Grand Canyon National Park's Junior Ranger Program offers an age specific curriculum to help kids learn about the Grand Canyon's natural and cultural history while participating in fun activities. To earn an official certificate and badge, children are asked to complete four specific age-appropriate activities and attend a ranger-led program.
2. Bike the Rim
Family-friendly biking can be enjoyed by riders of all ages along the paved Greenway section of the Rim Trail between Grand Canyon Visitor Center and the South Kaibab Trailhead. This 5-mile route (one way) is mostly level and has no car traffic. Bicycles for adults and older kids, as well as Burley trailers to carry small children, can be rented from Bright Angel Bicycle Rentals (bikegrandcanyon.com), which is located at Grand Canyon Visitor Center.
While most steep, undeveloped trails descending below the South Rim are not suitable for young children, the Bright Angel Trail is wide and fairly graded with rest houses located a mile-and-a half and three miles below the rim (a good place to turn around). Keep in mind that while children may eagerly hike down the trail, hiking back up can be grueling for children (and parents) and should be avoided during mid-day heat.
4. Join Summer Family Programs
The following family-specific ranger-led programs are offered daily at the South Rim during June, July and August (check the Summer 2012 Grand Canyon Guide at nps.gov/grca to confirm programs, locations, and times).
>> Junior Ranger Adventure Hike: This 1.5-mile hike (round trip) is led by a ranger down Hermit Trail and is designed for kids ages 9-14 and their parents. Meets: Hermits Rest, 9 a.m.
>> Kids Rock!: Designed for kids ages 7-11 and aims to teach about fire ecology, water, insects, bats, and more through games and activities. Meets: Shrine of the Ages, 10 a.m.
>> Story Time Adventures: Listen to a ranger read children's books about Grand Canyon; props and interactive games bring the stories to life. For kids ages 2-6. Meets: El Tovar rim-side porch, 1:30 p.m.
>> Way Cool Stuff for Kids: Join a ranger for activities that teach children about Grand Canyon environments, including predator/prey relationships, animal adaptations and impact of invasive species. For kids ages 7-11. Meets Shrine of the Ages, 4 p.m.
>> Twilight Zone: As dusk approaches, join a ranger in special activities to learn about Grand Canyon at night, including nocturnal animals and the night sky. Wear walking shoes and bring a flash light and a jacket. Meets: Shrine of the Ages at sunset; check visitor centers for specific times.
If your child is fascinated with all things locomotive, make the trip to Grand Canyon on a restored WWII-era passenger train and diesel engine (some have been converted to be fueled by vegetable oil). Part of the experience will include a visit from the friendly conductor and a mock train robbery by Wild West bandits. Or, if you don't arrive at Grand Canyon by train, you can at least watch the locomotive arriving daily (11:45 a.m.) and departing (3:30 p.m.) from the historic station at Grand Canyon Village.
6. Get a Feel for Geology
The Yavapai Geology Museum is filled with educational displays on Grand Canyon's geologic history, but the most interesting and tactile for kids is the large topographic relief model. This 3D map that is designed to be touched mimics the panorama unfolding on the other side of the museum's large plate glass window. The colors and labels on the map can be studied by young visitors to put the massive canyon into perspective. After a tour of the museum, walk on the interpretive path, the Trail of Time, to see samples of Grand Canyon rocks.
7. Walk to Shoshone Point
Even young children can hike to this quiet South Rim overlook, which is accessible via a level, gated one-mile dirt road. The path meanders through the ponderosa pine forest and ends at Shoshone Point, where there are picnic tables next to the rim. There are restrooms but no water available.
Join the annual Star Party held every June on both the North and South Rims. Amateur astronomers from all over the country set up telescopes at various canyon locations and provide interpretations of the night sky. Powerful portable telescopes offer a view of planets, star clusters and galaxies.
If the Grand Canyon and its rugged desert terrain is unfamiliar territory for your family, consider spending the day with a hiking and history expert who guides for the nonprofit Grand Canyon Field Institute. "Meet the Canyon: A Family Hiking Adventure" is a daylong course offered regularly by GCFI that can be tailored to meet the needs and interests of all ages and activity levels. Prices vary depending on group size. For more information: (866) 471- 4435; grandcanyon.org/fieldinstitute
Grand Canyon Youth is a nonprofit organization dedicated to introducing children ages 11-19 to the Southwest outdoors through rafting trips on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon and the San Juan River in southern Utah. Grand Canyon Youth partners with the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey to make the river trips an educational experience that focuses on science, natural history, or the arts. Leadership and outdoor stewardship skills are also part of the river trips, where professional guides do the rowing through rapids but children take charge of meals, setting up camp, and other tasks. One of the requirements for going on a Grand Canyon Youth trip is that the children contribute a certain number of hours of community service and also help earn part of the funds to pay for their trip. Scholarships are available to families who qualify. For more information: (928) 774-8941; gcyouth.org