For horseback riding near the South Rim, go to Apache Stables (tel. 928/638-2891; www.apachestables.com), which operates from April through October; it's 1 mile north of Tusayan (off Hwy. 64), just outside the park's south entrance. Most of the horses here are "dog-friendly," as our guide put it. Because they're gentle and know the trails near the stables, you need only kick your steed periodically to make sure it keeps going. The rest of the time, you can relax and enjoy your horse's swaying motion and the ponderosa pine forest.
The friendly horses make this a great, albeit expensive, family activity. Children as young as 8 (and 48 in. tall) are allowed on the 1-hour trail rides, which, like the 2-hour ones, loop through the Kaibab National Forest near the stables. Other options are an evening trail ride and a wagon ride, both going to a campfire where participants roast marshmallows and other food they bring.
Prices are $89 for the 2-hour ride, $49 for the 1-hour ride, $59 for the campfire trail ride, and $26 for the campfire wagon ride. Participants should wear long pants and closed-toe footwear, and bring plenty of water. Backpacks are not allowed, but fanny packs are okay. Some age and weight restrictions may apply.
Wearing floppy hats and clutching rain slickers, the day's mule riders gather at 7am (8am in winter) every day at a corral west of Bright Angel Lodge (on the South Rim) to prepare for their rides. You can almost hear the jangling nerves as they contemplate the prospect of descending narrow trails above steep cliffs on animals hardly famous for their willingness to comply. Although the mules walk close to the edges and have been known to back off the trails, accidents are rare, especially among riders who follow the wrangler's instructions. In fact, mule trips have been going into the canyon for more than a century without a single fatality from a fall.
The rides, while usually safe, can nonetheless be grueling. In fact, the National Park Service has limited the destination and number of mule rides, no longer allowing the 1-day trip to Plateau Point. Instead, there is now a rim ride offered to the Abyss, along with a limited number of mule rides still allowed down to Phantom Ranch. Most people's legs aren't used to bending around a mule, and the saddles aren't soft. In addition to the pounding, the canyon can be scorching, and chances for breaks are few. Because the rides are strenuous for both riders and mules, the wranglers strictly adhere to the following requirements: You must weigh less than 200 pounds (everyone is weighed), be at least 4 feet 7 inches tall, not be pregnant, and understand English. Acrophobes are discouraged from participating.
The least expensive ride -- the half-day trip to the Abyss Overlook -- stays on the rim. It travels from the Livery Barn in Grand Canyon Village through piñon pine forest to the Abyss Overlook. Riders have about 30 minutes here to take in the magnificent 3,000-foot vertical drop and stunning panorama. The total trip time is 3 hours. The cost is $121 and includes a bota bag for water and snacks.
The other rides are part of 1- or 2-night packages that include lodging and meals at Phantom Ranch. Going down, they follow Bright Angel Trail to the river, then travel east on the River Trail before finally crossing the river via the Kaibab Suspension Bridge. Coming back they use the South Kaibab Trail. The 10.5-mile descent takes 5 1/2 hours; the 8-mile-long climb out is an hour shorter. The Phantom Ranch overnight costs $498 for one person, $880 for two, and $398 for each additional person (prices include tax). The Phantom Ranch 2-night trip, offered only from November to March, costs $702 for one person, $1,170 for two people, and $495 for each additional person. A duffel service is also available costing $64 per duffle bag.
Mule rides on the North Rim are through a small, family-run outfit called Canyon Trail Rides. Four types of rides, open to ages 7 and up, are offered; the easiest goes 1 mile along the rim on the Ken Patrick Trail before turning back. This 1-hour ride costs $40 per person, while the two half-day rides each cost $75 per person. One stays on the rim, following the Ken Patrick and Uncle Jim trails to a canyon viewpoint; the other descends 2 miles into the canyon on the North Kaibab Trail, turning back at Supai Tunnel. No one more than 200 pounds is allowed on the canyon rides; for the rim rides, the limit is 220. All riders must speak English. Long pants are recommended, and you shouldn't bring anything more than a camera to carry. Water is provided.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.