Family trip to Grand Canyon area: advice?
January 9, 2021 5:28 PM   Subscribe

Hi - we (40s parents plus active 9 and 7 yr old boys) are going to visit the Four corners area (NM,AZ,UT,CO) in the second part of August this year. We are flying into Albuquerque and renting a truck and trailer style camper. Out trip is ten days and the only definite is seeing the Grand Canyon. What advice do you have?

I found this thread from last year and this one from 2016, and am making my way through the advice there. I am especially looking for hidden gems, best food, and things young boys would like. This will be my first time camping with a camper like this, so any advice regarding that for this locale is appreciated. For instance, can we take it into some of these parks and camp there?

Thank you for your time!
posted by cgs to Travel & Transportation around Arizona (11 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
It's far away from literally everything, but Carlsbad Caverns is my absolute favorite National Park, and if you can swing getting there, imo it's a can't miss. There's a stalagmite shaped like a boob! Your boys will love it.
posted by phunniemee at 6:05 PM on January 9 [2 favorites]

North Rim of the Grand Canyon is generally considered better (and quieter/less crowded) than the South Rim. That said, reservations are near impossible for the North Rim (12-18 months in advance sometimes for the cabins). At a time like this, though, it can't hurt to try. Also, I don't know what reservations look like for when you have a camper.
posted by Meldanthral at 6:34 PM on January 9 [2 favorites]

I'll second this from the 2016 thread: "From Flagstaff, it's less than an hour to Sedona, go via Oak Creek Canyon, it's an absolutely gorgeous route through red rocks." Having a camper behind me would make me a *little* nervous on those winding mountain roads but people do it all the time so it should be fine.

You could easily make an entire day or more out of just Sedona, with all the shopping, dining, and hiking opportunities around there. But give yourself at least half a day there.

Also seconded from the 2016 thread: Walnut Canyon. Beautiful and secluded-feeling (at least when I went). Lots and lots of steps, though.

Weather will affect your plans in a *big* way in Arizona in August. Even at the highest elevations, hiking in the afternoon will likely be unpleasant at best (unsafe at worst). Look up historical temps and plan accordingly.
posted by commander_fancypants at 6:37 PM on January 9

I have done a few of those loops in an RV with active kids about that age. I actually commented on one of those threads, but we've been back since. Three trips total - one phoenix round trip, one CA - NV, one el paso round trip. Our trips were in the winter, and that can make a huge difference, so I would check on how these things are in the summer first.

With 10 days - starting / ending in Albequerque and going to the Grand Canyon is going to be a long haul no matter what you do. Google says the direct round trip is ~12 hours, so here are some things I think you could add without it being all travel all the time. It basically takes you on a north / direct route in one direction and a south / less direct route in the other direction

White Sands. Amazing. Buy the sleds and wax from the NPS store, kids can go dune sledding. If you're bringing bikes you can actually tow them behind a bike on a sled. It's like nothing else. May be too hot in August, it's blinding white.

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park. If the hiking trails are open, they appear to be closed right now. If it's open and the same, should be manageable in summer - hiking in a river canyon.

World's Largest Pistachio. Basically a roadside shop / attraction, but the store is great and it's fun for kids, so stop if it's on your way somewhere.

Slide rock state park, as mentioned earlier. Likely amazing in summer. Sedona.

An Airplane Boneyard. If one is on your way. Not sure if you can get in or not, I think we went by the kingman one and it was still cool from the outside.

If you want to go all the way to the NV / AZ border, or further:

Valley of Fire state park. Amazing, under-rated, like 40 minutes from las vegas but it feels like you're in the middle of nowhere.

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary If they are animal types. We stayed in one of their RV sites; good tour, and the entire area is really neat. We did a bunch of cliff scrambling and such.

Zion national park. In-park camping was great.

Antelope canyon, if it's open.

One of our kids is a rock climber, so we did a bunch of rock climbing (guided and unguided). We did family canyoneering with red desert adventure near zion, which I'd absolutely recommend for all ages and skill levels.

Carlsbad caverns would be fantastic in the heat of summer. I've heard good things about Kartchner caverns, which might be more on the way.

Hoover dam as well, if your kids like huge mechanical things.

