18 Grand Canyon with Kids Activities & Travel Tips

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!). And it’s about stopping along the way to enjoy the desert’s beauty and mystery. Here are 18 tips and kid-friendly Grand Canyon activities to know before you go!

Grand Canyon family photo with kids
Grand Canyon family photo (Photo credit: Travel Mamas)

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1. Decide when to visit the Grand Canyon.

Beautiful year-round, there is no bad time to visit the Grand 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 snowfall). Most travelers, however, only visit the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

On weekends in peak season (late May to early September), you may need to contend with heavy crowds both within the national park and on the roads. Summer and spring break are especially popular, with loads of visitors making their way to the Grand Canyon during school breaks.

Add Phoenicians escaping the Valley’s soaring temperatures in summer for cooler temperatures of the Canyon’s high desert. Expect temperatures at the South Rim to be around 50 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit in summer months, with much hotter temps within the inner canyon. Be sure to wear summer clothing and dress in layers to account for changes in temperatures.

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

2. Be careful at the Grand Canyon with kids.

The first order of business at the Grand Canyon is oohing and ahhing at nature’s magnificence. Next, 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. For peace of mind, this may be the time to invest in a safety harness or toddler carrier for young children.

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. They usually occur when people act carelessly to capture the perfect picture or hopping about from rock to rock.

If traveling with a family pet, keep in mind that domestic animals are not allowed below the rim. Cars heat up to dangerous and even lethal temps quickly in the desert, especially in summer. In fact, it is illegal in Arizona to leave animals confined in vehicles in dangerous conditions. Plan accordingly for Fido’s sake and yours.

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

3. Visit a Grand Canyon Visitor Center.

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is open 365 days per year. The Visitor Center is also open from 10 am to 4 pm nearly every day. Exceptions include Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and Columbus Day. Even if your family arrives when the building is closed, you will find useful information like shuttle bus schedules and hiking information on kiosks outside the building.

There are several Grand Canyon Visitor Centers at the South Rim and even more at other entrance points. The busiest center is located in Grand Canyon Village, which is the most popular and developed area of the national park.

Get trip planning and hiking advice from helpful park rangers and volunteers at the Visitors Center. Free public restrooms are available, too.

Start by watching the 20-minute orientation film, Grand Canyon: A Journey of Wonder. It runs on the hour and on the half-hour.

Bright Angel Trail at the Grand Canyon with kids
My daughter hiking the Bright Angel Trail (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

4. Hike the Grand Canyon…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 think you’ll hike down the canyon and back in a day, think again! It takes about four hours to descend to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Then it takes another six to eight to climb back up, and even longer if hiking with younger kids.

Believe me, going up is MUCH harder than going down! 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. Sturdy closed-toe athletic or hiking shoes are a must for all ages, no matter how long the hike is.

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.

Ice cream cone with Grand Canyon view
Ice cream cone with Grand Canyon view (Photo credit: bloodua, Depositphotos.com)

5. Eat ice cream at the edge of the Grand Canyon.

If your kids are anything like mine, then a bit of bribery might be needed to get those little legs to climb back to the top of the canyon even after a short hike. Thankfully, there are a few options at South Rim to reward sweet teeth.

Get an ice cream treat from Bright Angel Fountain inside Bright Angel Lodge, hand-scooped ice cream served in homemade waffle cones from Canyon Creamery, or ice cream and frozen yogurt from Desert View Trading Post restaurant and gift shop. Then enjoy your cones and cups while taking in spectacular views of the canyon.

Little girl getting sworn-in for her Junior Ranger badge at Montezuma Castle National Monument in Arizona
My daughter getting her Junior Ranger Badge at Montezuma Castle National Monument in Arizona (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

6. Become a Junior Ranger.

Nearly all U.S. National Parks offer the Junior Ranger Program to engage and educate kids about the flora, fauna, and history of the parks with activities to be completed in-person or online. Pick up your Grand Canyon Junior Ranger Booklet from one of the visitor’s centers, the bookstores operated by the Grand Canyon Conservancy at the Rim, or a backcountry ranger station.

Kids complete tasks like drawing pictures, writing observations, or completing activity pages in the booklets to earn a Junior Ranger Badge. The Grand Canyon has sticker badges for South Rim Junior Rangers (ages 4+) and North Rim Junior Rangers (ages 5+). There’s also a badge and special glow-in-the-dark scorpion patch for Explorer Junior Rangers (all ages) who venture into the Grand Canyon’s Backcountry via mule, hike, or camping adventure.

