Grand Canyon: How to Plan Your Family Vacation
Weather and Seasonal Closures
Grand Canyon National Park’s elevation ranges from 2,000 to 8,000-plus feet and its climate is subject to extreme seasonal changes. If your family includes school-aged children, the timing of your trip is likely tied to school vacations, but also consider temperatures and conditions that you’ll all be comfortable with.
School holidays, public holiday weekends and all of the summer are peak season in the park, so expect larger crowds, higher prices and quickly booked-up accommodations, rental cars and tours.
Summer highs at the South Rim are usually in the 80s but exceed 100 degrees at the canyon floor. Thunderstorms, often violent ones, are frequent throughout July, August and early September. Fall and springtime temperatures are in the 50s and 60s around the rim and drop below freezing overnight.
In winter, snowy and icy conditions are expected and road closures are common. Parts of the park, including the entire North Rim area, close for the entire winter due to extreme weather conditions. In winter there’s also a chance of fog obscuring your views of the canyon. The snow is usually gone by mid-April.
Where to Stay and Where to Explore
Grand Canyon National Park welcomes 5.5 million visitors every year, and 90 percent of them stick to the South Rim and its hub, Grand Canyon Village. The remainder visit the remote North Rim, which is only 10 miles across the canyon but a 220-mile drive away.
The South Rim is certainly more popular due to its accessibility and greater range of amenities, both key factors to think about in planning your own Grand Canyon family vacation package. Note that the North Rim is only accessible from mid-May to mid-October.
Also consider the Skywalk, a horseshoe-shaped glass platform suspended 70 feet out over the canyon rim. The attraction is on the Hualapai Reservation in the far western end of the canyon, by car about five hours from the South Rim, 1.5 hours from Kingman, Arizona and just over two hours from Las Vegas, Nevada.
Along with four campgrounds and one RV park, accommodations inside the park comprise six lodges and hotels at the South Rim, one on the canyon floor and one at the North Rim. All are fully booked well in advance, so make inquiries up to two years before you plan to visit.
The town of Tusayan just outside the park offers a handful of hotels, and many more options are available in the Arizona towns of Valle (30 miles away), Red Lake (43 miles), Williams (60 miles) and Flagstaff (80 miles).
Getting There and Around
By far the easiest way to travel to and around the Grand Canyon as a family is by car, whether it’s your own or a rental. The two closest international airports are in Las Vegas, 275 miles away, and Phoenix, 230 miles away from Grand Canyon Village. You can connect from Phoenix Airport to Flagstaff Airport, just 80 miles away. Amtrak train service will get you as far as Flagstaff or Williams.
There’s also the tourist railroad, Grand Canyon Railway, which offers Grand Canyon tour packages departing daily from Williams. This is a fun option for families with young children as the train ride features cowboy entertainers and an Old West theme. From March to November, a free shuttle bus runs along four routes starting in Grand Canyon Village. One route connects directly to hotels in Tusayan.
Grand Canyon Tour Packages
Due to its popularity as a tourist destination, a large number of tour companies offer fully inclusive Grand Canyon National Park packages featuring transport, accommodations, guided tours, activities and sometimes meals. Some cover only round-trip transportation and leave you to spend one or more days exploring the park independently. Such tours are available departing from Las Vegas, Flagstaff, Sedona, Phoenix and Williams, among other cities in the wider region. Many combine multiple southwest destinations, making it possible to take a family trip to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon via the Hoover Dam, or perhaps a grand tour of national parks in Arizona and Utah.
Family Tours and Other Things to Do
While many adult visitors are content to drive around the Grand Canyon’s rim, admiring and photographing its majesty from various viewpoints, most families will want to include some more interactive pursuits. The following are ideal for families:
- Hiking is great for an active family as it can easily be adapted to your own preferences. Trails around the Grand Canyon offer a wide range of options in terms of distance and difficulty.
- River rafting trips range from half-day to multi-day trips with commercial guides. A one-day smooth water rafting trip departing from Page, Arizona is suitable for ages 4 and up. Multi-day trips generally require participants to be 10, 12 or 16 and up. These need to be booked early, often one to two years in advance.
- Mule rides are another popular activity, often fully booked 15 months in advance. Riders must be at least 9 years old and 4-foot, 9-inches. Minors must be accompanied by an adult.
- Ranger programs are all free of charge and most are suitable for children (accompanied by an adult). They include guided hikes, fossil walks, geology talks at the Yavapi Geology Museum, talks about animals and evening programs discussing constellations.
Source: USA Today