Because it is such an important travel destination, some say to wait to visit until your kids can “appreciate it.” To those naysayers I say instead: GO! There’s nothing preventing you from going back. With low entrance fees and family friendly attractions, national parks are relative budget-friendly deals for family travelers. There is no reason you can’t take your kids at various ages and stages. Because my kids have a 4 1/2 year age gap between them, we also don’t want to hold our older child back from experiencing the world until her younger brother is “old enough.”
With this principle in mind, my family decided to spend a few nights on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon this spring as part of a Southwest road trip from Vegas to Phoenix. Our traveling family included myself, my husband, our almost 6 year old daughter and our 18 month old son.
Our daughter was more than ready to experience much that the park had to offer but the toddler made things a bit more challenging. With the proper planning, however, there is no reason not to take a toddler to the Grand Canyon. The natural beauty is something that can be appreciated even at such a young age. I adored hearing my son utter “wow” and “whoa” (two of only a few dozen words in his vocabulary at the time) as we looked over the magnificent natural expanse.
If you are planning to take little ones to the park, here are 8 of my kid-tested tips for visiting the Grand Canyon with toddlers:
1. Stay overnight within the park.
Hotel rooms at the Grand Canyon within the borders of the park are in high demand, but try mightily to get them if you have young children. It will make the logistics of your trip (particularly naps) so much easier. When my family started looking for rooms about 4 months before our spring break trip, the entire park was almost completely sold out, even mid-week. Luckily we snagged one of the last rooms in the Village at Maswick Lodge and it made things much easier for us.
The Grand Canyon does things the old fashioned way – by phone, with accompanying long hold times. All the major South Rim lodges except Yavapai (Bright Angel, El Tovar, Kachina, Thunderbird and Maswik) are managed by the same company, so at least you only need to make one or two phone calls. As soon as you are considering a trip, call and book a room. The cancellation policies are generous so you can always cancel or change later. If you do stay within the park, be aware that all the Grand Canyon hotels are a little rustic. But isn’t that why you are going?
2. If you can’t get a hotel room within the park, plan to arrive early.
If you are staying outside the park and planning to visit the South Rim and Grand Canyon Village (the most popular part of the Grand Canyon), there is only one major car entrance into the park. This means entrance lines for vehicles can be quite long. When traveling with toddlers, I cannot stress enough how important it is to be an early bird. Guests arriving mid to late morning will find very long lines. We personally witnessed a line of cars over a mile long on our visit by 11 am on a weekday in spring.
3. A baby carrier is essential.
The Grand Canyon involves real nature, with its accompanying dangers. With its busy crowds, too many visitors forget that they aren’t in a theme park. There is considerable danger even in the parts around the South Rim that are developed. Parents of toddlers should take appropriate heed. Keep toddlers contained for safety near the rim. Strollers are a bit difficult to use in some places due to uneven terrain and lots of stairs, so I’d recommend using a carrier for your toddler whenever possible. If you are going to use a stroller, a compact umbrella stroller is your best bet, especially if you plan to ride the park shuttles where space is tight.
4. Bring a sippy cup or water bottle.
To protect the environment, no bottled water is sold within the park. You’ll definitely want to keep your children well-hydrated in the heat, sun, and at elevation. Bring a few reusable water bottles and/or a sippy cup for your little ones that you can refill at the water stations throughout the park.
5. Learn the shuttle routes.
When traveling with toddlers, you probably won’t be doing extensive hiking and will need to rely on other transportation to get around. Parking is a challenge on the South Rim, so the best option is to take the free shuttles provided by the park. The major routes are fairly simple, but take a few minutes to learn which ways they run. You may need to get off at an alternative stop to avoid having to ride the long way around, particularly on the blue route that goes through the Village.
6. Make dining reservations or dine early.
All of the restaurants around the South Rim are kid-friendly, even the fancy El Tovar Dining Room where my family enjoyed an amazing Easter dinner watching the sun set over the canyon. Making a reservation at El Tovar is essential if you want to eat with your kids in this historic location.
Bright Angel Lodge next door also has a nice restaurant and amazing views, but they don’t take dinner reservations. We arrived right before 5 pm for an early dinner and were able to grab a table. I’d recommend you do the same, as the restaurant was completely full by 5:15 pm.
7. Rent a bike trailer.
Biking is one of the great ways to see the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, but toddlers obviously aren’t exactly ready for the ride (and sometimes 6 year olds aren’t either!). We found that Bright Angel Bicycles rented double Burley trailers that are just perfect for biking with a toddler. As with everything at the Grand Canyon, reserve well in advance.
One word of warning: biking with a trailer at the Grand Canyon is not for the out-of-shape. If you plan to go up to some of the higher overlooks west towards Hermits Rest (Maricopa Point, Powell Point, Hopi Point, etc.), you will have quite the climb, particularly with a bike trailer in tow. My husband biked with the empty trailer while I took both kids on the shuttle bus up the steepest stretch (with our bikes on the bike rack of the shuttle). Alternatively, take one of the guided tours with Bright Angel that will shuttle you, your bikes, and even the trailer up the steep stretch.
8. Be prepared to wait.
The Grand Canyon is extraordinarily popular so expect to encounter lines and waits. Prepare your toddler as best you can and bring distractions, especially for pre-meal time waits. And enjoy the slower pace and natural beauty while you do.
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Want to follow along on my family’s Southwest Road Trip from Vegas to Phoenix? Check these other stories:
- Las Vegas
- Grand Canyon
- 8 Tips for Visiting the Grand Canyon with Toddlers (you are here)
- Sedona, Arizona
- Phoenix, Arizona