Road Trip to the Grand Canyon with Kids
A few weeks ago my daughter and I were reading a book together about landmarks around the world. Her eyes landed on the Grand Canyon, and she started to ask more questions about what it was and where. When she read the word, “Arizona,” her eyes bugged out and she almost yelled, “Arizona? That’s where we live! Can we go see it?”
Since my kids are Arizona natives, I thought she was right, and it was about time my kids got to see one of the most famous landmarks on earth, in their very own state. So we took a day out of our Williams weekend away to make the one hour drive north to the Grand Canyon.
While we were enjoying the lovely, quiet drive with absolutely no fighting or screaming children in the back (just kidding), we saw a big sign up ahead that said, Planes of Fame Air Museum. We were not planning on stopping here, but it looked like an interesting diversion, and with the deliberation of only a few seconds, we made a sharp left turn into the parking lot.
This turned out to be a really fun and interesting detour. Admission was affordable at only $5 per child ages 5 to 11, and $10 for adults. We got in for $9 since my awesome mom is a member of AAA and the museum offers a discount.
Inside the main hangar was an impressive array of aircraft. Some were historic, having been restored after engaging in military operations. Others were models, or hobby planes, or recreations of international planes. A few have even starred in their own movies! The girls got to experience the inside of a camouflaged military bunker and tinker with an old radio. There are two planes inside the museum that kids can climb into and enjoy pushing buttons and pulling levers. They absolutely loved this, and began talking about learning to fly planes when they grow up.
Outside the large bay doors is an area known as the boneyard. These huge, old planes are completely derelict, but really cool to look at. Oh, and as a bonus, there is a bowl of free lollipops on the front desk.
We enjoyed the museum for about an hour, then after getting some gas in the van, hit the road again.
As we approached the entrance to the Grand Canyon, we turned into the local shortwave radio information station, 1610 am, to hear updates about the park. The girls were very excited, especially our oldest, whose curiosity inspired this fun adventure. It only took about 15 minutes to get through the main entrance, and once again because of my awesome mom who has a lifetime senior national park pass, our whole car load was admitted free of charge. Thanks mom!
This year is very special, because the Grand Canyon is celebrating its 100th year as a national park. There are special events and cultural demonstrations planned to commemorate this milestone in the history of the canyon.
Mather Point is the closest overlook to the visitor center, so after taking in the 22 minute informational video, we walked to the rim. When the moment finally arrived and we could see over the rail, my kids faces lit up just like I hoped they would! With lots of jumping around and yelling, “I can’t believe it! We’re here!” we began to meander slowly through the crowds.
And I do mean crowds! Mather Point is one of the easiest overlooks to get to, so we were wending our way through throngs of people. Even though selfie sticks are banned at the Grand Canyon, I don’t think the message got out to well. Selfie sticks were everywhere! We also did see people climbing over barriers to get a better shot. I had to keep reminding my kids that we were actually on the edge of a cliff and not at an amusement park. And I’ll admit it: our little one was definitely on a toddler leash. No shame. Edge of a cliff people!
After a while of sightseeing, we drove to an area called Grand Canyon Village, and had lunch at the Bright Angel Lodge. Just across the road and down a small hill from the lodge were the railroad tracks, and a building where the mules that take you down into the canyon are housed. We did not do the mule trek, but my kids did enjoy seeing them. We saw a few more lookouts and wandered around the Hopi House and gift shop. Time passed very quickly, so to end our day, we all got ice cream cones and enjoyed sitting at the overlook, fending off the squirrels that were trying to steal our treats.
Each of our kids said they were very excited to go back to school and tell their teachers about their adventure to the Grand Canyon. I’m so glad my oldest expressed interest in visiting! This is a fantastic natural wonder to expose your kids too, especially if they were born and raised in Arizona.
If you have a full day or more to spend at the Grand Canyon, consider these activities:
- have the kids complete the activities in the Junior Ranger booklet to become a junior ranger
- rent bikes and explore the paved paths around the rim (bike trailers are available)
- hike down a mile or two on the famous Bright Angel Trail for a different perspective of the canyon
- learn about geology at the Yavapai Geology Museum
- watch the sunset (Mather Point and Hopi Point are popular)
- jump on one of the numerous free bus services to see more of the park, like Hermit’s Rest
- splurge on a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon
- if land route is more your style, book a mule ride down (and back up!) for a unique experience
- the visitor’s center just outside the park in Tusayan has a fabulous IMAX video about the canyon
- take a drive inside the park to the Watchtower at Desert View
Whether you have a lot of time to spend and stay, or just half a day, the Grand Canyon will always be worth the effort.
Eight year old: “I was so excited to see the mountains. The Grand Canyon was beautiful and I like taking pictures.”
Six year old: “The Grand Canyon was full of beautiful scenery and I loved getting ice cream.”
Three year old: “Good! The thing was awesome.”