How to Plan a Family Vacation to the Grand Canyon

How to Plan a Family Vacation to the Grand Canyon
Some people are Grand Canyon skeptics. After all, they've seen hundreds of photos---what's the big deal? But seeing the Grand Canyon in person takes your breath away. You can't take in the whole canyon from a single view. The sun and clouds change the colors of the layer-cake geology throughout the day. You can spend sunrise to sunset in the same spot, and every hour the scenery will look different. The Grand Canyon makes for a family vacation to remember, with just a little planning.
 

Instructions

Difficulty: Easy

Things You’ll Need:
  • Map of Arizona showing close portions of Nevada Good walking shoes Hiking shoes with ankle support (optional) Set of trekking poles Easy-to-carry water bottle, 1 to 2 liters Warm jacket or sweatshirts Umbrella
  • Map of Arizona showing close portions of Nevada
  • Good walking shoes
  • Hiking shoes with ankle support (optional)
  • Set of trekking poles
  • Easy-to-carry water bottle, 1 to 2 liters
  • Warm jacket or sweatshirts
  • Umbrella
 
Step 1
Pick your vacation dates. Visitation at the Grand Canyon is lower mid-week.
Step 2
Choose your method of transportation. The nearest major airports are Phoenix Sky Harbor and Las Vegas McCarren. The closest airport with commercial service is Flagstaff, Arizona. Las Vegas is a 4-1/2 hour drive from the Grand Canyon; Phoenix is 3-1/2 hours, although the mileage from the two airports is close to being the same.
Step 3
Make hotel reservations. Unless you're extremely adventurous, reservations are necessary. You're highly unlikely to find last-minute reservations within the National Park, but calling the various in-park hotels may be worthwhile. You can usually find some vacancies in Flagstaff or Williams, each about 1-1/2 hours from Grand Canyon Village.
Step 4
Plan family activities. Check the Grand Canyon National Park website and the Grand Canyon Association (see Resources) for information on special events scheduled in and around your planned vacation time. These sessions are interesting and informative. The Park website usually has a seasonal newsletter with a list of classes. The newsletter also tells how to make reservations for in-park adventures, such as riding the mules to Phantom Ranch on the Colorado River. Visit the library or AAA to obtain visitor guides for the Park. More has been written about the Grand Canyon and visits than any other national park.
Step 5
Reserve plane flights and car rental for your family vacation. Because of the length of the trip to the Park, you'll probably be more comfortable in a mid-size or intermediate-size car than in a compact or subcompact. If you're a travel club member, make a list of places offering discounts. There are many. Joining the Grand Canyon Association also results in a discount at most stores at the Park.
 

Tips & Warnings

 
Driving from Phoenix through Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon takes you through four different climate zones, with an elevation change of over 6000 feet. Reservations far in advance are critical for summer travel You'll find fewer visitors and more interesting weather in the spring and fall, but it can be much colder or snowing. Bring extra memory cards for your camera. Even a Park regular will shoot hundreds of photos over several days. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is well worth visiting; however, it's a 2-1/2 hour drive from the South Rim. The North Rim only has about 25% of the number of visitors as the South Rim. Less than 10 percent of visitors to the Canyon go below the rim. Hiking below the rim is strenuous even though major trails are well marked, well-groomed and well-traveled. Allow twice as long to hike up as to hike down---so a one-hour hike down a trail will total three hours round-trip. Hiking below the rim iis well worth it for a view of the Grand Canyon missed by three out of four visitors. Even if you only go one or two miles, the steep drop of the trail takes you deep into the canyon for views not normally seen. The "no reservation" campground at the east entrance of the Park often has excellent places to camp available in the middle of the day. It's much nicer than the campground at Grand Canyon Village. Drink a gallon of fluid a day---preferably water and electrolyte replacement drinks; always carry water. Avoid soft drinks, beverages high in sugar content, or caffeinated beverages like tea or coffee when hiking, as these can cause dehydration. The rangers and volunteers can answer just about any Grand Canyon question you can ask.
 
Driving from Phoenix through Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon takes you through four different climate zones, with an elevation change of over 6000 feet.
 
