Explore AZ {Grand Canyon National Park}

I’m still trying to wrap my mind around it. I stood there on the edge. I stared. I blinked once. Twice. Over and over. Still days later, I can’t wrap my mind around what I saw. I’m not the only one. Surrounded by so many people and more languages than I could count, we all were trying to take it in. To grasp the rugged beauty stretching before us.

The Grand Canyon. (that is Chris on the left)

4.16GrandCanyon-04We woke the kids up at 4:30am, bundled them in blankets and headed to a lookout to watch the sunrise. The kids know sunrise is my favorite time of day and my favorite time to experience a new place. I don’t ask them often to join me, but they are always up for it when I do. On this particular day it was bitter cold. They are troopers.

4.16GrandCanyon-014.16GrandCanyon-024.16GrandCanyon-03After getting some more sleep and warming up our cold bones, we headed back to hike in the canyon. 4.16GrandCanyon-054.16GrandCanyon-06Around a bend we came across hard working mules. It was incredibly cool until we asked what they were carrying – empty coolers and trash left behind in the canyon. We are always telling the kids to leave no trace, what you pack in – you pack out, etc. Seeing this come up the trail made a huge impact and brought to life why it is so important to leave no trace.4.16GrandCanyon-074.16GrandCanyon-08I switched between my 28mm, 50mm, and 85mm lenses while we hiked. I have a little backpack that carries all the lenses. It also holds my camera, but I typically just hike with my camera in my hand. I have primarily been using my 28mm lens as we hike in the national parks – so much to capture, I like having my wide angle. I’m trying to remind myself to get a few close ups of the kids with my 85mm too. The 50mm is getting the least amount of use.4.16GrandCanyon-09I kept telling him not to hike with a pretzel rod hanging out of his mouth because he could fall and impel himself. He pointed out I was more worried about him getting hurt with a pretzel than I was him falling off a ledge. He was right. Don’t hike with pretzel rods.4.16GrandCanyon-114.16GrandCanyon-12I spent most of my time hiking behind the boys and enjoying the view – both the canyon and the fun of big kids.4.16GrandCanyon-13Goofballs. They were providing constant entertainment for me and fellow hikers. Did I mention hiking with big kids is pretty awesome? Chris and I would pass parents with babies in packs on their backs and we’d give each other a little fist pump. We did the baby-on-my-back hiking for a decade. Fist pumps all around for hiking with big kids!4.16GrandCanyon-144.16GrandCanyon-15This girl was determined to hike on her own. Chris carried her a couple times just to pick up the pace, but she would promptly demand to be put back down. She let us know she was a “real hiker, not a fake hiker.” We have no idea what a fake hiker is, but we know she is not one. 4.16GrandCanyon-164.16GrandCanyon-174.16GrandCanyon-18It snowed on our last day…4.16GrandCanyon-194.16GrandCanyon-204.16GrandCanyon-21Two days was enough for now, but not enough for good. We’ll go back when the girls are bigger. We’ll put our names in the pot for permits. We’ll hike down all the way. We’ll camp by the Colorado River. We’ll get on that same river. At least those are the dreams my boys walked away with…Chris and I will do our best to make those newly planted dreams a reality one day.

For those visiting the Grand Canyon for a couple days, here are my thoughts:

  • Mather Point is crazy at sunrise. I would drive up a little to one of the pull-outs on the way to the Desert View Visitor Center. I’d probably try one of these for sunset too. We went by the park ranger recommendation (Mather Point) and it was way too crowded for me. You can’t tell that in my pictures because I go to lengths to avoid extra people in my pics. The pull-outs to Desert View provided stunning views too.
  • Bright Angel Trail was a fun one. It is steep in parts if that makes you nervous. We just hiked until we felt like turning around.
  • Ooh-Ahh Point on South Kaibab Trail was a favorite of ours too. Pretty steep too.
  • If our girls were older – we would have gone further on all the trails. The boys really wanted to do an all day hike to the bottom of the canyon. We hope to come back and do the North Rim to South Rim hike.

We were only there for 2 days, so I know I only have a taste. For those of you that have visited before, please leave your thoughts and favorites in the comment section!




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  • TENN - My husband and I hiked rim to rim last September. We camped three nights along the way. It was a great experience. Getting permits is like winning the lottery. We tried many times under each of our names before we were successful. We traveled on the rim-to-rim van shuttle with several groups with two nights of reservations at Phantom Ranch. It was great ‘knowing’ people along the way even though we had different itineraries. The youngest person I saw was around 11 or 12 and she had no problem with the hike. Staying at Phantom Ranch helped their group as they did not have to carry camping gear.

    My suggestion is the head to North Rim next time even without hiking rim to rim. The crowds are smaller.

    Another alternative at South Rim is to apply to stay at the Indian Garden campground for a night or two. The Colorado River would be a more doable day trip with Indian Garden as your base. Many daytrippers walk down here and back in a day. We saw a couple with a small one in a backpack taking a rest here.

    Our next time, we will explore more on the rims.

  • Tracy DelliQuadri - Consider a visit to Havasupai, the very last tip of the Grand Canyon National Park. Havasu Falls is AMAZING, and you can swim in the travertine pools. There is a nice little campground. The Supai village is there too. There is a 12 mile hike from the falls down to the Colorado river. Our family went there once, hiked down on day 1 (and swam), Hiked to the confluence on day 2 (and swam), and hiked out on day 3. You can pay the Supai villagers to carry your packs out on horseback. Or, to beat the heat of the day, you could plan your trip around a full moon and hike out under the light of a full moon. :0) A gem of the Grand Canyon.

