1. Become a Junior Ranger
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.
3. Hike Bright Angel Trail
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 Ranger Programs
Family-friendly ranger-led programs are offered daily at the South Rim during June, July and August. Topics include history, geology, wildlife and night programs. (Check the summer ranger program web page at www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/ranger-program.htm for locations, and times.)
5. Ride the Train
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. Modern train rides also feature family entertainment. 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.
8. Party with the Stars
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. Can't make it in June? Here are the top 3 places to stargaze.
9. Go with a Guide
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; www.grandcanyon.org/classes-tours/
10. Take a River Trip
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) 773-7921; gcyouth.org
Park Map Tip
You will get a park map when you enter the park at one of the entrance stations. But if you want to get an overview with detailed trails and so on, Trails Illustrated makes three different Grand Canyon maps, depending on where you want to explore. You can buy them on REI.com.