Reservations far in advance are critical for summer travel
 
You'll find fewer visitors and more interesting weather in the spring and fall, but it can be much colder or snowing.
 
Bring extra memory cards for your camera. Even a Park regular will shoot hundreds of photos over several days.
 
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is well worth visiting; however, it's a 2-1/2 hour drive from the South Rim. The North Rim only has about 25% of the number of visitors as the South Rim.
 
Less than 10 percent of visitors to the Canyon go below the rim.
 
Hiking below the rim is strenuous even though major trails are well marked, well-groomed and well-traveled. Allow twice as long to hike up as to hike down---so a one-hour hike down a trail will total three hours round-trip.
 
Hiking below the rim iis well worth it for a view of the Grand Canyon missed by three out of four visitors. Even if you only go one or two miles, the steep drop of the trail takes you deep into the canyon for views not normally seen.
 
The "no reservation" campground at the east entrance of the Park often has excellent places to camp available in the middle of the day. It's much nicer than the campground at Grand Canyon Village.
 
Drink a gallon of fluid a day---preferably water and electrolyte replacement drinks; always carry water. Avoid soft drinks, beverages high in sugar content, or caffeinated beverages like tea or coffee when hiking, as these can cause dehydration.
 
The rangers and volunteers can answer just about any Grand Canyon question you can ask.
 
The Grand Canyon is a beautiful, but also dangerous place for family vacations if you don't use common sense. Each year people need to be rescued or die due to careless actions. No matter how tempting, avoid standing at the very edge of the canyon. The upper layers of the canyon are heavily eroded by the elements. The rock on which you're standing may be completely undermined and can break off with your weight. A 9-year-old girl died in a 50-foot fall in 2008 while her parents were taking her picture at the edge of the canyon. Many people need to be rescued by hiking without adequate water. The canyon is higher than 7000 feet at Grand Canyon Village, over 8000 feet on the North Rim, and the Colorado River is between 2000 and 3000 feet from west to east. Temperatures at the Colorado River can be as much as 20 degrees (F) higher than at either rim. From June to September, it's monsoon season. Fierce thunderstorms with high winds form quickly and march down the canyon. Most storms last less than one hour, and the ground dries quickly after it passes. Each storm, however, charges waterfalls with run-off, adding to the adventure. Lightning ground strikes are common. Heed the warning signs of a strike: tingling hair or hair rising on your neck, the smell of ozone, or a crackling in the air. Taking shelter under a tree is ill-advised. Opening an umbrella is dangerous as well. Crouching down, or taking shelter in a cave, rock overhang, or building, is safest.
 
The Grand Canyon is a beautiful, but also dangerous place for family vacations if you don't use common sense. Each year people need to be rescued or die due to careless actions.
 
No matter how tempting, avoid standing at the very edge of the canyon. The upper layers of the canyon are heavily eroded by the elements. The rock on which you're standing may be completely undermined and can break off with your weight. A 9-year-old girl died in a 50-foot fall in 2008 while her parents were taking her picture at the edge of the canyon.
 
Many people need to be rescued by hiking without adequate water. The canyon is higher than 7000 feet at Grand Canyon Village, over 8000 feet on the North Rim, and the Colorado River is between 2000 and 3000 feet from west to east.
 
Temperatures at the Colorado River can be as much as 20 degrees (F) higher than at either rim.
 
From June to September, it's monsoon season. Fierce thunderstorms with high winds form quickly and march down the canyon. Most storms last less than one hour, and the ground dries quickly after it passes. Each storm, however, charges waterfalls with run-off, adding to the adventure.
 
Lightning ground strikes are common. Heed the warning signs of a strike: tingling hair or hair rising on your neck, the smell of ozone, or a crackling in the air. Taking shelter under a tree is ill-advised. Opening an umbrella is dangerous as well. Crouching down, or taking shelter in a cave, rock overhang, or building, is safest.

Article Written By Eric Jay Toll

Eric Jay Toll has been writing since 1970, influenced by his active lifestyle. An outdoorsman, businessman, planner and travel writer, Toll's work appears in travel guides for the Navajo Nation, "TIME" and "Planning" magazines and on various websites. He studied broadcast marketing and management at Southern Illinois University.

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