The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail. Travel too fast and you miss all you are traveling for. ~Louis L'Amour
When I was planning our Yosemite National Park vacation, Yosemite mule and horseback rides were at the top of the list of things we wanted to do since my niece, Alexis, loves horses. Yosemite Park has a great website however it doesn't give you a lot of extra information or many details so here's the quick lowdown on Yosemite mule and horseback rides including lots of photos.
There are three stables within the Yosemite National Park, each ride offering unique scenery and a memorable experience. You have a choice of two-hour, four-hour and all day rides but a two-hour ride may be all you can handle if you're not used to riding and is recommended for beginners.
The Yosemite Valley Stable is the one we originated our two-hour ride from and the trail takes you up to Mirror Lake and you view amazing scenery.
[Photo: Yosemite Valley Stables.]
1. Make reservations before you go to Yosemite
Before you go to Yosemite, make sure you make reservations for your party for the Yosemite mule and horseback rides. Failing to do this BEFORE you go could mean you don't get to go at all as it is a very popular activity in the park during the high season. Also, keep in mind that this is a seasonal activity and is not available year round. Horses and mules are used in Yosemite Valley and will cost $64.00 per person (adults and children) for a two-hour ride.
Be prepared to arrive about an hour before your scheduled ride time and if you're not staying either in Yosemite Village or Curry Village in the Yosemite Valley, plan on it taking between 45-to-90 minutes to get to the Yosemite Valley Stables. We were renting a vacation home in Yosemite West and it took 45 minutes including a few wrong turns along the way.
2. Check-in at office and get brief orientation
The Yosemite Valley Stables may be initially a little tricky to locate as most of the maps I had for Yosemite were not very detailed so that was frustrating, but there are lots of signs and then when you think you're lost, just stop and ask someone in the park. You will find it if you head toward Curry Village as it's just beyond there.
There is plenty of parking at the horse stables if you ride in the morning although we found the lot very full in the afternoon when we returned from our 10:30am ride. After you park your car, head over to the stables office (it's well marked) to check in, pay for your Yosemite mule and horseback rides, and sign a liability waiver. The stables accept all major credit cards.
Once you're checked in, you'll be asked to select a helmet where you'll find all sizes in a cabinet next to the office. This is an important safety feature and these are nice helmets with visors which is helpful for blocking out the sun's rays on your face during Yosemite mule and horseback rides.
[Photo: Yosemite Valley Stables Team Captain, Shaun.]
Next, you'll get a quick orientation on what to expect on the trail. Ours was conducted by trail captain, Shaun, a bit of a young Brad Pitt look-a-like if you ask me. During the Yosemite mule and horseback rides you will not be called by your name, but by your mule or horse's name. If you've never ridden a horse or mule before or if it has been awhile, no worries. The trail captain brought us up-to-speed on how to "start" our horse, stop our horse and also instructed us on how to turn left or right. Pretty simple stuff really.
As part of our orientation, we were directed to watch an important safety DVD on Yosemite mule and horseback rides that was very helpful. Always remember, safety first as Yosemite mule and horseback rides are fun, but do go over some difficult areas on the trail.
NOTE: You are not permitted to have backpacks or carry any purses or packs on the trail. You can carry a camera with a strap and water if its in a strap on type carrier. It's a safety precaution as these items can get caught on low lying branches, etc.
3. Trail guides will pair you with a mule or horse
Finally, the trail guides selected mules for us to ride starting with the kids. It was clear while we were on the trail that they selected mules based on mules' personalities and the riders experience.
[Photo: Yosemite Valley Stables - My Niece, Alexis, on her mule, Shiner.]
My niece, Alexis, was paired with Shiner, an older and very cautious mule. As I rode behind them a good part of the trail, I could see how careful Shiner was negotiating rocky terrain and was grateful they'd chosen such a steady mule for Alexis.
[Photo: My Nephew, Tyler, getting stirrups adjusted on his mule, Clem.]
