We decided to do the quintessential “Grand Canyon” family road trip over spring break this year. I think most families save the Grand Canyon for summer vacations when they may have more time, but our summer is going to be very busy this year, so we decided to squeeze it in over spring break. It worked out well and we had a great time and made many priceless family memories. Here’s a look at our trip.
There are a few routes you could take from Green Bay depending on what states you want to see. The shortest route is going to be about 27 hours one way. There are 2 options for this route. One will take you through Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, the tips of Oklahoma and Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. The other will take you through Illinois, Missouri (from St Louis across to Joplin), Oklahoma (through Tulsa & Oklahoma City), the panhandle of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. We chose the latter route. Mostly because I am still trying to hit all 50 states and only have a few more to go. Thanks to this trip, I was able to cross off two more states—Oklahoma and New Mexico.
We don’t have an RV or travel trailer/camper and we’re not a camping family, so we stayed in hotels at each of our stops. I booked our hotels through hotels.com. They were all very clean, pretty reasonably priced and nice hotels. But a little tip from me to you on booking. I thought I was being all smart and efficient by booking multiple days at each hotel since our travel plans weren’t 100% locked in and we wanted some flexibility in case we wanted to stay an extra day at a spot, took longer to arrive or etc. The cancellation policy was 24 hours before the day you check-in, so I thought, “No problem. We can just cancel whatever days we don’t want to stay 24 hours before those dates.” WRONG. You have to cancel 24 hours before the day you check-in. So if you book a 2 or 3-day stay, you can cancel or change it 24 hours before the day you arrive/check-in. But you can’t cancel the additional days on the same reservation a day before, if that makes sense. Luckily, I figured this out a few days before we left because we had nailed down our plans in more detail so I was going to change some of the reservations, and that’s how I figured it out. Unfortunately, I had to go back through and cancel or change all of our reservations. And for the ones where I wanted the flexibility of staying a second night or wasn’t sure which night we would arrive, I had to make separate reservations for each night! It was a pain. It would’ve been a lot easier if I had realized this originally when I first made the reservations. But it all worked out ok and I just wanted to share my experience in case it could help anyone else out in their own planning. If your plans are set in stone this probably wouldn’t be an issue, but since we were driving we weren’t sure how long we might want to stay in certain spots.
We’re a family of 5, so hotel rooms are tricky. Hotel rooms are designed for families of 4. So when I was booking hotels I was looking for ones that offered a rollaway bed option and/or had 2 queen or double beds along with a couch/sitting area. Typically if there is a couch it may pull out into a bed, but even if it doesn’t, you can throw some sheets on it and let one of the kids sleep there. We also take along a cot that one of the kids can sleep on if needed. For many families, kids don’t have a problem sleeping together. I wish that was the case with ours. Unfortunately for us, it never ends well. Our kids are used to sleeping in their own twin beds at home and between the arguing and fights over hogging the covers and kicking in their sleep, etc, it’s just much easier if everyone can have their own spot to sleep. Bringing an air mattress along would be an option as well, but when there were so many stops along the way it didn’t seem as practical for us.
We had 10 days to do our trip. The kids got out of school at noon on a Friday, so we left by 1pm that day. We had to be back by the following Sunday night at the latest for the kids to go back to school on Monday. We were planning to drive back to Green Bay on Sunday, but decided to cut one day off the return trip and get home on Saturday night instead. Here’s what our trip looked like:
Day 1: Drove to St Louis. (7 hour drive)
We stopped in Springfield, IL along the way to see Abraham Lincoln’s home and eat dinner. We spent the night in Brentwood, Missouri at SpringHill Suites. This hotel was my favorite of all as far as space and layout. It comfortably slept 5. Mike and I got a queen, one of our kids got a queen, another kid slept on the spacious couch and there was a twin trundle bed that pulled out from under the couch that our third child slept on. There were 2 TV’s—one for the bedroom and one for the sitting area. A desk area, kitchen area with sink, microwave and mini fridge and a large bathroom with the sink and mirror separate from the shower and toilet. They had a free grab and go breakfast. There was no pool at this hotel, but that didn’t really matter since we didn’t have time to swim anyway.
