Our Family Tradition: The Grand Canyon In Autumn

family adventure grand canyon national park

2009, en route to Phantom Ranch.

brave ski mom logoAs shocking as it may sound, our family’s favorite outdoor tradition has nothing, but nothing, to do with skiing. Instead, it has a lot to do with hiking and backpacking and spending time together, bonded and awed by the majesty of Grand Canyon National Park. 

Seven years ago we gave up on Thanksgiving Day. It’s a favorite holiday, but we decided, that rather than focusing one Thanksgiving day, we would take the entire week (thanks school district for the time off!) and have a Thanksgiving Adventure. Goodbye crowded grocery stores. Goodbye hot stove. We loaded up our car and took our sons to Grand Canyon National Park.

Perfect. That Thanksgiving was perfect. We hiked, read books, relaxed and visited the Park’s historic galleries. We watched birds and mountain goats, drank hot chocolate on the veranda at El Tovar and played games. We ate our Thanksgiving dinner among fellow travelers in a gorgeous dining room with breathtaking views and a cozy fire. The weather was cold, yet we took long hikes into the canyon on three different trails. Driving home, we realized that, in this single trip, we had the makings of a memorable family tradition.

blue sky blue jay grand canyon

Go Back In Time

Late autumn is a special time to visit the Grand Canyon. The summer crowds are gone and the temperatures can be cold (we’ve even awoken to snow). But the skies are often clear blue, the trails are lightly trod and the Canyon lies in peace. While the deciduous trees at the rim have lost their leaves, the cottonwoods partway down at Indian Garden are golden with fall color. At the river, summer has these trees still in hold. One of the things we love most about hiking below the Canyon rim in fall is that each step down is a step back in geologic and seasonal time.

phantom ranch fall

Backpacking to Phantom Ranch

backpacking grand canyonWe’ve returned to Grand Canyon National Park at Thanksgiving every other year since that first visit. It truly is our family tradition. On one of our “off” years, we arrived the week after Thanksgiving and backpacked to Phantom Ranch on the Colorado River. Our sons were in 5th and 7th grade at that time and they didn’t miss a step. They beat us to the camp by 30 minutes and were lying in the sun with their shoes off when we arrived. Two days later, we were back in winter, heads bent against a frigid breeze as we topped the rim. After cleaning up and bundling up, we headed to the dining room at El Tovar for a cozy meal next to the fire. It wasn’t a Thanksgiving dinner, but we still gave thanks – for each other, for the journey we’d just completed together and for this amazing place we’ve come to love.

When You Go…

Autumn is a beautiful time to visit the Grand Canyon whether you go in September, October or November. The North Rim is higher in elevation than the South Rim, making it cooler in the warmer months, but closed after mid-October. While Thanksgiving weekend on the South Rim is crowded compared to other fall weekends, it still is much less busy than summer.

Even if you do find yourself at the Grand Canyon during a busy time, take a hike. We’ve been told by Park Rangers that only a tiny fraction of visitors ever venture even 100 yards below the rim. The trails are well-maintained and well-signed. You will need to carry water no matter what season you visit, but if your kids can hike even a mile, this is a journey you won’t want to miss.

Enjoy! (And Happy Thanksgiving!)

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Portions of this post originally published at Women’s Adventure on October 22, 2012. 

© 2013, Kristen Lummis. All rights reserved. Any use or publication of content, including photos, requires express permission.