The Grand Canyon. As the name implies, it’s pretty incredible.
However, with such a big name there come big expectations. And, I dare say, if you don’t visit the Grand Canyon with your expectations in check- you might leave disappointed. Especially when traveling with kids, it’s important to prepare yourself (and your family) for your time at the popular National Park.
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Last summer our family took a road trip across the country. Initially, The Grand Canyon was not a part of our route. You can read a little bit more about our trip planning here: An Inside Look Into A Ridiculous Road Trip Plan. In a nutshell, we got talked into adding a few days onto our trip by our daughter who couldn’t handle the thought of being “so close” to the Grand Canyon without actually visiting.
Despite my initial skepticism, our brief time at the National Park turned out to be perfect! Prior to visiting with kids, I assumed we’d need at least a week there. We couldn’t possibly just spend a day at the Grand Canyon, could we?
The idea seemed outrageous.
But guess what? It worked. In fact, it worked well. And that brings me to my first tip…
1. Less Is More
Please don’t hear me wrong, the Grand Canyon is fabulous. We loved the views and couldn’t get enough pictures. Each glimpse of the landscape was better than the one before. But, there’s only so long kids can stay wow-ed before they’re saying “what’s next?”
Here’s a good parenting theory that applies perfectly to this situation: it’s always better to leave wishing you could spend a little longer, than to overstay our welcome and have your kiddos melt down.
Could I have spent another day at the Grand Canyon? Absolutely! But would my children have looked back with such fond memories if we’d subjected them to another day of pictures and views? Maybe not.
2. Safety First
Unlike most places we visit these days, the Grand Canyon is not particularly child-friendly with their safety measures. There aren’t massive fences preventing falls. No one is standing around regulating all the tourists safety.
You are absolutely- and solely- responsible for keeping your children safe at The Grand Canyon. And, it won’t be easy! For starters, it looks like an amazing playground. Your children will likely want to be adventurous in this setting. Especially if they’ve been in the car for a while getting to the area, they will want to run and play. Unfortunately, it’s just not safe.
You’ll also watch all kinds of crazy tourists climb out onto rock formations to get the perfect selfie. It’s almost comical watching them (most of them, clearly, have no rock climbing/repelling skills!) Naturally, your kids will want to do the same thing!
I highly recommend talking to your children about the dangers of the Canyon prior to arriving. Especially if your kids are young, keep them with you at all times! I’ve NEVER been a big fan of leashes (Safety Wrist Link for Kids), but in this particular situation I think it might actually be a great idea!
3. Crowd Awareness
I almost started this tip “beware of crowds,” but that seemed a bit harsh. My point is to realize that over 6 million people visit this destination each year and everyone must come and go out of a handful of main entrances.
There will be people everywhere. It feels like Disney World!
Do what you need to do in the Village area and then go your own way! It’s very tempting to get sucked into staying where you see everyone else, but trust me: your view will be MUCH more enjoyable if you head East or West on the main road.
You do have the option of taking a bus, but with kids I think it’s easier to just drive your own car. There are tons of pull off areas and parking lots along the route.
Personal Tip: Our family visited the Southern Rim and after a lot of research, we chose to drive East.
4. Park Programs
The Grand Canyon is part of the National Park System. Be sure you are taking full advantage of all the programs! First of all, if you have a 4th Grader in your family, your whole car receives free admission. Through A Kid In Every Park you can fill out the application and receive your pass.
Additionally, you will want to order a Passport To Your National Parks book to get stamped throughout the park. Once you’ve purchased the book, there is no better FREE way to collect souvenirs as you travel. Each stamp you receive is dated so it’s really fun to look back through your book as a record of your travels.
Finally, make sure you pick up a Junior Ranger booklet at one of the visitor centers. It’s a fun way for your kids to learn more about the landscape and wildlife of the park.
5. Prioritize Your Financial Commitment
When going to visit a natural park, one might think the cost should be reasonable. THINK AGAIN!
Everything at the Grand Canyon is expensive! And, when you travel with kids, the cost just increases exponentially! Yes, there are lodging and food options in the park. But they aren’t cheap.