Day 2: Visited the Gateway Arch in St Louis, then drove to Tulsa, Oklahoma. (6 hour drive)
It was a beautiful day in St Louis, so we walked around the Arch and took lots of pictures. Then we took the ride up the Arch. It’s 630 feet to the top of America’s tallest monument. (If you’re claustrophobic, I don’t recommend it.) Otherwise it’s great. Plan for about 45 minutes to an hour to go to the top. There is a short, guided tour before the tram, a 4-minute ride up and a 3-minute ride down. You stay at the top for about 10 minutes. This year, due to covid, you need to book your tickets in advance to ride to the top. It’s important to plan this in advance because tickets are selling out early and often. Cost is $8-12 for ages 3-15 and $12-18 for ages 16 and up depending on the dates. It is open 9-6 daily. If you don’t want to go to the top there is no cost and you don’t need any tickets or reservations to visit the park. It’s a great place to have a picnic outside if you are able to do so. And there are plenty of things to do without going to the top. There is a free museum you can tour and a 35-minute documentary movie you can watch ($3 for ages 3-15, $7 for ages 16 and up). There are also riverboat cruises (for a fee).
After the Arch, we drove to Tulsa and stayed at the Hyatt Regency Tulsa Downtown. The hotel lobby was fancy and nice but it was probably our least favorite room that we stayed in on our trip. It just had 2 double beds and a mini fridge. We were able to get a rollaway bed for no charge, which was good. We had to use the cot we brought that night to have enough sleeping space for everyone. It had a rooftop outdoor pool, which, luckily for us, was open at the end of March. From the hotel pictures it looked like there was an indoor pool as well. As it turns out, there is just a very small portion of the outdoor pool that is indoors and you can swim between the two. But it was very small. The hotel pool pictures were very deceiving and it looked much nicer in photos than it actually was, but our youngest had fun anyway. It was neat for her to have a view of the city while swimming at night. There was no hot tub and there was no continental breakfast.
Day 3: Drove to Albuquerque, New Mexico. (9 hour drive)
We stayed at Hyatt Place Uptown Albuquerque. It was a very cool area with lots of shopping and restaurants within walking distance of our hotel, which we enjoyed. When we were there, New Mexico was still very strict about covid restrictions. At the time there was still a statewide mask mandate. Restaurants and stores had reduced hours, limited capacity and workers took many precautions. Visitors weren’t allowed at the hotel and they didn’t have ice machines working—you had to request ice from the front desk. They have a seasonal outdoor pool that wasn’t open in March. (I’m not sure it will reopen this summer, either, unless they lift a lot of their restrictions.) Our room was very nice with 2 double beds and a separate sitting area with a couch that folded out into a double/queen bed. They had a mini fridge, but no microwave. They offered a free grab-and-go continental breakfast with a nice selection of food.
Day 4: Drove to Tusyana, Arizona. (6.5 hour drive)
It was a beautiful, scenic drive from New Mexico to Arizona. We arrived at our hotel around 5PM and it was a great hotel/resort that is very family-friendly and I would highly recommend it. We stayed at the Best Western Premier Grand Canyon Squire Inn. It is located about 4 miles from the south rim Grand Canyon National Park entrance. The kids spent the rest of the afternoon swimming. They have 2 large pools (one indoor, one outdoor) and a hot tub for both. They provide towels for swimming and there are plenty of lawn chairs. (The outdoor pool isn’t heated, so it was pretty ice cold in March, but I’m sure in summer it’s much warmer and refreshing.)
