Did you know that only 10% of Grand Canyon visitors see the North Rim?
When I was about 14 years old, my dad loaded our family of six, four cousins and both my grandmothers into our big van one summer and we traveled from Cedar City, Utah to the the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona.
We crowded into cabins at the Grand Canyon Lodge. At night, we played cards in the big living room of the lodge all evening. The room had a huge window overlooking the Grand Canyon and we practically had it all to ourselves.
It's one of my favorite family vacation memories and this year, we re-created it. We visited the North Rim with my parents, my sister and all nine of my parents' grandchildren, ages 5-16. We didn't originally plan it that way, but I believe it was meant to be.
The memories from this trip are priceless. Here are my tips for planning a great trip to the Grand Canyon North Rim with kids.
Fun things to do
There are a lot of fun things to do at the Grand Canyon North Rim with a family. They include hiking, camping, photography, spotting wildlife, mule rides, scenic drives and the Junior Ranger program. You can see the highlights in one day, and that's what we did.
We started at the visitor center and picked up Junior Ranger books for the kids between ages 5-12. One of the requirements was a ranger program and, lucky for us, a ranger-led nature walk was about to begin. Ranger Jeremy led us away from the rim into the fragrant bristlecone forest that covers much of the North Rim. He helped kids spot birds and squirrels and encouraged us all to stick our noses into a bristlecone pine. There are lots of different answers for what it smells like, but we think it's toasted marshmallow.
We continued down the Bridle Path, then followed the road to the campground and took the Transept Trail back to the lodge. The Transept Trail hugs the rim and we got our first views of the Grand Canyon from the trail. Some of the kids grumbled a little about the hike, but all were awed by the views of the Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon Lodge
The Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim is a National Historic Landmark. It's a gorgeous building, built from logs and stone, dating back to the 1930's. Indoor and outdoor seating allow visitors to relax and savor the lodge's panoramic canyon views.
We ate our picnic lunch near the lodge and let the kids spend their money at the gift shop. They also finished their Junior Ranger books and received their gold souvenir badges. The Grand Canyon Lodge has several dining options, modern restrooms, water bottle filling stations and comfortable patios for viewing the Grand Canyon. It's a nice place to spend at least part of your day.
Half our group liked the lodge so much, they decided to repeat history and play cards there before heading back to Kanab. My husband and I and the five Junior Rangers set off in “The Fun Van” to see Cape Royal.
The drive to Cape Royal is a scenic drive along another part of the Grand Canyon North Rim. The 25-mile road is narrow and winding. It will take you about an hour each way, but the views are worth it.
There are several view points and short hikes along the road to Cape Royal. We decided to drive all the way to the end rather than stopping on the way. There are several view points at Cape Royal. The trail is short, flat and paved. My husband and I agree that the views at Cape Royal are better than at the lodge.
The day was unseasonably hot and we all left our water bottles in the van, which was a mistake. We were all feeling the effects of the heat and altitude by the end and decided not to stop again on the way back down the winding road.
Reserve your room, cabin or campsite 12-18 months in advance if you're serious about staying overnight at the Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim. There appeared to be a lot of rooms and a good sized campground at the North Rim, but the season is short and alternatives are limited, so they fill very quickly.
I started planning this trip nearly six months in advance, and rooms were already gone. I decided to call a reservations agent directly about two months before our trip. When I inquired about availability for June, he replied, “of this year?”
You can have a great trip to the Grand Canyon North Rim even if you decide to go at the last minute. Here are your best options.
- Watch for cancellations online at the Grand Canyon Lodge. The reservations agent told me that they happen all the time, but you need to check frequently because they go fast.
- Consider the Kaibab Lodge or Jacob Lake Inn. These are the next closest lodges and campgrounds to the Grand Canyon North Rim. I have not stayed at either. Do check reviews on TripAdvisor or other sources to get an idea of what to expect before you book.
- Stay in Kanab, Utah. Kanab is the nearest city to the Grand Canyon North Rim and it has lots of lodging options. We booked a great vacation home through HomeAway for our group of 10 near downtown Kanab. My sister booked a second rental home less than a week before the trip. There are a variety of good local hotels and familiar chains to choose from.
Kanab is nearly two hours' drive from the Grand Canyon North Rim, which is not ideal if you want to spend more than one day there. However, it makes a great base if you are also planning to visit Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and other world-class attractions nearby. If “rustic” is not your style, then one of Kanab's new hotels is probably your best bet.
Where NOT to stay
I was a little alarmed when I searched “Grand Canyon North Rim Visitor Center” on Expedia and got a list of hotels on the South Rim. Sure, they are only 16 miles from the North Rim, but that's as the crow flies. If you book one of those hotels, you'll need to drive around the Grand Canyon – four hours each way! – to see the North Rim.
Good to Know
Where: At the end of Highway 67 in Northern Arizona. The North Rim entrance is about two hours south of Kanab, Utah.
When: The Grand Canyon North Rim is open from mid-May to mid-October. It is buried in snow the rest of the year.
How Much: $30 per vehicle for 7 days. Admission includes the North Rim and South Rim. We got in free with my son's Every Kid in a Park pass. Find out how you may be able to save on admission in my article 4 Ways to Save on National Park fees.
How Long: At least one full day
Amenities: The Grand Canyon Lodge has lodging, modern restrooms, gift shop and dining. You'll find a General Store and service station with fuel, groceries and camping supplies near the campground.
How else can I help?
Need a place to stay? Lodging is limited on the North Rim. Try the Grand Canyon Lodge, Jacob Lake, Arizona or Kanab, Utah. Click the button below to explore your options on TripAdvisor.
Click the other button to see the cute house we rented in Kanab. It's #869359vb on HomeAway.
Need a rental car? Driving your own car is the best way to get to the Grand Canyon North Rim. Find the best rates from dozens of agencies at RentalCars.com. Read my tips for getting the best price on your rental car HERE.
Flying in? Phoenix, Salt Lake City or Las Vegas are the nearest major airports. The nearest regional airport is in St. George, Utah. Visit my Air Travel page for tips for getting the best price for your flight.
Packing list: I recommend sturdy walking shoes, sun protection and a reusable water bottle for this trip. The water bottle is especially important because of the high altitude. The Grand Canyon does not sell bottled water, but has filling stations at the lodge.
Several of us had vacuum insulated water bottles that kept our water cold all day, even in a hot car. My dad thanked me for giving him the EcoVessel Boulder last Christmas. It's my favorite water bottle because the wide mouth makes it easy to add ice cubes and the strainer keeps them inside the bottle.