On the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, riders and mounts take the Bright Angel Trail.
Short of head and long of ear. A tail nearly bereft of hair. Small wonder the mule gets so little respect. But if there's a trail ride in your travel plans, you can't beat the humble horse-donkey hybrid. Mules offer a smooth and sure-footed ride, especially on rough terrain. And they have just one speed: slow.
Grand Canyon National Park, Ariz
The overnight Bright Angel Trail ride to the Colorado River is renowned and fills up fast. A South Rim option: Abyss Overlook (303-297-2757, grandcanyonlodges.com). North Rim rides are also offered (435-679-8665, canyonrides.com).
Mammoth Lakes, Calif.
A wonderful reward awaits after a two-mile ride that follows the San Joaquin River near Devils Postpile: misty Rainbow Falls. Longer trips take in the jagged Minarets famously photographed by Ansel Adams. (760) 934-2345, redsmeadow.com.
Traverse 26 switchbacks in a 2.9-mile descent from high sea cliffs to remote Kalaupapa, where you'll learn about legendary efforts on behalf of leprosy sufferers and hear the story of Father Damien de Veuster, the Belgian priest who devoted his life to their care. (800) 567-7550, muleride.com.
Yellowstone National Park, Mont.
Lured by tales of boiling springs and geysers, visitors flocked here as early as the mid-1800s for tours on muleback. Today's rides take in the same vistas on trips ranging from a half day to 10 days. (406) 646-7230, yellowstone-guides.com.
Yosemite National Park, Calif.
Riders mosey at a clip-clop pace on this easy two-hour trek that follows an old wagon road around Wawona Meadow. More adventuresome sorts find photo ops galore on a half-day outing to Vernal Falls Bridge. (209) 372-8348, yosemitepark.com/activities.aspx.
Zion National Park, Utah
On a tight schedule? Splash across the Virgin River to sandstone cliffs known as the Court of the Patriarchs and be back at the corral in an hour. A half-day trip climbs 500 feet for amazing views. (435) 679- 8665, canyonrides.com.
Photography courtesy of Xanterra Parks & Resorts
This article was first published in November 2013. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.