Once you're on your mule, the trail guides will help adjust the stirrups for a comfortable ride. Note that if you start to experience knee discomfort during the ride, your stirrups are not adjusted correctly. Ask the trail guide to assist you with this as I did mid-way through the ride at an appropriate time on the trail.
I was assigned to Valerie, a mule who is the mere essence of "stubborn as a mule." More about her at the end of this article.
4. Three trail guides keep you on the trail
Now it's time take to the trail and enjoy the scenery of Yosemite Valley. In our party, there were three trail guides as there were probably close to twenty mules and riders on this ride. There is a trail guide leading the front of the group, one positioned in the middle, and then a trail guide bringing up the end of the group of riders. They are all very knowledgeable.
[Photo: Our trail guide, Julie Anne, guided us every step of the way.]
Our lead trail guide was Julie Anne, a college student from Fresno. Josh was the mid-group trail guide and Dylan, was bringing up he back of the group. All were great riders.
My nephew, Tyler, rode directly in back of Julie Anne during most of the trail and she answered his many questions about mules, horses and Yosemite. She was delightful and made the ride more fun and meaningful with her knowledge of the park and the animals we were riding.
[Photo: Yosemite Valley scenery seen on the trail.]
My niece, Alexis, really wanted to ride horses instead of mules, but Julie Anne told us why mules are such a better choice for rides over the type of trail we were on. Mules eyes are positioned in a different way than horses which allows mules to see all four of their feet whereas horses can only see their front two feet. This makes them more reliable for negotiating rocky terrain (which we encountered on the trail.)
Mules are also known for a calmer temperment, sure footedness, less liklihood to bolt when startled, and follow horses well, which is why Julie Anne, our lead trail guide, was riding a horse (named Little Thomas). Mules are a better choice for inexperienced riders like most tourists who have mostly never been on a horse or a mule before.
When she explained this, it made sense that that's why they use mules at the Grand Canyon, too. By the way, a mule is the off spring of a female horse and a male donkey. Ninety-nine percent of mules are sterile.
5. Enjoy the ride and Yosemite scenery
The two-hour Yosemite mule and horseback rides take you to Mirror Lake and is perfect for beginners looking for unique photographic opportunities so don't forget your camera.
[Photo: Yosemite Valley mule ride on the trail.]
I took the photos of the trail ride "on-the-fly" while riding over rocky terrain on the back of my mule. While you're on the ride you cannot get off your mule or horse for any reason (baring an extreme emergency) so practice your steady hand and focus to grab some great shots.
[Photo: Yosemite Valley's Mirror Lake. Photo taken while riding my mule.]
The half-day Yosemite mule and horseback rides take more adventurous riders up to Clark’s Point where you have access to excellent views of Vernal Fall. The trail is often uneven, and consists of many switch backs up a steep slope, with an elevation gain of 1500 feet. This is a strenuous ride best suited to riders in good physical shape. One hour rides are not easy when you're not used to being on a horse so understand that while they're fun, Yosemite mule and horseback rides do involve a level of physical discomfort.
[Photo: Yosemite Valley Stables' Mule: Valerie #99.]
I was assigned to ride a mule named Valerie. When I first met Valerie at the stables and before I was assigned to her, I had her number. She's like someone who shows up to work every day and does not want to be there but goes through the motions. I couldn't help but feel for her as she's a sweet spirit and maybe she was just having "one of those days" or maybe that's how she always is. Just like people who focus on the negative in life and not on the positive of what they do.
[Photo: Yosemite Valley Stables: Marianne Schwab and Valerie.]
On the way home from Yosemite, I popped in a Wings Greatest Hits CD and the first song is "It's Just Another Day." Tyler said what I was thinking, "That song reminds me of Valerie."
[Video: "It's Just Another Day" a.k.a. Valerie's Song.]
So amazing how our assigned mules and their special personalities stay with you. You connect with them and that's another part of the amazing memories associated with Yosemite mule and horseback rides. I continue to think of Valerie everyday.
In addition to Yosemite mule and horseback rides, we have more more Yosemite Valley activities you must do on this website to make sure you get the most out of your time in Yosemite National Park.