  • Kristen - Hi Ashley – Your photos are absolutely stunning and I’m sure the memories you are creating with your family are just priceless. Love following along on your adventures!

  • Jamie - I am LOVING all of your travel posts! Someday my gang and I will be able to visit some of these places as well. So cool. Anyway, I just wanted to throw out there that this past week PBS has done a series of programs on our national parks called “The National Parks|America’s Best Idea.” We missed a few episodes but will catch those online. The series was very informative and packed with history. It covered things about the history of the parks, naturalists and scientists who helped in preserving the parks, the politics and controversies behind the decisions to designate some of the parks, etc. Here’s a link: http://www.pbs.org/nationalparks/

  • Keilah - Oh how I love the Grand Canyon! My husband hikes it almost every year, and I have finally had the chance to join him, twice! I hope to go many more times. Last month we brought our oldest son (12 years old) for his first hike on the Tanner Trail, a 3 day trip to the river and back. I have so much I could say but I don’t want to write you a novel, so here are my quick tips:
    1- don’t hike in the summer! I’ve hiked in mid-march (it got a little chilly) and early November (beautiful!).
    2- Plan a day in between the big hikes in and out to rest, explore, and do part of the hike out.
    3- skip the freeze dried meals, yuck! We pack bagged chicken, thai noodle bowls, bagged salmon, instant mashed potatoes, ready cooked rice, tortillas, bagels, PB, oatmeal cups… And bring lots of salty snacks, that’s what you crave.
    4- Rough it on a more primitive trail and skip Phantom Ranch/Indian Gardens. The solitude is well worth it!
    4- If your itinerary allows it, leave water drops on the way down for your return trip up. The weight saved is invaluable!
    5- A Thermarest sleeping pad, or something similar, is a must for the adult hikers!!!
    6- Rough it on a more primitive trail and skip Phantom Ranch/Indian Gardens. Having the trail and campsites to yourselves (almost) is so worth it!
    After my first hike into the Canyon, I was like you; I knew I had to go back. Enjoy your continuous discoveries of that magical place!

  • Karen - My husband and I were there 18 years ago this summer right after we were married. We were only able to go to 2 points (and I don’t even remember which ones they were) but it was one of the most amazing things that I have ever seen. The beauty is breathtaking. I would love to go back and take our kids to see. Hopefully one day we will.

  • Maureen - Amazing, incredible photos. Thank you for sharing this!

  • Seamingly Sarah - It is beautiful! My husband hiked down and camped in the bottom once (between years of college) and it was pretty mind blowing. The vastness compared to the smallness of you, some feelings of being trapped too. He wrestled a bit with God down there. It’s cool to hear him talk about it.

    And the trash and coolers being carried out, yuck. I can’t stand litterers.

  • ellen patton - My parents met at the Grand Canyon in the 50’s. They were college students working there for the summer; my dad ran the dishwasher and my mom cleaned cabins. I’ve been before but am itching to get back. Your photos are fantastic!

  • susan - I’ve hiked a few times in the Grand Canyon area but haven’t hiked the whole way down to the canyon but it’s one of my favourite areas in the US. We now have two kids and our intent is to hike there again when they’re a bit older.
    An option to consider for an overnight hike with kids which isn’t as tough as the Grand Canyon but every bit as spectacular is to consider Havasu Canyon. It’s southwest of the Grand and belongs to the Supai Nation. You still need a permit so it isn’t as crowded but the hike to the bottom took us adults about 6 hrs with packs. You can have your pack muled in while you hike- good for smaller kids! You can also ride a mule in and out but the hike isn’t that touch. It’s mostly flat once you’re down the first bit.
    We went during the week and were hiking out on a Friday when there were piles of people hiking in. We were glad to have chosen mid-week.
    At the bottom, there is a “village” with a hotel but if you walk a further mile or so there is camping along the edge of a river. It has waterfalls and a mint green river all within the same red canyons. I had heard about it from a few people, including a friend who grew up in CO and NM and had it described as the most beautiful place ever by a few people. I was worried I’d be let down after the hype but it was more spectacular than I’d expected.
    We stayed 3 nights and there was lots to do in the canyon but we didn’t spend the three days doing serious hiking as you would in the Grand, just the kind of fun hiking kids enjoy, climbing up waterfalls, swinging from a rope swing into the river, light rock climbing and some gentler hikes.
    I can’t wait until our youngest son is big enough to tackle it! He’s the same age as your youngest.

  • Danielle - What a great looking hike! We went when we had just our boys a couple of years ago and it was so amazing. I am not sure what a trip would look like right now because we do not have all big kids anymore. I am still adjusting to having little ones. One day!

  • AshleyAnn - Susan – we wondered about Havasu Canyon! It looks like we will just have to go back. Thanks for sharing that with me (us!)

  • AshleyAnn - Danielle – big kids sure are different on hikes than little ones!

  • Sherry Cartwright - My husband and I visited the Grand Canyon for the first time together right after we married 15 years ago. This summer, we are taking our two kiddos to visit Grand Canyon and are camping three days there. After seeing your photos, I really cannot wait!