1st timer: Grand Canyon vacation

We’re making our summer vacation plans with my family. Everyone was so helpful with our Yellowstone trip. This upcoming one with 10-year-old Anya and 6-year-old Grant will rival that in scope. One highlight is the Grand Canyon, and I’d like to pick some brains.

I am leaving Las Vegas after breakfast, and it appears the South Rim is about 4 hours away. After a stop for lunch, we should be in the park around 1:00 or so. We then are staying at the park’s Yavapai Lodge overnight, then spending the next day until we head back to Vegas in the afternoon. It will be a Monday and Tuesday in mid-July.

A few caveats, as I’m traveling with small children. I imagine I’ll want to come back when they’re older, but now’s not the time for “only two days, are you crazy?” or “don’t go where the tourists go, there’s this 8-mile hike with stunning views away from the main roads.” With that in mind:

[li]No North Rim[/li][li]Not planning on going to the river bottom [/li][li]No glass walkway[/li][li]No mule ride (kids are too small)[/li][/ul]

Do I plan on taking a hike under the rim? I do have one planned for that trip: a ranger-led family hike, which is from 9am to 11am on the Hermit Trail. I’m figuring it will be educational and at a good pace for the little ones. And they love those junior ranger badges!

After this, my research kind of fails me. The guidebooks lists trails and viewpoints: Mather, Yaki, Yavapai, Grandview. I’m sure they’re each outstanding in their own way, but is there a way to narrow it down? I think the Desert Watchtower is great for “on they way out”. Other than that one hike, it’s pretty open, including places for sunsets and sunrises. Our first stop will necessarily be the visitors center and Mather Point.

In your folks’ experience, what would you recommend for our two half days?

They aren’t exactly cheap, but airplane or helicopter tours from Grand Canyon Airport provide spectacular views you can’t get any other way and give a much better sense of the vastness of the canyon compared to what you get standing on the rim. Highly recommended.

Desert Watchtower, while a historic building, is a tourist trap. You can avoid with no regret. Kids would love running up and down the staircase. Not me.

You could drop below the rim on a short hike if you want. Just turn around when you are 1/3 tired. Uphill back to the top.

El Tovar is awesome. Dinner there is expensive but fun and informative. Go in there if nothing else.

Check out the train when it arrives and leaves every day. They don’t run steam anymore, but the old diesels and cars are still fun to see. Rare ATSF RR station there, built of logs.

Check out the normal stuff, like the Kolb Bros. studio, etc.

Oh, and there’s a vintage aircraft museum outside the park that is worth checking if that’s your bag.

The park shuttle bus routes include stops at almost all the major viewpoints. You can pick a spot to ride out to, hike along the rim trail for a bit, and catch another bus back.

Look up the ranger talks for the day. Always fun for the kiddies. See if there is a campfire talk in the campground, you don’t have to be a camper to attend.

The glass balcony thing is several hundred miles away and I gather the roads aren’t good, so I wouldn’t bother.

If the money is there, consider a helicopter ride though that might be a bit much for a 6 year old (on the other hand, he might LOVE it).

You really don’t need more than a day or two there. You walk along the rim, go down some of the trails a little bit, then unless you’re hiking, there’s NOT that much more to do.

There are bus tours - we took one and enjoyed it. It picked up at one of the lodges, and stopped at a number of places. The driver had a lot of good anecdotes - including how he nearly killed himself hiking down and up. He went down the easy path, and up the hard one, ran out of water, and stood stupidly as a packmule train went by him, not thinking to ask them for help.

Make sure you keep your car filled on the drive. Vegas to Grand Canyon won’t be too far off the beaten track, but there are other parts of the southwest where it’s an hour or more to the next gas station.

Keep LOTS of water handy - that heat sucks it out of you.

A fun short stop just outside of Vegas is Valley of Fire State Park - lots of stunning rock formations. That was where we discovered what it was like to be in a convection oven though: 115+ degrees outside, and a breeze blew up. This did not cool us off, it just cooked us that much faster. Thank heaven for a car with very good air conditioning!!

It will be extremely hot everywhere you are. We did our trip in mid-July as well, and the highs were 100+ even in the park.

For future reference: Another fun place to visit, but that is probably not on your itinerary: Zion National Park. Stunning, the road along the Virgin River has a lot of short hikes that aren’t too challenging (and some that are), the river is very accessible, and there’s a spot at the far end where people stop and splash and paddle. You go along the road using a park bus (cars not allowed). My kids were 16 and 13 when we did that, younger kids would also enjoy it especially splashing in the river at the end. Bear in mind, the roads getting to that are very challenging and best not attempted in the dark.

Yeah, the glass balcony thing didn’t put up much of a fight. It’s well off the beaten path, $40 to get in, then “besides the basic admittance package you will have to pay additional fee of $29.95 to step on the Skywalk.” And the ultimate insult: you cannot bring your own camera.

That’s actually comforting news. I knew I was doing the hike under the rim, which I read 95% of the visitors don’t do. The mule/river/copter is not in the cards with the little ones, but it’s good to know I’m not rushing through and missing too much.

Yes, we are doing more national parks, but going the opposite way from Vegas. I live in Hawaii and do try to make the most of my mainland trips. I’ll have more questions on those places.

For those who can’t make it to Arizona, you can do a virtual hike with the 360 degree streetview of the Bright Angel Trail

(I hiked up that trail from Indian Gardens once in pouring rain and hail. What a day!)

