Mule Rides, Grand Canyon
This is another personal reference tip ... I REALLY want to do the overnight Mule Ride down to Phantom ranch, but haven't had the chance YET. So this tip is to save the website info on South Rim rides, costs, needs, and booking directions.
One interesting thing is that they offer porter/duffle service for hikers too! So you can walk down on your own and your stuff will be waiting for you at Phantom Ranch when you arrive! How cool is THAT? Of course, you can also have your stuff brought back up using this service ... a more important consideration when you remember gravity and all :)
On a 1996 trip to southern Arizona, we found that we had more time than expected (mainly because Tombstone was such a tourist trap) so we made the long drive north to the Grand Canyon. Since it was winter, exiting the car after five hours of driving north and up was quite a shock -- zero degrees fahrenheit on the South Rim! Brrr....(in fact, our windshield cracked on the drive)... So, again at the spur of the moment we decided to see if we could get an overnight mule ride to Phantom Ranch on the Canyon floor. After all, it was 55F/15C down there!
Because it was December and the park was relatively empty, we walked right into a slot on the next day's mule ride. The trip started in bitter sub-zero cold, but the mule's body was warm and the occassional methane emission from the mule in front of me would periodically send a wave of warm air my way. And, of course, every step down the canyon brought us into warmer and warmer air. Our group was small and we covered the ground quickly, as the mules need fewer breaks in the winter. It seemed like we were at the bottom in no time.
We had left winter at the snow-covered rim and entered autumn -- even the trees still had colored leaves. We spent the rest of the afternoon hiking around the canyon floor and relaxing by the Colorado River. The next day, we reversed our warming trend by climbing the South Kaibab Trail out of the canyon. If you want more details, check out the travel logue below.
In short, if you can stand a few hours of cold on each end of the trip, the winter mule ride is a great way to see one of the world's natural wonders without a world-class tourist horde. If you're in Arizona during the winter, it's an easy spur-of-the moment trip.
A mule ride on the Grand Canyon's North Rim is a much different proposition than one on the South Rim. Foirst and most importantly, the North Rim mule rides DO NOT go to the bottom. They go to a point about a third of the way down the North Kaibab Trail, where you will eat a snack (not terribly delicious), amble about and rest. Without a doubt, the ride is beautiful and memorable, but in no way should one choose a North Rim ride over the ones offered on the south side. Because the ride is shorter and the trail shadier on the wetter, cooler and higher North Rim, the guides are less rigorous about enforcing the rules requiring long-sleeved shirts and brimmed hats -- in fact, our guide evben wore short sleeves. However, they still enforce the 200-pound limit, so be warned. Finally, we were able to walk up and get a mule ride without reservation just a couple of days in advance -- even though it was around the July 4th holiday -- so reservations aren't as crucial (though still recommended).
We have taken three mule rides at the Grand Canyon. The first was down the Bright Angel Trail on the South Rim in May 1993 as part of our honeymoon. We went all the way to Phantom Ranch, spent the night (some how our honeymoon champagne never showed up) and returned the next day via the Kaibab Trail If you choose to do a mule ride, this is the trip we recommend. It was unforgettable and a highlight of our lives. We will post a travelogue on the details of the trip.
For those considering a mule ride, there are a few restrictions. First, you must weigh less than 200 pounds (and they DO weigh you!). This is so that the mules aren't overburdened. Secondly, you are asked to wear a brimmed hat, long sleeves, long pants and not to leave your wallet in your back pocket (either it will fall out from all the jostling or you'll wish it had). And remember, the mules are bigger than horses and it can be scary looking over the ledge of a VERY deep canyon while on muleback (and the mules, for some reason, like to walk on the edge). If you think you might be scared, walk some of the trail the day before to gauge your fear. You can ask for your money back any time up until your mule's nose passes out of the corral -- after that you pay and it's not cheap (though the price is very fair).
Oh, we'd warn you to be careful about butt blisters, but we really don't know if there's anything you can do to prevent them.
A day-long ride into and out of the Grand Canyon, operating at the North Rim. Overnight stays in the Canyon are also available, to my knowledge.
IMPORTANT: Riders must be 200 pounds or less with riding gear on. They WILL weigh you.
Hiking, take pictures or more hiking! But if you're a little lazy you can to ride a mule. But...ohhh! My God...careful with your backside!!! Option: a big, soft and pleasant pillow.
Hiking is the perfect activity to see the geology of the canyon. Discover the most undiscovered sites.
Walk down the canyon. Make sure you take plenty of water! A couple of litres per person at least. There are water refill points at various places down the trail, but better safe than sorry, right? Make sure you visit the bathroom before you set off as well. Because the only restrooms on this trail are way down at the Indian Gardens - at least a 2 hour walk if you're a reasonably fit 20 year old. They are actually something to behold, being a kind of natural compost toilet. I kid you not.
But enough of that talk. Make it to the end of the trail and you'll be rewarded with the incredible 360 degree panorama you can see at the top of this page! Now isn't that just stunning?
The pictures speak for themselves!
We didn’t walk down to the bottom of the canyon (just minutes to have a peak because we were in a hurry). Big error!
If you have the time and the energy, do go down as far as you can, picnic at the bottom and come back up keeping of course more time for the way up than the way down. Ask for advises and calculate your trip based on your capacities. Warning : Bring Water!!! Although it may be cold or mild on the rim (it is at 8000 feet!), it’s can be a furnace at the bottom.
When walking into the canyon, the paths are well trodden and fairly obvious. You can see them twisting along in the bottom half of the picture.