Grand Canyon: How to Plan a Family Vacation

The rumors are true, a Grand Canyon family vacation is nothing short of incredible. I mean really, it’s the Grand Canyon.

I’ve taken my kids to the Grand Canyon twice – in July 2015 and in March 2018. Each experience was different, but both were wildly awe-inspiring.

Kids at Grand Canyon on Family Vacation

Honestly, I can’t recommend a road trip to the Grand Canyon more highly. So, I compiled a guide to help you plan out a trip to this national park. Let’s go!

Planning a Grand Canyon Vacation 

A vacation at the Grand Canyon is very popular, especially with families.

According to the National Park Service, more than 4.5 million visitors came to peer out into the massive canyon in 2021. 

That noted, you’ll want to start planning a family trip to the Grand Canyon as soon as you know your available dates.

By planning, I mean booking your lodging or campground in or near the Grand Canyon. Some stays, especially inside the park, get booked solid a year in advance.

On both of our visits to the Grand Canyon with kids, we stayed outside the park – once in Tusayan, once in Williams.

How to Get to the Grand Canyon 

If you plan to fly, the closest major airports are in Phoenix and Las Vegas.

However, from these gateway cities, it’s still a 4-5 hour drive to Grand Canyon-South Rim.

Flagstaff is much closer – from Flagstaff to Grand Canyon, it’s just a 90-minute drive – but flights are limited.

Neon Museum in Las Vegas

We flew into Las Vegas. This was the easiest, cheapest and most direct way for us to fly from the east coast. We spent the night off the strip in Las Vegas.

We then made the drive to Williams (the closest “big” town to the Grand Canyon) a day later after spending time in Las Vegas.

If you plan to stay in Las Vegas, here are the best kid-friendly hotels in Las Vegas. I also pulled together a list of things to do in Las Vegas with kids

What’s great about flying into Las Vegas is that the drive to Grand Canyon-South Rim takes you along historic Route 66 in Arizona.

Make stops at Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner in Kingman and snap photos with Giganticus Headicus, a 14-foot Tiki style head in Seligman.

Giganticus Headicus on Route 66 in Seligman, Arizona

Alternatively, fly to Phoenix. From here, it’s an easy drive north along I-17 to Flagstaff. Then you’ll go west along I-40 to Williams, then north to Grand Canyon.

If you have time, make a side trip to Sedona. Drive to Airport Mesa for the most incredible views of Sedona’s red rocks.

Flying in to Flagstaff is an option. It’s serviced by American and United, but flights are few and you will still need to fly through either Dallas, Phoenix or Denver.

You won’t save any time, but you will likely spend much more money.

Grand Canyon: Where to Stay

When planning a trip to the Grand Canyon with kids, you have three lodging options. Well, four if you include campgrounds.

However, since in-park campgrounds are often (though not always) first-come, first-served, I hesitate to suggest this as an option for families.

In-Park Lodging

There are eight lodging options located inside Grand Canyon National Park. These book up months and months (and months) in advance. 

If you’re keen on a stay in Grand Canyon, like literally steps from the edge of the canyon, book your lodging now (like stop reading and go book a room).

El Tovar Lodge at Grand Canyon National Park

Six of the lodges are situated along the South Rim. The seventh option – Phantom Ranch – is deep in the canyon and can only be reached by foot, mule or raft.

Phantom Ranch also is known to book up solid 18 months in advance.

This may be the best place to stay in Grand Canyon since it’s actually in the canyon, not just situated along the rim.

El Tovar Lodge, Kachina Lodge, Thunderbird Lodge and Bright Angel Lodge are historic Grand Canyon National Park Lodges on the South Rim.

Maswik Lodge is a 5-10 minute walk away from the canyon’s edge and has a food court inside. Yavapai Lodge – run by Delaware North – is also at the South Rim.

However, this pet-friendly lodge is set back from the edge and is closer to Market Plaza, which has groceries, a deli and souvenirs for sale.

