Looking to “giddy on up or giddy on out” of your old routine? Going to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is a great way to do so—especially on muleback. Vastly different from the more popular South Rim, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is less populated and offers a number of beautiful trails to take in the sights. Of course, f you ever find yourself thinking that you “should’ve been a cowboy,” there are other ways to explore the Grand Canyon—and you know what they say: Save a horse . . . ride a mule.
Mule Riding in the Grand Canyon
Both the North Rim and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon offer mule rides, but there are different requirements and restrictions depending on which location you choose.
The South Rim offers mule rides year-round, but excursions need to be booked up to 15 months in advance. There are two kinds of rides—rides around the South Rim and a ride to Phantom Ranch. To ride a mule at the South Rim, you must weigh less than 200-225 pounds, depending on the ride. You must be at least 57 inches tall and nine years old, and kids must be accompanied by an adult.
Unlike the South Rim, the North Rim is not open to the public year-round, and mule rides are only offered from May 15 until October 15. The North Rim does not offer mule rides to the Colorado River but offers three different rides ranging from one to three hours. Depending on which ride you take, you must weigh less than 200-220 pounds and must be at least 7-10 years old, depending on the ride you choose.
One-Hour North Rim Ride Logistics
The one-hour mule ride is a moderate ride that offers scenic views of the national park. The ride will take you through the Kaibab Forest. Each mule ride is accompanied by a guide who helps you if your mule decides to live up to their stubborn reputation. They will also tell you how to control the mule and get you acquainted with your animal before you begin the ride.
Before you begin, you have to check in at the Lodge. After you’ve checked in, you’ll be picked up by a shuttle that will take you to the stable. You cannot carry a backpack or water during your one-hour mule ride, so make sure to hydrate before getting on the bus.
My Muleback Experience
With the exception of the occasional ride at a fall festival as a young child, I had never been on a horse before, let alone a mule. The experience of riding a mule is unique to the Grand Canyon, and when you have the opportunity, do as the locals do.
Turns out, getting on the mule was half the battle. Our guide assigned me to Gus, who is considered to be a dependable mule. They showed me how to get him to start moving and how to steer with the reins. They also showed us how to encourage our mules to stop eating grass on the trail, but this proved to be more difficult than they made it sound.
As we started down the trail, I began to feel a little more confident, since we weren’t moving fast, and we stayed in a particular order to ensure the mules would get along with one another. They warned us that the mules have a tendency to walk close to the edge of the canyon. Even though we were told this ahead of time, it was mildly terrifying to watch as they got closer and closer to the edge of the trail until you could see over the side.
We had a few hiccups along the way, including a number of snack breaks from the mules, and at one point, our guide’s mule was walking backward down the hill as we were trying to go up. During the second half of the trek, though, I felt confident on my mule and felt like I actually had some control over Gus’s movements.
When we got off the mules back at the pen, I left feeling particularly stiff. We were warned that though riding mules is similar to riding horses, there is a difference in size, and mules have a much wider body.
Experiencing the Grand Canyon by riding a mule along the rim was a magnificent experience I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else—except, I guess, the South Rim.
Would you ride a mule along the rim of the Grand Canyon?