For nature-loving adults and kids, Grand Canyon National Park is the ultimate bucket-list destination. A mile deep, 277 miles long and larger than the state of Rhode Island, it has no shortage of hikes, Colorado River escapades and red-rock-infused vistas for visitors of all ages to enjoy.
When it comes to bringing the kiddos to the Grand Canyon, it’s best to take the elements into consideration and plan carefully. By doing so, you can nip potential headaches – including strenuous hikes, sold-out lodging and the inevitable need for a breather from all the on-foot action – in the bud.
Is Grand Canyon National Park good for kids?
Let’s put it this way: how good a time you and your kids have at Grand Canyon National Park is ultimately contingent on how well things are planned – and, in some instances, booked – ahead of time. This is a place you should opt to bring the things you'd normally consider buying or renting upon arrival, including strollers, extra water, snacks and sun protection (sun hats, glasses and sunscreen).
With the right assets, you can better control any expected or unexpected turn, from taking care of yourself during the park’s sunniest months of the year (March through June) to navigating the periodic off-road patch of the South Rim Trail. If your hiking endeavors extend beyond the South Rim Trail, definitely pack that hiking backpack for your trekking toddler – for the most part, trails within the park range from loose and dirt-dominant to super-rocky.
In terms of an appropriate portion of the Grand Canyon for a kid-centric adventure, the South Rim will be your spot. Compared to its North Rim counterpart, which is typically closed from December through mid-May to all visitors, there are more family-ready restroom facilities and tourist-friendly lookout points, plus the expansive Grand Canyon Village with its souvenirs and exhibits.
1. Take a hike on family-friendly trails
Sure, there are the steep and drop-filled Nankoweap and North Kaibab Trails, which most adults – let alone kids – should steer clear of unless they’re hiking pros. But within Grand Canyon National Park, there are plenty of kid-friendly trails to hit too.
For a primarily paved outing that’s accessible from multiple parking lots, the South Rim Trail between the South Kaibab Trailhead and Hermits Rest offers deep canyon vistas and larger facilities along its 13-mile stretch. If you or the kids tire, there is a free shuttle that stops along the trail every 15 to 30 minutes.
Another option, and easily the park’s most popular, is Bright Angel Trail, which begins in the heart of Grand Canyon Village. To avoid crowds and give the kids a little extra wiggle room on the trails, consider arriving by 8:30am.
2. Pack a picnic and stroll to Shoshone Point
Shoshone Point looks over the South Rim of the canyon and is nicely tucked away from the crowds if you'd like a gentle stroll. Situated approximately 10 minutes southeast of the Grand Canyon Visitor Center, the entire experience is optimized for a family-friendly adventure.
From the trailhead, which has a sizable parking lot, it’s approximately a mile-long flat and dirt-packed hike to Shoshone Point. There are picnic tables, fire pits, grills and restroom facilities at the end. Make sure to pack water, as there are no fountains along the way.
3. Embark on an adventure with your junior ranger
The National Park Service offers a junior-ranger program at most parks, and the Grand Canyon is no exception. The program encourages kids to learn about local nature and history via a ranger-led talk (and yes, the whole family can participate). At Grand Canyon National Park, you can snag a booklet – and a unique badge after completing activities – at Kolb Studio, Yavapai Geology Museum or the Grand Canyon Visitors Center.
Beyond the junior-ranger program, there is a daily ranger’s-choice program, with topics spanning from California condors to local wildlife. Visitors embark on a 30-minute indoor/outdoor tour from the South Rim Visitor Center, and kids are welcome as long as they're accompanied by an adult.
4. Rent a bike and ride along the South Rim
At some point, you might want to mix things up a bit and take a break from the walking. A bike ride is a great alternative and Bright Angel Bicycles has rentals for the whole family, including kids’ bikes, trailers and tag-along attachments.
From the shop, which is tucked off the super-popular Mather Point viewpoint, head west along the South Rim, where paved roads and bike routes await. The shop also offers guided bike tours, leading along Hermit Road (5.5 miles) as well as to Yaki Point (7 miles).
5. Coast along the Colorado River in a kayak or pontoon boat
The water adventures within and surrounding the canyon include powerful white-water adventures and tranquil rafting trips.
For those wanting to take in the curvy magic of Horseshoe Bend, Wilderness River Adventures has a tranquil, half-day rafting excursion with a discount for kids under 15. Nearby, in Antelope Canyon, local operator Antelope Canyon Boat Tours offers kayak rentals and pontoon-boat tours and rentals.
6. Have a rockin’ day at Yavapai Geology Museum
While taking in Grand Canyon National Park’s beauty, the biggest question any kid has will inevitably be: how did all of this happen? Beyond the exhibits at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center, the Yavapai Geology Museum is the place for answers.
The space includes three-dimensional models, rotating photo exhibits and a topographical map of the canyon. The expansive window overlooking the canyon is a perfect selfie spot.
7. Hop on a train to the Canyon
Getting to Grand Canyon National Park is half the fun. For train lovers, the Grand Canyon Railway departs daily from the small town of Williams, Arizona, taking folks on a 65-mile journey through towering hardwood trees to the South Rim.
The vintage rail cars often have Western-inspired entertainers and singers, making for an even more memorable journey. The train departs daily from Williams at 9:30am and leaves the canyon at 2:30pm. Make sure to check the schedule, as it tends to change in November and December.
Where to stay with kids
Campground or lodge? There are ample options in and surrounding Grand Canyon National Park. For kid-friendly camping, Mather Campground is well shaded by Ponderosas and has nearly 330 campsites. Desert View Campground is a more secluded option, tucked near the east entrance of the park, with nearly 50 campsites. Each has restroom facilities and is bookable up to six months in advance, which you’ll want to move on.
Within the park, Yavapai Lodge offers unpretentious rooms and a s’mores kit for kids at the on-site restaurant. Maswik Lodge is equally unassuming, with a pizza pub to satisfy any snack cravings. In many ways, El Tovar is considered the crown jewel of Grand Canyon lodging, with an elegant dining room draped in art inspired by local indigenous communities. The spot has a kids' menu and half-order options for those with smaller appetites.