Grand Canyon Family Vacation Guide

Grand Canyon family vacation guide

Planning a family vacation to the Grand Canyon? This guide provides savvy tips on how to get to Grand Canyon National Park, where to sleep and eat, and what to do in addition to gazing out at this geologic masterpiece.

Getting There: Airports Near the Grand Canyon

You have three options for flying in and driving to the Grand Canyon:

Flagstaff Pulliam Airport

Get to the Grand Canyon: Drive about 85 miles north along U.S. Highway 180 and state Route 64.

Travel Tip: This tiny airport is closest to the Grand Canyon, and there is an Alamo rental car location for your convenience. The airport offers commercial flights from Phoenix, Dallas and Denver.

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

Get to the Grand Canyon: Drive roughly 230 miles on interstates 17 and 40 and state Route 64.

Travel Tip: As an alternative, opt for this more scenic route: From I-17, take state routes 179 and 89A through Sedona, Arizona, to admire the striking red buttes and mesas.

McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas

Get to the Grand Canyon: Drive about 275 miles southeast via U.S. Highway 93, Interstate 40 and state Route 64.

Travel Tip: If time permits while driving I-40 through Arizona, consider a side trip to explore Grand Canyon Caverns via state Route 66. (Plan about 45 minutes for a cavern tour.) Kids will be wowed by the 21-story elevator descent below the desert to the largest dry caverns in the U.S., which are illuminated to show off the unique rock and crystal formations.

Driving to the Grand Canyon Fly into Flagstaff Pulliam, Phoenix Sky Harbor or Las Vegas McCarran airport and enjoy unique desert colors on the drive to the Grand Canyon.


Where to Stay at the Grand Canyon

Families will love the convenience of staying inside the park, near the canyon rim. Just be aware that you’ll need to reserve rooms at the grand 1905 El Tovar Hotel or any of the other four lodges in Grand Canyon Village six months to a year in advance.

If you’re not able to plan your family vacation that far in advance, look outside the park to the town of Tusayan, which has a handful of large hotels offering rooms with less need for advance booking.

Prefer to Go Camping?

Roast marshmallows over a crackling fire and sing songs, then sleep under the stars at the Mather or Desert View campgrounds inside the park. If you prefer to stay outside the park, hunker down at the Ten-X Campground or Grand Canyon Camper Village.

Grand Canyon Must-Do Activities for Families

Once you’ve arrived, stop by the Grand Canyon Visitor Center first to gather information about the park and watch a 20-minute orientation movie. Pick up a Junior Ranger Activity Book if your little one is age 4 or older. After you walk to nearby Mather Point for your first awesome view of the canyon, check out some of the park’s other amazing highlights.

Grand Canyon family vacation: Mather Point at the Grand Canyon After arriving at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center at the South Rim, take a short walk to Mather Point for unforgettable views.


Scenic Overlooks to Capture the Best Grand Canyon Views

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a canyon overlook that doesn’t knock your socks off, but the best place to start is Grand Canyon Village. From there, drive east on scenic Desert View Drive (25 miles one way), where Grandview and Navajo points are must-sees. Your grand finale, Desert View, is home to the Desert View Watchtower — a cylindrical, 70-foot-high stone structure built in 1932. Your best photo ops will be at sunrise and sunset, with their softer light, shadows and rich colors. The National Park Service website has a list of popular Instagram-worthy shots.

Grand Canyon family vacation: Desert View Watchtower at the Grand Canyon Inside the Desert View Watchtower, climb the spiral staircase to the observation deck for the highest vantage point at the Grand Canyon’s South Rim.


Best Trail to Hike with Young Children

If your Grand Canyon family vacation plans include a hike with your little ones, your best bet is the mostly flat, largely paved Rim Trail, which begins in Grand Canyon Village and has several scenic overlooks. The 13-mile trail travels west, parallel to Hermit Road, ending at Hermits Rest. Don’t be deterred by the trail’s daunting length. From March 1 through Nov. 30, Hermit Road is only accessible via the park’s free shuttle bus (private vehicles are permitted only in winter months). That means your family can ride the bus to various drop-off/pickup stops, choosing bite-size portions of the trail to hike. On the trails, watch for lizards, squirrels and even bighorn sheep.

Grand Canyon family vacation: Best Grand Canyon trail with young children The Rim Trail along the Grand Canyon’s South Rim is good for young children because it is mostly paved and features several scenic overlooks.


Best Trails to Hike with Older Kids

The canyon’s wonders truly reveal themselves below the rim. The South Kaibab Trail is a terrific choice for a steep, 3-mile round-trip hike to the appropriately named Ooh Aah Point and Cedar Ridge. The trailhead is about 2.5 miles east of the Grand Canyon Visitor Center by shuttle bus.

The Bright Angel Trail is also good for families with older kids. Starting near Grand Canyon Village, the trail descends into the canyon about 1,100 feet to the first rest stop at 1.5 miles; turn back there for a nice 3-mile round-trip experience of the Grand Canyon.

Tip: For both of these hikes, get an early start to avoid the midday heat and budget three to four hours. Carry plenty of water, and don’t forget a picnic lunch.

Best Grand Canyon hiking with older kids The South Kaibab Trail is a treat for older children. The 3-mile round-trip hike takes about three to four hours and rewards families with spectacular views of the Grand Canyon.


Best Spot to Take a Mule Trip

Saddle up for a two-hour ride along the canyon rim. A classic Grand Canyon family vacation experience, mule rides have been offered since 1887. The fun Canyon Vistas ride follows the East Rim Trail, revealing impressive views while a mule does the walking for you. If your clan is up for a big adventure, book a one- or two-day mule ride into the canyon, where you’ll stay overnight at Phantom Ranch. Note: Riders must be at least 4 feet, 9 inches tall.

Family vacation: Mule trip along the East Rim of the Grand Canyon Experience the Grand Canyon as part of a mule train along the East Rim Trail. Short rides are two hours, and long rides are up to two days including an overnight stay at a historic lodge.


Tips for Grand Canyon Family Travelers


Best Eateries to Dine as a Family

After a day of hiking or mule riding, take your hungry family for a meal. Try salmon tostadas on organic greens at the El Tovar Dining Room, or go for burgers at the Bright Angel Lodge or pizza at the Maswik Food Court. For snacks, picnic lunches or camping provisions, head to the Canyon Village Market (in the park) or the Tusayan General Store (outside the park).

Escape the Crowds with a Short Hike

In summer, the Grand Canyon’s South Rim can be the most heavily populated tourist spot in the entire Southwest. In most cases, you only need to hike an hour — either down into the canyon or along the rim, away from Grand Canyon Village — to lose the sights and sounds of the hubbub and create lasting family memories.

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About the Author

Eli Ellison is a travel writer who specializes in the American Southwest. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including the Los Angeles Times, and