Before you travel, figure out what your priorities are and budget wisely. Our family opted NOT to pay the high lodging prices inside the park. Unfortunately, that meant extra time in the car. The closest city with affordable lodging is in Flagstaff, Arizona. We felt like it was more than worth it to avoid the outrageous rates.
Similarly, there is some food in the park, but it’s also overpriced. Rather than eating 2 or 3 meals in the park that day, we opted to splurge on one big meal. We stocked our car with snacks and water prior to entering the park and saved a ton of money!
You will also want to make sure you have medicine, bandaids, and other random supplies you might need before entering the National Park gate. There is no Target and you will pay a premium on anything you need to purchase.
6. Make Making Memories Fun
I had a big mom fail at The Grand Canyon. My daughter desperately wanted to paint the sunset scene. And I had no supplies.
She begged to “run to the store” even offering to pay the cost of the supplies. But, of course, this wasn’t possible (she’s growing up in a world where there is a Target on every corner…this was a tad foreign to her!) I’m not usually a mom that gives in to my kiddos every whim- especially when it costs money. However, I really wished I’d been able to let her do some art! We will definitely travel with supplies on all future trips!
Fortunately, we were traveling with kids cameras so they were each able to document the experience!
I also recommend taking some sort of travel journal with you. As we waited for the sun to set, I encouraged them to record a few memories in their journals.
7. Dress Everyone Appropriately
There is truly nothing worse than not being prepared with the right clothes…except perhaps, not having the right thing for your kids! At least when it’s your wardrobe, you can just do your best. But if you mess up with your kids, you have to hear about it. Kids complain a lot and it can really ruin a day.
At the Grand Canyon you should be prepared for temperature extremes. It can go from being very hot to very cold quickly. I recommend dressing in layers and having jackets or sweatshirts easily accessible in your car.
You may also want to bring a blanket if you are planning to sit anywhere for an extended period of time. The benches are few and far between which leaves most everyone else sitting on the ground. We were thankful to have a sleeping bag in the car that we could spread out to picnic and then watch the sun set!
8. Plan To Disconnect
You would not believe the number of teenagers we saw on their cell phones at The Grand Canyon. They were literally missing everything because their faces were buried in a screen!
I’m sure they were Snapchatting awesome selfies…but still!
Fortunately my kids don’t have cell phones yet so this wasn’t a major issue for us. But, mark my word, we will have a pretty strict policy about traveling with cell phones when we cross that bridge! Parents, encourage (force!) your children to put their phones away and enjoy the beauty of The Grand Canyon!
Worth noting- we only had cell phone service when we were in the village area. Once we’d driven a few miles to the East, our cell phones didn’t work! Yet another reason to get out of the popular spot.
9. Keep Your Plans Realistic
As I mentioned, it was my daughter’s idea to include the Grand Canyon on this particular trip. After I realized that we were going to be able to make it happen, I checked in with her to see if there was something specific she wanted to do there (it caught me off guard she even had it on her radar!)
Here’s a summary of her response:
“Oh, I was thinking we could ride a donkey to the bottom of the Canyon and camp.”
Huh? That is SO not something our family would typically do! I love that she wanted to try something new- but I think that idea was pushing it! I convinced her that we might try something like that on a future trip when she’s a bit older and we have more experience camping in the elements!
While I have no doubt that would have been memorable, I’m not sure it was right for our family. Neither was doing a major Canyon hike. Again, it would have been cool. But not necessarily manageable for our 6-year old.
Keep your plans realistic if you want to have an optimal experience!
10. Expect Highs and Lows
No trip with kids plays out without a little drama. Expect it. And then don’t sweat it!
For environmental reasons I’m embarrassed to admit this, but we had a little incident with our Junior Ranger books. I set them down to take a picture and they blew off into the Canyon. My kiddos were devastated.
Fortunately, we were able to back track to a nearby Visitor Center to obtain new ones. Of course, they lost all their hard work and were super annoyed at me for littering. But, we got through the drama.
Also, as I mentioned earlier, my daughter couldn’t believe I was letting the once-in-a-lifetime moment pass her by without magically producing art supplies for her to paint the sunset. She was SO upset at me for ruining her opportunity. But, again, we got through the drama.
At the end of the day, they both declared our day at The Grand Canyon the best day ever!