Trip Coach: April 8, 2008
Kurt Repanshek, author of "National Parks With Kids," answered your questions about vacations in the National Parks with (and without) children.
Camas, Wash.: Do you think hiking the Grand Canyon with an 8 year old is feasible? What other things would you recommend to do while at the Grand Canyon to keep our 8 year olds attention and enjoy the experience? Thank you!
Kurt Repanshek: Camas, not knowing your 8-year-old, in general I think hiking the Grand Canyon would be biting off more than they could chew and could be dangerous. Of course, I don't know what their ability is, what time of year you're planning to visit the canyon, which rim, and what you mean by "hiking" the Grand Canyon.
Certainly, walking along the South Rim Trail would be manageable and give your child some eye-popping views, and if you're lucky you might be able to spot some California condors flying along the rim. Perhaps a good hiking option would be to head down the South Kaibab Trail to Cedar Ridge. This hike is 1.5 miles one way and less than a 1,000 foot drop in elevation. It will certainly give you and your 8-year-old a much better perspective of the canyon than from the rim top. Just be sure to carry plenty of water and keep an eye on how your child is holding up to the hike.
Another fun thing for a child would be heading to Desert View and climbing to the top of the replica Watchtower they have there. You might also look into the offerings of the Grand Canyon Field Institute. It has some family classes that are a great way to learn about the canyon, its natural resources, and its ecology.
Boise, Idaho: I have been trying to plan online a multiple National Parks and Monuments tour. In addition we would like to find State Parks that offer outstanding facilities or historical information. All of the programs have been difficult and unwieldy. Do you have a suggestion for a good program that easily allows for changes in the routes, information on RV Camping Reservations, Senior Rates, individual park openings and closures, etc. We would like to leave here in about two weeks and tour a number of parks to the east of us. We have about six weeks and are considering the parks in WY, SD, ND, and MT, Canada, and WA. We will be traveling in a 30 foot RV with two small (5 lbs. dogs), any special suggestions? bnj
Kurt Repanshek: Boise, you ask a question that requires a great deal of time and research. I admire your ambition. I would start by deciding which national parks you'd like to visit, then fill in the blanks.
A great resource to begin would be the National Recreation Reservation Service. This site will help you plot the 'federal' aspects of your trip—the national parks, possible U.S. Forest Service campgrounds, even BLM and US Fish and Wildlife Service refuges where you might want to stay. Unfortunately, it doesn't track state parks or Canadian parks.
You'll probably want to invest in a Woodall's Guide, which will help you decide which RV parks to reserve a spot at. Good luck!
NYC: Kurt, I enjoy your website, NationalParksTraveler.com. This past weekend you talked about a body that was found at the Grand Canyon. How safe are our national parks, and what precautions should visitors take?
Kurt Repanshek: NYC, you ask a good question, one that sometimes I wonder if enough park visitors ask themselves before they pass into a national park.
I've been roaming national parks for more than three decades and about the worst injury I've suffered is a blister or two. What visitors have to keep in mind is that national parks can be rugged, wild places. The animals are not tame, the mountains can be steep, and the rivers swift.
On top of that, there are a lot of other people in the parks who are on vacation and not always paying as much attention as they should be. Now, the recent incident in the Grand Canyon was a very unfortunate one, to say the least. What the circumstances were behind it remain to be seen.
That said, I believe that if you go in prepared for your vacation in a national park and know largely what to expect, that parks can be very safe, magical places. If you're going into the backcountry, it's prudent—in addition to all the usual camping gear—to have a good topographical map, a compass, and, more and more these days as prices come down, a good GPS unit to ensure that you'll be able to find your way not just to your campsites but back to your car.
Before you head off into the backcountry, don't be afraid to ask a ranger what conditions are like. Have there been any animal sightings of concern? Are rivers and streams running high? What's the fire danger?
In the front country, keep an eye on your children to be sure they don't get too close to a cliff, geothermal feature, rip tide, water fall, etc, etc. And keep an eye out on other visitors who might not be paying terribly good attention as they drive out of a parking lot you're trying to cross on foot or pulling too quickly into or out of a scenic overlook.
Finally, I think it's also important to remember your own personal responsibility. You can't expect others to be looking out for you.