by Diana Lambdin Meyer
While not as well-known as other lodgings on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, Yavapai Lodge is a great bargain for families visiting the national park almost any time of the year.
Operated by Xanterra Parks and Resorts, Yavapai Lodge is the largest lodging complex at the Grand Canyon and the closest lodge to the popular Mather Point Visitor Center. The main lodge and the clusters of lodging units with as many as 30 guest rooms each are situated in among pinon and juniper trees, providing a distinct experience from other Grand Canyon accommodations.
In 2010, the 160 rooms on the west side of Yavapai were updated with flat screen TVs, new carpeting, drapes and the works. The dining room is a reasonably-priced cafeteria open from early in the morning until late in the evening.
Parking is abundant, if you arrive via personal automobile, although arriving in the park on the Grand Canyon Railroad is a fabulous experience for kids. If you choose this route, your luggage will be waiting for you in your room upon check-in. When driving, leave the car parked while at the Grand Canyon and take advantage of the environmentally friendly park shuttle, which is free and operates on a reliable schedule all day and night.
It’s fair to say that Yavapai Lodge is limited on the amenities specific to the property. For example, there is no childcare program, no playgrounds of any significance, nor are swimming pools available, but hey, you’re at the Grand Canyon — what more do you want? Bicycle rentals are available at Bright Angel Lodge. There’s the famous mule rides and horseback riding, as well. Kayak in the Colorado River that runs through the Grand Canyon. Hiking is abundant as are ranger programs and tours from the Hopi people who made the Grand Canyon home for centuries before it became a national park and tourist attraction.
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- Children under 16 stay free
- Best rates inside the national park
- Convenient parking and public transportation
- Water Sports
- Connecting Rooms
- Game Room
- Onsite Dining
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Yavapai Lodge is divided into two primary clusters of buildings -- one on the west side of the main dining room and one on the east side. There is one very important distinction the two sections -- the west does not have air conditioning. This is an important consideration during summer travel, although it certainly gets quite cool in the evening hours, so open windows and ceiling fans are satisfactory for many families. Rooms on the west side are slightly cheaper.
Yavapai West was remodeled extensively in 2010. Each of the spacious 160 rooms includes two queen beds, but a single rollaway bed can be added for $10 per night. Vaulted ceilings with ceiling fans, large windows looking out into the pinon trees, a refrigerator, coffeemaker, television and telephone are the only amenities. Yavapai East is the air-conditioned side of the lodge. The 198 rooms have the same offerings of coffeemaker, refrigerator, television and telephones. However, some rooms come with a king bed. No suites are available at Yavapai, but some adjoining rooms are available upon request. Cribs are available at no charge. All bathrooms have shower and tub combos.
With younger children, you may wish to request a room on the ground floor; otherwise you'll tire very quickly of carrying them up and down the stairs. Each building is three stories tall with outside entrances to each floor. Rooms are accessed via a long interior hallway.
Wi-Fi is not available in the rooms, but there is a strong signal in the main dining area. You'll find lots of people camped out much of the day in a back corner with many electrical outlets and a soft drink machine nearby. Two public computers are also available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The national park is very pet friendly as long as they are on leashes, but your family pet must reserve a room at the park kennel. Pets are not permitted in guestrooms in any of the Grand Canyon National Park lodges. When you make your room reservation, reserve space for your cat or dog -- kennel space is in high demand, too.
Yavapai Lodge in itself does not offer any onsite activities. However, an activities desk is located in the lobby that can answer any questions you have, point you in the right direction and make most reservations that you need.
There is a nice gift shop in the main lodge building across the hall from the cafeteria that is well-stocked with souvenirs and basic sundries. Or, across the street is larger grocery store/gift shop in Market Plaza.
Bicycling is a fabulous way to enjoy the national park and bicycle racks are plentiful around Yavapai Lodge. A new path called the Greenway runs right past Yavapai Lodge and connects the lodge with the historic village and the Canyon View Information Center. If you choose to rent, both mountain bikes and road bikes are available through Bright Angel bike rentals with multiple locations throughout the park.
If you get a little winded in any of your activities, remember that the elevation is almost 7,000 feet, so take it slow and drink lots of water, no matter what the season or the temperature.
The Canyon Cafe
The Canyon Cafe is located in the main building and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The service is cafeteria-style, but plenty of staff are available to help carry trays for younger members of your family.
The cafeteria-style allows for a wide range of options for the family. It's just as easy to grab a banana and yogurt for breakfast as it is to get a full-serving of pancakes, eggs or anything else. Daily specials switch things up a bit.
Open from very early to very late, the cafeteria becomes a gathering spot for families who may have gone various directions in the park throughout the day. Ice cream, pies, popcorn and other treats are available throughout the afternoon and evening. Beer and wine are available for adults. The informality of the dining room at Yavapai allows for opportunities to interact with many of the international travelers who visit the Grand Canyon throughout the year -- a real educational bonus for your children.
To allow your children to take advantage of the dining room in your absence, ask about putting your name on file. This allows any member of your party to dine at any of the restaurants in the park without carrying cash.
Market Plaza, adjacent to Yavapai Lodge, includes a nice general store, perfect for picking up snacks or breakfast items to keep in your room refrigerator. There are no picnic tables or grills located near the guest rooms, but there are many available throughout the park.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
Families with children are the lifeblood of the Grand Canyon, often doted on by the well-trained staff at Yavapai Lodge. You'll always find someone directing questions and conversation to the children, and of course, lots of help in the cafeteria in carrying trays, filling drinks and helping with the soft-serve ice cream.
Throughout the busy season, you'll find activity in the main lodge that may include an artist demonstrating his works, a park ranger explaining an event or any number of fun times that curious children will enjoy and appreciate.
The Art of Smart Timing
Yavapai Lodge is open about ten months out of the year, depending on demand. They usually close about November 1 and re-open at the end of January. Winter in the Grand Canyon is an amazing experience, albeit a cold one, and thus the bargain times are in the early spring months or late fall, when fewer people visit.
Grand Canyon National Park is located in northern Arizona, an easy four hour drive from the Phoenix International Airport. Or, for those less inclined to drive such distances, the Flagstaff-Pulliam Airport is serviced by a once daily flight from Phoenix via US Airways Express. A rental car would still be required to drive 90 minutes into the national park and reach Yavapai Lodge. The other major airport is Las Vegas Nevada, about five hours away.
Take a couple of flashlights with you for walking back to your rooms at night. Even though there is lighting along the pathway, it is intentionally environmentally friendly and dim. In addition to the density of the trees, it may a little dark for young children.
When visiting the Grand Canyon, especially in the summer time, it is important to drink lots of water. The dry heat will silently zap your energy quicker than almost anywhere else in the United States, and nothing ruins a family vacation than heat exhaustion created by dehydration. To save money and protect the environment, bring refillable bottles from home and fill them often. Water fountains are plentiful throughout the park. Yavapai Lodge is also adjacent to the Market Plaza where you'll find a general store, bank and Post Office.
For Mom and Dad
Since childcare is not an option at any of the properties in the national park, a night out without the children is not an option unless you bring your own babysitter. If that's a possibility, simply know that there are few scenes more memorable than sunset over the Grand Canyon.
However, a special evening the family may enjoy together is an evening meal at the El Tovar dining room inside the historic El Tovar Hotel. Children are welcomed, but it's preferred that everyone dress up a bit. Leave the shorts, T-shirts and tank tops back at Yavapai and celebrate the memorable experience of dining at this historic property. Otherwise, for an hour or two, check out the schedule for the Junior Ranger Adventure Hike -- a children's activity offered by the National Park Service most mornings in the summer.