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Grand Canyon with Kids ~ What You Need to Know Before You Go

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Visiting the Grand Canyon with kids is more than staring at one of the world’s most incredible natural wonders. A Grand Canyon family vacation is all about adventure. It’s about the journey, whether by car or train (or both!). It’s about stopping along the way to enjoy the desert’s beauty and mystery. Here are 17 tips you need to know before you plan your family trip to the Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon view

Grand Canyon South Rim view (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

This story is brought to you in partnership with Cape Cod Chips.

1. Know when to visit the Grand Canyon.

Beautiful year-round, there’s no bad time to visit the Canyon. Keep in mind, though, that winter conditions can be extreme with snow and ice causing road closures. Also, the North Rim is only open from mid-May to the end of October (or the first good snow fall). Most travelers, however, will visit just the South Rim of the Canyon.

Snow at the Grand Canyon in winter

Yes! It snows at the Grand Canyon in winter (Photo credit: Foto.Toch, Depositphotos.com)

On weekends in high season you may need to contend with heavy crowds both within the National Park and on the roads. Summer and spring break is especially popular, with loads of visitors making their way to the Grand Canyon during school breaks. In summer, add Phoenicians escaping the Valley’s soaring temperatures for the relatively cool temps of the Canyon’s high desert. Expect temperatures at the South Rim to be around 50-80 degrees Fahrenheit in summer months, with much toastier temps within the inner canyon.

Bright Angel Trail at the Grand Canyon with kids

My daughter hiking the Bright Angel Trail (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

2. Be careful when taking photos at the Grand Canyon.

First order of business at the Grand Canyon is oohing and ahh-ing at nature’s magnificence. Next up, you’ll want to snap a family photo in front of the Canyon, of course! Be ever watchful when visiting the Grand Canyon with kids. When traveling with young children, this may be the time to invest in a safety harness or toddler carrier, for peace of mind. Do not take any risks to grab that selfie, either. On average two people die by falling into the Grand Canyon each year. The instances are rare — about one per every 400,000 visitors — but they usually occur when people are acting careless in order to capture the perfect picture or from hopping about from rock to rock.

Family photo at the Grand Canyon South Rim

Our family photo at the Grand Canyon South Rim (Photo credit: Travel Mamas)

3. Hike the Grand Canyon with kids…or not.

When visiting the Grand Canyon with kids, honestly, a few hours is all you need to explore the South Rim unless you’re a family of serious hikers. If you’re thinking you’ll hike down the canyon and back in a day, then think again! It takes about 4 hours to descend to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and another six to eight to climb back up, and even longer if hiking with young children. Believe me, going up is MUCH harder than going down! Sturdy closed-toe athletic or hiking shoes are a must, no matter how long the hike.

If hiking down the Canyon is on your family’s bucket list, then plan to spend a few months training for the strenuous climb. You should also bring strategically packed daypacks. Not sure what to bring? Take a look at this Grand Canyon backpacking packing list.

For camping opportunities, be sure to make campground reservations about one year in advance to spend the night mid-way or on the Canyon floor.

A Navajo troupe member performing a traditional dance near Hopi House at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

A Navajo troupe member performing a traditional dance near Hopi House (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

4. Look for Native American dance performances.

When visiting in summer, check the sign by the Hopi House for traditional Native American dance times. The Navajo troupe performs authentic dances traditionally featured at powwows at scheduled times throughout the day.

Helicopter at the Grand Canyon

Helicopter at the Grand Canyon (Photo credit: nasneto8, Depositphotos.com)

5. Take a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon.

If you’ve got more time to spare, then a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon is something your kids will surely never forget. You can even board a chopper to descend to the Canyon floor.

Havasu Falls on the Havasupai Native American Reservation

Havasu Falls within the Havasupai Native American Reservation (Photo credit: luckyphotographer, Depositphotos.com)

6. Visit Havasupai Falls.

One of the most breath-taking and remote areas of the Grand Canyon is Havasupai Falls. Located on the Havasupai Native American Reservation, only a very limited number of people are allowed to visit this stunning location. Havasu Falls is the most popular of the five gorgeous waterfalls located here. Reservations book up very quickly each year (in about 30 minutes after opening on February 1), so if this is on your must-do list, register now, mark your calendar, and cross your fingers. A full-day difficult hike, helicopter flight, horse or mule ride is required to reach the falls.

Mule train at the Grand Canyon

Mule train at the Grand Canyon (Photo credit: rybarmarekk, Depositphotos.com)

7. Ride a mule at the Grand Canyon.

If your family prefers to ride rather than hike, then sign up for a mule ride through the Grand Canyon. South Rim mule tours last 3 hours, including educational stops. Only 10 riders per day are allowed to descend all of the way to the bottom of the Canyon for an overnight at Phantom Ranch before ascending to the rim the next day. Riders must be aged 9+.

