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Having been to other National Parks, we know the park people work hard to balance accessibility to the general non-serious hiker public and their mission in preserving nature. In the case of the Grand Canyon, you've got an official Wonder of the World and you don't want to mess it up with cable cars and a roller coaster.

So, for hiking you get 2.5 choices.

Choice One: The Rim

You can have a great time exploring the Grand Canyon from the south Rim. There are literally miles of smoothly paved paths along the south rim, with many vantage points and lookouts. There are water, benches and toilets liberally strewn about, railings in many places and the Grand Canyon looks great (and magically different) from each point of view, and at each time of day. You can walk the whole network of paths over a few days, pop into a stretch for an hour, or use the extensive, free, shuttle bus system to move from end to end.

With a stroller or toddler, this system of paved paths is all you can handle, and really all you need. Most of the “scenic” photos we took and have posted on these pages were taken from the paths, so don't think this is a wimp out. If you want to get away from the crowds a bit, take the shuttle bus out to the ends of the pathways earlier in the morning, or, enjoy the view 20 yards from the ice cream shop in your own way.

Choice Two: Serious Trails

If your kids are older, there is serious hiking to be had. I won't go into the details here (mainly because we did not do serious hiking) but there are rangers to inquiry of and maps to study in the Park. Keep in mind that for most healthy, experienced hikers in good shape, the hike down from the Rim to the river and back up is a 12-14 hour excursion with some strenuous trail work. Limited water is available, wide temperature swings at different elevations are common and nobody is going to come down and carry you up and out. Not really for most kids and not really for most adults either.

(The Good One) Choice Two and a Half: Bright Angel Trail

Grand Canyon hiking

There is one alternative that gets you down into the Grand Canyon in a way that some families may enjoy. It is not for strollers or toddlers, but worked well enough for our 8 and 11 year olds. Read on and decide!

The Bright Angel Trail is fully 19 miles long, but the first section, a couple of miles, is moderate walking and provides a toilet and water station as a convenient ending and turning around point. You don't need any gear for this, just sturdy shoes, sun protection and lots of water. We spent about three hours walking, one hour or so down and then about two hours up and were tired but satisfied.

(There is a rest area with toilets and water at 1.5 miles down [so a three mile round trip, which is what we did] and another rest area at 3 miles down [a six mile round trip]).

Grand Canyon hiking

The trail is dusty, full of mule poop and steep enough to require some heavy breathing. There are no railings or steps and some steep, dangerous drop offs. Water is available only at the end. Except for late afternoon hikes (check with the rangers), the whole trail is in direct sunlight and with very little shade.

That all said, our 8 year old made it with some complaining but no carrying. Our 43 year old not in such good shape Dad also enjoyed the walk and we all got to see the Grand Canyon from the inside and look up at the tourists along the Rim from the underside and enjoyed quite a sense of accomplishment and conquest, lame as our exertions were in reality. If you and your kids can handle it, the hike is worth the trouble.

(P.S. you don't have to go very far-even a short hike is worth the experience and you do get into the Grand Canyon, even if it is only a short ways)


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