Explore America's Campgrounds
Adventuring on the Edge of a Gorgeous Gorge
It's familiar and other-worldly, iconic yet ever-changing. Nothing your kids read about the Grand Canyon—no photos they look at—can prepare them for the adrenaline rush that comes from peering over the rim. The mile-deep, 237-mile-long gorge takes your breath away.
A family trip to the Grand Canyon National Park is a gift to your kids—and to yourself—that will keep on giving. Make the most of this great adventure by keeping some tips in mind.
Go in the Spring or Fall
Winter in the Grand Canyon is gorgeous, the soft white snowpack a beautiful contrast with the granite of the gorge. Prices are low, but don't be seduced. Taking a family vacation to the Grand Canyon in winter is not a very good idea. Roads are closed or dangerous, and outdoor activities are limited.
Summer's the high season, and most of the million annual visitors come in June, July and August. But that's also when prices peak. Your best bets are the shoulder months, May or September. The weather will still be OK, and the prices will be more moderate.
Take Advantage of Park Ranger Activities
If you have children of the right age for Junior Ranger activities (think ages 4 to 14) the Park Rangers are your best friends. The demonstrations, presentations and activities they offer are great educational opportunities and fun at the same time. Your kids will delight in the hikes, nature walks, fossil discovery activities and stargazing evening programs. And they are easy on the budget since all are free.
Get to the North Rim
The vast majority of visitors to the Grand Canyon Park stay around the South Rim, then leave. That makes sense, since the South Rim is easy to get to and open year-round. It offers great views into the Canyon and good guest facilities, including a free shuttle bus that takes guests around the area.
But the North Rim, though a 240-mile, five-hour drive from the South Rim, is more secluded and has a wilder heart. You can't drive there in winter since the roads close. But in summer, you'll find different views, fewer visitors and pristine glory.
Get Below the Rim
Selfies by the canyon rim are fine, but they don't flame the heart of a young geologist or a budding botanist. Get your kids below the rim. Select a hike that works with their ages and physical fitness levels and set off on foot. Let them take sketchbooks for drawing pictures, and encourage them to make notes of the cool things they see in the natural world. Point out rock formations, wildflowers, birds and wildlife.
Splurge on One Cool Activity
Canyon hikes don't cost anything, and the immensity of the gorge and its quality of light are wonders of nature. But a lot of cool activities are available that cost a pretty penny. If your budget allows it, try to manage at least one. Take your pick: mule rides into the canyon, helicopter tours over it, whitewater rafting on the Colorado River in the bottom of the gorge or a ride on the Grand Canyon Railway. Any of these require planning in advance, so give some thought to which would work for you.
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.