How Tara Rock and her family of three packed in the quintessential sights and experiences of the Grand Canyon in one long weekend. Words and photos by Teva Explorer Tara Rock.
When the idea of going on a family trip to Grand Canyon National Park first came up, I was flooded with memories of my first childhood road trip to the park. I had flashbacks of minivans, driving, lots of driving, camcorder recordings, film cameras snapping, old music playing on the radio, my family bickering, my family laughing, and eventually peering over the rim at the Grand Canyon and seeing it painted in a rainbow of reds and oranges. Planning a visit to the Grand Canyon for the centennial brought back a lot of those silly, random nostalgic memories and I wanted to relive those moments I had as a kid on vacation. So we packed up our camping gear, camcorder (yeah, I bought it right before our trip just so I could have the same kind of 8mm footage I had as a kid), camera, a lot of diapers, a few pairs of Teva sandals, and headed for the canyon.
Nostalgic style family portrait at the Grand Canyon for the photo books.
This was our first trip together as a family since Otis was born so it made this trip extra special. As usual, my sister and her boyfriend joined us on our little adventure (they’re pretty much the only other people that will travel with me!). We had one long weekend to make the most of our Grand Canyon National Park adventure but I feel like we packed in a lot in such a short time. I imagine a lot of families are faced with this dilemma too—limited time. Here’s the rundown for a quick weekend at the canyon.
We decided to fly into the Phoenix Airport and drive up to the canyon through the South Rim. We could have also flown into the Flagstaff Airport (which is the closest airport to the canyon) but decided not to based on cost and timing. We also needed to pick up our campervan in the Phoenix area (more about that later). The drive from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon usually takes about three and a half hours but we stopped in Flagstaff to grab groceries before we headed to the canyon. It also helped break up the drive and gave me time to nurse Otis in-between. The few times I have been to the canyon there has always been an additional 20-30 minute wait at the entrance (it is the second most frequented park in the country!) There were a lot of people going into the park!
Finding lodging or a camping spot in the national park can be tricky when you’re booking a last-minute trip (that’s kind of my style). All of the hotel lodgings in the park were booked for the weekend so we sought out a camping spot at Mather Campgrounds (the campground closest to the South Rim entrance). Luckily, there was a cancellation and we were able to score a spot. There is another campground called Desert View about 45 minutes from the South Rim but it would have been an inconvenient driving distance for our limited timeline. After our trip, I heard camping at the North Rim is a lot more liberal and you can get right up to the edge of the canyon. I hope we can go back and get a little more adventurous next time! In addition to our tent set up, we rented a campervan to make our trip more comfortable. I thought it would be better for a 7-month-old to snooze in. Unfortunately, the nights got down to the 30-degree-Fahrenheit range and Otis had a really hard time sleeping. I wouldn’t recommend camping with a baby in cold weather when they can’t regulate their body heat yet. That was a new parent, rookie move on our behalf. But we survived and having a campervan definitely made the trip more comfortable!
I had to do a lot of research to find the right campervan for us—there aren’t a lot of rental campervan companies in Arizona!—but we were able to score the perfect-sized van through Escape Campervan. It wasn’t one of those huge RV’s and was really manageable to drive. It had me dreaming about buying our own campervan so we could have never-ending adventures in it.
RIM TRAIL: This is the most common trail visitors will hike on their trip to the Grand Canyon. It is an easy, paved trail bordering the canyon. Although it is very crowded and quite easy to do, it will give you your quintessential view of the canyon. I recommend going at sunset when the sun lights up the canyon and all the colors are the most vibrant and beautiful shades you’ve ever seen. It’s totally worth the crowds.
Tyler, Tara, and Otis hike into the Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail. As part of Teva’s $100K for 100 Years campaign in partnership with the Grand Canyon Conservancy, our donation funds the restoration and maintenance of the Bright Angel Trail for future generations.
A gentle reminder for hikers to be mindful of the native habitats and leave them undisturbed.
BRIGHT ANGEL TRAIL: Right before our trip, Tyler’s friend told him, “You gotta get off the edge, man.” That sort of became the joke of the trip. But it also motivated us to get to the bottom of the canyon too. We were able to make the 9-mile round trip hike to Indian Garden at the bottom of the canyon, and back up in about 8 hours (that includes a few hours hanging out at the bottom for a while). I’ve never been to the bottom of the canyon so making it down was pretty special. I really wish we could have made it to Pipe Creek Beach and stick our toes into the Colorado River but we didn’t have enough time. I mean, after all, the Colorado River is where Teva was born! But next time we go to Grand Canyon National Park, I’d really like to hike down and camp overnight in the canyon. And I know that’s going to require a lot more gear so we need to come prepared and in shape!
Taking a much-needed hiking break and stop to enjoy the view.
Tyler and I both wore our Hurricane XLT Alp sandals for the entire hike. It was worth all the red dirt crusted between our toes and toenails. Personally, I think they’re more comfortable than hiking shoes. I like when my toes can be free to breathe and wiggle around. And if anyone is worried about getting blisters, I didn’t get a single blister or have any issues on the 9-mile hike.
I don’t know if it’s because I’m a mom now but I have a lot of advice and warnings for people while they’re traveling to the Grand Canyon. Watch out for deer! On our way to the canyon, a deer ran into our van while we were on the road going 60 MPH. I almost avoided it but couldn’t hit on the gas hard enough and it clipped the backside of the van. Luckily, there wasn’t too much damage and we were all safe (deer included)!
Pictured: Original Universal in Boomerang White/ Grey.
Pictured: Original Universal in Boomerang White/ Grey.
Drink lots of water! While you’re hiking down into the canyon it gets really hot the further down you get. They have water at some of the rest stops but make sure you bring at least 3L of water for yourself! Bring food and energy bars too! Be safe! We saw a lot of people hopping the guardrail to “get the shot.” And although I equally love the idea of getting the best shot, I would never pass a “do not enter” sign at the Grand Canyon. Death isn’t worth a cool photo.
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