Horseback riding in the Grand Canyon (Full Guide)

Visiting the Grand Canyon is a bucket list item for many people, both tourists and locals alike. Seeing the Grand Canyon from either rim is truly magnificent and breathtaking, but personally, my favorite way of experiencing the canyon is by venturing below the rim on one of the many trails that criss-cross the landscape.

Hiking in the Grand Canyon requires mental and physical fitness, since going down is the easy part; it’s the hiking back out that gets people in trouble!

If you feel uncomfortable or are unable to hike down into the canyon on foot, but want to see some of the best views that the Grand Canyon has to offer, consider going on horseback!

Horseback riding in the Grand Canyon

Horseback Riding in the Grand Canyon

So the title of this article is a bit of a misnomer- horses are commonly used on trail rides along the south and north rims of the canyon, but rarely will go below the rims where the trails are steep and the drop-offs are vertigo-inducing.

So how can you get down into the Grand Canyon without hiking?

You use the horse’s trusty and sure-footed cousin, the mule! A cross between a donkey and a horse, mules are stubborn but fearless creatures with a few natural advantages that make them the natural choice for riding down into the Grand Canyon.

Mules preparing to trek out of the Grand Canyon

Mules may be known for being hard-headed, but good mules are obedient and much less likely to spook suddenly as a horse might do.

Mules have more wide-set eyes, which allows them to have a full view of their back feet; horses can generally only see their front feet, and this makes mules less likely to lose their footing on the rocky trails.

Mules are also great at following each other in a mule train, and this makes it easy for newbie riders to enjoy their trek into the Grand Canyon without worrying about guiding their mule.

Guided mule rides have a perfect record of no known fatalities in the canyon, so you’re safe with your food-footed friends!

Mule rides at the Grand Canyon's South Rim

The only local company that provides mule rides into the canyon, Xanterra Travel Collection, has been guiding riders into the canyon on muleback since the 1960s.

Before that, tourists had been going down into the canyon with guides since the late 1800s!

It’s a time-honored tradition that hundreds of people enjoy every year, making the vastness of the Grand Canyon more accessible to those who may be unable to hike it safely.

Mule riders at the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona

Where Can I Go Horseback/Mule Riding in the Grand Canyon?

South Rim

There are a few options depending on what you want to see. At the more popular South Rim, you can take the official mule ride down into the canyon with Xanterra Travel Collection and their group of hardy and trustworthy mules.

They have two options for ride lengths- a 2-hour excursion along the south rim to a beautiful vantage point, or a one or two-night stay in the bottom of the canyon at historic Phantom Ranch.

The journey down into the depths of the canyon can take up to 5.5 hours to go the full 10.5-mile distance, with breaks and stops along the way.

Their rules are fairly strict for the well-being of the mules, and wranglers will only take their prized mules down into the canyon in good weather conditions.

Rider weight and height restrictions apply, so check their website to see if an overnight mule ride is right for you! These tours depart from historic Bright Angel Lodge and take the Bright Angel Trail in both directions.

Mules along the South Kaibab trail at the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona

If the thought of venturing into the Grand Canyon is a bit too scary for you (for good reason- those steep cliffs are no joke) you can book a 2-hour rim ride along the East Rim Trail, which departs from Yaki Barn five miles east of the Grand Canyon Village and Bright Angel Lodge.

They even provide a shuttle which makes this shorter excursion very convenient if you’re short on time!

  • Pricing: $160 per person for rim ride; $703-$1029 per person for one or two-night rides to Phantom Ranch

If you want to experience the beautiful forests and hills of the south rim, but don’t feel a need for views of the Grand Canyon itself, you can book a horseback riding tour with Apache Stables.

Located just outside the South Entrance to the park and a mile north of the town of Tusayan (a popular place to stay for Grand Canyon visitors), Apache Stables have a trustworthy group of gentle trail horses that provide a fun and safe ride through the lush Kaibab National Forest.

North Rim

Headed to the North Rim? This is my personal favorite place in the Grand Canyon; the higher elevation allows for aspen groves and douglas fir trees to be plentiful, and the views are simply incredible from any point along the north rim.

Canyon Trail Rides offers mule rides at three different distances and locations, so there’s something for everybody.

If you’re looking for an adventure into the depths of the canyon from the North Rim, book yourself the three-hour ride to Supai Tunnel. Once you drop below the rim, it’s amazing to see how the whole canyon opens up before you!

