1. Logistics.  It can be difficult to find lodging within the park, but it’s well worth it.  The Grand Canyon Village is approximately 22 miles from the entrance to the park.  The nearest town, Tusayan, is another 7 miles away so that adds up to a lot of drive time that could be better used inside the park.
  2. Lodging.  There are several options from campgrounds to the higher-end El Tovar hotel.  A good middle of the road option is the Kuchina Lodge, which overlooks the South Rim and is centrally located in the heart of the Grand Canyon Village.  It’s been recently renovated and rooms are about what you’d pay for similar accommodations outside the park.  Be sure to reserve well in advance as lodging inside the park fills up months in advance.

    El_Tovar_Hotel
    El Tovar Hotel
  3. Dining.  The options inside the park are limited but run the gamete from food court to formal dining room.  To grab a quick bite, head to the Maswik Food Court and Pizza Pub, located in Maswik Lodge at the southwest end of the village.  For casual sit down dinning, there’s the Harvey House Cafe, located inside Bright Angel Lodge.  A step above that is the Arizona Room, also at the Bright Angel Lodge, which sits on the rim and will provide a beautiful view of the sunset if you time your dinner right.  The most upscale dining option is the El Tovar Dining Room at the El Tovar Hotel, where dinner reservations are basically required to get a table.  The history and experience of the El Tovar makes it worth a visit, but I’d suggest going for breakfast when you can just walk in.  They have a daily assortment of pastries and our kids loved the hot chocolate, steamed in individual pots and delivered with a side of whipped cream and chocolate chips.
  4. Transportation.  All of the points of interest at the Grand Canyon provide parking.  If you visit during a less crowded time of year, it’s most convenient to drive your family from one point to the next.  However, during peak times, parking will be extremely difficult to find and it will be best to use the shuttle buses within the park.  The buses run at regular intervals and stop everywhere you want to go.  Be aware that long lines can queue up at the end of the day when people are leaving the park.  At Grand Canyon Village, everything is within walking distance, which is another benefit to staying inside the park.
  5. Park maps.  When you enter the park, you’ll receive a full-sized map, as well as a pocket edition.  I found the pocket edition easiest to use as a quick reference and carried with me everywhere.  Both maps can be found on the Grand Canyon’s website if you’d like to familiarize yourself with them beforehand.  Keep in mind that they’re not drawn to scale, so pay attention to distances.
  6. Hiking.  Hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon with children isn’t realistic (it’s recommended that even adults take two days to hike to the bottom and back).  However, there are two hikes that will take you part way into the Canyon that I’d recommend.  If you have older children, consider hiking the South Kaibab Trail to ‘Ooh Aah Point’.  The trail is a little treacherous, with steep drop offs so use your judgement as to whether your kids can handle it.  For younger kids, hiking the Bright Angel Trail is a better option.  It still has steep drop offs, but the trail is wide and smooth.  We took our 6, 9 and 11 year olds about two miles in and then turned around and hiked out in about an hour.  Keep in mind that it will take longer to hike out since it’s all uphill.  Also, be sure to bring plenty of water — the dry climate makes dehydration very easy.  Here are excellent hiking maps for both the South Kaibab Trail and the Bright Angel Trail.

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    View from Bright Angel Trail
  7. Junior Ranger Program.  Our 11 year old son wasn’t interested, but our younger boys loved participating in the Junior Ranger program.  Rangers are stationed at almost every building and can provide a booklet that your child can complete during their stay to become a Junior Ranger (requirements differ based on age).  The activities kept our kids engaged and gave them something to do during our downtime.  At the end, they turn in the booklets to a park ranger and receive their Junior Ranger badge.  There are also ranger led programs that kids can attend that count towards their badge, but that can be attended just for fun too.
  8. What to bring.  Even if you don’t plan to hike, you’ll likely be doing a lot of walking so a backpack is a great idea.  Items to have on hand include sunscreen, water bottles (there are refill stations all around the park), and snacks.  Packing a lot of light layers is recommended since the weather can change somewhat dramatically.  In November, having light-weight down coats was essential since the wind could be brutal at times.  Shoes with solid tread are also important since hiking trails have a lot of fine sand and dust that don’t offer much traction.
  9. Sights to see.  Our first stop was the Desert View Watchtower just inside the park entrance, where the kids couldn’t wait to climb the spiraling staircase to the top and see the views.  On our way to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center, we stopped at both Grandview Point and Yaki Point, which offer different perspectives of the canyon.  Once at the Visitor Center, Mather Point provided amazing views and plenty of other sightseers happy to trade off taking family photos.  I’d also recommend, exploring the ruins at the Tusayan Museum as fun way to learn about the original habitants of the area.  Spend the rest of your time walking along the Rim Trail in the Village, checking out the scenery, various buildings, and local wildlife.

    Watch_Tower
    The Desert View Watch Tower
  10. Duration.  Our family spent one night and two full days at the Grand Canyon before continuing on to Phoenix for the duration of our vacation.  This amount of time worked well for our family, especially given that our boys have short attention spans and our youngest wasn’t old enough to handle a full day of hiking.   However, two nights and three days would have been optimal and there would certainly have been enough to keep us busy.  I would have I would love to visit again in a few years so that we can try some of the more strenuous trails or even a river trip!
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