7 Awesome Grand Canyon Adventures for Families

By: Dina Mishev

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May 1, 2012

Experience Arizona's world-famous landmark through the eyes of a child (although these family friendly activities promise fun for all ages).

About the author

Dina Mishev

Dina Mishev

Dina Mishev lives and writes in Jackson, Wyoming, and wherever she parks her camper van in Arizona. Her work about travel, adventure, fitness and lifestyle topics appears in National Geographic Traveler, Sunset and AAA Via. She is a host of the Wyoming PBS show "The Wyoming Chronicle." You can find her blog at www.dinamishev.com.

One-mile deep, 277-miles long, visible from outer space and home to a small community of California condors – one of the rarest birds in the world. What kid wouldn’t think the Grand Canyon is cool?

Top all of that off with a little adventure, and you are guaranteed to maximize your family’s Grand Canyon experience.

Roll on the Rails

Yes, kids love Grand Canyon Railway’s Christmastime Polar Express. But the regular train ride between Williams and the South Rim gets high marks too.

While you’ll appreciate not having to deal with driving, the kids will love spotting wildlife such as elk, mountain lions and bald eagles through the train windows.

Singing cowboys strolling among the passenger cars add to the fun of this scenic journey.

Hoof It in

A mule ride into the Grand Canyon will be one of the most memorable adventures of your life.

On the North Rim, Grand Canyon Trail Rides allows kids to experience the adventure with rides on the North Kaibab Trail.

Children as young as seven can participate in a one-hour ride, while kids 10 and older are welcome on the half-day trips.

Explore on Foot

“Meet the Canyon” on a kid-friendly (six and older) South Rim guided hike with the Grand Canyon Field Institute.

The hike starts at the top of Bright Angel Trail. Along the way, the guide gives short geology and history lessons, the latter of which are “illustrated” by trailside rock paintings from the canyon’s early inhabitants.

Become a Junior Ranger

Who doesn’t want to be a park ranger? If you’re between the ages of 4 and 14 you can become a Grand Canyon National Park Junior Ranger, earning a badge and certificate by completing a list of activities in the park.

Rangers-in-training simply follow the instructions found in the Junior Ranger Activity Booklet, available at throughout the park, including at the Canyon View Information Plaza, Tusayan Museum and Yavapai Observation Station.

If your kids aren’t yet ready for ranger lessons, the Rangers Activity and Sticker Book offers younger explorers stickers for visiting different sites around the park.

Find this book at the El Tovar, Bright Angel and Arizona Room restaurants, as well as at Hermits Rest and the Desert View Watchtower.

Cycle around the Canyon

Bicyclists can pedal all of the park’s roads as well as the Hermit Road Greenway Path, and by bike or park shuttle is the only way visitors are allowed to cruise the historic – and incredibly scenic – Hermit Road.

To get rolling, rent a bike for as little as an hour or as long as a full day from Bright Angel Bicycles and Café at Mather Point on the South Rim.

Rentals are available for adults and kids, ages 8 or older. If your tykes are really young, Bright Angel Bicycles also rents bicycle trailers.

It’s important to note that while all of the park’s roads and the Hermit Road Greenway Trail are open to bicyclists, the park’s trails allow only foot traffic (no wheels).

See It on the Big Screen

There’s a reason Grand Canyon – The Movie is the longest running IMAX film of all time: it’s awesome!

In front of a six-story screen, encircled by 12,000 watts of digital surround sound, soar over the rim of the canyon and down into the roaring rapids of the Colorado River.

Even the most active kids can’t help but sit at attention, all the while soaking up a host of interesting Grand Canyon facts.

The 34-minute film plays every hour on the half-hour at the National Geographic Visitor Center.

Fair warning: The movie might plant a seed in young minds for a future family vacation of rafting down the Colorado River as it rushes through the Grand Canyon.

Hover above the West Rim

The Grand Canyon Skywalk has become such a part of the Grand Canyon experience, it’s difficult to believe the glass-bottomed, U-shaped observation deck has been open only since 2007.

Jutting 70-feet over the canyon’s West Rim – which drops 4,000 feet straight down to the Colorado River below – the Skywalk doesn’t just offer amazing views, it also delivers an experience you won’t find anywhere else.

Come sunset, enjoy another unique Grand Canyon West adventure at Grand Canyon Apache Stables. Hitch a one-hour ride on a horse-drawn wagon that ends around a campfire.

Bring along s’mores ingredients for a trail’s-end fireside treat.

Zip to the Front of the Line

If you’re traveling to the canyon through Flagstaff, stop at the Flagstaff Visitor Center.

As the kids explore the historic train station the visitor center occupies, you can pre-purchase your park pass ($25 per vehicle for a week) and get the latest Grand Canyon news.

With your pass already in hand, once you reach the South Rim you can use the pre-paid entrance lane, bypassing the often-long line of cars waiting to purchase passes at the gate.

 

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