Grand Canyon with Kids: 10 Awesome Things to Do

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Hikes, mule rides, ranger programs, and the great outdoors make it a perfect family destination

Posted by: Grand Canyon National Park - South Rim on April 4, 2018

Understanding the immense span of time it took to create Grand Canyon can be daunting, but the 2.8-mile Trail of Time on the South Rim is a perfect visual aid to help kids understand how it was formed.

A larger-than-life experience, Grand Canyon draws tens of thousands of families each year who unplug their smartphones, tune out of television, and create lasting memories together. Bruce Brossman, marketing director for the Grand Canyon National Park Lodges and Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel, has seen that again and again.

Here, he shares 10 ways the park helps kids replace virtual reality with a real-life experience that will stay with them for a lifetime. Guaranteed.

Junior Rangers

1. Take Part in a Junior Ranger Program

With its historic sights, walking trails, museums, exhibits, and the canyon itself, Grand Canyon National Park may be America’s largest classroom. For kids, one of the most popular activities is participating in a Junior Ranger program.

“Lessons are related to nature, history, the environment, and geology and every program is free,” Brossman explains. “Kids can pick up a Junior Ranger book, complete the activities inside, and then bring it to a ranger at the Visitor Center. After they review the answers, they administer the Junior Ranger pledge and then present them with their Junior Ranger badge. They can even take their new badge to one of the park’s bookstores for a custom sew-on patch related to their award.”

2. Learn Geological History

Understanding the immense span of time it took to create Grand Canyon can be daunting, but the 2.8-mile Trail of Time on the South Rim is a perfect visual aid to help kids understand how it was formed. They can even earn a Junior Ranger badge here.

“Follow this interpretive timeline east from the Village and show your kids how the canyon’s rock layers reveal its geological story,” Brossman explains. “Brass markers every few feet represent one million years and the farther you walk, the farther back in time you travel until you reach the ‘bottom’ of the canyon where the oldest layer of rock is nearly two billion years old.”

On the trail, ask your kids to imagine each million years as just one day. The top layer was formed 270 million years old, so that is just ‘nine months’ old. The bottom would be nearly 2,000 days old — more than five years at that rate. If you need a little assistance in explaining it to your children, look for interpretive materials that will help you understand the geological process, or ask a ranger for a quick overview of how the canyon was formed.

3. Take an Ice Cream Break

After walking the Trail of Time, cool off at the Bright Angel Lodge Fountain.

“They serve hand-scooped ice cream cones and shakes and floats,” Brossman says. “You can tell by the long lines in the summertime that ice cream is perfect for kids of all ages.”

4. Study Ancient Human History

Drive east along the South Rim to the Tusayan Ruins and you can teach your kids about the human story connected with the canyon. An excavated village includes the remnants of shelters and meeting houses Ancestral Puebloans used for religious rituals and political meetings.

“These tribes had established dozens of communities in the area, one of which was here,” says Brossman. “You can connect your kids to history by asking them to imagine how those people lived — where did they get their water? How did they dress? What did children their age do for entertainment?

“For the answers, visit the small museum here where the answers are found in exhibits that showcase tools, jewelry, art, and artifacts unearthed at this spot.”

5. Learn About America’s First Restaurant Chain

Long before fast food joints, there was a company that served food fast. In the Historic Village, stop in at the Fred Harvey History Room.

“Not many people today know this,” Brossman begins, “but back in the 1870s the Fred Harvey Company became America’s first restaurant chain. Passengers were heading west aboard trains and Fred Harvey revolutionized food service and hospitality throughout the region by creating a chain of restaurants. This is another place where you can share a lesson just by contrasting the past with the present. Ask your kids to imagine what it was like ordering food in 1878 and what it’s like ordering food in 2018.”

6. Eat Kid-Friendly Meals

After showing your kids how people ate in the 1870s, take them to the restaurants of the Grand Canyon National Park Lodges and let them order some of their old favorites on the kids’ menu.

