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The Elements of a Grand Canyon Vacation
Acute Mountain Sickness
High Altitude Skincare
Water Purification
The Elements of a Grand Canyon Vacation

Child at the Grand Canyon South Rim

Photo by All-Star Grand Canyon Tours

By Jenna Hughes

Attitude with the Altitude
The Grand Canyon National Park boasts approximately 5 million visitors a year. If you're considering a visit, you should also consider the altitude. The South Rim of the Grand Canyon sits at 6,800ft above sea level. The North Rim sits at 8,000ft above sea level. If you live above or slightly below these altitudes, you'll likely have no issues with altitude sickness (or Acute Mountain Sickness) and will truly enjoy your time at the Grand Canyon. The majority of visitors to the Grand Canyon, however, do live well below this altitude.

What is this AMS you ask? By definition it is a pathological effect of high altitude on humans caused by exposure to low partial pressure of oxygen at high altitude. While the percentage of oxygen in the air (21%) doesn't change, the air density does. What this means is the higher you ascend, the less oxygen there is. Don't let this scare you though! No one has died from lack of oxygen in the air at the Grand Canyon.

Know the Signs of AMS
The first and most prevalent symptom of AMS is a headache. While a headache on its own doesn't necessarily denote AMS, if combined with any of the following may indicate AMS: lack of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness, dizziness or lightheaded, shortness of breath upon exertion, nosebleeds, rapid pulse rate, drowsiness and/or swelling of hands, feet and face.

There are a few things you can do to ease this pressure change. Slow ascension helps your body get acclimated. If at all possible, avoid any strenuous activities within the first 24 hours of arrival. I know this may be especially hard with smaller children, but it is important to try for the sake of an enjoyable time for all. Drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol. Dehydration exacerbates AMS and alcohol tends to cause dehydration.

The Sun and You
You also need to know about the power of the sun on your skin. While the actual temperature may be welcoming, the sun beating on your skin at 7,000ft is not. I always tell people, "You're at 7,000ft which means your x-amount of feet closer to the sun from where you currently live". You'll feel it, trust me. I am light skinned and my daughter is extremely fair skinned. We do not venture outdoors here at home (Flagstaff, AZ) or at the Grand Canyon National Park without sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses when the sun is out.

While flip-flops, shorts and a t-shirt are pretty standard attire at the Grand Canyon through the summer months for touring the rim, please add sunscreen to your list of things to bring. If you plan on hiking, the best attire is a long-sleeve cotton t-shirt (you can pour water on your arms to keep you cool) as this will prevent the sunburn on the arms. Hiking shorts or pants (zip-off legs are handy) and a good sturdy pair of broke-in hiking boots are recommended as well. If you don't have a broke-in pair of hiking boots, please allow 6 months of breaking them in before you arrive at the Grand Canyon. Blisters on your feet are no fun. Otherwise, bring a pair of walking shoes with good tread and NO smooth spots on the tread. Do NOT hike in dress shoes, high heels, flip flops, sandals or van-style sneakers.

Hydration Station
Always bring plenty of water to the Grand Canyon. The park has ceased sales of bottled water for environmental purposes and this could affect you if you traveled light. Utilize plastic 'nalgene-style' drinking bottles and bring a few gallons of water (you should always travel with at least 1 gallon of water per person in the vehicle when driving long distances).

Overheating in your children can be very serious. Please ensure your children are well hydrated throughout your visit in the Grand Canyon. Negative effects of thermoregulating in children can have long term effects as children's bodies do not regulate like an adults.

If you hire a tour company, water is nearly always provided. Ask if you're unsure. If you plan on hiking in the Grand Canyon, be sure to bring some sort of water purification. While there is water at many points in the Grand Canyon, you must use water purification to drink it.

Visiting in the Winter Months
If your family travels bring you to the Grand Canyon National Park during the winter months, check the weather regularly - right up to the day you're going to visit. Weather can change frequently in this area of Arizona.

The North Rim is closed from November to May. The South Rim is open year round through the South Entrance (Highway 64 from Flagstaff/Williams, AZ). Snowy conditions will find the East Entrance (Highway 64 and Highway 89 near Cameron, AZ) . If there has been lots of recent snow, while beautiful to see, may be a bit treacherous and icy at viewpoints.

While visiting viewpoints, have a winter jacket available to each member of your family. While hiking without a guide, please check with park officials before traversing on any trail from the South Rim. All trails are North-facing which means the sun does not hit them in the wintertime and conditions could be unsafe to hike with children. Dress warmly with a winter hat, gloves, waterproof hiking boots. Additionally, I would not recommend hiking with any child under the age of 12 during the snowy parts of winter.

Hiking with a reputable hiking company will ease many of your worries. Hiking companies will not hike if the trails are unsafe. Most will provide 'crampons' or 'ice walker's that attach to your shoes to give you stability on areas of the trail that are snowy, muddy or icy.

Maximum Enjoyment
Think about where you're from and what it is that you'd like to do in the Grand Canyon National Park with your family and then maximize your enjoyment by considering a tour with a company that provides medically trained guides. Certainly if your adventurous nature has you itching to get those hiking boots dirty in the Grand Canyon, you can rest assured that any company you hire for a guided trip will have a medically trained guide (per National Park regulations) to ease your worries.

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