If you are planning a trip to the Grand Canyon with kids, you are in the right place!
In September we enjoyed an unforgettable three day Grand Canyon vacation as part of a four week USA road trip with my visiting family from Australia.
My parents, sister and her family flew into Phoenix from Sydney where I met them after flying in from our home in Raleigh.
And high on their wish list was a family trip to the Grand Canyon Arizona!
Caz and I previously visited Grand Canyon National Park back in 2006, pre-kids, so I was excited to show our kids one of the most amazing places to visit in the USA, and one of the crown jewels in America’s National Park System!
Mother nature inspires me like nothing else, and it’s hard to beat the natural wonder of this place!
In this this blog post I am focusing on the South Rim only, sharing my tips on how to plan your own dream trip – how to get there, where to stay, what to do, getting around, when to visit, and much more!
Visiting the Grand Canyon with kids takes some serious planning, and I’m here to help.
Don’t be one of the 5+ million tourists that visit each year and stay for an average of just 15-minutes to get their I was here photo!”
Sure, just staring at one of the world’s biggest and most incredible natural wonders will leave you in awe, but there’s much more to it than that.
I highly suggest you take your time to explore, as there are many magical things to do at the Grand Canyon you don’t want to miss!
Planning a Trip to the Grand Canyon With Kids
Getting to the Grand Canyon South Rim
We drove to the Grand Canyon from Sedona where we had just spent a fantastic two days exploring that area, and it was an easy 2.5 hour drive in via Flagstaff.
You have several options of getting to the South Rim depending upon your location and means of travel, and budget.
You can either:
- Catch the train
- Take a tour
Driving to the Grand Canyon
Where is the Grand Canyon located?
The Grand Canyon sits entirely within the state of Arizona, in the northwest corner close to the borders of Utah and Nevada. And most people who visit go to the South Rim.
Why? It’s the most accessible part of Grand Canyon National Park, it has the most facilities, and it’s open all year. Therefore it receives 90% of the park’s visitors!
The South Rim is located 60 miles north of Williams, Arizona (via route 64 from Interstate 40) and 80 miles northwest of Flagstaff (via route 180).
If you want to fly/drive, many people fly into either Las Vegas or Phoenix and then rent a car. Another option is the small airport in Flagstaff.
That’s what my parents and sister did, flew from Sydney to LA, then to Phoenix where I met them and we rented a car from Scottsdale.
Depending upon your driving habits, number of pit stops, and time of day / year you travel, your driving times will vary.
Below are driving distances and approximate driving times:
Las Vegas, NV (279 miles / 4.5 hours)
- Take Highway 93 south to Kingman, AZ
- From Kingman, take I-40 east to Williams, AZ
- From Williams, take Highway 64 north to the South Rim
Los Angeles, CA (490 miles / 8.5 hours )
- Take I-15 east to Barstow, CA
- From Barstow, take I-40 east to Williams, AZ
- From Williams, take Highway 64 north to the South Rim
Phoenix, AZ (231 miles / 3.45 hours)
- Take I-17 north to Flagstaff, AZ.
- From Flagstaff, take I-40 west to Williams, AZ.
- From Williams, AZ, take Highway 64 north to the South Rim.
Flagstaff, AZ (81 miles / 1.5 hours – three possible routes)
- Take Highway 180 west to Valle, AZ. From Valle, take Highway 64 north to the South Rim.
- Take I-40 west to Williams, AZ. From Williams, take Highway 64 north to the South Rim.
- Take Highway 89 north to Cameron, AZ. From Cameron, take Highway 64 west to the East Entrance on the South Rim – known as Desert View.
Sedona, AZ (119 miles / 2.15 hours)
- Take Highway 89Alt to Flagstaff, AZ
- From Flagstaff, see above options.
Flying to the Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon Airport is located 7 miles south of the park, and there is limited air service from Las Vegas, Phoenix and Flagstaff.
