by Matt, Updated Oct 2021
We have four children, and we take them to the National Parks all the time. I’ll be the first to admit, they don’t always love it. Kids don’t appreciate nature like adults do, and that’s OK.
We just hope that they will grow to love the outdoors, just like we did. Cheryl and I were both raised by parents who took us to National Parks and other places in the outdoors. We started to appreciate it as we got older.
In the meantime, it’s really important to plan a variety of activities and include things that will keep their interest. Here are 12 things you can do at the Grand Canyon with your kiddos to keep it fresh for them!
1. Junior Ranger Program
This has long been a tradition for our family. Almost all National Parks have a Junior Ranger program.
Pick up a Junior Ranger booklet from a ranger at the front desk at the Visitor Center.
They are usually free or very inexpensive.
We have a little tradition of buying our kids a stuffed animal from the Visitor Center if they complete the booklet. Although it costs us money, it’s a tradition our kids really look forward to. They now ask us for a Junior Ranger booklet right when we enter the park!
Here’s a little video we made about our Grand Canyon Junior Ranger booklet — show this to your kids and maybe they’ll get excited about it. 🙂
2. Bike Ride
There are paved trails all over the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. They meander through the woods and go along the rim of the canyon.
Bring your own bikes or rent them from Bright Angel Bicycles (located right next to the Visitor Center). This is a really nice family activity.
Bright Angel Bicycles even offers tours.
3. Mule Ride
So many kids LOVE animals, so this is a great way to give them a wonderful memory of their vacation.
You can book a 3-hour mule ride along the rim of the canyon through Xanterra. The trail guides are funny, professional, and they know how to work with people who have never been on a horse.
Each mule has a name, creating more of a connection between your child and the mule. Our daughter will never forget her mule named Chi Chi. She even bought a stuffed animal mule for completing her Junior Ranger booklet. And of course, she named her stuffed animal Chi Chi.
Make sure to read our article (with video) all about mule rides in the Grand Canyon.
Bearizona is a drive-through zoo in Williams, AZ, about an hour away from the South Rim.
It is one of the BEST zoos I’ve ever seen. They have grizzly bears, jaguars, donkeys, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, bison, white bison, reptiles, javelinas, badgers, and an area to feed animals.
The two highlights are driving through the wildlife loop, where you can see the large animals like black bears up close, and seeing the three grizzly cubs in the walk-through section. Bearizona adopted these three cubs when her mom was euthanized and they built a huge enclosure for the cubs. They are gorgeous!
5. Feed them!
This is THE MOST IMPORTANT thing to keep a vacation from being miserable in our family. We aren’t necessarily foodies, but we often try to include some food experiences on our vacations because we know our kids like them so much. Here are some ideas for you:
- Pack a picnic lunch and eat it at a picnic stop on the rim of the canyon. We often eat picnics in the National Parks.
- Get a burger to go at the Fred Harvey truck near the Hopi House.
- Get ice cream from Desert View Trading Post or the Grand Canyon Chocolate Factory.
- Eat pizza at the Maswik Lodge.
- Have a more formal dining experience at El Tovar. We took our kids to breakfast here and they loved the sausages and prickly pear syrup for their pancakes.
6. Take them for a drive
Going for a drive can break up some of the walking and sightseeing. It can also give them some time to nap, play on their tablets, watch a DVD, read, work on their Junior Ranger booklet, or just zone out.
The main road to do this in the Grand Canyon is the 22-mile Desert View Drive, which leads from the Village to the East Entrance.
Also, we highly recommend getting a Minky Couture blanket for your kids to snuggle with while on a big road trip. But we have to warn you: if you buy them a Minky, you’ll end up wanting to steal it from them. Trust us on this: people love their Minky blankets. Go to our road trip page to see what we’re talking about and find a code to get 45% off!
We’ve taken our kids camping a lot and they like it for the most part. It certainly provides an experience that’s a break from their everyday lives.
It allows them to get dirty and explore. They get to play with sticks, cook s’mores, and see wildlife (elk meander through Mather Campground).
If you’ve never camped, don’t let it scare you too much. It’s not that difficult. If your parents never took you camping, now’s the time to break the mold and give your kids the experience you never got!
We also had a great time playing games with our kids at night. Our favorite family game right now? One Night Ultimate Werewolf. It’s easy to learn, fast to play, generates controversy, and will mess with your mind!
8. Watch a movie
Sometimes it’s nice to get out of the heat and into an air-conditioned movie! You can do this in two places at the Grand Canyon:
The Official Grand Canyon Visitor Center (inside the park) offers an interpretive introductory movie. When we visit National Parks, we almost always stop first at the Visitor Center and watch the movie. It’s a great way to orient yourself to the park and the major themes. And kids are more likely to listen to the movie than to me. 🙂
In Tusayan, there is another visitor center called the Grand Canyon Visitor Center. This is NOT the official park visitor center, but it offers an IMAX movie about rafting through the Grand Canyon.
