Saturday, August 24, 2019

Grand Canyon National Park: Best Hikes and Activities for Kids

For our recent trip to the Grand Canyon with another family, we flew into Phoenix and drove three hours to the South Rim, where we stayed for three days in Grand Canyon Village (here's a map of the area). We concentrated on this section of the park for our visit, as the canyon is so large that to travel to the North Rim would've taken four to five hours. But there's plenty to see and do with kids in the South Rim over three days.

The Grand Canyon was a part of our larger tour of Arizona, in which we saw a bit of Phoenix, a bit of Williams, and spent a few days in Sedona. You could also tack on visits to Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park while you're in this part of the country. Those two parks rival the Grand Canyon in grandeur and offer plenty of fun, kid-friendly hikes.

Where to Stay

We flew into Phoenix and opted to stay one night at the Squaw Point Hilton Resort before hopping in our rental car for the three-hour drive to the Grand Canyon. I chose this hotel because it's got a built-in water park and lots of resort activities like poolside movies in the evening. It's the perfect way to unwind after a long flight.

For our lodging in the Grand Canyon, we booked the Kachina Lodge one year in advance. The park offers five hotels that are convenient to the sights within the South Rim, but they are mostly no-frills lodgings. You are staying at these places for the proximity to the sights. The Kachina Lodge is literally located right next to the rim walk, and if you book early enough, you could find yourself in a canyon-side room. There's nothing like waking up to a view of the Grand Canyon right outside your window.

Where to Eat

There are many restaurants within the park, and the two that we enjoyed the most were the Arizona Steakhouse and El Tovar. Have dinner at Arizona Steakhouse according to when the sun will go down to catch the sunset over the canyon from the panoramic windows. And show up for breakfast at the historic El Tovar dining room early so you don't have to wait for a table.

What to Do

Before we entered the park, we stopped at the IMAX theater in town that features a movie called "The Hidden Secrets of the Grand Canyon." This was a great way to get a preview of what we were about to see, and also learn more about the canyon. The movie was pretty exciting (it may be too exciting for small children), with awesome reenactments of the early explorers boating down the canyon river.

Once in the park, we did two amazing, kid-friendly hikes. The first was the popular Bright Angel Trail, which starts off at the rim and switchbacks all the way down to the bottom of the canyon. But covering that distance would take more than a day, so we just hiked for about an hour and then turned around. The views are seriously amazing, and it's nice to get a different perspective of the canyon. Just remember that going back up is considerably more difficult than going down, so it's best to turn back before the kids start whining!

Our second hike (and my personal favorite) was Shoshone Point, a two-mile out and back. This hike is a must-do, and it's best to go one hour before sunset, with a picnic dinner in hand. The trailhead is a bit tricky to find, as the parking lot is unmarked, but it's located on the north side of Highway 64, about 1.2 miles east of Yaki Point Road (just west of mile marker 246).

After parking your car, head past the gate and simply start down the path. It took us about 20 minutes of hiking through the forest (we spotted an elk up close!) to reach what may be the most amazing views of the canyon in the entire park. The hike ends at a lookout point that juts out over the canyon, but on a wide swath of rock so that it doesn't feel so death-defying to walk out to the very tip with your kids (but do hold onto their hand!). At the tip of Shoshone Point, you'll get 360-degree views of the canyon that will take your breath away.

After checking out that view, retreat back to the safety of the hiking path and eat the dinner you brought on one of the many picnic tables overlooking the canyon, as you watch the sunset. Then before it gets completely dark, start the one-mile hike back to your car. Bring some flashlights (or use the one in your cellphone) for the hike back, as it'll likely get pretty dark.

For a different way of viewing the canyon, hop on some rental bikes and ride along the rim. Bright Angel's Bicycles in the park has the best bike excursion for families, called the Hermit Shuttle Package. After getting fitted with a bike and helmets (there are plenty of kids' bikes available, as well as tagalongs and trailers), you hop on a shuttle bus and ride down to Hopi Point, where you're dropped off for a 5.5-mile ride down a wide road to Hermit's Rest. The occasional park shuttle goes by on this road, but otherwise you'll have it all to yourself.

The route is basically flat or downhill; you're pretty much coasting the entire time. Once at Hermit's Rest, the shuttle will pick you up and bring you back to the rental shop. The whole thing took about two-and-a-half hours (including the time being shuttled back and forth), and it's safe to say that I've never experienced such an easy bike ride in my life! If only all bike rides consisted of coasting down in one direction, then getting picked up by a shuttle for the uphill return.

There's even a small cafe at the rental shop, so you could do the ride in the morning and grab lunch there right after. I highly recommend checking out this package!

What's Nearby

There are two animal attractions within an hour of the Grand Canyon. At the Grand Canyon Deer Farm in Williams, you can feed the farm's collection of deer, which roam freely among the visitors. They don't bite or jump up on you, but they do aggressively follow you around if they see that you have a cup full of pellets, which can be frightening for kids. My kids were both pretty scared. There are other animals in pens around the farm, including wallabies, llamas, bison, goats, and reindeer.

A bigger hit with my kids was Bearizona, a zoo with a drive-through section, a walk-through section, and fun animal demonstrations. You can do the drive-through section in your own car or in the park's open-air trolley. The most impressive thing to see there are the dozens of black bears, all lolling about right in front of your vehicle. The raptor show is also really well done and interactive, with birds ranging from owls to falcons practically grazing the tops of audience members heads as they fly around.

About two hours from the Grand Canyon South Rim is Sedona, an absolutely stunning town with excellent food, hikes, and views. We spent four days there to complete our tour of Arizona; here's my itinerary for that part of the trip.

You may also like:
Zion National Park: Hikes and Activities for Kids
Hiking the Narrows at Zion with Kids: Tips and Tricks