Train Travel to Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon Railway
For a unique and historic option, consider traveling to the South Rim on the Grand Canyon Railway which offers train service from the town of Williams, AZ.
Each day, the Grand Canyon Railway departs from the historic Williams Depot (30 miles west of Flagstaff) at 9:30 a.m and arrives at Grand Canyon Depot at 11:45 a.m.
The train departs Grand Canyon at 3:30 p.m, returning to Williams at 5:45 p.m. During peak times, a second train departs from Williams at 10:30 a.m.
You can ride and return in one day, which only allows for a few hours of exploring, or ride and stay!
And you have the choice of six classes of travel in lovingly restored cars, and no matter your choice, you’ll see the terrain change from high desert to prairie, prairie to pine.
Getting Around at the South Rim
Because my parents and sister were staying at Kachina Lodge, which sits directly on the South Rim in Grand Canyon Village, I could park our rental car there.
From their hotel, we walked directly onto the Rim Trail (which spans from Hermits Rest to the Kaibab Trailhead), and could easily walk to most spots in the Grand Canyon Historic Village.
And it was a 5-minute stroll to the Harvey House Cafe at Bright Angel Lodge for breakfast!
Otherwise we drove around in our car and either parked at the parking lots of the overlooks, or parked it at the Visitors Center or Market Plaza, then hopped on one of the free shuttle buses!
Free Shuttle Buses
There are free shuttle buses offering four different routes during summer, spring and fall, and two routes during winter.
They are color coded for easy identification.
If you are staying in the town of Tusayan just outside the park, the Tusayan Route can help you avoid long lines at the South Entrance Station and parking hassles within the park by dropping you at the Grand Canyon Visitors Center.
- Village Route (Blue) – Connects the Visitor Center with lodges, campground, and other facilities.
- Kaibab Route (Orange) – Connects the Grand Canyon Visitor Center with five scenic viewpoints, including Yavapai Geology Museum
- Hermit Road Route (Red) – Connects the Grand Canyon Village and Hermits Rest with stops at nine scenic overlooks.
- Tusayan Route (Purple) – Provides shuttle bus service between Tusayan and the Grand Canyon Visitor Center.
Download a copy of the South Rim Pocket Map and Services Guide which shows the shuttle bus routes.
Stop in at the Visitor Center
When you first arrive at the South Rim through the South Entrance Station, I highly suggest you go straight to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center.
We always stop in at visitor centers where ever we travel for great insider tips, and the one here is one of the best.
At the visitors center you can:
- Park your car in one of four parking areas.
- Get important information about Grand Canyon tourist attractions, hiking, and ranger activities.
- See exhibits including interactive trip planners and watch the park film.
- Board free shuttle buses to Grand Canyon Village, or out to a variety of scenic overlooks.
- Get your first view of Grand Canyon by taking a 200 ft walk to nearby Mather Point.
During busy periods like spring break, summer, and fall holiday weekends, parking around the visitor center is typically full by 9:30 am.
Other parking options during these busy periods are lots A-D in Market Plaza and the Village Historic District.
Grand Canyon Facts
Here are some interesting facts about the Grand Canyon:
- The Grand Canyon is 277 miles (446 km) long, up to 18 miles (29 km) wide, and attains a depth of over a mile (6,000 feet / 1,800 metres)
- It is largely contained within the Grand Canyon National Park, which became a national park in 1919
- The Grand Canyon National Park is a World Heritage Site and encompasses 1,218,375 acres.
- Scenery, climate and vegetation vary between north and south rims because of different elevations. Forests are found at higher elevations while the lower elevations are comprised of a series of desert basins.
- Grand Canyon National Park attracts over five million visitors per year.
Grand Canyon Hikes
When planning a trip to the Grand Canyon with kids, factor in time for actually hiking along the rim, or down into the canyon, and preferably both!
If you are going to spend time, money and effort to get yourself all the way to the Grand Canyon, why not do more than just look at it and take a selfie!
