The Grand Canyon National Park should be on everyone’s travel bucket list. You can’t tell from photos just how amazing it is to experience in person. It’s one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World and the only one in the United States (other than the Aurora Borealis which can sometimes be viewed from the US).
The South Rim, part of the National Park System, is the most popular and an easy 4-hour drive from Phoenix or Las Vegas. There are many amazing views from the top of the rim accessible from easy walking paths in addition to many hiking options for those wishing to do down into the canyon. The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is something everyone should experience. Based on interests, budgets, time, and skill, you may want to plan future trips to other parts of the canyon.
Not too far from the South Rim is the lesser-known East Rim, Desert View (currently open with most services closed) which is only about 23 miles from Grand Canyon Village at the South Rim. The North Rim is only open in the summer and a much longer drive from Phoenix. There’s also Grand Canyon West on the Hualapai Indian Reservation. There is Eagle Point, Guano Point, the Grand Canyon Skywalk, restaurants, Native American performances, and a nearby zipline attraction. The skywalk is a glass walk bridge that extends 70 feet out and 4.000 feet above the floor of the Grand Canyon. You can also raft the Colorado River with tours out of Grand Canyon West.
Havasu Falls on the Havasupai Indian Reservation (currently closed to visitors) is another amazing Grand Canyon experience. You do need a reservation (obtained through a lottery system) and it is a multi-day hiking and camping experience that requires a higher level of fitness and experience.
Planning a family vacation to the Grand Canyon South Rim
You can visit the Grand Canyon as a day trip from Phoenix but I highly recommend staying overnight so you can really take it all in. Also sometimes the traffic to enter the park can be heavy and it can time up to an hour to enter the park (weekdays and earlier in the day is always best). If staying for multiple days, you can add side-trips to Flagstaff, Sedona, Jerome.
Where to stay at the Grand Canyon – South Rim?
There is lodging at the Grand Canyon Village inside the South Rim entrance of the Grand Canyon National Park. In-park reservations book up so plan your trip early.
- Bright Angel Lodge and Cabins
- El Tovar Hotel
- Kachina Lodge
- Thunderbird Lodge
- Maswik Lodge
- Yavapai Lodge at the Trailer Village RV Park
There are a few hotels in the town of Tusayan just outside the park entrance. There are a few hotel choices that are affordable and often have more availability than options in the park. The drive to Grand Canyon Village in the park isn’t far but sometimes traffic at the ticket entrance can back up especially on popular weekends and holidays. If you’re looking for luxury resorts with all the amenities, your best bet is Sedona, Scottsdale, Phoenix or Las Vegas.
Farther away, you can also stay in Williams (1 hour), Flagstaff (1 1/2 hours), Sedona (2 hours), Phoenix (3 1/2 hours), or Las Vegas (4 hours).
Camping is another option. You can tent or RV camp at several locations in the park or outside the park. Inside the park at the South Rim is Mather Campground (no RV hookups) and Trailer Village RV Park. There is also camping at Desert View at the East Rim (not too far from the South Rim).
Outside the park is the 10-X campgrounds which is another great option. We’ve stayed at 10-X several times reserving their large group sites when camping with other families.
How to get to the Grand Canyon – South Rim
Phoenix and Las Vegas are the easiest cities to fly into when planning a Grand Canyon trip. While there are many tour bus options, when traveling with teenagers I highly recommend driving yourself and renting a car if you’ve flown in for the trip. In general, tours are not geared towards the interests of teens and they will easily tune out and play on their phone. As another option, an off-road jeep tour may be more of their interest – these are run by companies outside the national park grounds in surrounding cities. It’s easy to navigate yourself once inside the park. The drive is easy from major surrounding cities and there is plenty of parking inside the park entrance (can be harder to find a close spot on busy weekends and holidays), no parking fees (besides the entrance fee) and free shuttle busses are available. Everything with the Grand Canyon Village is easily accessible with walkways and shuttle buses.
Things to Do at the Grand Canyon – South Rim with Tweens and Teens
note: Due to the pandemic, some buildings and facilities at the Grand Canyon South Rim are currently closed. Check the NPS website for updates.
Walk along the rim – One of the few amazing natural sites where you can park quite close and walk a short path to the rim making it easily accessible to everyone. If you do have littles, take care as there is no fence to prevent them from falling down if they stray from the path. Take in the vast beauty of the canyon, the colors, the vegetation.
Practice Your Photography Skills – Do your teens have an interest in photography? This is the perfect place for nature and landscape photography.
IG Photo Opps – What better backgrounds for your photos can you have than the Grand Canyon? Just be smart and pay attention to signs and prohibited areas. I’ve seen people climbing pretty close to the edge trying to get the perfect shot.
