We visited the Grand Canyon for the first time over the summer. As expected, it was incredible. Before we went, I had to study 10 Tips for Visiting the Grand Canyon for the First Time, a fabulous resource written by my friend Rebecca of R We There Yet Mom. She took her three kids there in 2013 and was awed by the experience as well. I mean really, how can you not be? It’s the Grand Canyon.
Following our visit in July, I knew that I also wanted to share my thoughts on what to do on your first visit to the Grand Canyon with kids. So, here you go. I hope you get as much from the experience as we did. I can’t wait to take another Grand Canyon family vacation.
1. Stay in a Hotel in Tusayan. Staying inside a national park isn’t for everyone, particularly those who like in-room wi-fi and air conditioning. Tusayan is less than 10 minutes from the South Rim park entrance and has everything you need on a three-block strip, including a McDonald’s, a Wendy’s and a handful of sit-down restaurants. There’s also a small grocery store. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites and it was more than adequate (free breakfast, too). You’ll want to book well in advance.
2. Use the Park Shuttle. The free park shuttle is fantastic. There were multiple pick-up stops in the tiny town of Tusayan and a shuttle comes by every 15-20 minutes. It can be nice to have your own car, but trust me, you’ll thank me as you cruise into the park on the shuttle and bypass the long line of cars waiting to get in to the park for the day. There are plenty of in-park shuttles to take you around, too.
3. Watch the Park Orientation Film. I love a good park film. I think it’s such a great way to get a base level of knowledge about the national park you are exploring. The 22-minute film, Grand Canyon: A Journey of Wonder, is available at the Grand Canyon Visitors Center and starts on the hour and half hour.
4. Walk Along the Rim Trail. The Rim Trail is incredible. It’s an easy, paved walk. Ideal for children and it’s very much wheelchair and stroller accessible. I walked the .7 mile section between Mather Point (adjacent to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center) and Yavapai Point. I’m pretty sure I just stared out into the Grand Canyon the entire time (meanwhile, my husband and kids took the shuttle between the two points).
5. Attend a Ranger-Led Program. It’s kind of a no-brainer, but on your first visit (or any visit) to the Grand Canyon, it’s a must to attend a ranger program. You and your kids can learn about fossils, geology, native birds and animals. There are even ranger-led walks and night sky programs. Pick up a park newspaper when you arrive or go online ahead of time to check out the schedule for the day(s) you’ll be at the park.
6. Stamp Your Passport (Multiple Times). First, buy a Passport to Your National Parks. You can buy one online for $8.95 or you can buy one at the park visitors center or bookstore (same price). Inside the park, buy the official sticker for Grand Canyon National Park to add to your passport book. Then, keep your eyes open for cancellation stamps. There are at least five stamps, including stamps that can be found at Yavapai Geology Museum and Desert View.
7. Take Lots of Photos. It’s okay, take as many photos as you like. I easily took three dozen photos of the Grand Canyon while walking along the Rim Trail. Every view seemed better than the last and worthy of a photo. I look back at my photos now and they all pretty much look the same, but I think the simple act of photographing the Grand Canyon (again and again) is a part of the overall experience.
8. Become a Junior Ranger. My kids love earning badges and patches at various national parks through the Junior Ranger program. You can pick up an activity booklet at any visitors center inside the park. Complete a certain number of activities depending on your child’s age. Children also need to attend a ranger-led program and following the program they can usually get sworn in on the spot by a park ranger. This is easily one of my favorite Grand Canyon activities for families.
9. Bring Sandwiches and Eat Along the Rim. Bring your own sandwiches or grab some for the family at the coffee shop at Mather Point. Whichever you choose, you’ll want to bring your lunch over to the edge of the Grand Canyon to enjoy the views while you eat. There are lots of benches and it’s a great way to further take in the majesty of the Grand Canyon during your time in the park.
10. Soak it All In. I can’t stress enough that a visit to the Grand Canyon is a one-of-a-kind experience. For many, it’s life changing, and you may not even realize it until you are actually there (or once you’ve returned home). So, take it slow. Don’t rush. Enjoy the views and soak it all in so you can hold onto the memories as long as you can.
If you are visiting the Grand Canyon you might want to check out this list of 5 Things to Do Near the Grand Canyon, though of course there are plenty of Grand Canyon activities for families inside the park, too.