History of the Grand Canyon for Kids

Imagine you are walking along a trail in the desert…

You have been walking for many days and are now holding your mother’s hand. Your dog is trotting along beside you. You are of the Pueblo tribe and every year visit a place that is holy to your people. You have been counting down the days and now the steps and the day has finally come. The air is cool this time of year and the sky is clear and blue as far as you can see. Your father and brother are walking ahead with the others and someone calls out “Kaibab! Kaibab!” You leave your mother’s hand and rush ahead with them, faster and faster, trying to beat your brother to the sight. And then suddenly you stop and gasp! Spread out for miles ahead of you is the beauty of what you call Kaibab, the widest and most beautiful of canyons in the world. You hold your breath and slowly take in the wonder of this place that is holy to you and your people. 

Width, Length, and Depth of the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is the widest canyon in the world and is located in Arizona, which also happens to be my home state. It is also considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and over 6,000 feet deep in places. It is very colorful, a combination of reds, browns, whites, and many other colors, because each of the different layers, or strata, was formed at different times during the Earth’s history. The Earth is very, very old, so the Grand Canyon is made up of different rocks from its 2 billion-year-old history.

Formation of the Grand Canyon

Early on the Grand Canyon was actually a mountain, which over time sunk down until it was flat. Then as the earth shifted it became a canyon and over a very long period was even underwater. Eventually, a river started flowing through the canyon, which is now known as The Colorado River. The water in the river was full of rocks, so over millions of years, the river acted like sandpaper shaving down the canyon. This is called erosion. Today when you look at the Grand Canyon you can see the different layers in it, similar to a layered cake. Some of the layers are white limestone, other layers are filled with shells from when it was underwater, and the upper layers are darker and were formed by a volcano. 

Ancestral Puebloans

After The Grand Canyon was formed into what it looks like today, around 3000 years ago, native people who we now called the Ancestral Puebloans lived near the Grand Canyon. They build homes out of stone and farmed corn, squash, and beans. They made carvings and paintings on canyon walls, which is one way we know they lived there. Another group who lived there was called the Cohonina, who are the ancestors of the modern Yuma, Havasupai, and Hualapai people, who still live around the Grand Canyon. The native people call The Grand Canyon Kaibab, which means “mountain on its side.” The ancient people believed The Grand Canyon was a holy place and often visited from miles around to experience its wonder.

European Discovery of the Grand Canyon

After Europeans discovered The New World, Francisco Vazquez de Coronado and a group of Spanish explorers were in the area searching for the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola. In 1540 Coronado ordered Captain Garcia Lopez de Cardenas and his soldiers to explore the area. They and their Hopi native guides were the first Europeans to see the wonders of The Grand Canyon. They were amazed at its size and vastness. Two hundred years passed until another European visited the canyon.

In 1776 two Spanish Priests, Francisco Dominguez and Silvestre de Escalante explored southern Utah and the north rim of the Grand Canyon. 

In the 1850s they were followed by Jacob Hamblin, a Mormon explorer sent by Brigham Young to find a way to cross the river. They made friends with the Hualapai tribe and found the crossing discovered by the Spanish Priests, which later became Lees Ferry. A ferry is a place where a flat boat helps wagons and people cross a river. 

John Wesley Powell

Then in 1869, Major John Wesley Powell led the first expedition down into the canyon. He had set out to explore the Colorado River and The Grand Canyon. They rode down the river on a boat and survived the dangerous rapids and finally ended up in what is now known as Moab, Utah. John Wesley Powell later became famous for the founding of the Boy Scouts of America. 

National Park

In 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt visited The Grand Canyon and marveled at its beauty. Teddy Roosevelt was known for his love of nature and spent much of his time outdoors. In awe at the Grand Canyon, he did everything he could to help preserve its natural wonder. They worked to make it a national monument and believed places like The Grand Canyon should be preserved so people all over the world could enjoy it. While Roosevelt was president he formed the National Parks Association to help save places like The Grand Canyon. 


Today The Grand Canyon is one of the most famous places to visit in the world with about five million visitors every year who come from all over to see and explore it. Most people just come to look out over the vast canyon. I’ve been there a few times with my family, it’s about a 4-hour drive for us from where we live near Phoenix, Arizona. The last time I went we brought our 4 young kids, who also looked out over it in awe. We had to hold them close to us because the canyon is a very steep drop below, which made us pretty nervous.


When I was in high school our family and a group of other families hiked down into a part of the Grand Canyon known as Havasupai. We drove there early in the morning and had all of our camping gear and food loaded onto the back of mules, then we hiked about 4 hours down into the canyon. At the bottom of the trail are huge, picturesque Havasu Falls. You can swim at the bottom of the falls, jump off cliffs and hike further in to see and swim in the other waterfalls. Our trip was very fun but took a turn for the worse when one of the days I slipped on a rock and twisted my ankle pretty badly. The next day we were supposed to hike out, so my close friend and I got up early and started hiking out. I limped most of the way, even up the steep switchbacks. It was a rough hike out, but the waterfalls and swimming holes made it worth it anyway. 

In addition to hiking, people take helicopter tours over The Grand Canyon and love to raft the wild Colorado River. People also take horseback tours down into the canyon and it’s very popular to hike it from rim to rim — my sisters and their friends did this recently. Another main attraction is the Grand Canyon Skywalk, which lets you walk on a glass-bottomed path out over the canyon, so you can look at the drop far below.


Do you have any natural wonders near you? It may be mountains, a beautiful river, or the ocean. Spending time in nature is good for you. It helps relax your mind and body. I know I always feel better when I spend time outside or on a hike. Just this last week my kids and I spent some time hiking and visiting a stream nearby. Spend time thinking about what places in nature near you you can visit. And if you’re ever in Arizona, definitely be sure to visit the amazing Grand Canyon! 

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