You can rent outdoor gear and mail postcards there too.

On the North Rim, there is one hotel, Grand Canyon Lodge. This hotel is open from May 15 to October 15. 

Tusayan Hotels 

On our first trip to the Grand Canyon with kids, we stayed in Tusayan. It’s just one mile from the South Rim entrance.

Across three blocks, there’s a McDonald’s, a Wendy’s, a Starbucks and a handful of sit-down restaurants. There’s also a small grocery store. 

Red Feather Lodge in Tusayan, Arizona - Near the Grand Canyon

There are six hotels in the quaint three-block town of Tusayan, including:

Holiday Inn Express & Suites Grand Canyon

Best Western Premier Grand Canyon Squire Inn

Red Feather Lodge

Grand Canyon Plaza Hotel

The Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon

Seven Mile Lodge

We spent two nights at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Grand Canyon, which had free wi-fi, free breakfast, a fitness center and an indoor pool.

The hotel also has KidSuites that sleep two adults and three children, which are perfect for traveling families.

It’s easy to get into Grand Canyon National Park from Tusayan thanks to a free shuttle that makes stops across the town every 15-20 minutes.

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.

Staying in Tusayan may be the next best thing to staying inside the park.

Considering hotels in Tusayan have in-room wi-fi and air conditioning (most, if not all, in-park hotels do not), a stay in Tusayan may even be the very best lodging option, especially with kids.

Tusayan hotels are among the best Grand Canyon hotels given their proximity to the national park.

Williams Hotels 

On our second visit to the Grand Canyon with kids, we stayed in Williams. It’s about an hour from the South Rim entrance.

Here you’ll find a small Western town complete with Americana-style restaurants and shops that date back to the early-1900’s.

Grand Canyon Hotel in Williams, Arizona

When considering where to stay near Grand Canyon, there are a lot of comfortable budget hotels and motels in Williams, like Comfort Inn and Days Inn.

We chose a more classic stay, The Lodge on Route 66. The upscale Route 66 motel had recently been renovated and was an easy walk to shops and eateries.

A popular stay in Williams is at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, which resembles the century-old train depot.

It’s a popular pick among those taking the train to the Grand Canyon for the day on the Grand Canyon Railway. There’s also an RV park and a pet resort.

We stayed in Williams for two nights and it was the perfect amount of time to explore both the Wild West-style town and the Grand Canyon.

There plenty of pet-friendly hotels in Williams, as well as stays that include free breakfast and free wi-fi.

RV Parks & Campgrounds

If you plan to visit the Grand Canyon and want to stay in either an RV or tent, plan ahead.

On the South Rim – there are three campgrounds, including Mather Campground, Trailer Village and Desert View Campground (closed in winter).

Grand Canyon Campground

Mather Campground and Trailer Village (RVs only) can be booked online months in advance.

Desert View Campground, however, is a first-come, first-served campground that fills up by noon each day (likely earlier during high season).

There are some options outside the park too, like the Grand Canyon / Williams KOA in Williams, which has tent sites and pull-through RV sites, as well as cabins.

In Tusayan, Grand Canyon Camper Village accommodates RVs with full hook-ups.

There is also one campground on the North Rim called North Rim Campground. This campground is open from May 15 to October 15. 

What to Do: Grand Canyon with Kids

There’s a lot to see and do at Grand Canyon National Park, but I first suggest watching the park orientation film at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center.

The 22-minute film, Grand Canyon: A Journey of Wonder, takes visitors on a dawn to dusk journey across this natural wonder.

A Girl at the Grand Canyon

Once you’ve seen the Grand Canyon in broad strokes, here’s what I suggest. All of these activities can be easily accessed by way of the free in-park shuttles.

Walk Along the Rim Trail 

The Rim Trail is an easy, paved walk. It’s ideal for children and is very much wheelchair and stroller accessible.

