One of America’s greatest natural wonders is the Grand Canyon in Arizona. This dazzling canyon plunging 5000 feet deep is almost impossible to grasp. It is one of the few landmarks visible from space. Standing on the edge offers vistas stretching as far as you can see. Meadows, forests, desert, the Grand Canyon has it all. A visit to the Grand Canyon is on most people’s bucket lists for good reason.
For those growing up in America, it is the quintessential summer family holiday. The best time to visit the Grand Canyon is March – May and September – November, not the middle of the summer. Summer is when hordes of tourists descend, lodging is maxed out and temperatures in the desert soar. However, when you have school aged children, this is often your only opportunity to visit. Does that mean you shouldn’t go? No way! The Grand Canyon is worth a visit in all seasons and regardless of the cold, heat or crowds. It is uplifting, fascinating and worth every second you devote to staring into the crater grappling with how this really came to exist.
For summer visitors, the National Park Service recommends staying out of the sun in the hottest part of the day, approximately from 10 am to 4 pm. What!? How can you visit the Grand Canyon (especially with kids in tow) and not be outside for the bulk of the day? Severe heat restrictions mean much less hiking than you might have planned. But, you are in luck. The Grand Canyon (South Rim) offers an abundance of activities for families without the need to sacrifice your visit even in extreme heat.
Your first stop at the Grand Canyon should be the main Visitor Center. This is a great place to get your bearings, but it’s also one of the best places to spend time during the height of the day’s heat. Enjoy the cool air conditioning while watching the short 20 minute film Grand Canyon: A Journey of Wonder. The film shows on the hour and half hour all day. This is a great introduction to the canyon and it’s history, extraordinary views of the Colorado River and information on the unique wildlife that lives in and around the canyon.
Spend time walking around the visitor center exploring the interactive displays. On one end of the center, is a great video presentation over a globe in the center of the room. At the least it’s a place to rest your feet and soak up the cool air.
While at the visitor center complex check out the gift shop and have some snacks before moving on. From the Visitor Center, you can start walking the Rim Trail (a great place for sunrise and sunset!) or grab a shuttle bus to go explore the park.
Hermits Rest Shuttle Tour
The 14 mile Hermit Road shuttle bus tour (summer only) is a fantastic way to beat the heat, while still enjoying views of the Grand Canyon. Depending on what time you begin your journey, and the temperature, you can split up the journey between riding and walking. You can get off at every stop if you really want to see it all or take the bus for a few stops, walking between short stops to take in a bit more scenery and then hitch a ride again further down. Some great stops to check out are Powell Point to Hopi Point, Pima Point & the breathtaking Abyss.
The bus takes approximately 80-90 minutes return (to reach Hermit’s Rest and back to Village Transfer Point). This is without getting off the bus at all. If you get off at a few stops along the way and spend some time at Hermits Rest, expect this tour to take a good portion of your day.
Bring plenty of water and food. You cannot eat (or drink open containers) on the bus, but you will need the refueling along the way. There is a small snack shack at Hermits Rest, but options are quite limited and lines can be long. Restrooms are located only at Hopi Point and Hermits Rest.
Also note that cell phones do not work for almost the entire portion of the drive/trail.
Tip: If you are doing the bus tour late in the afternoon, stick around for sunset. Get off at any view point and walk the Rim Trail to a spot away from the crowds.
Yavapai Geology Museum
This small museum is a great place to enjoy some cool air on a hot day. Spectacular views over the canyon with informative displays explaining the geology of the park will keep everyone entertained for a while. The small, but well stocked gift shop is also a hit with the kids. A great purchase here are the “Color your own postcards” with different animals and scenes of the Grand Canyon. This makes for a great afternoon activity to wait out the heat of the day. Stake out a spot for a spectacular sunset from the view points around the Yavapai Geology Museum.
Ice Cream at Bright Angel Lodge
Need a cool down? Head over to Bright Angel Fountain (backside of the Lodge) for hand packed ice cream. Eat quickly – it melts fast in the heat! After you have had your ice cream, spend some time exploring the areas (Photo above is from Mary Colter’s Lookout Studio) and views around here, popping inside as the heat becomes unbearable.
The Historic District is a great place to spend a hot afternoon. Check out the amazing views from Mary Colter’s Lookout Studio, walk around the train depot, visit the Kolb Studio and the Verkamps Visitor center for more information on this area. If you haven’t already, pick up (or drop off) your Junior Park Ranger booklet to earn your Grand Canyon badge.
If you need to be outdoors and want to stretch your legs, head out on the paved Greenway Trail to Market Plaza. The trail is mostly shady and will provide you and the kids much needed outdoors time. If you happen to be walking in the late afternoon or early evening, keep your eyes peeled for elk and mule deer. The trail parallels the road, when you get tired of walking, head back to the road to catch a shuttle bus. This trail is also great for a bicycle or scooter ride.
Desert View Drive
If you are heading out of the park from the east entrance and looking for things to fill your day, take in some view points along the Desert View Drive on the way out. The last stop, Desert View Watch Tower has snacks, restrooms and areas to explore. Some of the favorite stop off points are Grandview, Moran Point and Desert Tower at the end.
Hot Weather Tips
- Avoid hiking from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Instead hike at dawn or dusk, preferably dawn as the canyon is still very warm at dusk after a day of high temperatures.
- Drink plenty of water, avoiding caffeinated beverages. Don’t wait until you are thirsty to begin drinking water. You are already dehydrated by that point. Feeling moody or lethargic? You are probably dehydrated.
- Eat salty snacks throughout the day. Your body looses a lot of salt in the heat that needs to be replaced. Carry electrolyte powder to supplement your loss of vital salts.
- Carry a spray bottle to mist yourself while walking or hiking.
- Find shade and take frequent breaks in high temperatures.
- Wear a hat and apply sunscreen often.
Tip: Fill your water bottle with ice that will melt as the day goes on. This also works with Camelbak water backpacks.
Have you visited the Grand Canyon in the summer? How hot did it get for you? Any other tips for beating the heat?
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This post is part of #WeekendWanderlust, #TheWeeklyPostcard and #FridayPostcards.