What are some kid-friendly hikes at the Grand Canyon?
The Rim Trail
The Rim Trail is the easiest walk at the South Rim and an excellent way to take in incredible views for all ages and fitness levels.
Whilst this trail does stretch for 13-miles from the South Kaibab Trailhead west to Hermits Rest, you can walk short sections of the trail and begin from any viewpoint in the Grand Canyon Village or along Hermit Road.
You can also access the Rim Trail from many of the shuttle bus stops, entering and leaving the trail at any viewpoint.
We walked various sections of this trail, including the section from Mather Point to Yavapai Point, and the section from in front of the Grand Canyon Village towards the Bright Angel Trail overlook.
Along the way we had some of the best views of Grand Canyon you could imagine, listened to ranger talks, saw artists painting, and squirrels playing!
We’d even grab a morning coffee and just wonder the trail early in the morning before the crowds and tourist buses arrived, sitting and staring in amazement!
Most of this trail is paved (perfect for those with strollers or wheelchairs) and it ranges from flat to slight inclines with some shade on offer.
It’s a very manageable trail for those who want an easy hike with minimal elevation change and who don’t want to hike down into the canyon!
Keep in mind though, if you visit in winter this trail may be slippery or icy.
Bright Angel Trail
One of the most popular Grand Canyon hikes is the Bright Angel Trail, which begins just west of Bright Angel Lodge.
Whilst seeing the Grand Canyon from the top of the rim is breathtaking, the real unforgettable experience can come from hiking down into the canyon and feeling it’s beauty all around you.
As you walk down through the different layers you get to witness the changing colors of the walls and landscape right in front of you.
It’s truly awe inspiring, and you get a totally different perspective than from the rim.
Whilst the Bright Angel Trail is a 12-mile hike round trip, you don’t have to hike the whole trail to experience going into the canyon.
Our visit to the Grand Canyon was about spending time in nature with cousins and aunties and grand parents, rather than strenuous hikes.
But, we were are at the Grand Canyon after all, so why not experience it up closer!
My dad, sister, brother-in-law and our three kids all hiked down for about 45-minutes, stopping for drink breaks and photos, then turned around.
It was quite warm during our visit (September) and our kids are young.
The important thing to remember when doing any Grand Canyon hikes is the return trip is up-hill.
So know your fitness limits, and don’t go too far down that coming back out is a real challenge for you! It takes longer to hike up as it takes to hike down – for extra motivation we bribed our kids with an ice cream treat at the top!
If your kids are older and you fancy completing this hike, there are quite a few switchbacks to help with the descent and ascent, and there is some shade on this hike.
But the further down you go the less shade and more open it is, so pack plenty of water and dress appropriately!
And start early!
Caz and I completed this hike during our 4-day Grand Canyon vacation back in 2006 as part of our trip to Zion and Bryce Canyon, and we started hiking at first light.
We hiked to Plateau Point and got fantastic views of the inner gorge and the Colorado river, making it well worth the effort.
On our return with the sun higher in the sky it got hotter and hotter. Some cramping started to set in, and it got quite exhausting. Thankfully we were wearing hats and light clothing.
We made our way back to the top of the rim just before lunch time. And we couldn’t believe the amount of people just starting their hike.
Whatever you do, in the summer months make the effort to get up early and on this trail at sun up to beat the heat. Don’t make things any more challenging and dangerous than they need to be.
South Kaibab Trail
The South Kaibab Trail is another option, offering hikes that range up to 6 miles (round trip) with some of the best views.
But it’s a steeper trail with little shade in the summer, and upper section maybe icy in the winter. And water is only available seasonally.
The shuttle bus (Kaibab Trail Route) provides access to the trailhead.
- Get up early in summer to beat the heat. People have gotten disorientated and died from heat stroke.
- Typically, temperatures at the canyon floor can be 20-degrees Fahrenheit warmer than at the rim.
