Review of North Rim Family Hiking Adventure at the Grand Canyon
by Katie Beltramo
Our family spent our first morning at the Grand Canyon getting an excellent introduction to the place on a North Rim Family Hiking Adventure led by Grand Canyon Field Institute guide Kathleen "Keek" Mensing.
When we planned our visit, we knew that we didn't want to just take a quick peek at the view of this most remarkable wonder of the natural world from the rim. Believe it or not, about 90% of visitors to the Grand Canyon never take a step below its rim; but with almost 5 million visitors per year, that still leaves plenty of people to compete for limited space on mule rides, rafting trips, and lodging at the floor of the canyon. So I was excited to find space in a half-day hike from the Grand Canyon Field Institute, and I was downright shocked to learn that our guide often has space for last-minute additions for this every-weekday hike. So even if you didn't quite plan ahead, try to make reservations anyway! This terrific opportunity is available because the North Rim Family Hiking Adventure program is a relatively new one, only in its second season when we went, and still growing and evolving. We met our guide and fellow hikers at North Rim's General Store, which was just a few minutes' walk from our campsite.
After brief introductions, Keek led us along the Transcept Trail, which is not near the edge of the canyon at all, but through the forested area around the campground. I actually loved this part. It was terrific to have Keek pointing out so many interesting details about the area where we'd been hanging out, not noticing much at all. THIS is why I love having a guide: because they open my eyes to so much that I wouldn't have seen without help. Did I just say "open my eyes"? Keek didn't just have us looking and listening: At one point, she directed us to press our noses right into the crevices of the thick bark of a Ponderosa Pine to smell its vanilla-cookie scent as she explained how the huge trees resist fire. As we strolled along, we loved learning about the Kaibab squirrel, a white-tailed squirrel who lives only among the Ponderosas along the North Rim, examining the lupines and other wildflowers, and finding nests and other signs of wildlife.
We looped back and headed toward the canyon's edge to begin our trek down the North Kaibab Trail. We made our way down the trail, a sun-drenched, sometimes rocky path with switchbacks to ease the steep descent. Along the way we encountered many other hikers as well as mules and riders. Keek continued to point out things we wouldn't notice, like fossils in rocks that had been transported to maintain the trail.
We wandered for about a mile down the trail until we reached the Coconinio Overlook. Here we stopped for a break to drink some water and eat a snack before heading back up. The overlook also offered an excellent vantage point to observe the canyon as Keek explained its geological history. On our way back up the trail, we learned about some interesting characters in the canyon's history. My girls particularly enjoyed hearing about the family who lived way down at the bottom of the canyon, where the kids operated a lucrative lemonade stand.
More About the Grand Canyon Association
The Grand Canyon Association is the nonprofit organization that partners with the Grand Canyon National Park, raising private funds to help support the park and its operations in a variety of ways and providing education about the natural and cultural history of the region through classes and outings. Together, GCA and the National Park Service "identify priority projects that will enhance the visitor experience and provide them with interpretive and educational resources," such as providing upgrades to outdated ranger equipment, like the new walkie-talkies that a ranger mentioned to our group when we met him on our hike. As part of its mission, GCA operates the Grand Canyon Field Institute, which provides learning opportunities at the Grand Canyon including our tour as well as backpacking, wilderness skills, natural and cultural history, photography, yoga, and more.
Who'll Love It?
The North Rim Family Hiking Adventure is recommended for ages 8 and up, and the group varies depending on who, exactly, shows up. On the day of our visit, Keek murmured that sometimes the "family hiking adventure" is more of a "leisurely retiree stroll," and she was right. Our nature-loving younger daughter loved all of the in-depth explanations and opportunities to learn more, while my older daughter was impatient to hike a little faster. If you and your family love a good nature hike, you'll absolutely love this one. If you or your family are less enthusiastic, you might aim for a shorter ranger program. If you're hiking on your own with children, Keek particularly recommends the Cliff SpringsTrail, which she says is easy with opportunities for waterplay. She'll often include this one when she spends a whole day on a Meet the Canyon Family Hiking Adventure.
Tips to Make the Most of Your Visit
- Plan to bring about 1 liter of water per person and pack some salty snacks to bring along.
- From morning in the forest to high noon on a sunny trail, the temperature varies quite a bit. Be sure to layer your clothes and leave room in your daypack for clothes that have been shed.
- Don't forget sun protection.
- There's an opportunity for one well-timed bathroom break at the North Kaibab Trail trailhead. I'd also suggest a "bathroom emergency pack": store a whole stack of baby wipes and several large, sealable plastic bags in another plastic bag and keep it in the Mom Daypack always.
- Your volunteer guide won't accept tips, but if you'd like to show your appreciation, you can donate directly to the Grand Canyon Association.
Our hiking adventure helped us to recognize and appreciate so many natural wonders during our visit to the Grand Canyon, and our guide, Keek, was knowledgeable and friendly. Based on our experience, I'd highly recommend Grand Canyon Field Institute's programs, the proceeds of which all go to support enhancing the experience for all visitors to this amazing national treasure.
Starting places depend on the activity that you book. Our tour began at the General Store at the North Rim Campground.