The Grand Canyon – one of the most well known United States national parks. It’s massive – 277 river miles long, as much as 18 miles wide, and at points, a mile deep. That’s massive, all right!
The Grand Canyon is also a top U.S. summer vacation destination. But many people only see The Grand Canyon on a day trip, taking a tour bus from Las Vegas, or a rental car from Sedona or other points south. They only experience South Rim, not venturing to North Rim. My opinion? A day just isn’t enough to do the Grand Canyon justice!
With a little thought and planning, The Grand Canyon has the makings for a great family vacation. It can also be an “add-on” to nearby destinations such as Las Vegas. That’s exactly what we did on a recent trip to a Las Vegas family wedding. Read on for our favorite trip adventures, and perhaps you too will be inspired to book your own three to five day Grand Canyon family adventure. It comes highly recommended!
Grand Canyon South Rim
First up was the Grand Canyon South Rim, with a short stopover at the Hoover Dam. Seemed like everyone stopped at the Dam! It was slow driving through the Dam area, but hey, you got some long views of the Dam. Moving on now to our destination.
Book a South Rim SleepOver
It’s the best way to experience South Rim. Most people day-trip, spending less than a few hours walking the trails around Grand Canyon Village. And then they leave. Come dinner time, the Rim begins to calm down, crowds thin out, and a sense of peace emerges.
Book your South Rim hotel early as they fill up fast. We stayed at The Thunderbird. On first glance, a South Rim hotel might seem pricey, but remember where you are. You aren’t here for the hotel – you are here for the views. Worth a night’s stay! Unless you camp – then stay in one of the South Rim campgrounds.
Enjoy a Rim-Side Sunset Dinner
Grab some food and drink, find your spot, settle in, and watch the sun go down over the canyon. Wander along the rim, taking in the changing color palate from different angles and places. A favorite spot is at the Yavapai Observation Station. Get there early to grab a front row view as this place tends to get crowded around sunset.
If you’re lucky, you might even witness California condors circling the canyon, as we did.
Wake Up To a Glorious Sunrise
My number one reason to spend at least one night at a South Rim hotel – the early morning total tranquility. It’s just you and the others who also spent the night at the rim. Oh, and perhaps a wandering elk! So set the alarm for fifteen minutes before sunrise, grab a cup of joe, and sit along the rim to watch the sun rise over the canyon.
Hike Part of Bright Angel Trail
Get below the rim via the Bright Angel Trail. The complete trail is long and challenging, but you only need to hike part of it to achieve that below-the-rim experience. Even if you only hike to the first tunnel, it’s worth it. The boys turned around at the second tunnel, while I hiked on to the 1.5 mile Resthouse. That’s the beauty of this trail – you can turn around at any point. I’d suggest starting out as early as possible because it does get hot on the trail. And bring plenty of water.
Explore Along Hermit Road
Whether you hike, bike or ride the South Rim shuttle buses, the vistas along Hermit Road are a must-see. If you are limited in time, the shuttle buses are a great option – just don’t forget to get off at the stops and enjoy the surrounding beauty. Time permitting, hike instead of ride to the next bus stop. Get off the pavement and take in the surrounding beauty. It doesn’t take too much physical exertion to leave the crowds behind. The rewards are vistas that you might otherwise not see from the road.
Road Trip to North Rim
North Rim is about a four hour drive from South Rim. Don’t let that discourage you from doing it! And make sure you stop and enjoy the magnificent vistas along the way. Wind along Desert View Drive. Take in the canyon views from atop Desert View Watch Tower. Watch bison across the field. The drive should be about the adventure, not how fast you can get to the North Rim.
Grand Canyon North Rim
Most people forego visiting the North Rim. In my opinion, a huge mistake! Hands down, the North Rim was our family’s most favorite part of the Grand Canyon. It was noticeably cooler, less crowded, and equally beautiful in it’s own right. So go on and take the time to experience North Rim.
Sleep Tight At The Grand Canyon Lodge
The Grand Canyon Lodge is the ideal home base for North Rim exploration. We were very fortunate to book a Pioneer cabin, located a short walk from the main lodge. Set back in a sea of pine trees, these cabins are quaintly rustic – and great for a family. No worries about being too loud for the neighbors!
The lodge itself is a great place to kick up your feet and check out the views. Book your stay early – this is the only lodging at the edge of North Rim and it books up fast.
Experience A Grand North Rim Sunset
No crowds to battle here! Just grab a rocking chair on the front porch of The Grand Canyon Lodge, sit back and watch the colors play out across the canyon as the sun sets. Indescribably beauty. Even the kids were in awe!
Sunrise Reflection At Bright Angel Point
There’s even less crowds to contend with at sunrise. Get up early and walk to Bright Angel Point. Take in the incomparable beauty as the sun rises over the canyon. If you look really hard – or use your binoculars – you can just about see South Rim’s Bright Angel Trail snaking it’s way down to the canyon floor. Listen for the sounds of Roaring Springs more than 3,000 feet below the Rim. It’s that quiet here.
Hike A North Rim Trail
Sunrise accomplished. Time for breakfast, then a hike along North Rim. We hiked the Transept Trail to North Rim Campground. It’s a relatively easy hike that runs along the Rim. A great hike if you have kids with you, as we did. No matter which trail you take, just spend an hour or two hiking in and around the area. It’ll be worth it.
Witness Amazing Vistas At Point Imperial
Time to pack the car and leave North Rim. Take a moment’s time and stop at Point Imperial. Go for a short walk out to spectacular Canyon views. It’s only a short detour off the road. My thoughts? Don’t miss Point Imperial. It also makes a great bathroom stop for the three plus hour drive ahead!
Grand Canyon Travel Information:
Trip logistics: Our trip took four days. If Las Vegas is your start point, as was ours, the total drive time will be about fourteen hours, with no more than four hours at a time, and would go something like this.
Day 1 – Las Vegas to Grand Canyon South Rim via Hoover Dam. Sunset dinner along South Rim. Hotel at South Rim.
Day 2 – Sunrise and a warm drink at the Rim. Hike Bright Angel Trail. Explore Hermit Road. Hotel at South Rim.
Day 3 – Off to North Rim via Desert View Drive. Explore Desert View Watch Tower. Enjoy dinner and sunset at North Rim. Cabin at North Rim.
Day 4 – Sunrise hike to Bright Angel Point. Hike a North Rim Trail. Enjoy Point Imperial vistas. Return to Las Vegas.
This same itinerary can also be done from other base locations like Sedona and Flagstaff.
What would we do different? Add a second night at North Rim. We loved the cooler air and lack of crowds. No jockeying for parking spots or front row views of the canyon. Quiet hiking trails, mostly to ourselves and the occasional critter that crossed our path. Yep, if we did this trip over, we’d have stayed two nights at North Rim, for sure!
Ready to plan? Here’s several links to start planning your very own Grand Canyon trip.
So have you been to The Grand Canyon? How long did you stay? What was your favorite experience? Are you planning a trip to the Grand Canyon? Did you find this information helpful? Let us know in the Comments section below.
Oh and just in case you are curious – that family wedding that initially brought us to Las Vegas? Awesome! Elvis officiated. He really lives!
Grand Canyon photos from National Park Services (1), Grand Canyon Lodging (2) and by C. Biederman (all others).