by Matt. Updated Oct 2021
You’re planning your big trip to the Grand Canyon and you’ve heard about those mule rides to the bottom of the canyon. Maybe you’re wondering: What are your options for mule rides, and how much do they cost?
Mule ride options include 1-3 hour rides along the rim of the canyon, 3-hour rides into the canyon, and multi-day trips to the bottom of the canyon. The cost ranges from $50 to $700. You cannot ride if you weigh more than 225 lbs.
The rides vary between the South Rim and the North Rim, so keep reading for more details! In this article we’ll cover:
- South Rim Mule Rides
- North Rim Mule Rides
- Why they use mules
- Our mule ride experience and tips
South Rim Mule Rides
Mule rides along the South Rim are operated by Xanterra, a concessionaire of the National Park Service.
There are only two options on the South Rim:
- Along the rim (2 hours). This is called the Canyon Vistas Ride.
- To the bottom of the canyon (2 days). This is called the Phantom Ranch Ride.
Canyon Vistas Ride (Rim Ride)
For rides along the south rim, you’ll typically be “in the saddle” for 2 hours. The entire experience will take 3+ hours, including check-in and a brief interpretive tour. These rides cost about $150.
There are a few qualifications.
- Riders must be at least 9 years old
- Riders must weigh under 225 pounds
- Riders must be at least 4 feet, 9 inches tall
BOOK YOUR RIDE AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE. This is a popular activity, and mule rides fill up months in advance. To book a ride, call 303-297-2757 or 888-297-2757. You cannot book the ride online.
To learn more about the rides, visit Xanterra’s website.
Phantom Ranch Rides (bottom of the canyon)
The other option is to ride to the bottom of the canyon, where Phantom Ranch is located.
This 2-day ride takes 5 1/2 hours to ride to the bottom of the canyon on the Bright Angel Trail (the village). It will cross the Colorado River and stop at Phantom Ranch. They serve a sack lunch on the way down and a steak dinner at Phantom Ranch. Phantom Ranch is also famous for its lemonade.
The next morning, they’ll serve you breakfast, and then you’ll ride back up to the south rim. The website says you’ll return on the slightly shorter South Kaibab Trail (5 1/2 hours), although we saw a group of riders returning on the Bright Angel Trail (7 hours).
Rides start at about $700 per person, which includes the ride, the meals, and the lodging. Additional riders in your group will cost less.
From November to March, they also offer a two-night (3 days) option for a little over $1000 per person.
|Type of Ride||Cost||Age Limit||Weight Limit||Times|
|2-Hour Canyon Vistas Rim Ride||$155||9 +||225 lbs||8:00 & 12:00 (March-Oct)|
|Phantom Ranch (1 night)||$705||9 +||200 lbs||Early (?)|
|Phantom Ranch (2 nights)||$1028||9 +||200 lbs||Early (?); only available Nov-March|
How to book a Phantom Ranch Ride
Phantom Ranch Rides are extremely competitive to obtain.
The first option is to enter the Phantom Ranch Lottery. The lottery opens 15 months ahead of time. For example, In September 2021, the lottery opens for November 2022.
The second option is to check the General Availability. Since cancellations do occur, you can check this section of the website regularly to see if anything has opened up within the 15 month period.
I highly encourage you to watch our YouTube video because near the end, we interview two women who just returned from Phantom Ranch. You’ll definitely want to hear what they have to say.
For more information, see the Xanterra website.
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North Rim Mule Rides
Mule rides on the North Rim are operated by Canyon Trail Rides. They do not offer rides to Phantom Ranch, but they offer extra options that the south rim doesn’t, including a short ride into the canyon.
Because the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is closed in the winter, rides only operate from May to October.
The One Hour Rim Ride ($50) goes through the forest and spends some time on the edge of the canyon. They offer four rides per day and riders need to be at least 7 years old and weigh less than 225 lbs.
The Three Hour Rim Ride ($100) is for those who are scared of heights and don’t want to ride next to the canyon’s edge. It goes through the forest to Uncle Jim’s Point. They offer two of these per day and riders must be at least 10 years old and weigh less than 225 lbs.