Colorado River in the Grand Canyon

Colorado River in the Grand Canyon (Photo credit: chagall, Depositphotos.com)

8. Go white water rafting along the Colorado River.

Additionally, intrepid families can book single or multi-day white water rafting tours along the Colorado River through the Canyon. Tours typically welcome children aged 8+ on motor-powered rafts, or 12+ for oar-powered journeys.

Grand Canyon Skywalk

Grand Canyon Skywalk (Photo credit: jabiru, Depositphotos.com)

9. Brave the Grand Canyon Skywalk.

Dare devils would also dig a stroll on Skywalk, a horseshoe-shaped glass-bottom bridge suspended 4,000 feet above the Colorado River on the edge of Grand Canyon West. Keep in mind that it will take about 4 hours to drive from the South Rim to Skywalk.

Slide Rock State Park in Sedona, Arizona

Slide Rock State Park in Sedona (Photo credit: fotoluminate, Depositphotos.com)

10. Learn how to get to the Grand Canyon.

The closest city to the Grand Canyon is Las Vegas. It’s about 125 miles from the Strip to Grand Canyon West. Those driving from Las Vegas will be pleased to know it takes about 2 hours to drive from the city to Skywalk.

The drive from Phoenix to Grand Canyon South Rim will take about 4 hours if you don’t encounter heavy tourist traffic or make any pitstops. Oh, but what a shame it would be to not stop along the way! There are some serious treasures to be found on your road trip from the Valley of the Sun to the Grand Canyon.

Walnut Canyon ancient cliff dwellings once occupied by the Sinagua peoples

Walnut Canyon ancient cliff dwellings once occupied by the Sinagua peoples (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Stop in gorgeous Sedona to hike among red rocks or cool off in summer months at the Slide Rock State Park, a natural waterpark of sorts. You might also want to visit impressive Native American ruins at Walnut Canyon or Montezuma Castle.

A trip to Meteor Crater near Winslow is a bit off-course, but well worth the extra drive to see the massive hole that could fit 20 football fields. It was created by a flying space rock around 50 thousand years ago. These side trips are part of the joy of the journey to the Grand Canyon.

Meteor Crater could fit 20 football fields!

Meteor Crater (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

11. Take a train to the Grand Canyon with kids.

For a unique way to reach the Grand Canyon, climb aboard the Grand Canyon Railway in Williams, Arizona (a little over 2.5 hours by car from Phoenix). The vintage train offers a variety of cabins, from an non-air conditioned pullman up to a luxury domed-roof car that serves complimentary sodas, and snacks (cheese and cracker tray, veggies and hummus, and an array of fruits). Parents can purchase cocktails, beer and wine as well.

Chug your way to the canyon via the Grand Canyon Railway

Grand Canyon Railway (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Grand Canyon Railway is much more than transportation. Before boarding, train riders watch a live Old West shoot-out. On the way to the Grand Canyon, expect live musicians strolling through every class of car. On the way back, there’s a make believe train heist, with actors riding their horses alongside the train before it stops so they can board and snag tips from riders. My grade school kids found the hold-up to be a fun diversion. Be forewarned, however, that a preschooler in our car found the whole idea terrifying. Watch the video below for a sampling of the live entertainment on board the Grand Canyon Railway.

12. Book family-friendly accommodations at the Grand Canyon.

Accommodations at the rim of the Grand Canyon are limited. Plan to make your hotel reservations about a year in advance if you want to stay within the National Park. If there’s a hotel you really desire, my extended family has had success with calling daily for cancellations to snag a room. For more affordable and easier-to-book options a few miles outside Grand Canyon National Park, consider hotel options in Tusayan or Williams instead.

El Tovar is the oldest and grandest resort at the rim, made of limestone and pine in 1905 to evoke a Swiss chalet. Growing up in Arizona, I made many visits to the Canyon as a child and I always dreamed of staying at El Tovar. On this last visit with my kids, however, we ate lunch at El Tovar Dining Room and I was surprised by the low quality of the food and surliness of the service. Still, the views can’t be beat.

3-bedroom Flagstaff AirBnB

Flagstaff Airbnb that my family rented (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

The closest Arizona city to the Grand Canyon is Flagstaff, a charming college town that is home to Northern Arizona University. You’ll find a sweet walkable downtown and plentiful hiking trails amid ponderosa pines in Flagstaff. If you don’t mind staying further from the Grand Canyon, then Flagstaff makes a good choice. It’s about a 90-minute drive from here to the South Rim. My family adored our 3-bedroom Airbnb rental in Flagstaff, walking distance to many restaurants and shops with a barbecue, hammock, hot tub, and fire pit in the backyard.

