Travel dates :: April 18 – 21, 2016
After an exciting time in the Cottonwood, Arizona area we headed north about 2.5 hours to the GRAND CANYON! Yes, the Grand Canyon. It’s been on our list of places to visit for a long time and I was really looking forward to it.
We scored a spot at Mather Campground right inside the Grand Canyon National Park! This campground has only a few RV spots (mostly tent-only sites) and if we were any longer than 30 feet, we probably wouldn’t have fit. The sites have NO hook-ups, so it’s essentially boondocking – but you can use generators (during approved hours) and there are restrooms (no showers) available in the campground.
Our spot was a beautiful pull-through with LOTS of room for the kids to run. The minute I got out of the truck and inhaled the fresh mountain air – I knew this place was going to be a treat. It had been a LONG time since we had been up in the mountains surrounded by pine trees.
We weren’t there even five minutes before seeing our first elk – turns out there were a bunch in the campground!
The great thing about being in the Mather Campground is being so close to everything – walking distance. It’s about a mile walk (each way) to the Visitor’s Center, on a nice paved path. And it’s very short walk to laundry, grocery store, restaurant and trails.
As soon as we set up camp, we headed straight to the Grand Canyon Visitor’s Center. We happened to be at the park during National Park Week (April 16-24) so the park was a bit busier than normal because admission into the park was completely free during this time. But it was also still early in the season – so perhaps that helps offset it a little (it had SNOWED the week before here!)
We started our time in the Visitor’s Center by watching the educational video – about 20 minutes long – and learned so much about the canyon and how it came to be. We grabbed our Junior Ranger booklets to work on back at the trailer and headed out to Mather’s point to see the canyon for the first time.
People tell you it’s breathtaking but until you see it in person. . . .you have no idea.
Photos don’t do it justice. Even the kids were mesmerized by it.
Our second day at the Grand Canyon we turned in the Junior Ranger program booklet that they were working on and the kids earned their badge. They also did a second Junior Ranger program for the National Historical Preservation Act – earning a second badge for the limited time program.
In terms of other educational opportunities at the Grand Canyon we went to a ranger led program on Desert Bighorn Sheep – fascinating! And then we walked over to the Yavapai Geology Museum for a program on the geology of the canyon. We also attended a Mountain Lion seminar and learned a ton about those, too. There were SO MANY educational programs we could have spent all week going to them. All the volunteers and National Park employees in the Grand Canyon village were great teachers and helpers – we learned so much.
photo credit: Trail of Time website
From the Yavapai Geology Museum we walked along the Trail of Time. The amazing trail skirts along the edge of the canyon and is paved and wheelchair accessible. The views are incredible but we especially loved the history.
The timeline trail is an interpretive walk that brings you back in time. Every meter you walk has another brass marker that represents ONE MILLION years of time.
Throughout the trail they have rock samples and displays that discuss the geology of that time. Opened in 2010 – this trail is brand new in terms of Grand Canyon history and is a national award winner!
Our last full day at the Grand Canyon we wanted to hike down into the canyon for another view – and we hiked the Bright Angel Trail. We started early in the day and hiked 1.5 miles down into the canyon and 1.5 miles back up. With an average grade of 10% this is a steep trail and it was quite a workout for us and the kids.
But the views. . .worth every single step. We even saw Desert Bighorn sheep on the trail (my photos were blurry, sorry), what a sight to see!
We saw a lot of people hiking with kids (I think a lot of people were on spring break). A few had toddlers with harnesses (brave!). But we also saw a lot of young kids running ahead of their parents and/or walking by themselves.
We are much more cautious and never let go of our kids hands (ages 8 and 5). Perhaps this was a little overboard but this trail has no handrails and the drops off the site would be deadly in most areas. We are very aware that our daughter is a bit clumsy and our son doesn’t have the best impulse control – so knowing this about our kids we felt most comfortable holding hands as we hiked. The kids didn’t mind (or gripe) – it’s our standard protocol for most “risky” areas we explore – but even if they did mind, we’d still require it. 😉
I’d advise any parents hiking the trail to make the decision that best works for you and your children’s needs. But be advised the hike (and the general rim of the Grand Canyon) is not childproofed in anyway and one wrong step – adult or kids – could be deadly.
We stopped often along the hike. Both for a water break but also to enjoy the views! The kids had plenty of snacks which they ate both on the way down and the way up. Don’t expect benches or official rest areas on the trail but find a rock and make yourself at home.
If you do hike the Bright Angel Trail be sure to bring plenty of water, salty snacks and food. If you do the hike that we did 1.5 miles down, you stop at a rest house with pit toilets before hiking back up. The water was shut off on the trail still (it’s off during the winter/spring) but in the summer you’d be able to fill up your water near the rest house.
I’m so proud of us for hiking the Bright Angel Trail – it was scary with the drop-offs, exhausting with the climb but what an accomplishment we felt when we got back to the top. Even the kids were proud of what we had done as a family. 🙂
They earned ice cream for sure after all the hiking and walking we did. We discovered the village grocery had single servings of ice cream for about $2 each – and the kids got these as treats a couple of the days we were there.
In terms of other food while at the Grand Canyon I’m glad we stocked up on food in Prescott. There are plenty of food options at the Grand Canyon but you can expect to pay premium prices – a bag of marshmallows was $3 for example, versus $1 at a normal store. We made all our meals at the trailer and I’d recommend packing enough food for your stay to avoid paying higher prices in the park if you want to watch your budget.
I’m so glad that we included the Grand Canyon on our route – it truly is a national treasure. We were there three nights and still didn’t do everything we wanted to. There are so many trails, countless educational opportunities, wildlife and so much to see – give yourself at least a few days. We will definitely have a better appreciation for the Grand Canyon when it’s mentioned or we see photos.
Stay tuned. From here we head to Flagstaff. . . and then North!
Have you been to the Grand Canyon before? Have you camped in Mather Campground? Leave a comment and let us know about your experience!