by Erin Gifford
My kids and I visited the Grand Canyon for the first time last summer. As you can imagine, it was incredible. You really can stare into the Grand Canyon for hours. It’s so peaceful and awe-inspiring. If you go, you’ll want to get as much from the experience as you can. Take a look at my 10 ways to make the most of a visit to the Grand Canyon. I already can’t wait to go back.
- Stay in a Hotel in Tusayan.
Staying inside a national park isn’t for everyone, particularly those who like in-room wi-fi and air conditioning. Tusayan is less than 10 minutes from the South Rim park entrance and has everything you may need on a three-block strip, including a McDonald’s, a Wendy’s and a handful of sit-down restaurants. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites. You’ll want to book well in advance.
- Use the Park Shuttle.
The free park shuttle is fantastic. There are multiple pick-up stops in the tiny town of Tusayan and a shuttle comes every 15-20 minutes. It can be nice to have your own car, but trust me, you’ll thank me as you cruise into the park on the shuttle and bypass the long line of cars waiting to get in to the park for the day.
- Watch the Park Orientation Film.
I love a good park film. It’s such a great way to get a base level of knowledge about the national park you are exploring. The 22-minute film, Grand Canyon: A Journey of Wonder, is available at the Grand Canyon Visitors Center and plays on the hour and half hour.
- Walk Along the Rim Trail.
The Rim Trail is incredible. An easy, paved walk, it’s ideal for children and it’s very much wheelchair and stroller accessible. I walked the .7 mile section between Mather Point (adjacent to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center) and Yavapai Point. I’m pretty sure I stared out into the Grand Canyon the entire time.
- Attend a Ranger-Led Program.
On your first visit to the Grand Canyon, it’s a must to attend a ranger program. You and your kids can learn about fossils, geology, native birds and animals. There are even ranger-led walks and night sky programs. Pick up a park newspaper when you arrive to check out the schedule for the day(s) you’ll be at the park.
- Get Your Parks Passport Stamped.
Buy a Passport to Your National Parks online or at the visitors center or bookstore. Inside the park, buy the official sticker for Grand Canyon National Park to add to your passport book. Then, keep your eyes open for cancellation stamps. There are at least five stamps, including stamps at Yavapai Geology Museum and Desert View.
- Take Lots of Photos.
It’s okay, take as many photos as you like. I easily took three dozen photos of the Grand Canyon while walking along the Rim Trail. Every view seemed better than the last and photo-worthy. I look back at my photos now and they all pretty much look the same, but I think the simple act of photographing the Grand Canyon (again and again) is a part of the overall experience.
- Become a Junior Ranger.
My kids loved earning badges and patches at various national parks through the Junior Ranger program last summer. You can pick up an activity booklet at any visitors center inside the park. Complete activities and attend a ranger-led program. Then, get ready to be sworn in on the spot by a park ranger.
- Bring Sandwiches and Eat Along the Rim.
Bring your own sandwiches or grab some for the family at the coffee shop at Mather Point. Either way, lan to enjoy your lunch at the edge of the Grand Canyon to take in the views while you eat. There are lots of benches and it’s a great way to further enjoy the majesty of the Grand Canyon during your time in the park.
- Don’t Forget to Enjoy the Journey to the Grand Canyon.
While the Grand Canyon is a treat on its own, there are some not-to-be-missed experiences that you’ll want to stop for on the way to the South Rim. Join a half-day rafting trip at Glen Canyon Dam, tour the slot canyons at Antelope Canyon or take in the views from Horseshoe Bend in nearby Page, AZ. On the other side of the South Rim, make stops along historic Route 66 in Seligman and Chloride.
Erin Gifford is a Washington, D.C.-based travel writer and founder of Kidventurous, an award-winning family travel resource. Her writing can also be found on TravelChannel.com, TravelAge West and Fodors.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Kidventurous, connect with her on Facebook or get the latest tips and tricks for traveling families at https://kidventurous.com/.