Explore America's Campgrounds
Enjoying a Visit to the Biggest Gulch of Them All
Ah summer, when the living is easy. Well, maybe in some places, but not in the Grand Canyon where summer means huge crowds, sweltering temperatures and regular thunderstorms. If these do not sound appealing, summer may not be the time to visit the nation's greatest natural gorge. Try spring or fall, reputed to be the best seasons for a visit.
Grand Canyon Attractions
Layered bands of red rock distinguish Arizona's famous Grand Canyon and speak to its geographic history over the millenniums. How vast is this gorge? It averages 10 miles across and a full mile deep, over its stunning 277-mile length. That length is measured in river miles, along the course of the Colorado River at its base.
The Grand Canyon is an immensely popular national park, with over a million acres. Adventure lovers raft the white-water rapids of the Colorado River or ride a mule into its depths. Others are content to admire its sweeping vistas.
Avoiding the Crowds
Nearly 5 million people visit the Grand Canyon every year, and you don't want to take your kids into the middle of this crowd. It's not just the press of the multitudes, but crowded conditions can also be hard on your budget because prices rise in high season everywhere.
How to avoid crowds? Skip a summer visit. The busy season is from the end of May to early September. Yes, we realize that those months are convenient for you because the kids are out of school, but think of the visit as the biggest geology lesson they're likely to get!
As schools open in the fall, crowds dwindle. Although winter is the slowest tourist season and the snow-accented canyon is striking, the best time to visit with kids is either spring or fall. October may be a great choice since the aspens change color.
Finding Pleasant Weather
Summer is not only crowded, it's also hot, with temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit inside the canyon in July and August. And those are the rainiest seasons, too. Park officials warn of frequent thunderstorms July through September, sometimes bringing torrential rains, frequent lightning and sudden flash floods. These thunderstorms can be dangerous, and large hailstones can fall, winds can reach dangerous levels and you might experience tornadoes.
On the other hand, the month before and after the high season might work well for a family. Average high temperatures in May and October are 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively, at the South Rim and 92 and 84 degrees Fahrenheit inside the canyon. Rain fall decreases dramatically.
Sights and Adventures
Most visitors see the Grand Canyon only out of their car windows from overlooks along the South Rim, the most accessible part of the park. The vistas are truly stunning, but it's worth the effort to get your family into outdoors to have a more memorable experience.
A good start is to take the road less traveled by, to the North Rim. Directly across the canyon from the South Rim, the North Rim is 1,000 feet higher and considerably harder to get to. Roads are closed in winter by snow, and a 200-mile-plus drive when the roads are open. It's worth it, however, for the different and unique perspective.
Give your kids memorable adventures in the park, they can choose to go rafting on the Colorado River or riding a mule into the Canyon. But if these are not in the realm of the possible (they are expensive, intensive and require advance planning), get out for shorter hikes that engage your family in the sublime beauty of the region.
One family-friendly hike is the Rim Trail. It runs from the central Village to Hermits Rest, offering serene views of the inner canyon with limited effort. Take advantage of the Park shuttle buses, if they are running while you are there, to make the hike as short as you need it to be.
Or look into whatever interpretive programs are being offered by the park service. These can be educational and fascinating for the whole family.
From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. World traveler, professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.