We spent pretty much an entire day driving from our hotel near Zion National Park to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I had organized for us to stay at Kachina Lodge in the small village located inside the national park. It was a little pricier than staying outside of the park at such a busy time, but I figured we wanted to be able to spend as much time as possible taking in those amazing canyon views so staying right there in the heart of the park was the best bet. There's nothing like walking outside first thing in the morning and seeing the Grand Canyon stretched out in front of you. Having a room with a canyon view would've been even better, but as it was I booked the last available room (literally, the only one left!) so a room with no view was better than no room at all.
As we made our way through the park to the village we stopped a couple of times to take in our first sight of the Grand Canyon. The girls were pretty impressed but they still didn't really comprehend just how big the Grand Canyon really is.
By the time we arrived at the village to check into our accommodation it was early evening and we were all keen to get out of the car for the rest of the day. Unfortunately we had a little problem. Despite the fact that we had accommodation booked, the park was so incredibly busy there were no parking spaces available anywhere near our lodge. We drove around and around for quite some time getting more and more frustrated at the lack of parking. The kids were tired, hungry and sick of being in the car, and it was starting to get dark. We found a few parking spaces about a half hour walk away from the lodge, but with small children, luggage, and the fact that nocturnal wildlife was starting to appear we decided to keep trying our luck for something a little closer. Seriously, the mountain lion warning signs freaked me out more than a little! Finally, a parking space a five minute walk away from our lodge became available just as we were about to give up and drive back to parks further away. It seriously took us close to an hour to find a parking space. Right then and there we swore that, as much as we love visiting national parks, our next vacation would be city based and car free!
Finding a parking space and getting everything into our room was just the first tricky thing. Next up we had to try and get a table at one of the restaurants in the village. With all of the accommodation at full capacity (plus day visitors staying for dinner) getting something to eat was no mean feat. All of the restaurants were full and had a line of people waiting for a table. We were told it would probably be an hour wait. The kids were tired and grumpy, but after a day of eating snacks in the car we needed to sit down and eat real food. So while Kim waited in line I took the girls to the gift shop to buy fridge magnets and squish some pennies in the penny squisher. Kim called to say that a table became available sooner than expected (I think the staff took pity on our hungry kids) so we headed back to the restaurant - in a flurry of snow! Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that it was frickin' freezing! Despite being cold, the girls were pretty excited about the fact that it was snowing, even if they couldn't really see any of the snow in the dark.
By the time we ate dinner it was close to 10pm and all three girls ended up falling asleep at the table. We made it back to our lodge without being eaten by mountain lions and everyone crashed out for a much needed big sleep.
The next morning I woke up shortly before sunrise, threw on as many clothes as possible and headed out into the chilly air to watch the sunrise over the canyon. Or, at least, that was my plan. Mathilde woke just as I was sneaking out of the room and by the time I got her back to sleep the sun was up. It was still nice to spend a little time taking in the golden glow by myself at the canyon's edge even if I had missed the main event.
By the time I got back to our room everyone else was awake. It just so happened that it was April Fool's Day and I had placed a note under out door to prank the girls. Ava seemed a little concerned that the Grand Canyon had flooded as mentioned in the note but she soon remembered that it was April Fool's Day!
With the kids pranked and everyone showered and dressed we headed out for breakfast and our first proper look at the Grand Canyon as a family. Only Ava had gotten out of the car to look the day before so it was all new to Lola and Mathilde. Well, I can safely say that all of the stress from the night before was worth it when those little girls saw the Grand Canyon properly for the first time. The girls were in awe of just how big the canyon is and wondered how long it would take to walk down to the bottom. Mathilde being the little daredevil that she is, was keen to try and climb down! Trust me, I had a firm grip on her in the photo below as I didn't quite trust her to stay put. I always joke that she's half mountain goat and half monkey due to her climbing skills, but there are some places, like the Grand Canyon, where I'm not going to let her test out her climbing skills!
When we visit National Parks Ava and Lola like to take part in the Junior Ranger program. If you're not familiar with it, the Junior Ranger program is a fantastic way for children to learn a little more about national parks. Each child is given a book of activities to complete (the number they must complete varies by age) and once they're done they're sworn in by a real park ranger and given a special badge. Ava and Lola are accruing quite a few badges from our visits to national parks and I love that this is a special souvenir that they get to take home. Mathile has to wait until she's a little older before she can join in, although she was able to take part in the recent centenary celebrations and earn herself a badge.
Anyway, the girls completed the activities in their Junior Ranger books while we took in the views. We then tracked down a ranger who swore them in and gave them their newest badges.
We spent most of our time at the Grand Canyon close to the village. I would've loved to have taken the girls for a hike into the canyon but we had limited time there and Mathilde wasn't keen on being carried. She wanted to walk everywhere and I just didn't trust her to not walk off the edge! Plus the girls were pretty happy to just take in the views from the top - especially when they found telescopes to look through.
It was a pretty cool day but the sun was really bright which means we have an awful lot of photos of us all squinting! Well, not Kim and I, as we wore sunglasses (most of the time), but the kids were pretty squinty. Note to self... always have sunglasses for the kids on hand. Oh, and remember to tie everyone's hair back because it gets pretty windy at the Grand Canyon. Of course, you can guarantee I won't remember these things next time either!
While the views were amazing, the thing that really captured the girls imagination was an area full of small rocks and the occasional fossil. The girls spent a really long time here sorting through rocks hoping to discover some sort of treasure. We did actually find a few very sharp rocks that look like they may have been arrowheads. They probably weren't but it's fun to think they were. After sorting through small rocks the girls then took to stacking larger rocks on top of each other. They would've happily stayed doing this for hours if we'd let them, but by now it was mid afternoon and we needed to be on our way to our last stop, Hoover Dam, on our way back to Las Vegas.
We will definitely back back to visit the Grand Canyon more in the future. Have you taken your kids to the Grand Canyon? Have you been there on your own, without kids? You can see mine and Kim's visit to both the North Rim and South Rim of the Grand Canyon back in 2005 here. It was definitely a different experience to visiting with small children!