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Affordable, Family Friendly Fun at the Grand Canyon

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.


Affordable, Family Friendly Fun at the Grand CanyonPin
Grand Canyon National Park


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.


Affordable, Family Friendly Fun at the Grand CanyonPin
Affordable, Family Friendly Fun at the Grand Canyon



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.


Affordable, Family Friendly Fun at the Grand CanyonPin
Grand Canyon National Park


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

Vanessa Chiasson is an ocean loving Maritimer now settled as a professional travel blogger, freelance writer, and social media strategist in Ottawa. Her diverse travels include the coffee farms of Hawaii, the national parks of Malawi, and the streets of Paris - where she ran a marathon! Vanessa is the 2013 Norfolk County Travel Writer of the Year and was named on the White House's list of the top 100 most influential travel bloggers. You can read more about her adventures at TurnipseedTravel.com and follower her on Twitter @Turnipseeds

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  1. Thank you for this! Count us among the families dreaming of seeing this amazing natural wonder! You have offered great advice and tips that I shall keep for our dream trip to the Grand Canyon.

    Any advice on tours within or best way to reach the bottom?

    • To reach the bottom, you have three main options. The first is to hike down independently and there are a couple of main trails to choose from. The park strongly recommends against trying to go down and back up in a day so that means camping at the bottom OR staying in the park lodge on the canyon floor. It can book up a year in advance, so plan ahead.

      You can also join a guided hike through one of many tour organizers. They help with the accommodations/camping and it can be very reassuring to be in the safety of a group and in the experienced hands of a wilderness guide.

      Finally, you can work with one of the approved park vendors and ride a mule down. Much easier on the legs!! But this service also books up well in advance.

  2. I can handle a spotless communal bathroom if it means being that close to the rim! I’ll get to the canyon one day, been saying that for years, but it will happen 🙂
    Thanks for the useful tips! Must remember that East gate!

    • I hope you get there soon!! I have to say, I’ve seen many a bathroom in my time – and have some crazy travel stories to go with it – but these were truly spotless and very private and very modern. It felt like no sacrifice at all! And there are some rooms that contain a tiny ensuite private powder room but you would use the private shower/bath room down the hall for bathing.

  3. I was looking into a trip there before, and noticed both gates and the nearby towns. I didn’t know which was the best way in. Thanks for the tips!

    • Once inside the gates, you can park by your lodge or in a public parking spot and then ride around on their free shuttle bus, which also dips out of the park and into nearby Tusayan (an otherwise touristy town that does offer an IMAX theatre where you can watch the Grand Canyon film – tons of aerial photography within so well worth a visit). On the way back into the park from Tusayan, the shuttle bus entered through the main gates of the South Rim – and the little bus must have scooted past several hundred cars lined up around 2pm. If you can’ go by the East gate, at least arrive bright and early!

  4. It is definitely on our list of places to visit, just have to find the money to start working on that travel list! Thanks for all the information!

  5. I went to see the Grand Canyon a few years ago – magnificent indeed. Thanks for some great tips for accommodation, I do hope one day to return.


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