Kids of all ages can become a Virtual Grand Canyon Junior Ranger. Check out Junior Ranger online activities for little kids (ages 4-7) or Junior Ranger online activities for big kids (ages 8+). Badges cannot be mailed out but can be downloaded.

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)

7. Watch Navajo dance performances.

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

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

8. 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)

9. Visit Havasupai Falls.

One of the most breathtaking and remote areas of the Grand Canyon is Havasupai Falls. A full-day difficult hike, helicopter flight, or trail ride via horse or mule is required to reach the 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 fact, reservations tend to fill with 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!

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

10. 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. Riders must be aged 9+.

South Rim mule tours last 3 hours, including educational stops. Only 10 riders per day are allowed to descend all the way to the bottom of the Canyon for an overnight at Phantom Ranch before ascending to the rim the next day.

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

11. 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 Grand Canyon. Tours typically welcome older children aged 8+ on motor-powered rafts or 12+ for oar-powered journeys.

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

12. Brave the Grand Canyon Skywalk.

For a different way to view the Grand Canyon, take a stroll on Skywalk, a horseshoe-shaped glass-bottom bridge suspended 4,000 feet above the Colorado River.

Skywalk is located on the edge of the Grand Canyon West. Keep in mind that it will take about 4 hours to drive from the South Rim to Skywalk. Skywalk and Grand Canyon West are most easily accessible from Las Vegas. Book a bus tour from Sin City with optional Skywalk via GetYourGuide.

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

13. Plan pit stops on your way 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 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 pit stops. 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 the summer months at Slide Rock State Park, a natural waterpark of sorts. You might also want to visit the 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 a flying space rock created around 50 thousand years ago. These side trips are part of the joy of the journey to the Grand Canyon.

Take a take a peek at how to plan the best road trip from Phoenix with stops at the Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Bryce Canyon, Las Vegas, and beyond.

Meteor Crater could fit 20 football fields!
Meteor Crater (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

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

For a great way to reach the Grand Canyon, climb aboard the Grand Canyon Railway in Williams. This small town in Northern Arizona is about 2.5 hours by car from Phoenix.

The vintage train ride offers a variety of cabins. The most budget-friendly is a non-air-conditioned Pullman.

Those with deeper pockets should book a luxury domed-roof car that serves complimentary sodas and snacks. Expect a 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 train car.

During the journey back, there’s a make-believe train heist. Actors ride their horses alongside the train before it stops. Then, they board the choo-choo and snag tips from riders. My older 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. Book your Grand Canyon Railway tickets via GetYourGuide now!


YouTube video

15. Book Grand Canyon lodging well in advance.

Lodging options 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.

El Tovar Hotel

El Tovar is the oldest and grandest resort at the rim. It was constructed from limestone and pine in 1905 to evoke a Swiss chalet.

Growing up in Arizona, I made many visits to the Grand Canyon as a child and I always dreamed of staying at El Tovar. On a 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 the surliness of the service. Still, the amazing views can’t be beaten at this popular spot.

Tusayan or Williams

For more affordable and easier-to-book options a few miles outside Grand Canyon National Park, consider hotels in Tusayan or accommodations in Williams instead.

3-bedroom Flagstaff rental home
Our Flagstaff VRBO rental home (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)


The closest Arizona city to the Grand Canyon is Flagstaff. If you don’t mind staying even further from the Grand Canyon, then Flagstaff makes a good choice. It’s about a 90-minute drive from here to the South Rim.

This charming college town is home to Northern Arizona University. You’ll find a sweet walkable downtown and plentiful hiking trails amid Ponderosa pines. Discover all the best things to do in Flagstaff and Northern Arizona during your Grand Canyon vacation.

My whole family adored our 3-bedroom VRBO rental home 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)

16. Explore nearby Williams, AZ.

If you plan to do the train route, then 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. Wander through the town’s kitschy shops for a Route 66 souvenir.

Disney Imagineers visited the towns along the old Route 66 for inspiration for the Cars movies and subsequent Cars Land at Disneyland. They must’ve spent a night or two in Williams, which lights up like a scene from Cars with neon along its 15-mile-per-hour main drag. It’s art-imitating-life-imitating-art at its finest.

