Grand Canyon National Park
It's almost a physics principle, the nature of all things. Put hiker at the base of a mountain, and hiker dreams of standing on the peak. Put hiker at the top of a canyon, and hiker wants to get to the bottom of it all.
But the Grand Canyon is deep and wide and long. It descends from pleasant forest land to scorching desert. You'll want to do your foot exploration of the canyon in stages, taking it easy before taking on greater challenges. The point is not to survive the experience with nothing to remember but grueling physical hardship; the point is to have a good time getting to know the canyon. This is your vacation, not an endurance test.
So take a couple of rim hikes, where the terrain gently undulates and the air stays relatively cool. The Rim Trail beats the Grand Canyon Village's auto congestion hands down, and you might find some isolation as well as very different terrain on the rim trails of the North Rimthe Widforss, Ken Patrick, and Uncle Jim. Then forget your hiking snobbery and take a day hike along the Bright Angel Trailit's one of the greats. The Grandview Trail, a moderately strenuous day hike to a wooded mesa, is a good next step.
When hiking with children, keep it short and fun, especially if they haven't already done a lot of hiking. Hiking along the rim and the Bright Angel are both recommended. (Hint: you don't have to do the whole thing.) The hike from Hermit's Rest to Dripping Springs is another short hike below the South Rim popular with older kids.
A good rule of thumb for canyon hikes is that it will take you twice as long to get back up as it took you to get down. So if you head out on the Bright Angel Trail and reach the Three Mile Resthouse after an hour, count on it taking two to get back. If you have children along, add another hour on top of that.
Permits are not required for day hikes below the rim. To get out and back safely on time; stick to the trail and bring plenty of water (one gallon per person per day). Interesting fact: Most of the park's life-threatening emergencies are day hikers who are unprepared and less experienced than backpackers heading out for at least overnight. And pick up some pointers on keeping a cool head.
Unless you're kicking back at the Phantom Lodge, all overnight trips below the rim require an backcountry permit.
Want to learn more about the trails? The detailed trail description page includes description of the major trails along with a locator map.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication