Great American Road Trip with Kids (and on a budget!): Exit 7 – Grand Canyon National Park

Welcome to Exit 7 of our Great American Road Trip with Kids (and on a budget)!

Exit 7 takes us to Grand Canyon National Park, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and usually the first park people think about when you hear the words “National Parks.”

If you’ve been following along with us, much appreciated!

If you haven’t, please check out the following:
Exit 1 – Route 66
Exit 2 – Petroglyph and Aztec Ruins National Monuments
Exit 3 – Mesa Verde National Park
Exit 4 – Hovenweep National Monument
Exit 5 – Monument Valley Tribal Park
Exit 6 – Glen Canyon National Recreational Area

We know traveling is hard to do these days (Grand Canyon National Park is currently open), but we hope that times to travel will return soon, and that you can use these recaps of our 2019 Great American Road Trip to help plan your next stop to Grand Canyon National Park.

Want to follow along with us on this journey? Awesome! You can follow us through RSS feed, InstagramFacebook and Twitter, or just by subscribing to receive emails when posts are release. Much obliged!

As a reminder, we’re giving you our recommendations and non-recommendations (or highlights and lowlight), for a Great American Road Trip with kids (and on a budget). This will include tips and tricks, what there is to do, how kid friendly each place is, how you can do it on a family-friendly budget, and what you’ll need for that portion of the trip.

And remember, we seriously recommend this trip with a fourth grader. The National Park Services have a wonderful program called “Every Kid Outdoors” where every fourth grader, and their family, get into the parks for free. We saved the $35 entrance fee to the park by having our fourth grader with us.

Great American Road Trip: Exit 7 – Grand Canyon National Park

As mentioned in my Monument Valley post, pictures, words, videos, none of it can do justice for the majestic beauty of the Grand Canyon.

We planned one full day at Grand Canyon and it’s the one part of the trip where if I could do it over I would likely take 2-3 days here. Lots of hiking, lots to see, lots to experience at this park.

Instead I thought, “Grand Canyon, eh, seen the pictures, giant whole in the ground, how long do we really need?”

Until you walk up to the actual canyon and are left in awe at the magnitude of it. Once I again I said to myself, this is why we have national parks.

No need to go into the history of the Grand Canyon, you all know about it, have likely been there, and if you haven’t have plans to be there at some point in your life.

If you’ve been reading along you know the day prior we were pelted in a sandstorm, and it took three showers before we felt clean. After our third and final shower we made the trek north to Grand Canyon National Park.

Note: Prices will increase the closer you get to the park. We stopped at McDonald’s for what we thought would be some quick $1 Menu items. Uh … no. Items were way overpriced, and knowing I paid $4 for a $1 burger only made the heartburn hurt more.

We reserved a spot at Mather Campground, conveniently located inside Grand Canyon Village. If you plan on camping inside the park (why wouldn’t you?), I recommend Mather Campground, and I recommend making reservations early as sites fill up fast. I mean, it’s the Grand Canyon folks! Make reservations here.

Not only is the location of the campground a perk, but there are shuttle buses just outside it that will take you where you need to go, and wildlife every time you turn your head. More on interacting with wildlife in our The Johnson Five Doesn’t Recommend section.

As for what to do inside the park, we started at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center at Mather Point, touring the Visitor Center before taking the 0.7 mile hike to Yavapai Point and Geology Museum.

From there we took the Trail of Time to Verkamp’s Visitor Center (1.4 miles), located in the Village, and home to El Tovar Hotel and the location of this scene from National Lampoon’s Vacation.

I had to take a picture from this location, and a family photo from the spot Clark rushes Ellen from.

The two-mile “hike” was mainly flat, and had plenty of spots to stop and admire the view … like all of it! There are areas to take photos, and there are areas where people climbed out to the edge of the canyon to take photos. Not sure it’s allowed, but we saw more than a few do that … and survive.

Not sure you’re supposed to climb out to the edge of the canyon to take pictures, but they did it and survived – I think.

As we walked, the kids continued to fill out their Junior Park Ranger Program. Again, this is a must at any park for any kid. It keeps them occupied, interested, learning, busy and never bored. Plus a sweet badge awaits them when their mission is complete!

In the evening we took in a Park Ranger Program. It was a wonderful setting as we watched the sun slowly set over the canyon. We finished our night with another short walk along the South Rim.

As mentioned, our stay was only for a day. My wife thinks that was enough, I still think two or three days is perfect. There were a couple of other hikes we could’ve done, like the Bright Angel Trail, Hermit Trail or South Kaibab Trail, and places to see. I don’t think we left unfulfilled, but an extra day would’ve been nice.

That night we slept in the van (remember that tent blowout?), and slept well. The night sky was some of the best you’ll ever see (outside the van, of course). The stars are so close – and clear – you can reach up and snag one.

Grand Canyon National Park (4.2 out of 5):
It’s the Grand Canyon, one of the seven natural wonders of the world! What’s not to like! There is so much to see and do that, despite doing four miles of walking, the kids never felt tired or bored, and actually loved the landscape as much as us older folks.

Age: All ages.

Cost: $35 for on single, private, non-commercial vehicle and all its passengers. Mather Campground was $18 per site, per night.

Badges Earned: Junior Ranger South Rim

Word of the Day: Mule Deer (noun) – a western North American deer with large ears. They are some of the most versatile animals in Grand Canyon National Park, and are found in all habitats in the park.

The Johnson Five Recommends: As mentioned above, I’d add two days at the park. I wasn’t disappointed in our one full-day, but I think there’s enough for two full days (and three if you’re an intense hiker).

My apologies for the blurry photo of Mama Mule Deer asking Mama Johnson to back the frick away!

The Johnson Five Doesn’t Recommend: Coming close to the wildlife. As the definition says, mule deer are found in all habitats in the park, which means they are outside your campsite, and they are grazing in the village. Despite signs all over the park saying “DO NOT COME CLOSE TO THE ANIMALS!”, she decided to approach a mama mule deer and her couple of fawns. My wife had a couple of her fawns nearby too. Well, Mama Mule Deer warned Mama Johnson to step away, basically telling her she didn’t want any of this. Mama Johnson didn’t care and Mama Mule Deer bucked Mama Johnson against the ridge of the Grand Canyon. Mama Johnson grabbed Mama Mule Deer by the ears, took her to the ground, wrapped her legs around Mama Mule Deer and slugged her in the belly. Mama Mule Deer bucked out of it, slapping Mama Johnson across the face with her hooves. Mama Johnson countered with a gut check, before Mama Mule Deer called truce. Both bent over in agony, recognizing each other’s toughness, laughed about the battle, embraced and we carried on with our walk.

Okay, maybe that story isn’t entirely how it went, I don’t remember, but what I do remember is that Mama Johnson was nearly bucked by Mama Mule Deer, and that you shouldn’t approach the animals at the park.

What You’ll Need – Get Them Here!
We’re not big campers, so if you’re looking for more in-depth knowledge on camping and camping materials, check out my buddy at We Live A Lot. These are some of items we used and recommend while visiting Grand Canyon National Park.

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