Every hike deserves a refreshing cocktail as a reward, and what better cocktail than a Tennessee Mule after a long, or short, hike along the Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon. “Why a Tennessee Mule?” you might ask being that Grand Canyon is in Arizona. For two reasons, so be prepared for some tails before your trails and cocktails.

Captain John Hance, well known for telling his own tall tails to the tourists visiting Grand Canyon in the mid 1880s was born in Tennessee and believed to be the first to use mules in the canyon.  But the legacy does not stop there. For over the past 30 years, the mules that walk the trails of Grand Canyon are bred in Gallatin, Tennessee by Reese Bros. The Bright Angel Trail is the trail most frequented by mules carrying Grand Canyon guests going to Phantom Ranch in order to ice their genitals upon arrival (ice that could be used in your mule if you really feel like roughin’ it), or mules that bring supplies down and out from Phantom Ranch.

The Bright Angel Trail

The Bright Angel Trail is one of three maintained trails in Grand Canyon National Park. It begins near the mule corral by Bright Angel Lodge, traversing the Bright Angel fault and reaches the Colorado after 9.5 miles with a descent of approximately 4,500 feet. This is the most popular trail in Grand Canyon, and the ‘easiest’ by which to hike to the river, although not recommended (especially during the warm/hot months – May through September and if you are not in peak physical condition).  But the river does not have to be the only destination.  There are plenty of viewpoints and turn arounds along the stretch for any kind of cocktail drinking hiker to get a good sense of the trail and the canyon. This is also the trail you will see tourists galore wearing heels, flip flops, white capri pants and other not so dirty-trail-friendly apparel and footwear. This is the trail closest to the bus stop – need I say more.

One common stopping point is the first of two rest houses; one after 1.5 miles and the second is after 3 miles.  But even a short hike in will have you at the mile tunnel, granting you amazing views and some ancient pictographs of elk (or Santa and his reindeer). You know, I actually said that to someone on the trail and she actually got upset with me – as if I was serious. So I said, “Here’s a ten spot lady. Buy yourself a sense of humor.” Anyway, more amazing is within your grasp as you approach the 2 mile switchback and you will see more 1000 year old pictographs on a boulder that fell from the Coconino sandstone rock layer from several hundred feet up.  And of course, there is always the hike to Plateau Point, a 12.6 mile hike round trip with an elevation change of 3,000 feet from rim to the plateau. Get yourself a permit to camp at Indian Garden for the night so you have more time to enjoy the area.

One big advantage of the Bright Angel Trail is that drinking water is available at four locations – the two rest houses – aptly named the mile-and-a-half rest house and the 3-mile rest house, Indian Garden (4.5 miles) and Phantom Ranch at the trail’s end. Bear in mind that these water stations are spigots that require you to have something to fill up. They are also part of the transcanyon pipeline that has a tendency to break so water may not be available. Always check with the Grand Canyon backcountry center for the most current trail conditions. These are not vending machines or food stands with bottled water for sale at $5 a 16 oz bottle. Speaking of no food stands – bring food as well.

And while a hike to the Colorado River is not recommended, some of you are going to do it anyway so just know these things…

  • it IS HOTTER at the bottom than the top so if it is 80 F at the rim, it will be over 100 at the bottom with little shade.
  • what goes down MUST come up. If you so choose to take the trek all the way, you must be able to hike back out the same day – unless you have a permit to camp at Bright Angel Campground or a reservation at Phantom Ranch. Even then, you still eventually have to be able to hike out.
  • you will be hiking something called the Devil’s Corkscrew.  These are not the hardest sets of switchbacks on the trail, but they are exposed and relentless on a hot day.
Tennessee Mule Cocktail Recipe
  • 2 ounces George Dickel Whisky No. 12
  • 4-6 ounces ginger beer
  • 1/2 ounce lime juice
  • fresh mint leaves

Fill a copper mule mug with ice.
Add the whisky and lime juice then top with the ginger beer and stir.
Garnish with fresh mint and lime wheel.