Standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon with my three children while watching a radiant orange sun climb over the ancient rim is a moment I will treasure long after my children are off exploring the world on their own.
At 446km long and with widths varying up to 29km wide the Canyon is immense. Peering down into areas that can be up to 1857 meters deep in parts, it is awe inspiring to see the layers of almost 2 billion years of geological history exposed by forces such as the constant flow of the Colorado River carving its way downwards.
Although the busier section of the Grand Canyon. We decided on exploring the South Rim for its ease of access and variety of lookouts and activities.
As with any travel with children there may be experiences you might not want to tackle. White water rafting along the Colorado River or taking the 19 km hike along the Bright Angel Trail come to mind. That doesn't mean that you will miss out. Instead, you get to experience this geological wonder through the curious eyes of your children. It can come as a surprise how much magic this can bring to a destination.
Start planning your own amazing adventure here
Staying within the park is a must. With only one day in the park, we wanted to fit in as much as possible and cut out any travel time. Getting a great nights sleep is vital to fitting in a big day of exploring too.
There are a variety of options available inside the National Park from Camping to Lodges. We chose to stay at Yavapai Lodge. Located only a short walk from the South Rim and close to services like the general store. The main lodge also has a coffee shop, wifi and a restaurant which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The morning we ate breakfast there the whole lodge stopped mesmerised for a short time while a fawn went bounding past the large windows.
A Sunrise You won't forget
Although there are a few amazing spots to watch the sunrise over the Grand Canyon, we chose Yavapai Point. This is one of the busier spots. However, it was an easy trip from the lodge in the early hours of the morning. Just make sure you get up early to beat the crowds. Even though we were so close we drove down to the lookout. I saved my place to catch some sunrise photography that leaves you in awe. Once the sun made an appearance my husband and kids joined me. Enjoying some extra sleep in the car.
Want some top tips on taking amazing sunrise photos? Check out these posts.
The Canyon comes out of the shadows in cool purples and mauves. Then the sun paints the 2 billion-year-old Canyon in bright reds and metallic browns. You may have seen lots of images of this place. Nothing compares to standing in silence and watching the sun greet the earth here in real life.
Starting the Day on a High Note
The glow of the sunrise will stay with you for a while afterwards, making it the perfect time to go and start your day with a hearty breakfast. A family of deer met us on the path on our way to breakfast, contently eating their own morning meal while we watched in awe.
After our meal, we caught the convenient and free shuttle bus to Grand Canyon Village. There are outdoor exhibits at the Visitor Center sharing a wealth of information about the area. It was also our starting point for our rim walk. From here we walked along The Trail of Time, wowed by various viewpoints along the way like Mather Point. Despite the rain, the children didn't whine once for the whole 4.56km walk up to the Geology Museum. Too engrossed with the views and information on the trail to remember to complain about the walk.
Putting A Million Years of History into Perspective
As an adult, it is hard to put the overwhelming age of the Grand Canyon into any kind of perspective, even harder when you try to describe this to a child who thinks Santa’s visits every year takes forever or that you're 100 years old.
The Trail of Time does a great job of putting the history of the Canyon into a concept we can get our heads around. The Trail starts as the Million Year Trail. A human time scale with information and events that then progresses to the Trail of Time where each meter on the walk, represents a million years of the Grand Canyons geological history. There are bronze and silver markers to show where you are in time. The children loved to race to these to see what year we were up to.
As you walk along there are samples of rock brought up from the canyon and placed along the path on their represented creation time. You can touch 270-million-year-old fossils and discover what kinds of rocks make up the Canyon and its layers of colours. Our children also loved the viewing spots. Here they had to search for the Colorado River or certain rocks in the Canyon walls.
They puzzled over the unconformities ( millions of years of geological history missing from the layers) and watched eagles soar on overhead.
Yavapai Geology Museum
At Yavapai Point you will find the end of the Trail of Time at the Yavapai Geology Museum. Gazing through its huge viewing windows you can learn about how the canyon was formed. Park Rangers also run programs and talks from here which are fun and informative.
These Boots Were Made For Walking
After the trail of time, we decided to carry on walking until we reached Hopi House.
The path was virtually empty as the rain clouds gathered. Watching the rain darkly creep in across the Canyon was a sight that even stopped our active children for a while. Luckily it only rained for a short while. Just long enough to bring out the rich reds and oranges in the rocks.
Designed by renowned architect Mary E.J Colter, Hopi House was created to resemble a traditional pueblo. This is the style of a traditional home used by the Hopi tribe. Here you will find beautifully crafted Native American items created by local artisans that you can take home as keepsakes.
From Here we caught the free shuttle back to Yavapai Lodge.
On the Road
We decided to jump in our hire car and explore the IMAX Theatre presentation of the 'Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets' in Tusayan next. It may have paled in comparison to the real thing after we had seen it and we all left the show unimpressed. Maybe it would be a great lead up to your visit to the Canyon? We did learn some of the human history of the canyon. The children especially enjoyed seeing how the Native Americans like the Pueblo people lived and called the Canyon home for thousands of years.
Not wanting to waste our trip we skipped the vast array of fast food and headed to the bright and cheerful, Sophie's Mexican Kitchen for a late lunch. The servings were huge, food fresh and the service quick and friendly.
Knowing we wanted to watch the sunset in the perfect spot we decided to drive up to The Watchtower at Desert View.
Desert View Drive
Firstly, Yaki Point along this route is closed to all private vehicles. Only the shuttle buses can make the trip to the look out.
Along Desert View Drive viewpoints however, are a dime a dozen. Some of the more spectacular are Grandview Point, Moran Point and Lipan Point. Each offers a slightly different view and highlights different standout features of the Canyon.
Also created by Mary E.J Colter, The Watchtower at Desert View was designed from layouts of several ancient Puebloan watchtowers. Here you will find hustle and bustle, with large crowds and services like a snack bar, Visitor Center, a petrol station, the trading post, general store, as well as a campground, and restrooms.
Desert View is a popular spot to watch the sunset. We decided to skip the crowds this time. Instead, we headed to one of the quieter spots to end our day at The Grand Canyon.
A magic way to end our one day journey to The Grand Canyon with children.
Of course, there is so much more to see in this amazing place. If you have more time then make sure you spend at least an extra night here to make the most of this ancient natural wonder.
If you are taking a road trip with kids to the Grand Canyon, check out these great ideas to keep everyone entertained from Minivanadventures.
Travel With Meraki - Set your alarm and head to a location early. Not only will you beat the crowds but you will see your destination in the most beautiful light of the day.
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