Experiencing the canyon views from between the ears of a mule is one of the more exciting ways to see this natural wonder of the world.

A view from inside Supai Tunnel at the Grand Canyon in Arizona

Canyon Trail Rides also offers two different rim rides, which are still just as fun and with stunning views.

Short on time? Book the one-hour tour which departs four times a day and takes you about a mile out and back along the north rim edge.

The three-hour rim ride takes you a bit farther to Uncle Jim’s Point along the Ken Patrick Trail.

All of their mules are well-trained, happy, and sure-footed, so you’re in good hands (hooves!). The North Rim is generally less busy than the South Rim due to its more remote location, so if you want a more relaxed atmosphere on the trails, book with Canyon Trail Rides.

  • Pricing: One-hour rim ride: $50 per person; three-hour rim ride: $100 per person; three-hour ride into the canyon: $100 per person
  • Canyon Trail Rides Website

Can I Bring My Own Horse into the Grand Canyon?

Yes, you can bring your own horse into the Grand Canyon! If you have a trustworthy horse, mule, or donkey, you may bring your equine pal on designated trails throughout the park. You must follow the rules set by the National Park Service (find these here) and be sure to only bring animals that you absolutely trust into the Grand Canyon to avoid unforeseen accidents.

A mule enjoying warm morning light along the rim of the Grand Canyon

From the South Rim, you’ll be able to access the following trails with your own pack animals: Canyon Rim Trail, the Arizona Trail, Bright Angel Trail (except for the Colorado River crossing), River Trail (between BAT and SKT), South Kaibab Trail (you can cross the Colorado River from here), the Tonto Trail, and Plateau Point Trail.

This opens up miles and miles of trails for you to explore with your hoofed companions.

From the North Rim, feel free to venture out onto the Arizona Trail. Bridle Path, Ken Patrick Trail, North Kaibab Trail, and Uncle Jim Trail. Remember the rules of the trail- all hikers should yield to your horse as you make your way along the trails. However, commercial mule strings have the right of way as a safety precaution for the often-inexperienced riders.

Tips for Horseback Riding into the Grand Canyon

  • Know what you’re getting into! If you already have a hard time sitting for several hours, getting up and down off a mule, or being out in the elements (heat, cold, etc), riding on a mule or horse may not be the best idea for you. In that case, enjoy the lookouts and rim trails on foot!
  • Be respectful of your animal, other riders, and their animals, and follow your wrangler’s instructions carefully. Mule wranglers’ main concern is getting you and your mule safely into and out of the Grand Canyon. It’s vitally important to follow their directions exactly! Don’t kick your mule unnecessarily- they know what they’re doing more than you do! 
  • Wear the right gear! Boots, wide-brimmed hats, protective pants or jeans, breathable clothing, and even gloves can all help you enjoy the experience even more. Stirrups are hard on the ankles, so boots are a must. A hat will keep you cool even in sunny conditions. Gloves can help reduce the chance of blisters from holding the reins or the saddle horn. 
  • Know what to bring and what to leave behind. Each company will have its different requirements and restrictions for what you can bring on your ride, for the comfort and safety of both you and your mule. 
  • If you’re bringing your own stock into Grand Canyon National Park, be sure to know all the rules and permits required beforehand. It’s hard work traveling with your own horses, mules, or donkeys, and it would be unfortunate to have to cut your trip short!
  • Be respectful of others. Even though all hikers must give right-of-way to equines, some may be unfamiliar with the rules or you may come across hikers in a tricky spot on the trail. Keep calm and speak firmly if people seem to be in the way unknowingly. 

Before You Go

Horseback riding or mule rides are more accessible ways for people to enjoy the Grand Canyon, especially those that may have a hard time hiking. Mules are more trustworthy than horses on rough and steep terrain, so these long-eared equines that are a cross between a donkey and a horse are entrusted with tourists down below the rim walls.

Horses are just as capable as mules along the rim trails and in the forests around the Grand Canyon and can provide a smoother ride sometimes as well. Whichever friendly equine you choose to ride, you can be sure that you’ll have a safe and enjoyable ride through one of the most beautiful landscapes that exist on planet Earth, the Grand Canyon.

But the problem in the Grand Canyon most people overlook, is the poor cell phone service in the area. For a detailed guide packed with tips based on my own experience, head over to my article: Is there cell service in the Grand Canyon?