Arizona Part II: The Grand Canyon

I’ve been tagged in enough posts requesting tips on the Grand Canyon, that I have no excuse to delay writing this anymore, even though I don’t know that I have a lot of tips to really offer.

I’m not sure we did the Grand Canyon “right,” if there really is a right way to go somewhere so impressive.  We not a family of early risers–Billy and Kairi in particular. Because we were staying in Sedona, two hours away from the Grand Canyon, I had wanted to be on the road absolutely no later than 8am, earlier if possible. My goal for our trip was to hike down to the three-mile rest stop on the Bright Angel trail, and I knew we would need to get as early a start as possible to complete all 6 miles. Instead, we didn’t manage to leave until well after 9, and by the time we got there, parking was not easy to come by. We finally found a spot near one of the lodges, walked to the rim trail, and started our descent into the canyon just before 1pm (at which point we had already decided we would only go to the 1.5mile rest stop).

grand canyon-2
The only picture of me on the trail! Taken by Billy. More exhausted than annoyed, despite how I look!

The trail itself was…underwhelming. I hate to say that about a place that inspires so much awe in everyone who sees it, but as far as hiking goes, in retrospect I would have planned the day differently.

The biggest drawback for me is just how popular the trail is. When I hike, I do it for the immersion in nature. The constant stream of people going both up and down the Bright Angel trail made it hard to feel that at all. Anytime we wanted to stop and just stare into the canyon, we had to scoot out of the way of all the people still moving, and it’s hard to just breathe in the majesty with other conversations in the background. We also let Kairi walk during our descent. It was was not a problem for her at all, but meant a lot of encouraging her to watch where she was going, be careful of other people, let’s let these people pass, etc, etc.. I didn’t feel like we gave her a chance to really enjoy herself.

grand canyon-3
Free-range toddler. He insisted on wearing the “pack-pack,” and was so happy to be able to walk.

We had lunch on an outcrop just past the privies at the 1.5 mile stop, and this was the closest to feeling in the canyon I got. Because we were a few yards off trail we had a slight sense of privacy, and had the quiet necessary to just look at the red cliffs, and take in how big the whole place was. Billy and I took turns standing as far out as we could and feeling our own smallness, looking down at Indian Gardens, and the drop beyond to the river we couldn’t see, but knew was there.

Surprisingly, we made better time on the way back up than we did going down. Kairi was already tired, so I took over wearing Sebastian and the backpack, and Billy wore Kairi in the Beco toddler carrier I bought specifically for this trip. Moving at an adult pace the whole time, we made it out in around an hour. The hardest part going back up is definitely the series of switchbacks that last for about half a mile after the rest stop, and once we got past those I think we were so surprised at the pace we had maintained that we just kept it up. There are two natural tunnels in this stretch of trail, one about a mile down and one about a tenth of a mile down, and when we got back to the tenth of a mile tunnel we actually let both kids down to walk the remainer by themselves–I only had a slight heart attack watching Sebastian move around next to such a sheer drop.

bastian tunnel-2
The tunnel about 1/10th of a mile from the trailhead. Getting a shot without other people in it was not easy, even later in the day!

It was after 4 by the time we got up to the top, and this is when kid-meltdowns started to happen. I walked to the car and back to take the backpack and get my tripod, and when I got back, we were all starving, and Sebsatian wanted to run everywhere after being in a carrier for three hours. I wanted to get a picture of us overlooking the rim, but Kairi broke one of the legs of my tripod trying to help me, and I realized after we found a good spot, that I had not taken the clip for my Capture Clip Pro (something else I bought specifically for this trip and then left in my car in D.C.) off the base of my camera, so couldn’t attach it to the tripod anyway. Sebastian was screaming unless I was holding him, and thankfully a very kind woman whose husband was an amateur photographer offered to take a picture for us.

gc family1
Not the picture I would have taken, but I’m so grateful to have it.

From here we decided to get dinner. We had an hour’s wait for a table and couldn’t leave the building or our buzzer would stop working, so we missed the entirety of the golden hour/sunset waiting to eat, and it was completely dark once we were done with our very mediocre meal. However–there are very few sidewalk lights (none in some places), and we were only two days out from the new moon, so we did get to see the stars over the Grand Canyon, and that was a truly incredible sight. Sedona is an International Dark Sky Community, so we saw incredible stars the whole time we were in Arizona, but standing on the edge looking out, there was no horizon. It was endlessly black above and below, with more stars than I’ve seen in my entire life. If you don’t have opinions about light pollution already, you will once you see just how many stars our streetlights are concealing.

Overall–I can’t say I loved our trip. But I can say that I am very glad we went, and I learned several things for next time, and that I’m happy to pass on to anyone looking to go here with kids:

  • Get there early. Yes, we all know this, but don’t make our mistake and underestimate how long it will take to get everyone ready and find parking. There is too much here to see and do, and half a day just isn’t enough time.
  • Make time for the Rim Trail. I was so certain that I would regret leaving without having hiked below the rim, but I did it at the expense of really getting to see just how big the GC actually is. We really only looked out from the area around the Bright Angel Trailhead, and we just missed so much by not walking along more of the rim.
  • Be prepared for a lot of people. Even as we were almost back at the trailhead, there were still several people going down into the canyon. I don’t know if the South Kaibab trail is the same–it is a more difficult trail which may discourage a lot of the traffic, and allegedly the South Rim is far more populated than the North Rim, if your trip allows you to visit that side.
  • Allow yourself two days if you want to hike below the rim. As adults traveling without kids it would be possible to do a hike and then spend some time on the Rim Trail and exploring the GC Village, but with kids, especially young kids, the hike itself was very taxing. Even though Sebastian didn’t walk most of it, that just meant he was a bit manic by the time he was able to run around. Kairi has incredible stamina for her age and did a good job of holding herself together even as she was tired and hungry, but she was clearly overstimulated, and quickly got bored with our desire to just stop and watch the sunset when all she wanted to do was get dinner. The hike was not as difficult as I expected it to be, but it’s still a different hiking experience that what we are used to, and that’s a lot of sensory input for kids to take in.

The next time we come here, I want to plan a Rim to Rim hike. I would love to see the North Rim, and to give ourselves more time to explore the village on the South Rim, and more time to walk along the rim itself and take in the scope. Our trip felt rushed, and left me feeling like I had missed an experience—one I am eager to go back and regain.

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Published by Whimsy & Wilderness Photography

I am a photographer and writer based in Chattanooga, TN, and adventuring around the southeastern United States with my husband and two children.

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