Women riding a mule

7. Ride a Mule

Riders will have to be at least 4 feet 9 inches to participate in one of the most popular activities for kids (and adults): the Canyon Vista Mule Ride.

“Tell your kids you’re going to take them for a ride on a ‘long-eared taxi’,” Brossman suggests. “They’ll fall in love with our gentle mules, and it gives them a perfect opportunity to see Grand Canyon from a new perspective. Along the way, they’ll learn a little about geology, nature, the outdoors, and how to behave around large animals. This is a signature Grand Canyon experience.”

Grand Canyon house

8. Shop for Memorable Collectibles

On vacation, every kid loves to look for unique souvenirs to bring home for themselves, friends, and family. For this, take them to the Hopi House.

“Young girls especially love to learn this was designed by a woman,” says Brossman. “More than a century ago, Mary Colter became known as ‘The Architect of the Southwest’ for the Hopi House, the Watch Tower, and other structures she designed at Grand Canyon and elsewhere in the region. She was truly an independent and talented woman.”

Located next to the El Tovar Hotel, the Hopi House lets kids find affordable souvenirs and collectibles like Native American dream catchers, jewelry, and other works of art.

9. Hike into the Canyon

Kids can chalk up an unforgettable experience by hiking into the canyon — with an adult, of course.

“I’ve seen kids who are revved and ready to go the whole distance to the bottom of the canyon, but start with a short hike on the Bright Angel Trail at the west end of the Village,” suggests Brossman. “Start with a short 30-minute family hike through the first tunnel and then point out something few other visitors notice. Look up to the left and you’ll see an ancient Native American pictograph that’s about 800 years old.”

If the family can do the round trip without much effort, consider a longer hike. On the Bright Angel Trail there are water and restroom stops at 1.5 and three miles — and the views change every few feet.

Canyon Sunrise

10. Get Wowed by the Sunrise

Even if it’s not a school day, your kids will want to get up early to witness one of the most beautiful sights in America.

“Sunrise at Grand Canyon is a wonderful experience for families to share,” Brossman notes. “It’s worth it to get up before daybreak to see the canyon change colors with the changing light. It is something you and your family will remember forever.”

How to Explore

Grand Canyon National Park Lodges provides the premier in-park lodging, managing six distinctly different lodges. From the El Tovar hotel, long considered the crown jewel of national park hotels, to Phantom Ranch, the only lodging on the floor of the canyon, you’ll find accommodations to help you get the most out of your visit to the Grand Canyon. You can also book rafting, railway, and motorcoach tours. For more information and reservations, visit grandcanyonlodges.com or call 888-297-2757.

There’s no better way to make a grand trip grander than on the historic Grand Canyon Railway. Travel over 120 round-trip miles through beautiful northern Arizona while being entertained by historical cowboy characters and strolling musicians. The Grand Canyon Railway has been departing daily from Williams, Ariz., since 1901. Spend a night in Williams next door to the train depot at the AAA Three Diamond Grand Canyon Railway Hotel. Packages with train travel and overnight stays in Grand Canyon National Park and Williams are available. Visit TheTrain.com for more information.

Or consider the 10-day “Bryce, Zion & the Grand Canyon” tour from Holiday Vacations, one of America’s most reputable tour companies with more than 44 years of experience. As a nationwide provider of air, rail, motorcoach and cruise guided vacations to more than 65 destinations worldwide, their packages are inclusive of all airfare, fine hotels, meals and must-see attractions. Expert tour directors handle all travel details, assuring you a carefree and memorable vacation. Visit HolidayVacations.com for more information.

For more travel experiences to Beautiful Places on Earth™ available from Xanterra Travel Collection and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.


Written by: Gary McKechnie

The author of the best-selling Great American Motorcycle Tours, Gary McKechnie also wrote National Geographic’s USA 101 and Ten Best of Everything: National Parks. He lectures on American travel and history aboard the ships of the Cunard, Seabourn, and Silversea lines.

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SR Watchtower with Dead Tree and Canyon
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