The Grand Canyon is one of those rare landscapes that humbles the soul.
Its immense size – 6000 feet deep from rim to canyon floor at its deepest, 18 miles across from rim to rim at its widest – appears unreal to most visitors. Then there’s the unfathomable age of the rock, up to 2 billion years old. Or simply watch the ever-shifting light as the canyon’s mood rotates through the day, ranging from the mystical, multiple hues of sunrise and sunset, to the utterly stark harshness of its brilliantly lit desert walls at high noon.
Many of the national park’s trails head into the backcountry by going up and down steep canyon sides, offering fantastic adventures for backpackers. That’s not so great for families, especially with small children, though, who often find themselves limited to the crowded paved rim trails. Still, a small segment of any of those backcountry trails can be done as a day hike.
Following the western side of the ridge that extends northeast of Grandview Point, the trail quickly descends into the canyon. Logs and cobblestones make up the trail’s base during many sections.Primary among them on the South Rim is the Grandview Trail. A segment of it can be done as a 2.2-mile round trip day hike, but you’ll need to be in shape, and any children with you should be on your back or possibly teenagers.
Hikers first pass through Kaibab Limestone, formed some 245 million years ago during the Permian Era. This 300-feet thick layer of white to yellow rock once sat at the bottom of a warm, shallow sea that was much like today’s Caribbean.
About 1.1 miles from the rim, you’ll reach the Coconino Saddle, having descended 790 feet. The rock here formed about 270 million year ago. The impressive view below is of the upper valley of Hance Creek. Given the elevation you must hike to reach the rim, this marks a good turnaround point for day hikers.
On the North Rim, the North Kaibab Trail is the only maintained trail into the canyon. Day hike about 500 feet down in elevation, which alone is a steep trail at a high altitude covering about a 1.5-mile round trip. Children again will have to be on your back or older teens.
The trail descends from a montane forest, consisting of aspen, Douglas fir and ponderosa pine, into Roaring Springs Canyon. Meltwater flowing down this side canyon feeds the Colorado River.
As the trail winds downward, you’ll have gone about 500 feet below the rim in 0.75 miles of walking. At that point is the Coconino Overlook, where an excellent view of Roaring Springs Canyon awaits.
Turning back at the overlook is a good idea for day hikers. If early in the day, you may want to consider going a little farther down to the Supai Tunnel. A man-made passageway through the rock, reaching the tunnel makes for a 1.8-mile hike and about 1440 feet below the rim. Go ahead and walk through the small tunnel to see the looming cliffs with pinyon and juniper ahead.
Some other backcountry trails that you can shorten into great family day hikes include:
- South Kaibab Trail segment – On the South Rim, take the Kaibab Trail Route shuttle bus to the trailhead, which is east of the village and south of Yaki Point. While the trail goes for up to six miles round trip, you may want to shorten this steep walk by stopping after 0.75 miles (for 1.5 miles round trip) at Ooh-ahh Point, which is less than 200 feet below the rim. At the point, you round Yaki Point for a suddenly expansive view of the eastern canyon.
- Ken Patrick Trail – A short segment of this 10-mile (one-way) trail on the North Rim can be done through a forested area. About a mile from the North Kaibab parking lot, you’ll reach the junction for the Uncle Jim Trail; turn back here for a two-mile round trip. For families with older teens, you might consider extending the hike by taking part of the Uncle Jim route. A lollipop trail, combined with the Ken Patrick it runs 5 miles through woodland to Uncle Jim Point, a canyon overlook.
- Widforss Trail – Walk about a half-mile through aspen groves to the North Rim’s edge for a one-mile round trip. You’ll find that this trail is much less busy than those in the lodge area or those at the end of Cape Royal Road. The walk can be extended for several miles; if going the full length, the Widforss runs up to five miles one way with 350 feet in elevation change.