You could spend a lifetime exploring Grand Canyon. But, if you’re like most of us and you’re on a tight schedule, these are the best things to see and do in Grand Canyon in one day with kids.
Grand Canyon’s epic geological formations have attracted adventure seekers from around the world for decades. One of the biggest canyons in the world, it measures over 270 miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep. Located in Northern Arizona, nearby Flagstaff, the park welcomes over 5 million curious visitors each year, eager to see one of the world’s seven natural wonders. Surprisingly, that still only makes it the 13th most popular national park in America. However, the wide variety of easy hiking trails and engaging museums makes the park an excellent destination for a family vacation.
A Brief History of Grand Canyon
Archaeologists have discovered evidence of human activity dating back nearly 12,000 years. Prehistoric humans first settled in the canyon territory during the last Ice Age. Ancestral Pueblo people—and later on by Paiute, Navajo, Zuni and Hopi tribes—once lived in and around Grand Canyon. According to tribal history, the Havasupai have lived in and around the canyon for more than 800 years. The Havasupai people now claim Grand Canyon as their ancestral home and manage large portions of the territory.
In 1893 President Benjamin Harrison first classified Grand Canyon as a forest reserve and it became an official United States National Park in 1919.
When to Visit Grand Canyon
The most popular time to visit is between June and August. However, sections of the park are open year-round. If you arrive in the summer, be prepared to share the trail with others and plan extra time to find parking or consider taking the free shuttle from the visitor’s center. Also, be aware of extreme heat conditions. The temperatures often exceed 100 degrees during the summer and rise as you descend elevation. Bring lots of sun protection!
If you want to avoid the crowds but still enjoy access to all the park sites, the shoulder seasons, spring and fall, are the best. The temperature will be moderate, so bring a light jacket and apply sun protection, but popular trails won’t be too busy, and all park sections are open until Mid-October to Mid-May. The North rim closes for the winter, but the South Rim is open year-round.
Visiting the National Park
Unlike other popular National Parks, you don’t necessarily need to plan a long trip to experience the wonder of the canyon. It’s the perfect destination for kids; the spectacular views are easily accessible, the well-developed restrooms and restaurants make it easy to take a break from the elements, and there are plenty of short walks and engaging activities to do as a family. Spending a day or two exploring the park will give you enough time to find sweeping overlooks and walk along the dazzling canyon rims.
The South Rim –
Driving from Flagstaff, the South Rim is about 90 minutes away. It’s the most popular side of the canyon, hosting 90% of annual visitors. The South Rim is the most developed section, with places to eat, museums, visitor centers, and different accommodation options. If it’s your first time visiting Grand Canyon or if you only have a day or two, plan to spend the majority of your time at the South Rim. Because of the easy accessibility and wide range of activities, the guide below will highlight this park section.
The North Rim –
The North Rim is about 5 hours from the South Rim. An adventurous option, this territory is far more remote than the South Rim, with very few accommodation options. It attracts outdoor enthusiasts to explore the deep canyon or raft along the river.
The West Rim –
The West Rim of the park is about a 4-hour drive from the South Rim. This portion of the land is owned and managed by the Hualapai Tribe and is not technically part of Grand Canyon National Park. The area is less developed, but there are noteworthy features if you’re able to make the journey, including the Skywalk and Havasu Falls (permit and guide required).
6 Things to Do In Grand Canyon In One Day With Kids
Okay, now to the big adventure. Again, there are so many things to see and areas to explore in Grand Canyon that you could easily spend a week, two weeks, or more here. But when you’re traveling with kids, sometimes one day is all you can manage. This is a list of the 6 best sights to see in Grand Canyon if you’ve got a time crunch. You can also slow down the pace and spread these activities out to two or three days if your schedule allows.
1. Sunrise at Mather Point
Image from Erik Jacobson
Wake up early to see the infamous and dramatic views from Mather Point. A short walk from the Visitor’s Center, this spot offers an epic canyon overlook. It’s a fantastic place to begin your Grand Canyon experience as the sun rises and floods the rocky landscape with colorful light. Grab some coffee and get here as early as possible; Mather Point is popular!
2. Hike the 1st Mile of Bright Angel Trail
Image from: Oleksii Yasinskyi
From the Visitor’s Center, walk the first mile or so of the thrilling Bright Angel Trail. The path is well-maintained and wide and there are restrooms along the way. The path descends into the canyon, so be aware of the elevation gain on the hike back up. Here, you’ll see jagged formations and surrounding massive cliffs from a series of switchbacks.
3. Desert View Drive
Image from Dan V
Take a break from the sun and hop in the car to embark on a scenic drive on Desert View Road. The drive offers incredible panoramic views of the Canyon and the Colorado River. Along the way, there are beautiful viewpoints to stop and check out and pack a lunch to enjoy at one of the picnic areas. The perfect way to end this excursion is at the Desert View Watchtower, a short ¼ mile walk up to the canyon rim.
4. The Yavapai Geology Museum and Trail of Time
This museum sits right on the rim of the canyon, overlooking fantastic geological formations while inviting visitors to learn about the rich ecological history of the park. Here, gain insight into the names of various rocks, how, and when they were formed. A few feet from the museum is the world’s largest outdoor geoscience exhibit, The Trail of Time. The paved path takes you through time from a geological perspective. It’s a fantastic way to learn about science and geography while engaging with the landscape. The trail is 1.2 miles and stroller/ wheelchair accessible.
5. Hike to Shoshone Point
With the number of overlooks in the park, it can be overwhelming to discern the best option for your family. Shoshone Point is a hidden gem for young travelers. Walk one mile through a pine forest leading to a quiet overlook. Spend some time taking in the scenery, having a snack, and taking some photos without waiting for a turn.
6. Take the Hermit Road Shuttle
Hermit Road is a beautiful stretch famous for watching the sunset and featuring the best views of the Colorado River. Private vehicles aren’t permitted on the route, so hop on the free shuttle and enjoy the ride. There are nine official overlooks offering canyon and river landscapes; Hopi Point is a showstopper as the Colorado River rushes and roars through Granite Rapids. It’s a perfect way to end a long day, let someone else drive, and soak in the sun setting over the glittering rocks.
Bonus if You Have 2 Days in Grand Canyon: Ride the Train
The Grand Canyon Railway is a great way to see the Grand Canyon from a new perspective. The passenger train and diesel engine cabins have been restored to offer an engaging, kid-friendly experience, including a visit from the friendly conductor and a mock train robbery by wild west bandits. The train starts at Williams and ends at the hub of the South Rim. A few hours later, hop back on to head back to Williams. Or, if you can’t arrive by train, watch the action at (11:45 a.m.) and depart (at 3:30 p.m).
A Final Reminder for Your Grand Canyon Adventure
The Grand Canyon is an ideal family-friendly destination for kids of all ages. Spend a couple days exploring the wild geological site, taking in scenic views from cliff overlooks, and hiking through the canyon trails. The jagged, dramatic cliffs and gleaming stone set a gorgeous backdrop for quality time with loved ones, and kids can participate in fun, dynamic activities.
And as always, please remember and practice the principles of Leave No Trace when embarking on your adventure:
- Plan Ahead & Prepare
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Read Wilderdad’s epic story of running Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim in 13 hours. The national park rangers strongly advise no one attempts the run unless you are a highly experienced runner. Wilderdad trained for two years to accomplish the feat. Read it here: https://wilderdad.com/running-grand-canyon-rim-to-rim-to-rim/
More National Park Guides
Looking for more family-friendly guides to America’s national parks? See the complete list here.