Homolovi state park is a good place to camp, really nice view of the stars and such and right on the route between AZ and NM.

Places I'd recommend with caveats

Petrified Forest. It was...fine, but it's kind of out of the way and the kids interest lasted basically zero minutes. It's going to be right on your way so you should stop, I just wouldn't go out of my way.

Horseshoe bend. It's amazing, it's fantastic, if you have active kids your entire time will be spent worrying that they are going to trip and fall in. Not worth it.

Feel free to memail me with any questions, even thinking about someone else's future travel is a good change of pace right now.
posted by true at 6:59 PM on January 9 [5 favorites]

From ABQ? 40 west to Gallup, then head up to Monument Valley. Thence to Page, and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. From there you can head up to Zion, Bryce, and Utah Highway 12, which is the most scenic damn thing on the planet.

Depending on time, you can maybe catch Arches, or head over to Colorado and take 50/550 down through the San Juans. Even if you only stop at a couple things (and honestly, any one of the things I mentioned could occupy an easy week, and I skipped a LOT), Southern Utah is hell of awesome. I've probably spent four months of vacations in the greater Four Corners area, and even when I'm coasting, I find new stuff.

Middle of August is the only thing that gives me pause. Absolutely North over South Rim. 1000' in elevation gives you at least five, maybe ten degrees cooler. You might want to concentrate on higher elevation things like Bryce, maybe the San Juans, just to keep from boiling. I'd also recommend maybe planning trying to do sunrises and sunsets, and take long naps in the afternoon.

Also, take way more water than you think you need. Like, everyone has a quart Nalgene or a bladder pack with them, any time they leave the vehicle. Keep at least five gallons of fresh water in the truck, and keep that reserve topped off any chance you get.
posted by notsnot at 7:02 PM on January 9 [2 favorites]

I loved the North Rim & stayed in the Kaibab National Forest campground just outside the park. Trailers and RVs are welcome too; you can reserve online now through It snowed there in June, brr, so bring a parka, hat & gloves. There’s a lodge within walking distance where you can get hot meals & a coffee truck called Meadow’s Edge with yummy treats in the morning. I also recommend the national monuments nearby! The Utah national parks & state parks are so cool & close. The drives themselves are amazing. Let me know if you have any more specific questions about places.

P.S. The North Rim was recommended to me in that Metafilter thread so I’m glad to second that!
posted by smorgasbord at 7:55 PM on January 9

Mesa Verde in south west Colorado is something to see at least once in your lifetime.
posted by SLC Mom at 9:54 PM on January 9 [3 favorites]

Consider planning your trip so you can visit as many National Parks as possible – your family might be eligible for a free pass if one of your kiddos is a 4th or 5th grader this year. Here are some of the great sites that form a nice big loop around the 4 corners region (not all are Nat'l Parks):
• Canyon de Chelly (pronounced Shay) – it’s much less trafficked than the Grand Canyon and the view overlooking Spider Rock is breathtaking
• Monument Valley
• Antelope Canyon
• North Rim of the Grand Canyon
• Zion
• Bryce Canyon
• Arches
• Mesa Verde
posted by kbar1 at 11:20 PM on January 9 [1 favorite]

Goblin Valley is one of my favorite spots--and the main area is perfect for kids to run around in for a while--and even in August you can have cold, rain, and 100+ degrees in the same day. Goblin Valley at night with a full moon is super fun as well.

Others have mentioned this, but pay attention to the weather conditions. Not sure if you have experience in the SW, but a little prevention, water, hats, etc, go a long way towards keeping things pleasant. One summer my brother just used an umbrella most of the time he was hiking, it was brilliant, and he looked pretty stylish. Any time you go into a national or state park, ask the rangers about warnings and weather.
posted by th3ph17 at 11:51 PM on January 9

Slide Rock State Park in Arizona has a natural water slide that was a fun and memorable stop as a kid on a road trip in that area. The slide was really slippery!
posted by abeja bicicleta at 4:12 AM on January 10

We did a similar trip coming from DC. We got to Mesa Verde and decided to spend extra time there. I still haven't been to the Grand Canyon. We hit Santa Fe, Arches, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Durango-Silverton railroad.

When I do this again as an adult, I'd visit Canyon de Chelly.
posted by MichelleinMD at 7:42 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]

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