The Three Hour Ride to Supai Tunnel ($100) descends into the canyon. Supai Tunnel is about 1.5 miles down the canyon. They offer two rides per day, and riders need to be at least 10 years old and weigh less than 200 lbs.
|Type of Ride||Cost||Age Limit||Weight limit||Times|
|One-Hour Rim Ride||$50||7 +||220 lbs||8:30, 9:30, 1:30, 2:30|
|Three Hour Rim Ride||$100||10 +||220 lbs||7:30, 12:30|
|Three Hour Ride into Canyon||$100||10 +||200 lbs||7:30, 12:30|
To book a ride visit the Canyon Trail Rides website. They also offer horse and mule rides in Zion and Bryce National Parks.
We used Canyon Trail Rides at the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon, and we thought they were fantastic! See below for more about the Grand Canyon ride.
- See our Grand Canyon lodging recommendations
- Are you planning a trip to the Grand Canyon and need accommodations? Click Here
Why they use mules
It’s easy to mistake horses, donkeys, and mules.
Horses and donkeys are different species, but both were brought to the Americas by the Spanish in the 1500s.
Horses are larger and more domesticated. Donkeys are smaller and stubborn, but more sure-footed.
Mules are a mix between a male donkey and a female horse. They have the sure-footedness of a donkey but the size and compliance of a horse.
Mules have a long history in the canyon. Before tourism, miners and other travelers used mules to access the canyon.
The Fred Harvey Company was authorized in 1904 to establish a mule ride operation for tourists.
The Fred Harvey Company was the sole operator of mule rides until 1968 when the company was purchased by Xanterra, which continued to operate the mules on the south rim today.
Donkeys also have an interesting history in the Grand Canyon and the west in general. They once roamed wild and free in the Grand Canyon, but the park killed them off in order to preserve the environment. One of these wild donkeys even became famous enough to get his own book and movie!
Our mule ride experience, with tips
My wife Cheryl did a one-hour mule ride on the North Rim, and I did a horse ride into Bryce Canyon. Both were through the same company, Canyon Trail Rides.
While I grew up with horses, Cheryl is NOT comfortable around them. However, she LOVED her mule ride!
The tour started at the beautiful Grand Canyon Lodge, where they picked her up in a shuttle and dropped her off at the mule pen.
The guides are top-notch. They were very experienced.
Of course, most customers aren’t exactly equestrian competitors, and the guides know this. So they are very patient and helpful.
Our 8-year old daughter joined Cheryl on the ride. She rode Chi-Chi, and loved every minute of it.
The guides spent time talking to each rider while on the trail. They also taught the group some interesting things about mules and the canyon.
They also have a little saying: “No leaning, no screaming.”
If your mule walks a little close to the outer edge, they don’t want you leaning to the inside. Just trust the mules. And of course, screaming may startle the mules.
The mules are notorious for walking close to the edge. For whatever reason, they like it. It can certainly be unnerving, and maybe even terrifying.
Again, I urge you to watch our YouTube video to get a sense of this experience. Cheryl talks about her own experience and some darling women we met talk about their experiences going to Phantom Ranch.
We haven’t done the phantom ranch ride, but Cheryl loved her north rim ride. I used the same company for my Bryce Canyon ride and I would also highly recommend using them.
We can’t offer a personal opinion about Xanterra on the south rim, although I would have no reservations about using them.
Planning your trip
We hope this helped you plan your trip.
If you’re visiting the Grand Canyon, consider checking out our travel guide. Our guide offers a great game plan for seeing the park. But that’s not all – we also provide an audio guide which provides the best stories of the Grand Canyon – including the story of the donkeys in the canyon.
If you want to get the most out of your trip and have no regrets, you need this travel guide! It’s the best self-guided tour of the Grand Canyon.
- Grand Canyon Itinerary
- Our Grand Canyon Trip Planner
- 16 Awesome Things to do at the Grand Canyon
- 15 fun things to do with kids at the Grand Canyon
- Where to stay at the Grand Canyon and our recommendations
- The best places to eat at the Grand Canyon: Your food guide for the South Rim
- Hiking the Grand Canyon: What you need to know (hikes, tips, and gear)