Where to Stay
Stop. Before you do anything else, if you want to stay at one of the places inside the Grand Canyon Park itself, you need to make reservations now. Lodgings within the Park fill up six to 12 months in advance, maybe even earlier for holiday times and popular places. We were able to get reservations, not our first choice mind you, but at least a room six months in advance for July but it was tight.
The good news is that you can make reservations online now at Grand Canyon Lodges. You can also call them at 1-888-297-2757, or 1-303-297-2757 or FAX 1-303-297-3175.
The web site has more information on each of the five places to stay within the park, and we won't repeat that all here. We did take a look at each location and offer the following additional comments in case they help:
The most expensive place to stay inside the Grand Canyon park. This is a historic building (completed in 1905), which means good for historic stuff but for kids, the place may be a bit dark and small and without many goodies. Is it fair to say it is a bit stuffy looking? The location is dead center to the Grand Canyon rim and the more expensive rooms have awesome views of the Canyon; you are not near the Canyon, you are on the Canyon Rim itself. Check if your room is air conditioned if that matters as we're not sure they all are. The central location also means it is a bit noisy, and the lobby is very much a busy, public place. Expensive restaurant on the premises.
Bright Angel Lodge
Also a bit expensive, old/historic (completed 1935) and is located next door to the El Tovar, so you get all the good an bad points listed above. Some of the rooms are actually small cabins- -remember the word small. Since all the windows were opened in July when it was 105 degrees, we'll assume no air conditioning. Several of the cabins abut the walkways near the rim and have windows at eye level, so make sure your underwear is clean and doesn't have any holes in it. The windows just have screens and the cabins are literally steps from the Grand Canyon Rim, so this might be a safety hazard for some kids whose ability to walk and climb outstrips their sense of danger. The area around the cabins is also dusty. Less expensive restaurant and snack bar on the premises, along with a decent ice cream seller.
Kachina and Thunderbird Lodges
These are co-joined, new buildings with air conditioning and a standard motel appearance. They are still smack dab in the center of things, so you get all that goodness, but lacking lobbies are far, far less of a public space so are more private. Air conditioned. You don't get the Old West, historic ambience, but for small kids this might be a good place to consider. If they would have had rooms available, this is where we would have liked to stay with the kiddies.
No air conditioning. I hate to keep on that theme but for us with young kids, 105 degrees in July was no time for a non-air conditioned sleeping experience, especially when we all got more than our share of over exposure to the heat and the sun during the day.
The Lodge is about a 15 minute walk across a hot parking area and a hot road to the Grand Canyon Rim, so the location is only so-so. A plus is a decent, reasonably priced cafeteria on the premises and a shuttle bus stop right out front to get to the rest of the Grand Canyon park area. This wouldn't be our first choice but not a bad second or third choice.
This is where we stayed and it was more than adequate for families with kids. It also looks to be the biggest place to stay in the Park so you could also end up there. The “Lodge” is actually a string of two-three story buildings with motel rooms. Each motel room is much like other motel rooms you know: clean bathroom, OK double beds, rollaway available for extra charge, TV with a zillion cable channels, soda and ice machine down the hall, quiet and tidy. There is no lobby so it is quiet and not public. There is plenty of parking right outside the building, and the whole place is set inside a scrub pine area.
The Rim is a decent walk, and we found the shuttle bus a better alternative. You can easily walk to the General Store, Grocery, ATM and a cafeteria (more below on each), the only lodging that is walkable to these places. The walk does involve a stretch of road without sidewalks or nice shoulders and would be hard with a stroller. We had to hold hands and watch our youngest kid closely for this part of the trip, but it was nice to be able to go eat or shop without using the car or shuttle bus.
If the Kachina and Thunderbird Lodges don't fit your tastes or budget, try Yavapai Lodge.
Staying Outside the Park
Unless you have relatives nearby, about the only other reasons to stay outside the park would be to save money (if that is so) or likely because you couldn't get a room inside. There are relatively few hotels right outside the park itself, so you'll likely be staying in another town. Distances are b-r-o-a-d in the Old West, so make sure how far away you really are setting up camp partner. Unless your hotel has some kind of shuttle service, you will need to drive to and from the park each day. Parking can be tight inside the park so you may find yourself in a remote lot taking a shuttle bus to the Canyon itself. Not the best way to run a vacation I'm afraid.
Here's more information on Grand Canyon vacations