Families looking to avoid the crowds should seek out the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
The vast Grand Canyon is one of the most visited national parks in the national park system. However, only 10-percent of visitors venture to the North Rim, or the “other side.” The season here is shorter from mid-May to mid-October. But the North Rim may make sense for your family, if you’re visiting the national parks of Utah, as well.
KidTripster Tip: The Grand Canyon is photographer’s paradise. Of course, sunrise and sunset will yield the most dramatic pictures. For times, click here.
What to do?
Compared to the South Rim, the North Rims is very low-key. There are far fewer services and options, but that’s also part of its charm. For classic North Rim views, start at the Grand Canyon Lodge patio and then walk the paved, 1/2-mile trail to Bright Angel Point. Do keep a hand on little ones, as there are steep drop-offs.
KidTripster Tip: Be prepared for the relentless sun with sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat. And bring more water than you think you’ll need.
Catch a ranger program at the lodge. My boys, ages 4 and 7, enjoyed the one on California condors that encouraged audience participation.
KidTripster Tip: Stop at the visitor center to pick up your child’s Junior Ranger book and return it completed for a Junior Ranger patch. Also, make sure to watch the park movie, so you’re primed for your visit.
It is possible to do one of the famous mule rides from the North Rim, but they don’t go to the Colorado River. You can choose from a 1-hour rim ride, 3-hour rim ride or 3-hour inner canyon ride. Kids must be at least 7-years old for the short trip (220-pound weight limit) and 10-years old for the longer rides (200-pound weight limit). Cost: 1-hr. ride $45; 3-hr. ride $90. If you really want to ride, I’d recommend the shorter trip, especially for kids. It’s not all that comfortable.
Where to stay?
Located right on the rim, the historic Grand Canyon Lodge offers timbered guest rooms or western log cabins. Cost: $130-221/night.
For a more economical choice, I’d recommend the North Rim Campground, literally steps from the canyon wall. Many visitors consider it to be the best campground in the park. Some sites (11, 14, 15, 16, and 18) actually have canyon views through the ponderosa pines. In the morning or evening, it’s just a short walk to catch the sunrise or sunset. Cost: Tent & RV (no hookups) $18-25/night.
KidTripster Tip: If you have small children, you may want to avoid the sites nearest the canyon, just for peace of mind.
Where to eat?
Dining choices are more limited on the North Rim. The Main Lodge Dining Room serves a buffet for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a lovely setting. Deli in the Pines offers to-go sandwiches and salads, if you’re looking to take a picnic on a hike. There’s also pizza by the slice and ice cream. Snacks and drinks are available at The Coffee Shop & Roughrider Saloon.
The North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park is a 2-1/2-hour drive south from Zion National Park or a 4-1/2-hour drive from Las Vegas. The Trans Canyon Shuttle runs between the North and South Rims of the park once each day in each direction between mid-May and mid-October. The travel time is about 4 1/2-hours each way. Reservations are required.
Headed to Zion National Park? Click here. Or Bryce Canyon National Park? Click here.
Editor Shellie Bailey-Shah travels to national parks with her husband and two sons. She’s logged thousands of miles behind the wheel of the family’s RV.