- Wear appropriate clothing for the time of year, including hats and raincoats where necessary.
- Wear footwear that is comfortable and sturdy with good grip.
- Know where water is available. Carry enough water and food your whole family.
- Check the weather forecast.
- Choose an appropriate hike. Know your families abilities.
- Stay on the trail and never shortcut switchbacks.
Seeing the sunrise at the Grand Canyon was the most magical experience of our Grand Canyon vacation!
Not just because “we were at the Grand Canyon”, but it happened to be Kalyra’s 11th birthday during our visit.
When we knew the dates of our Grand Canyon trip and that we were going to be there on her birthday, this was one thing we just had to do – I may have had to bribe her a little with extra treats!
The Grand Canyon is rated one of the best places to catch a sunrises in the US, with several top viewing spots along the South Rim, including Mather points, Hopi, and Maricopa.
But after a little research, we chose Yavapai Point Overlook and it offered perfect views of the canyon at sunrise!
It wasn’t crowded (in September), and we had brilliant unobstructed canyon views of the sun rising and the colors changing on the canyon walls as it got higher in the sky.
From Yavapai Point you look down onto the Colorado River, and this popular lookout point also offers views of the North Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails.
Even though we were staying outside the park in Tusyan at the Grand Canyon Plaza Hotel, and had to drive to Kachina Lodge (15 minute drive) to pick up my mum and sister, and then drive from Kachina to Yavapai Point (10 minute drive) waking up before dawn was totally worth it!
It doesn’t get much better than this. What an amazing way for Kalyra to celebrate her birthday!
AND, on our drive back to the village, we had this incredible wildlife spotting moment by the road!
Junior Ranger Program
Both Kalyra and Savannah (11 & 7) and their niece all loved participating in the Junior Ranger Program.
This was a fantastic way to keep our kids occupied, and for them to have a hands on learning experience about the nature and history of the canyon, and participate in fun activities.
As we currently homeschool our kids, programs like this are invaluable!
We picked up their Junior Ranger Books at the Grand Canyon Visitors Center, and our kids had fun completing the activity requirements within the book.
Once complete, we went back to the visitors center and they passed the fun test with a friendly Park Ranger and received their certificate and badge!
Family Photo Tips
Ok, so you can’t visit the Grand Canyon without getting a few family photos with that amazing canyon background.
As we were traveling as an extended family, it was easy to split up into our individual family groups and share taking photos of each other.
Otherwise, ask another traveler to take a quick snap.
Or, if you happen to have a tripod like me, set up your camera on the tripod, put your camera on self timer and get the perfect family shot!
Just be sure to take care with young kids and keep your eye on them at all times, and never lean over the hand rails, or get too close to the canyon edge to get that “selfie”.
See the Sunset
That other magical (and popular) time of the day is sunset at the Grand Canyon!
It was way more popular than sunrise as most folks don’t like to get out of bed early, especially when on vacation, and especially on cool mornings in the fall!
Basically any of the overlooks are great viewing spots. But make your way there with plenty of time as the light just before and after sunset can be stunning.
Then just sit back, relax and enjoy watching as it slowly disappears into the horizon.
Hopi Point is typically the most popular spot – and most crowded. And if you take the shuttle bus here, get in line early, especially in peak season!
If you have your own car, consider driving the east road and go to one of the viewpoints along there, like Grandview or Desert View – chat to the rangers who always have helpful tips.
We chose Mathers Point though because it was an easy stroll from the Grand Canyon Visitors Center and it had been a big day with the kids!
It was a little crowded, but also breathtaking!
We didn’t get a great view of the sun going down from Mathers Point, but the nice thing about this spot is you are shooting away from the sun and see the light wash over the canyon below which was magnificent.
Wherever you choose, go early and stay afterwards!
Yavapai Geology Museum
Located at our sunrise spot of Yavapai Point overlook, this museum is worth a stop and offers informational exhibits about how the Grand Canyon was formed, and expansive views through its large windows.