Here’s a [thread=568968]thread from 2010[/thread] about our trip to the southwest, that the SDMB helped plan. With very young ones you probably won’t be able to hit as many parks. But you may want to take the kids to tour Best Friends Animal Shelter outside of Kanab, UT. A lot of walking, but a lot of puppies and kittens and birds and lizards, etc. A great place. Unless you think your kids will want to bring every animal home right then …

Other threads about trips to the southwest: [thread=581236]Vegas[/thread] [thread=707550]Southern Utah[/thread] [thread=608313]Grand Canyon[/thread] and I’m sure more recnt ones, but my google-fu is fading.

Thank you Typo Knig, those are terrific links! However, the canyon is our only destination in that direction.

Flying from Hawaii, we’re using Las Vegas as our base. The other half of the trip will be Kings Canyon, Sequoia, Death Valley, and the one I’ll probably have many more questions: Yosemite!

If you’re in a hurry, you can always do this!

(Sorry, had to…) :smiley:

If you can find about 4-5 hours in the plan, Meteor Crater is about 50 miles from Flagstaff and I think would impress the young’ns (sure as heck impresses me).

The Grand Canyon is one of the most marvelous places in the world, but I do worry about how long a -6 and -10 year old can look at what (to them) is just various views of a big hole in the ground. So Meteor Crater or the Valley of Fire might be fall back options if the whining becomes noticeable.

If you were staying in Flagstaff I’d recommend the Lowell Observatory, even during daylight hours it is pretty impressive.


As a counter to those who love the Canyon…

I’d plan as much stuff as possible elsewhere. The Canyon sounds good, but if you aren’t into hiking/muling it, it ends up being a long drive, 5 minutes of staring at a hole in the ground, and then wondering what you are going to do with the rest of the time you foolishly laid out. Start checking out the surrounding area for things to do. Your children will thank you.

You might want to check out Grand Canyon Caverns (a private operation). I believe they are somewhere roughly between LV and the southern rim.

IIRC they have a variety of tour lengths. They even have some where they will take you “wild” caving. I think they even have some lodging underground. And again IIRC other outdoor above ground activities.

I get the impression from a person or two that I’ve talked to years ago that the cave isn’t all that great pretty “formation” wise. But, for kids, just being underground might be excitement enough.

One thing for sure, it will be more comfortable underground.

Maybe hit the Canyon in the morning to beat the heat, hit the caverns on the way back in the afternoon (again to avoid the heat) and even perhaps stay there for the night, which would also give you the advantage of being able to enjoy the night sky in some place that isn’t ruined by light pollution.

There are lots of ranger-led activities. Your kids are about the right age for the Junior Ranger program (which ends with the induction of your kids as a Junior Ranger). Check to see if there are any star-gazing groups at night. Often amateur astronomers will set up powerful telescopes. It was at the GC that I saw the remnants of a nova (looked like a faint Cheerio).

Unless your kids love to hike I’d say that any hiking below the rim, however short, will be tough. The trails down are very steep at the top and I don’t think you’ll get far enough down to see anything different before you have to turn around.

Unlike another Doper I think the Desert Watchtower is worth it but I agree it is a tourist trap. Pretty much every man-made thing at the GC is a tourist trap.

One last thing: it’s gonna be crowded! Very crowded. I was just there in March and it was getting full. Still, I love the GC and it’s one of my very favorite places in the world. Enjoy!

We were going the other direction and saw The Painted Desert on the map which is east of the Grand Canyon. It’s worth driving through and there are no crowds. If you wanted to spend a late afternoon or partial day there while spending days around the Grand Canyon it’s worth the trip. And I believe it can be “driven through” in one direction with no gates outside of the regular hours when the visitor center is open.


The bus driver who nearly killed himself (many years before) hiked down Bright Angel, and up a different one. He later found out he should have done it in the opposite order, as Bright Angel is supposedly much easier - at least, as much as any trail back up is “easy” :D.

Ooh - another nearby jaunt, depending on how you travel to/from, is Sedona, Very artsy, those into New Age stuff believe there are lines of power running through it. The approach from the north goes along Oak Creek Canyon, one of the few places in Arizona where there is a riparian ecosystem. If you stop at the rest stop at the northern part, there are numerous Native Americans selling handmade jewelry. Sedona itself is fun, and there are several companies there that will take you offroad in jeeps (e.g. the Pink Jeep company and at least one other). The kids would probably enjoy that, though you WILL get dusty.

Oh Yeah! The main town of Sedona is flat, hot, and typical desert but the road through the canyon is one of the most picturesque drives I’ve ever been on. And I think some of the houses in the canyon beside the creek are BNB or vacation rental. Well worth a quick search.

There are two trails from the South Rim down to the bottom; Bright Angel and South Kaibab. South Kaibab Trail tends to go along the tops of ridges (with better views) and there are no water stops. Bright Angel Trail goes in the valleys (worse views, but more shade) and there is running water at a couple places. If you’re gonna do the round trip, go down South Kaibab (take plenty of water) and up Bright Angel.

I’ve taken the South Kaibab Trail; even going down it kicked my butt.

I’ve been to the Grand Canyon twice. Both times I went by this:

Unless you’re doing camping/trekking–it’s a great way to see the Grand Canyon. The ride is so fun. The town of Williams is so fun and sweet.

It is a little cheesy. And they will leave you at the Grand Canyon if you miss the the train. We almost did (the second time I went, which was with The Fella). Have you ever seen a fat woman run for a train at an elevation? If you were on that train you did, and everyone clapped and laughed when we made it to our seats. (Sweaty and panicking and laughing with relief that we didn’t miss it.)
Also, you get ‘held up’ which the kids on the train freaking loved!