This hotel was great and perfect for our family. It was our kids’ favorite spot. Our room had 2 queen beds and we got a twin rollaway bed. It had a microwave, mini fridge, sink and a really cool, large bathroom. We overlooked the outdoor pool area, which was nice. On the property they have a sand volleyball court, an outdoor space with outdoor fireplaces to sit and relax, the 2 pools & hot tubs mentioned above, an arcade, small bowling alley, fitness center, gift shop and 2 restaurants. They also have an outdoor bar area that is open in the summer months. Breakfast is available for purchase from one of the restaurants.
Day 5: Visited Grand Canyon National Park (South Rim) and did a 3 mile roundtrip hike from South Kaibab Trailhead to Cedar Ridge.
It was perfect weather and a good hike for families, but not super easy. It took our group about 2 hours to do the whole hike. You don’t want to start too late, so check sunset times to make sure you’ve got enough time to be done and back at the trailhead before sunset. Dress in layers and it’s a good idea to take a backpack with water, some snacks and sunscreen.
Day 6: Relaxed at the hotel, walked around the town and went to souvenir shops and watched the sunset at the Grand Canyon.
The kids played at the arcade and bowling alley located in the resort and played outside as well. We went back to the Grand Canyon that evening to see the sunset over the Canyon. It was spectacular. We went to Lipan Point to see the sunset and it was the perfect spot and view. We left our hotel about 5PM, took about 45 minutes to enter the park due to the long line of cars and then it was about a 30 minute drive to Lipan Point. Sunset was at 6:49PM, so it was just about the right amount of time. We were able to sit and watch the sun for about a half hour before it set over the canyon. Then we headed back to the hotel, grabbed some pizza & pasta to-go from “We Cook Pizza & Pasta”, ate in our room and ended the night with more swimming. (The indoor pool is open 24/7, outdoor pool is open 10AM-10PM.)
As for eating/food options, there are a few different restaurants in the area. McDonald’s and Wendy’s were drive-thru or pick-up only. There is a Pizza Hut with eat-in available. There is a local Mexican restaurant, a couple of steakhouses and some restaurants in the various hotels/resorts and the Italian/Pizza restaurant mentioned above. There is also a local grocery store and gas station/convenience store for food and essentials.
Day 7: Drove back to Albuquerque. (6.5 hours)
We did some shopping at the outdoor mall across from our hotel (same hotel as before), an indoor mall also within walking distance, and then went out for a nice dinner.
Day 8: Drove to Joplin, Missouri. (10.5 hours)
This was a very long driving day, but we were ready to get home at this point. We stayed at Home 2 Suites. The kids thought this was a really cool hotel and it was very new. It was in a nice location with lots of restaurants nearby.
Day 9: Drove home to Green Bay. (11 hours)
This was another long driving day, but it’s always good to get home!
If you have more time and follow this same route, here are a few additional things you could do or check out along the way. We didn’t have time for too much sight-seeing other than the Gateway Arch and the Grand Canyon, but these sound like some fun attractions as well:
St. Louis Zoo—large, nice zoo and it’s FREE.
Gathering Place (South Tulsa) & River Parks (Uptown Tulsa), both large park areas with lots to explore.
Tulsa Zoo (Mohawk Park)
The Cave House (West Downtown Tulsa)
Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum
Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta: October 2-10, 2021
Old Town Albuquerque, a 10-block area with over 100 shops, restaurants and entertainment.
I enjoy traveling and vacations, but I don’t enjoy planning trips. 🙁 So, if you’re like me, you may just want to copy our trip above and make a few tweaks as needed so you don’t have to start from scratch on planning. Feel free to do so! Another option to make planning family trips easier is to use Rose from Marvelous Mouse Travels. I recently started a partnership with Rose and you will be seeing some travel tips and ideas from her on let’s go mommy over the next few months. She can help plan family trips for free! Whatever you decide to do, Happy Travels!!
If you’re looking for other family vacation ideas, check out my blogs about Mackinac Island, Chattanooga, Mount Rushmore, Ark Encounter, Bardstown, Kentucky, Kings Island Amusement Park and The Creation Museum.