Ride a Mule into the Grand Canyon

Explore the depths of the Grand Canyon on popular trails like the Bright Angel and South Kaibab trail on a mule. Trips start from South or North Rim.

Photo: Whit Richardson

Riding a mule into the Grand Canyon is an adventure in itself and will provide you with plenty of stories and memories to share. While a mule ride also isn’t for the faint of heart, it’s a great way to see the Grand Canyon’s depth’s that is easier on your legs, lungs and feet. The Grand Canyon’s South Rim is situated at 7,000 feet elevation; its interior is situated at about 2,000 feet. And what goes down must come up!

Mules, the offspring of a male burro and a female horse, have been carrying people and their gear into the Grand Canyon since the late 1800s. These sure-footed creatures are well-suited to descending and climbing the steep switchbacks into the canyon and were used by miners with prospecting claims in the canyon before tourism became the main industry below the rim. When Fred Harvey Co., built Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, everything besides the stone had to be carried in on the backs of mules. Today, all supplies for Phantom Ranch are still carried in by mule, and trash and mail are carried back out.

Meeting mules on the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon
Meeting mules on the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon (Photo: Mike Orrill)

While there were allegations of mistreatment of the mules on the Havasupai Indian Reservation as recently as 2018, the mules that operate inside the national park are thought to be well-treated. They even get regular visits from a chiropractor. Visitors can book a mule ride to Phantom Ranch through the park’s concessionaire, Xanterra, or catch sight of the mule trains descending into the canyon on the South Kaibab Trail in the mornings.

Why mules and not horses? It’s much easier for a mule to make that trip. Summers can be hot up on the canyon’s rim, but the environment gets even hotter as you descend down the trail and mules can take the heat. Mules are also a better choice for rocky, cliffside trails because they take small, sure-footed steps. When they take a solid step with their front legs, they repeat that exact placement with their back legs. Plus, they are less likely to spook than horses. Horses rear up when they get startled, but a mule will just plant itself and not move. All these are good thing on canyon trails.

You need to book a mule ride well in advance, though, as this is a very popular way for visitors to explore Grand Canyon.

From the South Rim

Mule Rides from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon are operated by Xanterra Parks & Resorts and are extremely popular. It’s necessary to book your reservation as far in advance as possible. For peak season (Summer), these often fill up 12 months in advance. Call Xanterra Parks & Resorts, at 888-297-2757 or 303-297-2757 or check their website at www.grandcanyonlodges.com/things-to-do/mule-trips/ to book your reservation, and for more information.

A two-hour, four-mile Canyon Vistas Rim Ride along the East Rim is a popular family trip. Check in at the Bright Angle Lodge. Trail guides make six stops for interpretive information. Rides serve a maximum of 20 riders.

Overnight and two-night rides that include a stay at the Phantom Ranch at the Canyon’s bottom include accommodations and meals. These mule trips are extremely popular and reservations are often sold out a year in advance.

From the North Rim

Mule trips on the North Rim are operated by Grand Canyon Trail Rides from mid-May to mid-October. There are one-hour rides that take visitors along the North Rim, or half-day trips that tour the Rim, or the depths of the Canyon.

For reservations, call 435-679-8665 or go to www.canyonrides.com or register in the lobby of the Grand Canyon Lodge at the “Grand Canyon Trail Rides” desk from 7 am – 5 pm daily.