It was also on the activities list of our kids Junior Ranger Program book, and we attended an interesting Ranger talk all about the history of the Grand Canyon, and after the talk the Ranger signed our kids book!
To get here jump on the Kaibib Rim Shuttle (orange route) or it’s a 10-minute drive from the Village.
If you really want a thrill and view of a lifetime, and have the time and extra budget, consider a Grand Canyon helicopter tour from the South Rim.
I have flown over the canyon before in a small aircraft departing from Las Vegas which was amazing and offers a totally new perspective
Who offers Grand Canyon Helicopter tours?
We didn’t do a helicopter ride Grand Canyon on this visit, but if you fancy soaring above the canyon on a memorable 45-minute flight, read the reviews and get details here!
Our partners, Get Your Guide, also offer a 4.5 hour helicopter tour departing from Vegas!
Yes, helicopter flights are not cheap, and you will definitely have to reserve well ahead of time during the peak season.
A Grand Canyon mule ride is one experience I have always wanted to do, ever since seeing it on the Brady Bunch as a kid, and hopefully once our kids are a bit older we will – children have to be 9+ years old.
If we do eventually do it, I just hope those mules are as sure footed as they say!
Mule trips are one of the most popular Grand Canyon activities, and may be booked 15-months in advance and spots fill up early. And reservations to stay at Phantom Ranch on the canyon floor can be made as a package deal.
Get all the details here.
S’mores at Yavapai Tavern
Our kids have experienced roasting marshmallows over a campfire and placing them between two graham crackers with some Hershey bar chocolate to make s’mores many times, but their niece from Australia was excited to try it for the first time.
And you can do that at Yavapai Tavern!
We stopped in at this tavern late afternoon on Kalyra’s birthday for a few drinks and to reminisce about our day. Inside is a full bar, and outside is a patio with a fire pit and space for the kids to play.
Dessert on the patio includes making s’mores! You buy the s’mores kit for $15.99 and they provide the s’mores making station right at your table!
What a relaxing and fun evening it turned out to be. Good food here too!
Where to Stay in Grand Canyon
Inside the Park
When planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, make sure to reserve your accommodations as soon as you know your dates!
For the Grand Canyon National Park hotels near the rim, you’ll have a great practical location, but they come with a price tag and limited vacancies!
As mentioned, my parents and sister stayed at Kachina Lodge and booked this 12-months in advance. When I tried to get a room there a few months prior to our trip, it was sold out.
They choose Kachina Lodge due to its prominent location on the Rim Trail, and relatively affordable price compared to others nearby.
They had a canyon view from their room, as do most rooms, and whilst the building is nothing to look out from the outside, and their room wasn’t big or flash, it was comfortable – it’s all about location here!
Bright Angel Lodge
The iconic Bright Angel Lodge has natural rustic character and is a Registered National Historic Landmark, and is located at the top of Bright Angel Trail Head in Grand Canyon Village.
It has gone through many transformations over the years – originally a hotel, then a camp, and finally a lodge!
Inside is the family-friendly Harvey House Café where we ate breakfast and dinner.
El Tovar Hotel
For premier lodging, El Tovar is the ultimate National Park lodge located directly on the rim.
In 1987 the Hotel was designated a National Historic Landmark, and has hosted such luminaries as Theodore Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, President Bill Clinton, Sir Paul McCartney, and Oprah Winfrey.
Phantom Ranch is a unique place to stay as it’s the the only lodging below the canyon rim, and can only be reached by mule, on foot or by rafting the Colorado River.
Space is extremely limited, and whilst Children are welcome, they discourage young children from hiking to Phantom Ranch due to extremes in temperatures in the summer and winter, and the remoteness of the location.
One night or two night mule trips can be booked, and these trips are sold as a package.
For a full list Grand Canyon South Rim hotels inside the park, see here.
Outside the Park
For more affordable Grand Canyon accommodation, and hotels that you don’t have to book so far in advance, look in the town of Tusayan, where I stayed with my kids.