Williams, Arizona - Inspiration for Disney's Cars Land

Williams, Arizona – Inspiration for Disney’s Cars Land (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

13. Visit Williams, Arizona.

If you plan to do the train route, then you can bed down for the night in Williams. The Grand Canyon Railway offers hotel and train packages. The hotel isn’t anything fancy, but the town sure is cute. Disney imagineers visited the towns along the old Route 66 for inspiration for the Cars movies and subsequent Cars Land at Disneyland. It’s obvious they spent a night or two in Williams, which lights up like a scene from Cars with neon lights along its 15-mile-per-hour main drag. It’s art-imitating-life-imitating-art at its finest.

Historic Brewing Company in Williams, Arizona

Historic Brewing Company in Williams, Arizona (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Food near the Grand Canyon doesn’t get high marks on Yelp for a reason. The same is true of Williams. Your best bet is to grab a table at the Historic Brewing Company, either indoors to watch the game on TV or on their outdoor patio. They offer EtchAsktetches for kids to borrow, plus an array of beers on tap and Grand Canyon Wine Co. wines for mom and dad. (Try the Arizona Pink wine for a sweet sips of strawberry and honey flavors.)

Route 66 souvenirs for families

Route 66 souvenirs (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Wander through the town’s kitschy shops for a Route 66 souvenir. For a little thrill, top off your night with a ride aboard the High Flying Family Adventure Zipline, which soars right over the wee town of Williams.

High Flying Family Adventure Zipline

High Flying Family Adventure Zipline (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

14. Make a side trip to Bearizona.

My children’s favorite part of our family vacation to the Grand Canyon had nothing to do with the Canyon itself. Instead, Bearizona is what they were excited to tell their grandparents and friends about after their first visit to Northern Arizona. This drive-through wildlife park near Williams affords guest the opportunity to see 17 species of animals including Arctic wolves, bison, dall sheep, and of course, bears.

Bearizona with kids

Bearizona drive-through wildlife park (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

15. Choose the right snacks for your Grand Canyon road trip.

It’s fun to stop along the way at offbeat diners during your Grand Canyon road trip. Keep in mind, though, that there will be long stretches with little to eat along your path. Bring along some tasty treats like Cape Cod Chips. Take a look at additional travel snack ideas for your trip.

Cape Cod potato chips at the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon snacks (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

16. Discover additional resources for your Grand Canyon trip.

Want to learn more tips for planning your family trip to the Grand Canyon? I found Fodor’s Arizona & The Grand Canyon to be a useful guide before and during our getaway. Get the latest edition today!

Looking for guided tours of the Grand Canyon and American Southwest? Take a look at this array of options from G Adventures and National Geographic Journeys.

For additional Arizona vacation ideas, read our tips for visiting Prescott with kids, Arizona’s Territorial Capital. You will also want to discover all the fun things to do in Scottsdale, the West’s Most Western Town. To explore the region further, read tips for exploring the American Southwest.

Tips for Planning a Trip to the Grand Canyon with Kids

17. Save these tips for planning your Grand Canyon family vacation.

Keep these Grand Canyon vacation tips for future reference by saving the graphic above to Pinterest. We hope you’ll follow Travel Mamas on Pinterest while you’re at it!

Do you have any questions about visiting Grand Canyon with kids? Want to share a tip for planning a family trip to the Grand Canyon? Let us know in the comments below!

A Note from The Travel Mama: I received compensation and free product from Cape Cod Chips related this story. 

About Colleen Lanin

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments
  1. Wow. Amazing photos! It was nice journey 🙂

  2. Catherine Sargent says

    This looks like an amazing trip. Visiting the Grand Canyon is at the top of my bucket list.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      I hope you can cross the Grand Canyon off your bucket list sometime soon, Catherine!

  3. We visited the Grand Canyon years ago. I have always wanted to go back with the whole family.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Pam – I hadn’t been back to the Grand Canyon for years either. It was so fun to experience it anew with my kids!

  4. How fun. I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon myself, so I’d love to take my family….. my kids would have so much fun. What an experience.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Jeanine – I hope your family can visit the Grand Canyon together someday soon!

  5. Melisasource says

    The Grand Canyon is definitely a destination that I have always wanted to take my family. Thank you for the great tips and advice for whenever we do make it there.

  6. Liz Mays says

    This is an awesome guide. I went with my parents when I was little. I’d love to go with my family now!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Liz – It’s such a different experience going as a parent as opposed to going as a kid!