Walk the .7 mile section between Mather Point (adjacent to Grand Canyon Visitor Center) and Yavapai Point. I stared out into the Grand Canyon the entire time.

This relaxing stroll may be the best way to see the Grand Canyon with family.

Attend a Ranger-Led Program 

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.

Stamp Your Parks Passport (Multiple Times) 

Buy a Passport to Your National Parks (you can buy one online for $12.95) Inside the park, buy the official park sticker to add to your passport book.

Then, keep your eyes open for cancellation stamps, including stamps at Yavapai Geology Museum and Desert View.

Become a Junior Ranger 

Pick up a free Grand Canyon Junior Ranger program booklet at any visitors center in the park.

Kids complete a certain number of activities depending on your child’s age. Children also need to attend a ranger-led program.

Kids can earn South Rim, North Rim and Phantom Rattler badges. 

Bike Along the Greenway Trail

Rent bikes or e-bikes, as well as bike trailers, from Bright Angel Bicycles near the Grand Canyon Visitor Center to see the park from a new perspective.

There are three different routes that guide you along easy, paved (and largely car-free) trails close to the South Rim.

Bright Angel Bicycles also offers two different kid-friendly Grand Canyon tours by bike, including the 6-mile Hermit Road Tour and the 5.8-mile Yaki Road Tour.

What Else to Do Near the Grand Canyon

While there is plenty to do inside Grand Canyon National Park, there’s so much more to do in the area to round out your Grand Canyon family vacation.

Here are a few kid-friendly things to do on a Grand Canyon vacation with kids.

Bearizona (Williams)

Bearizona in Williams, Arizona - Near the Grand Canyon

Bearizona is a drive-thru wildlife park with bison, black bears, bighorn sheep, and mule deer.

Grab a seat on the Wild Ride Bus for a guide-narrated driving tour of the park. There’s a petting zoo and a walk-through area to pet sheep and goats.

Grand Canyon Railway (Williams) 

Grand Canyon Railway in Williams, Arizona

Get your tickets punched steps from Route 66 and board a restored Grand Canyon-bound train car. But first, a Wild West show complete with gunslingers.

On board, a western singer entertains during the two-hour ride on the Grand Canyon Railway.

Pink Jeep Tours (Tusayan) 

Pink Jeep Tours of Grand Canyon

In Tusayan, book a two or three hour four-wheeled adventure with Pink Adventure Tours.

Guided tours take guests the length of the South Rim for sweeping canyon and Colorado River views, enabling visitors to capture plenty of photos and memories.

Meteor Crater (Winslow)

Meteor Crater in Winslow, Arizona

Make the drive to Meteor Crater in Winslow (about 75 minutes from Williams) to see a massive crater in the earth (yes, created by a meteor).

Watch a 10-minute film, then take the one-hour tour along the rim of the crater (a guided tour is the only way to see the crater).

Lowell Observatory (Flagstaff)

Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona

From Flagstaff to Grand Canyon, it’s a about a 90-minute drive. Explore Lowell Observatory, which is famous for its discovery of Pluto.

Kids can look at the sun, see the telescope used to discover the most famous dwarf planet and check out interactive exhibits just for kids.

If you drive in from the east, here are a few more cool things to do near the Grand Canyon.

Raft at Glen Canyon, explore the slot canyons at Antelope Canyon and look out into Horseshoe Bend. These are all in Page, Arizona.

Final Thoughts

Before you embark on your own fun-filled Grand Canyon family vacation, I wanted to share a few quick final thoughts and ideas.

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.

Take Lots of Photos 

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 photographing the Grand Canyon is a part of the overall experience. 

Enjoy the Ride 

There’s so much to see and do along the way to the Grand Canyon with kids, like rafting along the Colorado River at Glen Canyon Dam.

Take a guided tour at Lower Antelope Canyon and taking in the views from Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona.

Slowing down along historic Route 66 is one more way to savor your Grand Canyon family vacation.

Grand Canyon with Kids