river rafting trip down the Colorado. Reservations go quickly and often must be grabbed a year in advance for these coveted rooms. The lodge also offers a restaurant serving breakfast and dinner, and packing picnic lunches.
For a unique Grand Canyon experience, book one of the daily mule rides down into the canyon. Many of these also follow the Bright Angel Trail, and you’ll have options of day hikes or overnight rides, with accommodation at Phantom Ranch or the Bright Angel Campground.
Enjoy your exploration of the Grand Canyon, and watch as the history of our planet comes to life before your children’s eyes, and under their feet.