have a long history of ferrying visitors into the Grand Canyon, starting with the early years of the national park in the 1900s. They may be unpopular with hikers because of the smell, trail erosion and delays (since the animals have priority) yet for many people they enable a journey not otherwise possible - a descent deep into the canyon, which some might find too difficult to accomplish on foot, especially during the extreme heat of summer. In any case, the mules are allowed only on two South Rim trails (Bright Angel
and South Kaibab
); all other routes are open to hiking only.
The most popular trip is down to Phantom Ranch
beside the Colorado River, and includes a one or two night stay, in the cabins at the ranch. Other options for mule rides are a walk along the South Rim to a viewpoint of the Abyss, and several short trips to places on the North Rim, these latter available only between May and October.
All mule trips in the park are operated by Xanterra
, a Grand Canyon concessionaire - see www.grandcanyonlodges.com/things-to-do/mule-trips/
for details and current prices. There are several requirements for riders; all people must weigh less than 200 pounds (91 kg) fully dressed, be fluent in English, be reasonably fit, not afraid of heights, and at least 4 feet 7 inches tall (1.38 meters).
The five mule trips are described below.
1. South Rim - Bright Angel or South Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch
So popular are the trips down the Grand Canyon's two busiest trails that places need to be booked up to 12 months in advance; this is in part due to a recent reduction in the number of mules allowed each day, from 40 to 10 per trail. The rides are offered all year, as the regular traffic along the trails generally keeps the upper reaches free of deep snow during winter, and the journey takes around 6 hours, with several stops en route, including at the cool, tree-lined oasis of Indian Gardens (along the Bright Angel Trail). The price (in 2020) is around $700 per person, including meals and one night's accommodation at Phantom Ranch, or $1000 for two nights. There is a discount for additional people. Mules were re-introduced along the South Kaibab Trail in 2011, following several years of reconstruction during which the path was open only to hikers. Both trails receive additional use from pack mules, used to transport supplies to and from the ranch. The main stables for the mules is located on the rim near the South Kaibab trailhead.
2. South Rim - Abyss Viewpoint
Starting at the historic Livery Barn
near Bright Angel Lodge, rides depart twice daily during March to October (once a day at other times of year), for a 2.5 mile trip starting alongside the tracks of the Grand Canyon Railway
then following a secluded track through the pine forest (a likely environment to see elk and deer), away from the Hermits Rest Road, to Abyss Viewpoint
, where the cliffs fall away near-vertically by 3,000 feet. The price, around $150 per person, includes drinks and a snack, for an excursion of 2.5 hours riding (75 minutes each way) and half an hour at the overlook. The weight limit for guests is 225 pounds (102 kg). Again reservations are needed, but as cancellations are quite common, it may be possible to book a ride for the following day if checking in person at the reservations office, at Bright Angel Transportation Desk.
3. North Rim - Rim Trail
The shortest mule trips anywhere in the canyon are the one hour walks along the level Rim Trail, starting near Grand Canyon Lodge. They are available at various times during the morning, and cost $45 per person - for riders above 7 years of age.
4. North Rim - Uncle Jim Point
Trips depart twice daily (7.30 am and 12.30 pm) from the North Kaibab Trailhead to a viewpoint of Bright Angel Canyon at Uncle Jim Point
, a secluded, little-visited overlook named after an early 20th century game warden. The journey is through tranquil aspen/pine woodland with only small changes in elevation. These rides are available to riders over 10 years old, weighing up to 200 pounds.
5. North Rim - North Kaibab Trail
The most adventurous of the North Rim mule excursions descends 2,300 feet along the first few miles of the North Kaibab Trail
, to a location known as Supai Tunnel. Costs, requirements and timings are the same as for the trip to Uncle Jim Point.