Arizona: Grand Canyon South Rim for Families
This post is part of our 8-Day SW National Park Road Trip with a Toddler series. The Introduction, route map, and itinerary can be found here.
The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail.John Wesley Powell
The Grand Canyon is a sight to behold. They say most visitors arrive at the rim and simply stop and stare; the depth and widths of the canyon so vast they strike the viewer momentarily mute upon first glimpse. The Grand Canyon is truly a spectacular marvel.
Before departing for a trip to the canyon, a traveller must first decide if they’re going to delve into the depths of the valley. The most commonly hiked path, Bright Angel Trail, descends 4,380 feet down to the Colorado River over ten miles before ending at Phantom Ranch. Visitors can also take a mule, should they not be up for a serious trek. This article does not explore these options, instead focusing on rim hikes and activities south of the canyon, which are preferable for families with small children or those with hiking limitations. Or those simply not wanting a strenuous trek! No judgement here.
Having flown into Las Vegas, Phoenix, or Flagstaff, stop in at a grocery store and pick up picnic supplies for the day. There are numerous roadside pull-outs that are perfect for picnicking. Visitors coming from Las Vegas might like to include side trips to Hoover Dam, or the ‘ghost’ towns of Chloride and Oatman. A parade was streaming through Chloride when we visited and Oatman is known for its staged gunfights and inquisitive burros. Those seeking the outdoors might venture out to Gold Strike Hot Springs, also off of Route 93 in Arizona.
After lunch, stop in at Bearizona in Williams (AZ), a drive-through wildlife park which features native flora and fauna from around the region. After the car tour, park and head into the more zoo-like portion, which includes a petting farm and birds of prey daily show.
Head north towards the Grand Canyon on Route 180, stopping for dinner and gas in Tusayan. The park entrance is immediately north of the town and the check-in center for your accommodations at Yavapai Lodge is clearly marked. This hotel is excellent for families due to its pull-in parking immediately adjacent to the room and small, one-story accommodations. The buildings are typical 1970s era cinderblock but have been nicely updated inside. Several dining options are available throughout the park.
Time to see the canyon! Hop on the free tram to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center at Mather Point. There are several hiking options available for families, including the aforementioned Bright Angel Trail. For those preferring a vastly less arduous hike, we recommend hopping on the Hermit’s Rest shuttle (red line), getting off at any of the stops, and then simply walking back to Bright Angel Lodge along the Rim Trail. Hiking from the mid-route stop of Mojave Point is approximately three miles, one way. If you visit the park from November 30 to March 1, you are allowed to take your vehicle on the Hermit’s Rest road, which we highly recommend. Pack a picnic lunch and find a quiet spot to take in the view. From Mojave Point, the muddy Colorado River can be seen far below. On particularly quiet days, the distant roar of the rapids can also be heard.
A note about the rim trail: This trail has both paved and unpaved portions. Consult the visitor’s map that you are given upon entrancing the park. Families with children should be especially cautious as the trail is only enclosed by handrails at the viewpoints, all other portions are un-secured and run directly along the canyon rim. Dangers from falls are very real. Know yourself and your children. The author and her family chose to have their children ride in backpacks during this hike. Their three-year old son did some hiking by himself but was tethered via a harness to the author’s husband. It garnered a few funny looks from other hikers but in the end we felt it afforded him more freedom since we weren’t calling him back every few feet.
Following the hike, drive east to Desert View Watchtower. The climb to the top is fun for the little ones (although not for the height-adverse) and the views are spectacular.
Danger from falling. Know your child! Click here for child carrier product reviews. (coming soon)
Grand Canyon National Park: A 7-day pass is available for $25/vehicle at the entrance gate. An $80 unlimited annual pass might be financially feasible if you plan on visiting multiple parks.
Yavapai Lodge, Grand Canyon Village, From $149/night.
Gold Strike Hot Springs. A strenuous 6.5 mile round trip hike down canyons and washes to a small hot springs near the Colorado River. This should be a coo-weather only hike as summer temperatures are unrelentingly furnace-like. free.
Town of Chloride, Arizona
Town of Oatman, Airzona
Bearizona. Drive through wild-life park. 30 minutes west of Flagstaff on Highway 40. $$
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