At one time or another, most families have dreamed of taking a road trip to the Grand Canyon. This spectacular natural wonder holds a special appeal for everyone from ages 5 to 95 and, best of all, it can be as affordable as it is family friendly. Here are 5 tips to get the most out of your visit to this truly remarkable site.
Before we begin, a little lesson in geography and politics. The Grand Canyon is a natural wonder and most of it is encapsulated within the boundaries of Grand Canyon National Park. The remaining part of the Grand Canyon is managed by the Hualapai Tribal Nation and the Havasupai Tribe. The famous “skywalk” is on Hualapai land and is not part of the National Park. In fact, many visitors arrive at the National Parks’ Gates each year, asking about the skywalk and are disappointed to learn it’s many hours of driving away! Grand Canyon National Park has two “sides” – the North Rim and the South Rim. As the South Rim is the primary destination for the majority of visitors, this article will focus on advice for that particular area. But the North Rim – about a 5 hour drive from the South – is equally beautiful and worthy of a visit.
1.) Consider spending some time in Flagstaff. Of all the towns close to the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff is the most affordable, least touristed, and offer the most diverse attractions. There are several National Monuments nearby, the Lowell Observatory is among the finest in the world, and the town’s university vibe means there are diverse, fun, funky eateries. There’s also a huge range of accommodations and budget focused families will appreciate the wide range of brand name, economical hotels and motels.
2.) Enter through the East Gate. If you are arriving from Flagstaff, you’re perfectly situation to enter the park’s South Rim from it’s underused East Gate. Arriving early in the morning at the East Gate will save you hours of waiting compared to a mid-day arrival at South Gate. Some added bonuses? The drive from Flagstaff to the East Gate is beautiful and, once inside the park, you will on the “right side” (aka – the rim side) for the legendary Desert View Drive. Perfect for pulling over for stunning photos!
3.) Hang out with the Rangers. Like all National Parks, the Grand Canyon has a staff of well educated, enthusiastic, experienced Rangers who are on hand to offer a host of diverse programs all day, every day. Virtually every single program and presentation is family friendly and you needn’t be outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy them. There are indoor programs as well with a focus on art, history, and culture.
4.) Yes! There ARE bargains inside the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon’s lodges are the stuff of architectural legend – some of Mary Jane Colter and Charles Whittlesley’s best works are now accommodations for millions of annual visitors. But while you could spend a small fortune for a canyon view room at El Tovar, a slightly more humble room at the Bright Angel Lodge is only around $100 a night. Forgo on en suite bathroom in favour of a spotless communal bathroom and you could pay as little as $69 a night to be about 50 feet from the rim of the canyon. Come morning, the Bright Angel Pub is an affordable coffee shop, offering the best breakfast prices in the park.
5.) Safety first! Shockingly, not all parents keep their children away from the canyon’s rim. We saw dozens of families turn a blind eye as their children played on the wrong size of the barriers. The dangers of the Grand Canyon are all too real and children and adults should respect all railings, safety postings, and animal warnings. Even very experienced hikers run into serious danger hiking in the Grand Canyon and even short walks are not excursions to take lightly. Advanced planning and research is required for Grand Canyon hikes and the advice of the Rangers should always be respected.
A Grand Canyon roadtrip is the adventure of a lifetime, one that all family members will be sure to cherish! Hope you’re inspired to start planning a summer trip today!
All photos credit Vanessa Chiasson