Grand Canyon Family Fun
If this is your family’s first trip to Grand Canyon, you can learn about the canyon’s geology, ecology, and human history on a one- or two-day program led by an instructor from the Grand Canyon Field Institute (www.grandcanyon.org/fieldinstitute). The two-day program includes meals and lodging as well as a guided hike partway down Bright Angel Trail and a walking tour of historic Grand Canyon Village. Activities are suitable for adults and children aged 10 and older.
Younger children can learn about the canyon by becoming a Junior Ranger. Kids aged 4-14 earn a certificate and badge when they participate in ranger-guided hikes or activities. The Junior Ranger activity book will help keep kids focused as your family explores the canyon through a variety of programs, such as condor talks, fossil walks, or stargazing.
If you haven’t signed up for a two-day tour, arrange a mule trip or bike ride for your second day at the canyon. There’s no age limit for the three-hour mule ride to the Abyss, though riders need to be at least 4 feet 7 inches tall. Children younger than 16 must be accompanied by an adult on this ride through piñon-pine forest to the most dizzying overlook on the West Rim.
If you’d rather not travel here by mule, Bright Angel Bicycles rents adult- and youth-sized bikes and guides tours to the Abyss. Children younger than age eight can ride in a pull-trailer behind Mom or Dad.
Alternately, you can spend a few hours exploring the West Rim and Hermits Rest on the park’s free shuttle buses. If you’d like to walk along the rim or picnic at an overlook, you can linger and wait for a later shuttle bus to continue your journey.
After a day or two of guided explorations, you may want to strike out on your own. Though all hikes leading into the canyon are steep (with drop-offs that will terrify some parents), many day-hike destinations partway down the trail are manageable day-hikes for kids, including the hike to Ooh Aah Point (less than two miles round-trip) on the South Kaibab Trail. Start in early morning as this hike is dangerously hot and exposed during summer months, and bring plenty of water.
The Rim Trail is relatively level and easy to hike a section at a time, making it an ideal place to teach younger children about nature. The mile-long section between Verkamp’s Visitors Center and the Yavapai Observation Station, known as the Trail of Time, highlights touchable samples of the canyon’s rock layers. Rim Trail brochures, available near the Yavapai Observation Station, can be used to identify plants or animals. Seeing a squirrel or a mule deer can stimulate a conversation about why it’s important not to feed animals or to get too close while taking a photo.
If wild animals are making themselves scarce, mules are a sure thing. Take an afternoon walk to the historic barns to watch the mules eat their dinner. Or, if your youngster is crazy about trains, you can head for the depot and watch the Grand Canyon Railway arrive or depart. (Better yet, begin your trip to Grand Canyon via the train, which departs from Williams in the morning and arrives at Grand Canyon before noon.)
The South Rim in particular has so many activities and sights that it’s easy for kids (and adults) to get overwhelmed. Plan to disengage from the bustle for some quiet time, whether it’s a shady rest in the ponderosa pine forest around the village or a nap in your room. If all else fails, take the kids to the Grand Canyon IMAX movie in nearby Tusayan, guaranteed to mesmerize them for 34 whole minutes.
Drive or take a motor coach tour to Desert View, the South Rim’s easternmost viewpoint. Stop to explore Tusayan Ruin, an 800-year-old pueblo that can be viewed from a gentle loop trail. Your kids will love climbing the winding staircase to the top of the Desert View Watchtower, the grand finale on this 25-mile scenic journey along the East Rim. From here, you have the option of returning to Flagstaff via U.S. 89A. If you have time, make a side trip through Wupatki and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monuments, where you can explore ancient pueblos or clamber up an extinct cinder cone.
© Kathleen Bryant from Moon Grand Canyon, 5th Edition