Hike down Bright Angel Trail – Bright Angel is one of the more popular trails and easily accessed from Grand Canyon Village at the South Rim. The trail starts off easy and gets more challenging as you go down. Most importantly, remember you will need to hike back up as far as you hike down but it will take longer and be more difficult. Make sure you have plenty of water and sun protection. Temperatures also change as you descend into the canyon.
Visitor Centers and museums – Take some time to our the Visitor Center and the Museums at the South Rim – they’re small and don’t take that long but can be interesting if you want to learn more about the history and geography of the area. The main Grand Canyon Visitors Center is a great place to start to learn more about park attractions and activities. Younger kids will enjoy ranger presentations and collection NPS passport stamps.
- Yavapai Geology Museum
- Verkamp’s Visitor Center
- Kolb Studio
Watch the sunset – Check to see when the sun will be setting so you can watch the amazing colors of the canyon change.
Visit after a snowfall – Seeing the canyon dusted in snow is an amazing experience. Be aware that some trails into the canyon may be closed due to ice but the path along the top of the rim is usually open after a snowfall. If you do hike down, also make sure you are prepared for the temperatures.
Grand Canyon Village Camping – Enjoy with a wilderness experience and camp at the Grand Canyon Village. There is camping available at Mather Village and Trailer Village RV Park for either tent or RV camping.
Visit Desert Rim at the East Entrance – Desert View is a lesser-known part of the South Rim is about 23 miles from Grand Canyon Village (currently open but most services and attractions are closed as of May 2021). Visit the Desert View Watch Tower, Tusayan Pueblo, Tusayan Museum. The road to the East Entrance, Desert View Drive, is very scenic. There is also camping (but no lodging).
Grand Canyon helicopter tour – Helicopter tours of the Grand Canyon are a great way to experience the canyon if you have limited time (the popular trip from LAs Vegas) or as a whole new way to experience the canyon. Depending on the tour you’ll fly along the rim or land on the canyon’s floor. If you’re already at the Grand Canyon – South Rim you can book tours that leave from the nearby town of Tusayan.
Grand Canyon Train – Take the Grand Canyon Railway between the town of Williams and the Grand Canyon Village Depot (right inside the park) for a unique scenic experience. The train is well known for its holiday Polar Express ride but for tweens and teens, I would go with the regular train that runs year-round. Great for train enthusiasts or those who have never been on a train before. If you have younger kids with you, they will enjoy the staged train robbery and shoot-out. You can stay in Williams and take a round-trip ride with a few hours to explore Grand Canyon Village and take in the views from the top of the South Rim.
Camp down in the canyon – for the more experienced hikers and backpackers, you can camp down in the canyon at several campsites including Bright Angel Campground or Phantom Lodge (campsites and hiker dormitories).
Rim to Rim – A bucket list item for many, Rim to Rim refers to the hike where you start at one rim and hike down and up to the other rim in one day. It is doable if you plan your trip, are properly equipped with water and food, and are up to the required fitness level. The best time of the year is May through October. The popular Rim to Rim route leaves from the North Rim along the North Kaibab Trail to the Bright Angel Trail. It’s approximately 24 miles with a 6000 ft elevation drop and then a 4,500 ft elevation climb to the top.
Grand Canyon Nation Park Admission
How much does it cost to go to the Grand Canyon? You can buy a 7 day pass for your vehicle (not per person). There are also options for 1 year and lifetime Grand Canyon National Park Passes. *Always check the NPS website for updated information on fees, rules and restrictions.
- 12 month Grand Cayon National Park Pass, $70 (per non-commercial vehicle)
- 7 days pass, $34 (per non-commercial vehicle)
Want to save money? Visit the park on Entrance Fee-Free Days.
2021 Entrance Fee-Free Days for the Grand Canyon National Park:
- Monday, January 18: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
- Saturday, April 17: 1st day National Park Week
- Wednesday, August 4: 1st Anniv. Great American Outdoors Act
- Wednesday, August 25: National Park Service Birthday
- Saturday, September 25: National Public Lands Day
- Thursday, November 11: Veterans Day
Consider buying the American the Beautiful pass for admittance to National Parks across the United States for a single yearly fee (the 2021 price is $80). You can purchase at the park, online, or any local national park before your trip.
If you have a 4th grader in the family, make sure you apply for Every Kid Outdoors 4th Grade Pass that allows families with a 4th grader a free America the Beautiful pass. Through August 2021, there is also an option for families of 5th graders because they may have missed out on taking advantage of the program in 2020.
There are passes for active military and dependents, veterans, and gold star families that allow free entrance to the park. Also if you qualify look into the programs for Seniors (62 and over) and if you have a disability.