By Anastasia Mills Healy
The only one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World in the U.S., the Grand Canyon celebrated its 100th anniversary as a national park in February. Of course it’s much older than that. There’s controversy about how old exactly, but the park states that it “preserves an iconic geologic landscape and resources ranging from 1,840 to 270 million years old.” Human history there can be dated back more than 10,000 years.
Knowing that and seeing how vast it is in person and how breathtakingly beautiful its lines, colors, and patterns are, one can only feel awed and humbled. If you haven’t been or haven’t been in awhile and want to take your kids, here’s some helpful information.
Good to Know
- There are three distinct entrance areas that are far apart from each other.
South Rim: Open 24/7/365, this is where most visitors go. There are six lodging options within the park (https://www.grandcanyonlodges.com/lodging/) – book far in advance. The best choice for lodging outside the park is the Grand Hotel (http://www.grandcanyongrandhotel.com), right by the entrance. There are also a Best Western and a Holiday Inn Express and several restaurants and fast food options on this little strip of Route 64. My number one tip is to get started early as it can get very crowded as the day goes on. Over April break, there were only a handful of people looking over the canyon from Bright Angel Lodge at 8am but by 2pm it was so crowded that it was hard to walk, there were about 75 people in line for the shuttle bus, and there was an hour wait for lunch. The South Rim is about 3.75 hours from Phoenix (break up the trip in Sedona) and 4.5 hours from Las Vegas.
North Rim: Open May 15-October 15, the North Rim is 215 miles—a five-hour drive—from the South Rim. The North Rim is 4.5 hours from Las Vegas and 5.5 hours from Phoenix. Grand Canyon Lodge (www.grandcanyonforever.com/lodging) is the only accommodations option inside the park; book a year in advance. Outside the park’s entrance there are others but a long drive away. The closest is Kaibab Lodge (http://kaibablodge.com/), 18 miles from the North Rim.
Grand Canyon West (https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/skywalk.htm): This is where to find the Skywalk—the glass U-shaped bridge that juts out 4,000 feet over the canyon. This area is not part of Grand Canyon National Park; it is run by the Hualapai, a tribe of 2,300 with a headquarters in Peach Springs, AZ, about 250 miles—a five-hour drive—from the South Rim. It’s a two-hour drive from Las Vegas and 4.5 hours from Phoenix. Hualapai Ranch (https://grandcanyonwest.com/hualapai-ranch.htm) and Hualapai Lodge (https://grandcanyonwest.com/hualapai-lodge-and-route-66.htm) are good lodging options.
- To cut the long drives, you can fly Grand Canyon Airlines from outside of Las Vegas to outside of the South Rim.
- Amtrak stops at Williams and Flagstaff, AZ.
- All U.S. fourth graders can get their family into any and all U.S. national parks for free for their entire school year as part of the Every Kid in a Park program (https://everykidinapark.gov). Follow the directions on the website, print the pass, and the ranger at the entrance to the first park you visit will exchange the piece of paper for a credit card-size pass.
- Safety: It is surprisingly easy to fall in, as several people have done this year. There are some lookout points with barriers but most of the canyon’s edge is completely accessible. Keep small children strapped in strollers (there are some easy, flat trails) and stay a safe distance from the rim. Also, carry water and food with you as distances are great and food is not always readily accessible. Sturdy shoes are a must.
- Stats: The canyon is 277 miles long, 18 miles at its widest point, and one mile deep. The South Rim averages 7,000 feet above sea level.
- It is not the biggest (Kali Gandaki in Nepal) or deepest (Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibet) canyon in the world.
- Only five percent of visitors go into the Grand Canyon. Options for entering the canyon include hiking, a mule ride, ranger-led program, helicopter trip, rafting, camping, and staying overnight at Phantom Ranch.
- About 1,400 people live in Grand Canyon Village inside the park on the South Rim. Approximately 300 kids in K-12 whose parents work at the park go to school there.
- There’s a popular train that goes from Williams, AZ right to the South Rim’s Grand Canyon Village. The Grand Canyon Railway (https://www.thetrain.com/) offers a variety of packages, some that include hotel stays.
- The Grand Canyon is cooler than you might think: summer temperatures range from 48 to 83 degrees at the rim and 72-104 degrees in the canyon; the range in spring and fall is 32-63 degrees at the rim and 56-82 degrees in the canyon; winter is 19-45 degrees at the rim and 36-56 degrees in the canyon.
- You can rent bikes (go.nps.gov/1v2hmb)
Official Grand Canyon Info
Grand Canyon Website: https://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm
Detailed Trip Planner: https://www.nps.gov/grca/learn/news/upload/trip-planner-grca.pdf
Special centennial events: https://www.nps.gov/grca/getinvolved/2019-centennial-events.htm