There’s so much more to Grand Canyon National Park than its jaw-dropping views, especially for families. After gazing across its expanse and taking a few keepsake photos, families can hike, bike and even whitewater raft in the park, which celebrates its centennial this year.
Most visitors enter the park at the South Rim. Here, even families with strollers and small children can hike the mostly-paved Rim Trail, which skirts along the canyon’s edge. Those up for more of a challenge can descend a short way into the canyon along the well-maintained Bright Angel Trail. Just be sure to take plenty of water, and don’t go too far before turning back.
The journey all the way to the bottom can take up to six hours, and while older children (who are also experienced hikers) can make it to the bottom and back, the park service discourages anyone from attempting to do this all in one day. Plan to camp at the bottom overnight.
If hiking seems a little too strenuous, your family can ride a mule into the canyon or along its rim instead. Children must be at least 9 years old and 4 feet 9 inches tall to participate and should not be afraid of heights (or, of course, of large animals).
Mule rides almost always have a waiting list — even for the rim rides — so you’ll want to book early. Reservations can be made up to 15 months in advance through Xanterra.
Pedaling your way along the rim is another great option for families. You can bring your own bicycle to ride along the paved roads and Greenway Trail or rent one from Bright Angel Bicycle Rentals at the South Rim’s Canyon Visitor Information Plaza.
Bright Angel rents cruiser-style bikes in a variety of different sizes as well as trailers that can tow up to two children. In addition to bike helmets, riders receive a map of three popular routes. The Red Bike Ride and Orange Bike Ride are shorter (one- to two-hour rides) while the Orange Bike Ride provides a greater challenge.
Becoming a Junior Ranger
Anyone over the age of 4 (including adults) can become a Junior Ranger at the Grand Canyon by completing an age-appropriate activity book and attending at least one ranger-led program. You can pick up an activity book at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center, Verkamp’s Visitor Center Park Headquarters or Tusayan Museum near Desert View.
As a bonus, if you hike or ride mules to the bottom of the canyon, you’ll also be eligible for a Phantom Ranch badge.
Rafting and more
One of the most popular ways to experience the Grand Canyon is rafting through it on the Colorado River. These trips generally leave from Page, Arizona, and can last anywhere from a few hours on the water to a week or more. You’ll need to make reservations in advance, and children must be at least 4 years old.
Or, you can get a bird’s eye view by flying over the Grand Canyon. Several companies offer helicopter and/or airplane tours of the canyon. Helicopter tours depart from Grand Canyon National Park Airport and last roughly 45 minutes.