As mentioned, we stayed at the Grand Canyon Plaza Hotel.
It had everything we needed, it was clean, our room was large, and it was an easy 15-minute drive into Grand Canyon Village (we left early each morning, would take longer in peak season).
Read reviews and book the Grand Canyon Plaza Hotel with our partner Booking.com.
Search more Grand Canyon Hotels:
- Booking.com has 4 properties to choose from in Tusayan
- Trip Advisor has 10 properties to choose from in Tusayan
Some people even choose to stay in Flagstaff, or are forced too due to no vacancies elsewhere.
This would be my last choice of places to stay near Grand Canyon as it’s a 1.5 hour drive from Flagstaff, which would make for a long day!
See all Flagstaff hotels here.
When to Visit the Grand Canyon
What is the best time of year to visit the Grand Canyon?
As mentioned, the South Rim is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This includes the Grand Canyon Village and Desert View.
But the North Rim is closed during winter!
All services at South Rim are available year-round, but reservations are strongly recommended well in advance for spring, summer and fall.
Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most visited parks in the US, so expect big crowds during peak seasons.
The largest crowds are typically around major holidays like July 4th (Independence Day), weekends, and the period between Memorial Day (late May) and Labor Day (early September). Again, book well in advance!
And of course the main summer school vacation period is crowded, and more expensive.
The canyon is stunning year-round and there’s no BAD time to visit aesthetically. But keep in mind that winter can bring challenging conditions with snow and ice causing road closures.
When planning a trip to the Grand Canyon in summer, if you want to hike to the bottom of the canyon, keep in mind temperatures can reach above 100 degrees, much warmer than at the rim.
We found the crowds in September nice and manageable, so consider a visit in the shoulder season (spring and fall).
Next time we go back we might consider going in the winter. We’ve done summer and fall now, and I’d love to see the canyon dusted with snow!
Tours of the Grand Canyon
Looking for Grand Canyon tours?
If you don’t have your own car or a rental car and only have a limited amount of time, doing a Grand Canyon day trip from Las Vegas is an option.
Our partners, Get Your Guide, offer a Grand Canyon South Rim day tour.
Get picked up from your Vegas hotel then experience one of the best Grand Canyon tours with a professional guide.
Get all the details and read reviews here.
Places to Eat at the Grand Canyon
Harvey House Cafe
We had breakfast at the Harvey House Cafe inside the Bright Angel Lodge on Kalyra’s birthday. It’s family-friendly, relaxed and the staff were nice.
And there was a good selection to satisfy all the kids and us adults! They also offer lunch and dinner.
This is the Business Center of Grand Canyon Village. We stopped at Market Plaza for a quick lunch at the deli as soon as we arrived on day one.
The deli offers quick and easy meals. There’s also a bank, post office, gift shop, and grocery store.
Market Plaza also has a large parking lot (B) in a central location and is a good place to park and access the free shuttle bus system.
Maswik Food Court & Pizza Pub
Located in Maswik Lodge at the southwest end of the village, Maswik Food Court offers four individual food stations including a wide variety of breakfast, lunch and dinner selections.
We had dinner here one night, and it’s an affordable and casual option for families!
For a full list of all Grand Canyon restaurants on the South Rim, go here.
Don’t Leave Home Without Travel Insurance
As we always say…“If you can’t afford travel insurance, then you can’t afford to travel”.
It’s that simple.
Not having travel insurance is not worth the risk, and this is one of our important tips for a Grand Canyon vacation!
What happens if:
- You need to cancel your trip unexpectedly
- You get sick or injured on your trip
- A natural disaster damages your destination
- Your luggage is lost or stolen
- There is a terrorist event
Travel insurance is designed to cover unexpected medical emergencies and events such as those.
Anything can, will, and sometimes does go wrong. If it does and you are not insured, you can be up for a lot of money AND inconvenience!