  7. I visited the Grand Canyon as a kid with my family, and I have such fond memories of it. Now that my kids are older, I’d love to take them to see it. I need to see that glass bottom bridge.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Me too! The glass bottom bridge is quite far away from the South Rim (four hours!), so I’m not sure I’ll ever make it there.

  8. This is an incredible explanation of the Grand Canyon, I plan to go to the Grand Canyon the end of the year with my 2 nieces because it looks like they could have real good fun

  9. Pretty sure I’d opt for the shorter hike too. I do think the Grand Canyon would be beautiful to see.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Rosey – The nice thing is you can choose how long or how short a hike you want to take. You could wander down the path for just five minutes or three hours if you like ~ just keep in mind that it will take you longer to hike back up!

  10. Seattle Travel Blogger says

    My husband took a Grand Canyon trip – he did a hiking trip.
    This looks neat – with extra towns to visit that look interesting.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Seattle Travel Blogger – I hope next time he visits the Grand Canyon you get a chance to join the fun!

  11. Isn’t the Grand Canyon spectacular? I took my kids on a road trip two years ago and we loved it.

  12. Nicole Escat says

    Wow, Grand Canyon is one of the places I want to go! Nice tips on bringing kids.

  13. Kayla @ TheEclecticElement says

    Those are some unbelievable gorgeous pictures! I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon but I’ve ALWAYS wanted to go and those pictures definitely entice me that much more.

  14. I would love to visit the Grand Canyon with my kids one day. What a beautiful adventure to go on.

  15. Ryan Escat says

    Great tips! I want to see grand canyon, the rock formation makes me really curious. My son will love to go too!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      I love when kids are interested in nature. I hope your family can visit the Grand Canyon together soon!

  16. Rebecca Hunt says

    We are planning to stop at the Grand Canyon on our way to California from Texas. We will only have a little over half a day to spend there. Where do you suggest we go and do?

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Hi Rebecca – With just a half-day to spend at the Canyon, you should stick to the South Rim. (See “What to Do at the Grand Canyon with Kids” section above. If you have time, you could do a side trip to Meteor Crater, Bearizona/Williams, Walnut Canyon, Sedona, or Montezuma’s Castle. You’ll probably only have time for one side trip so take a look at a map and choose which one suits your family best. Enjoy!

  17. Crystal Harman says

    What is the youngest child that you could bring to the canyon enjoyably?

    Thanks!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Hi Crystal – I would feel comfortable bringing a baby that I could wear in a carrier or keep in a stroller. If visiting with a toddler or preschooler, I suggest sticking to the areas on the South Rim that are walled off (instead of hitting the trails) and keeping them close-by with a safety harness. I think you could enjoyably visit the Grand Canyon with children of any age, as long as you don’t stay for too long. A quick visit to the rim for some photos and lunch should suffice with little ones. I hope that helps!

  18. Mommyhighfive says

    Is there a possibility for snow during April? We are wanting to go over spring brea

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      I doubt it, but you never know! In March to May, average temperatures at the South Rim range from a low of 34 ºF to a high of 62 ºF. Average temperatures at Phantom Ranch, range from a low of 55 ºF to a high of 82 ºF. I hope that helps!

  19. The Grand Canyon is beautiful

  20. Great Info!

  21. Jade Brunet says

    My brother let his son choose a trip for his birthday and he selected a grand canyon rafting trip. It is helpful to understand that it takes about four hours to climb to the bottom of the grand canyon. Rafting would not be included in this time table. I will inform my brother that it would be wise to train a bit with his kids before going through with this excursion.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Training is so important if planning a trip to the bottom of the Canyon. Your brother should make reservations ASAP, too. There is one resort at the bottom of the North Rim, which is owned by a Native American tribe and it typically gets booked out at least a year in advance.

  22. This is a great read, Colleen! Thank you. I was hired to write a short children’s book about The Grand Canyon, so your article is very helpful!
    Now I want to go there!! 🙂 If there are any not-to-be-missed things at the Grand Canyon for preschoolers, I’d love to hear about them!
    Thanks! 🙂

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      I think preschoolers would love the Grand Canyon Railway ~ they offer a Polar Express experience at Christmastime where little ones can see Santa at the Grand Canyon. Little ones would also enjoy visiting Williams, especially if they’re “Cars” movie fans since there’s lots of neon and landscape similar to Radiator Springs. The traditional Native American dances near the Hopi House would also be a big hit with young kids. Of course, if you can include side trips, Bearizona is not to be missed! Best wishes with the book. Let me know when it’s available so I can add it to the Travel Mamas Amazon store!

