Summer is a great time to travel, particularly with your children when school is out. It’s also the time when road trips are ideal, particularly for those not interested in the prospect of snow, ice, or hail. Americans have always had a deep cultural affinity for road trips.
There was a time when the Great American Road Trip meant a long haul down Route 66 and a stop along the way at the Grand Canyon. National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) was a film that evoked the concept and added a heap of comedy to boot. Still, the humor spoke to a deep cultural idea: the marriage of the family road trip, summertime, and the country’s natural beauty.
There are many national parks for a family to visit. Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Sequoia National Forest, and Kings Canyon come to mind, as does the Petrified Forest and many others.
Outdoor activities also accompany the package of possibilities associated with these adventures. Nothing says summer like backpacks loaded up with a camping stove, sleeping bag, and the makings of s’mores.
It’s worth taking a fresh look at the Grand Canyon as a great family destination. Below you’ll find some great suggestions based on length of stay. For all activities, we’ll assume you are in the park during the summer.
A Day or Less, Over Age 12
The first thing to consider is that the Grand Canyon is enormous. You can’t possibly see it all on one trip. The second thing to consider is the age of any children you plan to bring along. Here we’ll cover a day trip, less than six or eight hours, with children over 12 years of age.
The great thing about this age group is that they can hike and keep up a good pace for a few hours. Still, you need to plan ahead. Bring plenty of water, food, sunscreen, and other safety equipment like a first aid kit to maintain a safe experience. Since you are hiking in the summer, avoid hiking between 10AM and 4PM. It’s simply too hot in the middle of the day.
If you would like more information about safe hiking – check out resources from the National Park Service and the American Hiking Society.
The Rim Trail on the South Rim is great for novice hikers. For the most part, the trail is paved, has great views, and a low incline. There are 13 miles of hiking available. There are also plenty of short jaunts between bus stops for those who want to keep it short. For more adventurous visitors, there are also day trips down the river and guided tours.
It’s also worth noting there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer as a greeter or in maintenance, even for high school and college students. Learn more about those opportunities through the National Parks Service website.
A Day or Less, Children Under 12
Covid-19 shut down or otherwise altered a lot of programs at the national parks. The Junior Ranger program is one such program. However, parents of younger children can still give their kids a flavor of the traditional programs. They receive a worksheet packet and a badge which they can collect from other parks. And, they still have the same chance to learn as they tour the park.
Taking the family on a mule ride would also be great. If your kids are at least seven years old, the North Rim has some rides that will work for you and your family. Just be aware that you’ll need to check your weight since there is a weight limit of 200 or 220 lbs depending on the ride.
Lengthening your stay means you will need lodging at night. There are many lodges and hotels inside and outside the park to accommodate various tastes and budgets. There are also programs and services for any length of stay you could desire. For example, you could take a guided backpacking tour for several days, a multi-week river run (up to 25 days), or visit the museum for a few hours (currently closed due to Covid-19).
So, before you head to the park, check to see what services are running. This way, you can plan accordingly.
If you’re interested in an overnight stay or backpacking in the backcountry, you may need a Backcountry Permit. Again, visit the Grand Canyon website or contact the rangers to do so.
Road trips are a great way to spend the summer with your family. The closeness in space and time bonds a family together, allowing great memories to form. What better way to frame a trip than around one of America’s great national treasures: the Grand Canyon.