Family-Friendly Road Trip: Grand Canyon Trail

27 October 2016

It might take slightly more planning and practice, but a family road trip is a unique and enriching journey. Few other holidays provide the same amount of sights, experiences, bonding and tricks to keep everyone from going stir-crazy.

Not just any old drive can be called a road trip. Both the start and finish should be enticing, and there needs to be stops along the way that provide deeper appreciation for the region. There will be hiccups and tantrums (not just from the kids), but also moments of true happiness and discovery. Here is one journey that is certain to provide the latter and a few tips to help minimise the former.

Grand Canyon Trail, USA

Approx. 1,304 kilometres

Mother Nature would approve of this road trip. From Phoenix, Arizona, up to Park City, Utah, sits a collection of the USA's most revered natural sights, including the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell and Zion National Park.

Days 1- 2: Phoenix, Arizona

Don't rush from Arizona's capital city. Spend the first two days organising a hire vehicle and supplies, and enjoying Phoenix's family-friendly attractions. Venture downtown to the Children's Museum of Phoenix, which invokes the imagination and creativity with 300-plus interactive experiences. Keep everyone's legs stretched with a walk down Roosevelt Row Arts District (RoRo), filled with street art, galleries, live music and restaurants.

Phoenix, Arizona. Spend some time in Phoenix before your road trip begins. Picture: Getty Images

Prepare for the open road (and driving on the opposite side) with a short trip down to Rawhide in Chandler, a replica 1800s frontier town with stunt shows, stagecoach rides, sundown cookouts and more Wild West mayhem.

The Hilton Phoenix Suites is a great place to bunk down. It has a convenient Midtown locale and offers affordable two-room suites and a swimming pool.

Days 3-4: Grand Canyon National Park

Cross the vast and breathless Arizona desert, passing the ghost town of Bumblebee in the Bradshaw Mountains. Sitting just off famous Route 66, Flagstaff has seen its fair share of travellers and knows how to accommodate with a range of quirky attractions. Visit the Lowell Observatory at 10am, 1pm or 4pm in time for one of the daily solar viewings, followed by the Wupatki National Monument, an underrated Native American ruin out in the Painted Desert.

The Wupatki National Monument in the USA's Painted Desert. Picture: Getty Images The Wupatki National Monument in the Painted Desert. Picture: Getty Images

From Flagstaff, you can take the I80 to pass Humphreys Peak, the highest natural point in Arizona, or Interstate 40, which turns north at Kaibab National Forest, a great stop for nature walks and a picnic.

The South Rim is the Grand Canyon's most accessible and frequented section. Park at the visitor centre and catch a free shuttle bus to the Grand Canyon Village and various scenic viewpoints or simply drive up to one of the many viewing areas. The Hermits Rest Route (nine viewing areas) and Kiabab Rim Route (three viewing areas) are usually available, with both dishing up gorgeous views of the Canyon in all directions.

The lodges at Grand Canyon National park, such as Phantom Ranch and Thunderbird Lodge, are all serviced by the free shuttle bus. Accommodation is also available in nearby Tusayan.


More USA inspiration:

Psychedelic geology: Beguiling Bryce Canyon

Sweet season: 5 Reasons To Fall For Lake Tahoe In Autumn

Good, clean fun: The Non-Sinner's Guide To Sin City


Days 5-6: Lake Powell

The drive to Lake Powell is short and relatively straightforward; the destination being its true highlight. The famed reservoir is dotted with sights such as Antelope Canyon, Wahweap Bay and Dangling Rope Marina.

 Dangling Rope Marina at Lake Powell, USA. Picture: Getty Images Dangling Rope Marina at Lake Powell. Picture: Getty Images

Stop off in Page, which has a large supermarket and the John Wesley Powell Memorial Museum, before drifting out on to the water in a houseboat. Houseboating is the best way to experience Lake Powell, with a range of luxurious and affordable vessels available from Wahweap Marina. Having your beds, kitchen, and activities in one place makes life much easier.

A houseboat also grants the freedom to tailor your own Lake Powell itinerary with fishing, water sports, picnics and stops at any of the 96 major side canyons. Or just rent a boat for the day and take to the water with water skis or tube in tow and splash out around the stunning scenery.

Day 7: Zion National Park

You've now officially entered Utah, where the subtle changes in environment and roadside towns offer a refreshing change of pace. The first stop is Zion National Park in Springdale, an enormous piece of ancient history and nature home to unique plants, animals and stories harking back to pioneer times.

The Wildcat Trail in Zion National Park, USA. Picture: Getty Images The Wildcat Trail in Zion National Park. Picture: Getty Images

Short and long hiking trails let visitors explore most of the park. The Wildcat Canyon Trail is both rewarding with deep canyon views, and feasible at a length of 9.3 kilometres. Ranger-led activities, such as walks, shuttle tours and informative talks, are better for those wanting a more guided experience.

Stay on site in a lodge or at one of two luxurious villas, most of which have kitchen facilities, multiple bedrooms and canyon views.

Day 8: Bryce Canyon National Park

Top off your national parks checklist with Bryce Canyon, a short drive from Zion and home to some of the most fascinating rock formations in the world. Stop by the visitor centre first for maps, exhibits and information on the park.

The view of Bryce Canyon from Sunrise Point. Picture: Getty Images Take in the view of Bryce Canyon from Sunrise Point. Picture: Getty Images

There are four main viewpoints – Sunrise, Sunset, Inspiration and Bryce – that can all be reached via car. Hiking the canyon trail or canyon rim also reveals the various hoodoos (odd-shaped pillars of rock). Bryce Canyon has ranger programs available during certain months that incorporate astronomy, full-moon hikes, family-friendly activities and geology talks.

Opt for nearby B&B or hotel accommodation to maximise your sightseeing time. Check with hotels for vacation packages, which combine lodging with guided tours on quad bikes, horses or mountain bikes.

Days 9-10: Park City, Utah

The five-hour ride from Bryce Canyon to Park City includes some of Utah's quirkier roadside attractions. In Fillmore, one resident has sculptures made from dead desert wood in his front yard; there's a fort constructed from volcanic rock in Cove Fort; and Midway has a beehive-shaped rock dome called The Homestead Crater, with tunnel access and a geothermal spring.

Park City, Utah. Park City is awesome in any season. Picture: Getty Images

Although Park City is primarily viewed as a winter destination, the city is in fact a year-round playground for young and seasoned travellers. Main Street is the epicentre of shopping, restaurants, ghost tours, art galleries and accommodation. If you're in town over the weekend, don't miss the Park Silly Sunday Market, which features clowns, face painting and more entertaining silliness.

Park City's slice of the Rocky Mountains isn't wasted. Skiing and sledding are as popular in winter as hiking, hot-air ballooning, fly fishing and river rafting are during the warmer months. It's why this city is the perfect garnish to your journey through America's adventurous outdoors.


Visit your local Flight Centre store or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest deals on travelling to the USA.


Ben Stower

I love the kind of travelling that is one part strategic planning and two parts spontaneous adventure. Whether I'm exploring my local city or a small town in the middle of nowhere, I'm always hoping to find something no one else has discovered.