Looking over the edge of the Grand Canyon is an absolute thrill. Looking over the edge of the Grand Canyon while sitting on the back of a mule is absolutely terrifying – and even more of a thrill.
My mind was set on taking a mule-back adventure during my three-night stay at one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Truth be told, I wanted to embark on a two-day mule ride from the South rim to the bottom of the canyon. Those trips book a year in advance and only take 10 riders per day. I was trying to book day-of, so that option was out.
Fortunately, Xanterra now offers a two-hour Canyon Vista ride and had openings. I reserved a spot, threw on my oldest pair of jeans, and got ready for the ride of my life!
After meeting at a barn across from the historic Bright Angel Lodge, the group loaded into a bus for a quick ride to the stable. We met our guides and were paired with a mule before hitting the trail.
Along the way, I wondered, “why mules instead of horses?” The guides filled us in.
Mules are smart and strong. Unlike horses, mules are surefooted and steady. They take small steps and put their rear foot in exactly the same spot as their front foot had been, helping prevent slips and lowering the chance of an accidental fall off a canyon cliff.
Mules are also hard to spook and won’t ever run off the side of the canyon – though they might try to run toward the edge and throw their rider off. The same can’t be said for horses, which frighten easily by unsteady terrain and try to gallop away – possibly right over the edge of a canyon. So mules are a good choice.
Our guides assured us that in more than 50 years of operation, zero deaths had occurred, so I thought this ride would be a breeze – maybe even too breezy.
Then it happened.
Nearly at the halfway point, a rarity occurred – a mule got spooked. It was in the back of the pack and within seconds, the whole 12-mule pack shot to life and ran for their lives. The rear guide tried to stop the stampede to no avail. The whole pack ran off the trail, feet from the canyon’s edge.
After a 20-second sprint, the pack slowed and calmed, except for the rear guide. Her mule’s happy-level was at an all-time low. We watched helplessly as the mule bucked in circles and set it’s sights on a deadwood tree ahead. With one final buck, the guide fell off and hit the log.
Every rider watched with jaws wide-open. First, we participated in the first ever Grand Canyon mule stampede, and then watched our guide get thrown through the air onto a tree – and we weren’t even at the halfway point. Though in pain, the guide shook off the fall, hopped back on her mule and away we went. We made a few harrowing stops along the ride where we turned the mules to face over the cliff’s edge. Fortunately, the guides were right about one thing – the mules had zero interest in seeing what it would be like to fall over the edge.
Before we knew it, the ride was over. We survived. While that 20-seconds was one of the most intense experiences of my life, it gave us all a story we wouldn’t forget.
Go to the Grand Canyon. Ride a mule. Make a memory. Regret nothing.
Mule Ride Must-Knows
- Cost: $135 per person.
- Reservations: Call 1-303-297-2757 or ask for openings at the Bright Angel Lodge activities desk.
- Rides are rain or shine. Rain jackets and a souvenir water bottle are provided.
- All skill levels welcome.
- You must wear a long-sleeve shirt, long pants, closed-toe shoes and a brim hat. Hats are available for purchase at the desk.
- Riders must weigh less than 225 pounds.
Booking in advance? Check for availability on the overnight ride to Phantom Ranch.