After a long (COVID) delay, we finally had our chance to ride mules down to Phantom Ranch for an overnight stay at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Getting in on this trip is literally winning the lottery; there is a lottery drawing each month to even get the chance to book the trip. You can get to Phantom in one of three ways: on foot, on mule, or by raft on the Colorado River. As a result, a small percentage of the human population ever make it to Phantom Ranch.
This post contains info to questions that we had while planning for this trip. I hope it helps. Have a great ride!
Q: What can I bring with me on the overnight? How do I know the size of the bag they provide?
A: When you check in at the transportation desk the day before your ride, you will get a drawstring backpack and a bota bag for your water. All of your belongings for the overnight ride mule ride to Phantom Ranch need to fit in this bag unless you want to pay for additional duffle service. I also had my phone on a strap around my neck so that I could take photos and videos during the ride. I do not recommend a DSLR around your neck on this 5-6 hour ride each way.
The Day Before the Mule Ride
You will want to stay in or near the park the day before your scheduled ride. We stayed on property the night before so that we could walk to the corrale and not have to drive into the park so early in the morning.
This is for two reasons:
(1) You will need to complete your in-person checkin at the Bright Angel Transportation Desk. At this time, you will get weighed to make sure that you’re under the 200 lb. weight limit, as well as receive your drawstring pack that holds your belongings for the overnight.
There is also a prep routine for your bota water bag. Make sure that you get the packets of lemon juice from the transportation desk, and that you soak your bag overnight prior to your ride.
(2) Your ride will depart very early in the morning. You will need to meet at approximately 6:30am on the morning of your ride. It is best and most convenient to not have to make a long drive and find parking at that early hour.
The stone corrale located at the head of Bright Angel Trail is where you meet to load up. You will be asked to meet here very early in the morning on the day of your ride.
During the Mule Ride
Once you meet at the stone corrale, you will be given a safety briefing by the manager and you will meet the two guides who will take care of you during your ride. The wranglers will load your drawstring packs into the saddlebags and get you mounted on your mule in time to hit the trail around 7-7:15am.
There isn’t much to do on the ride except enjoy the scenery, listen to your wrangler when they are giving instructions, and motivate your mule when they aren’t keeping up with the mule train.
Overnight at the Ranch
You will be greeted a member of the Phantom Ranch staff when you arrive, at which point you will be given the canteen schedule and your cabin assignment. We did our ride when COVID protocols were in place, so the mess hall with family-style seating wasn’t open. Instead, we were told when the canteen window was open for us to pick up our boxed dinner and take it back to our cabins.
You will arrive in enough time to go for a short hike before dark. Our legs were feeling okay enough to go for a walk, which was cut short due to a pretty fierce rainstorm that blew into the canyon.
Note: There is no Internet connection, no cell phone reception, and no TVs in the cabins. You are here to enjoy nature; not to stare at a screen. If having connectivity is a must-have, then you will not enjoy your stay at Phantom Ranch.
On the Way Back to South Rim
The next morning, you will pick up your breakfast from the canteen window. Again, we did our ride during COVID and the mess hall wasn’t open. We heard from other hikers that the experience at Phantom Ranch is usually much more friendly, with hikers and riders sharing food and friendship in the mess hall. As with dinner, we picked up our breakfast and took it back to our cabin.
The wrangler will tell you what time to load up to head back up to the South Rim. Depending on what trail work is being done, you may or may not return the same way you came down. At the time of this writing, they are doing some extensive trail work on South Kaibab Trail and are not bringing mule riders back up that way.
The mule ride is Phantom Ranch is expensive, but it is worth every penny. There is nothing like the experience of this mule ride, and no video that you watch on YouTube will ever do it justice. You will get to see the Grand Canyon in a unique way and have an experience that very few people ever get to do. Go on the mule ride to Phantom Ranch if you ever get the chance. You will not regret it.
Do not leave any food in your bag, because the critters WILL get to it.– Alicia, our mule wrangler
This is what happens to your bag when you don’t listen to your mule wrangler.