Route 66 souvenirs for families
Route 66 souvenirs (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Dining Options in Williams

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. Sit indoors to watch the game on TV or dine on their outdoor patio. They offer Etch A Sketches 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 sweet sips of strawberry and honey flavors!

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

High Flying Family Adventure Zipline

For a little thrill, top off your night with a ride aboard the High Flying Family Adventure Zipline. This seated zipline soars right over the wee town of Williams.

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

17. Make a side trip to Bearizona.

My children’s favorite part of our first (and second!) Grand Canyon family vacation was Bearizona. This drive-through wildlife park near Williams affords guests 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)

18. Pack the right Grand Canyon road trip snacks.

It’s fun to stop at offbeat diners during your Grand Canyon road trip with kids. Keep in mind, though, that there will be long stretches with little to eat along your path. Be sure to keep the troops fueled up during your journey.

Pack a picnic lunch and tasty treats like Cape Cod Chips. These classic kettle-cooked potato chips come in flavors like Original with Sea Salt, Sweet Mesquite Barbecue, Salt & Vinegar, and my favorite, Sea Salt & Cracked Pepper. What’s more, they have 40% less fat than the leading brand of potato chips! Buy a multipack of Cape Cod Chips from Amazon to munch on your next road trip.

Hungry for more? Take a look at additional travel snack ideas for your trip.

Cape Cod chips at the rim of the Grand Canyon
Eating Cape Cod Chips at the rim of the Grand Canyon (Photo credit: Travel Mamas)

Discover more things to do in Arizona with kids.

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!

Your entire family will have a wicked good time in Jerome, Arizona’s biggest ghost town.

Discover all the fun things to do in Scottsdale, the West’s Most Western Town.

For additional American Southwest vacation ideas, read my tips for visiting Prescott with kids, Arizona’s Territorial Capital.

Grand Canyon with Kids Tips & Activities

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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 a travel budget and free products from Cape Cod Chips related to this story when it launched in 2016. All opinions are mine, as always. This story is regularly updated to provide helpful, accurate information to readers like you.

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  1. I’ve been to the Grand Canyon 3 times. But your story brought up 3 MORE things I’d like to do there: white water rafting, sky bridge and stay overnight at Phantom Ranch! Might try this if I can be sure my hubby won’t have to run Rim to Rim if we go back?!?

  2. Thank you for putting this together. The train ride sounds awesome! I have 4 kids 2-10 year old. How long would you recommend exploring the canyon to then get back on a 2 hour train ride home?

    1. Hi Angela – I would plan to just spend a few hours (3 or so) at the rim before heading back down. Take some photos at the edge, wander through a few shops, and look for native dancers. Then eat lunch before heading back down on the train. You can pack a picnic lunch or plan to eat at one of the restaurants up top. Enjoy!

  3. These really are the best tips for visiting the Grand Canyon with kids! We wanted to do most of these things but had to pick and choose between the excursions (rafting, mules, helicopter, etc.) due to cost. I also love the option of staying in Flagstaff. It is such a fun town with some restaurants and breweries.

    1. Thanks for chiming in, Jennifer! Travel is always about choices…maybe you can come back sometime to the Grand Canyon and hit some of those items you missed! And agreed on Flagstaff — there’s definitely more nightlife and dining options there than closer to the rim!

  4. Thank you for the helpful post, we will be visiting the Grand Canyon the week after Easter. I see a lovely picture of your daughter on the Bright Angel Trail – is this one you would recommend for families? Any other family friend hikes (not planning to hike the whole thing – hah)? Thank you!

    1. Hi Rachelle – There really aren’t all that many trails into the Grand Canyon from the South Rim. The Bright Angel Trail is the most popular and easily accessed trail. Be very careful when hiking the Grand Canyon with children — my daughter slipped on the Bright Angel Trail when she was 9 years old and everyone on the trail (myself included!) tried to grab her to keep her from falling off the side! She was fine but my heart nearly beat out of my chest. There are some stretches of the trail with lots of space along the side, and others where it’s tighter and more dangerous. She was wearing regular athletic shoes — I would recommend getting some sturdy hiking shoes with good tread for every member of the family if you want to hike. Here are some hiking recos from HikingGuy that you might find helpful: https://hikingguy.com/hiking-trails/grand-canyon-hikes/grand-canyon-hikes-for-families/ Good luck and be safe!

  5. What a great post! Looking for our next family trip and your pictures make me want to pick the Grand Canyon!