9. Watch a sunset
This is great for adults, and great for kids as well. The Grand Canyon is famous for sunsets.
But what’s especially nice about this for kids at the Grand Canyon is the sunsets are EARLY because Arizona doesn’t use Daylight Saving Time.
So you can watch the sunset before their bedtime!
Want to know the best places to watch a sunset at the Grand Canyon? Check out our guide.
10. Star show
National Parks offer free Ranger programs throughout the day…and night. When you arrive at the Visitor Center, ask the Ranger when and where the programs are that day.
Hopefully, they have a star program that night. If so, I highly recommend going to it. We did one in Bryce Canyon and I took my older kids to it. They really enjoyed it, and so did I.
The Ranger used a laser pointer to teach us about constellations, stars, and planets in the sky. Often they’ll have a telescope as well.
Ranger programs in general are really well done, so consider trying one!
This is a MUST for us on our vacations. Our kids can stomach a lot of sightseeing if they know there is a swimming pool at the hotel at the end of the day. 🙂
However, at the Grand Canyon, there isn’t anywhere to swim. There are no natural pools, and none of the hotels inside the park have swimming pools.
So if swimming is a priority for your family, you’ll need to find a hotel in Tusayan that does have a swimming pool. Tusayan is the closest city to the South Rim. You can also extend out to Williams or Flagstaff, but the drive is much farther.
Our kids don’t love hiking, but we make them anyway because it’s good for them. They probably won’t admit it, but I think they feel a sense of accomplishment that they hiked into and out of THE GRAND CANYON!
For an easy, flat, paved “hike,” try the Rim Trail along the edge of the canyon. If you want to go into the canyon, the popular choices are the Bright Angel Trail and the South Kaibab Trail.
But before you hike into the canyon, BE PREPARED. Please read our hiking post, which includes a video about the hikes and what kind of gear you should bring.
If you have little kids and need to carry them in a baby carrier, there is only ONE carrier we recommend: the Ergobaby Carrier. I tried many back-breaking carriers before I finally found Ergo, and boy was it worth every penny. It’s more comfortable for you and for the baby.
13. Ride the shuttle
The shuttles at the Grand Canyon are free and easy to use. They are a great way to get around.
They also provide a new experience for the kids, as well as a little break from walking and sightseeing. For a longer ride, take the red shuttle to Hermit’s Rest. It’s about a 2-3 hour out and back experience.
14. Ride the Grand Canyon Train
This is a higher-end adventure that starts in Williams, Arizona. Your day starts with a Wild West shootout.
Then a train will escort you to the park with music and entertainment. You have your choice of budget or high-end train cars.
The train will drop you off at the Grand Canyon, allowing you the afternoon to walk around the Grand Canyon Village and take in the canyon views. You’ll then board the train and head back to Williams.
15. Let them listen to stories about the park
We sell an audio guide for the Grand Canyon! You and your kids can learn all about the park while listening to this in your vehicle.
Our kids love audiobooks! This is like an audiobook to help you learn the best stories about the park, like the Grand Canyon dog, Teddy Roosevelt, Brighty the Grand Canyon donkey, and astronauts moon-walking in the Grand Canyon!
A few tips
Here are a few things I’ve learned over 15 years of traveling to National Parks with kids:
- Don’t be annoyed if your kids don’t “appreciate” the scenery.
- Don’t lecture them on how much they should appreciate what they are seeing.
- Don’t be surprised when a squirrel is the coolest thing they saw on the trip.
- Be persistent in pushing them outside their comfort zone a bit — hiking can give them a sense of accomplishment.
- But don’t go too far — keep in mind what you were capable of at their age.
- Watch them like a hawk. At the Grand Canyon, you can literally fall off cliffs easily. Don’t let them run out in front of you and go right off a cliff.
- Don’t let their whining bother you. I’ve had many times where my kids whined about some aspect of our trip, only to speak glowingly of everything they saw and did once they were home. I often think, “were you the same kid I took on that trip?!” But I just keep my mouth shut and let them believe they absolutely loved that trip. LOL.
- Don’t put things up for a vote. I’m not saying you shouldn’t include them in some decision-making, but when you put things up for a vote, it creates winners and losers. It could give them a false sense of decision-making power. And when you don’t do what they vote for, it’s easy for them to be resentful.
- Have a plan. I’ve noticed kids respond better when they know I have a game plan and I’m not floating around aimlessly, asking them what they want to do every 5 minutes. Speaking of which…
An awesome plan!
If you’re planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, you want to make sure to get the most out of your trip. You don’t want to wander aimlessly and try to figure it out on the fly.
So we’ve prepared an itinerary to help you love your first visit to the Grand Canyon. Our guide includes the best sunset places, the best ways to use the shuttles to your advantage, and a walking tour of the Grand Canyon village.
This is a must-have addition to make your trip great! Buy it today!