  23. Jesse Stovall says

    Thank you for the information. My wife and I are taking our 6 year old granddaughter. We are considering either taking the train one way from Williams (I would drive the car up to the Canyon) vs taking a round trip in the train?

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      I suppose you could do this, but the inconvenience of you needing to skip the train all together to drive or taking the train back by yourself so you can drive back up to get the family seems like a giant pain to me. I’d rather keep everyone together. The train is part of the fun! Plus, it’s nice to avoid the traffic and driving at the Canyon. I really recommend you do the roundtrip together!

  24. Flyingkids says

    The Grand Canyon gives you such an amazing view of nature! Beautiful. Great guide for families looking to visit this wonderful place.

  25. Emelyn L. Cartagena says

    Wow! Amazing! How I wish to visit in this place! I would feel comfortable bringing my kids that I could watch and enjoy in this kind of environment. If I would be given a chance to come in this very beautiful place together with my loving family so we could share the moment and enjoy everything in our journey in a very adventure wonderful to witness how the world evolved. Grand Canyon is one of my dream travel place as soon as I would accomplished everything that needs to be done.

    Thank you
    Ms. Colleen Lanin
    The Travel Mama

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Emelyn – I hope your dream to visit the Grand Canyon comes true very soon! <3

  26. Where do you find the Blue Angel trail? Is it the top of the Bright Angel trail or something different? Thanks!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Hi Wendy – That was a mistake – I should have said Bright Angel Trail! I’m sorry for the confusion. I have updated the blog post to say Bright Angel Trail instead. Thanks for the heads-up!

  27. Hi,, would you recommend it for a 4 and 6 year old? or should we wait a few more years in your opinion?

    • Colleen Lanin says

      Hi Julie – It really depends on why you’re planning a visit to the Grand Canyon. If it’s part of a larger trip to Arizona or the Southwest, then I think a trip to the Grand Canyon is fine for a 4yo and 6yo. If the Grand Canyon is the focal point of your trip, I’d wait a few years. You will be a little on edge at the top of the canyon with such young kids and they won’t really “get it” until they’re a bit older. If you decide to go now, a very serious conversation about how to behave at the Grand Canyon is definitely warranted. You may even want to use a backpack “leash” for the little one, depending on how obedient they are. Of course, I tend to be a nervous nellie and there is a lot of space at the Grand Canyon where you’re not on the very edge, but better safe than sorry!

  28. Rupa manthri says

    Hi , would u recommend it for 2 yrs old baby? Is that good trip for December end?

    • Colleen Lanin says

      Hi Rupa – The Grand Canyon will be cold and likely snowy at the end of December. Make sure you have a 4-wheel drive vehicle and/or snow tires/chains! I would plan to keep your toddler in a stroller or on safety harness at the Grand Canyon just to be safe. If you take those safety precautions, you should be good to go! Enjoy the Grand Canyon!

  29. It was awe inspiring to see the Grand Canyon. We went there in 2018 for a family trip. We also visited Arches National Park, which was beautiful.

  30. Lisa Schultz says

    Great info!! We are debating on train ride vs. driving. WE are visiting in mid-March. How long does train allow you stop at the canyon? Did you feel at all rushed?I have 4.5 and 9 year old. Is the train a definite must do? I am guessing 1 night stay is enough time? Thank you!!

    • Colleen Lanin says

      A one- or two-night stay should work, depending on what time you plan to arrive at the Canyon and which activities you want to do. If you’re just looking for a quick hike, some photos and lunch at the rim, that should work. The train was a fun addition to our trip. I think they had two return times to choose from, so you can pick which works best for you. It’s not a must-do, but it does add some excitement and beauty to your adventure. You might want to warn your kids about the “hold up” and let them know it’s totally pretend and just for fun before boarding the return train so they don’t get scared. Have a wonderful time no matter what you choose to do!

  31. I barely remember my visit to the Grand Canyon, I was 17 and from memory, it was freezing and we just stood on the edge and left again. Looks like we missed out on a whole lot. Next time!

    • Colleen Lanin says

      The Grand Canyon is definitely one of those destinations that requires some advanced planning and can be a whole lot of fun or fairly disappointing, depending on that planning!

  32. Keri Hedrick says

    Some really helpful tips, we hope to get the Grand Canyon on our 2021 agenda. I went 15+ years ago and we only day tripped from Vegas so can’t wait to take the kids and see a lot more of the surrounding area too

    • Colleen Lanin says

      The Grand Canyon really is an amazing place to visit with kids and there’s so much to explore during a GC road trip. I hope your family has a fabulous time!

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