Backpacking Havasu Falls

When Dreams Come True

For over 3 years I’d dreamt of the turquoise waters cascading down into the Havasupai Reservation. When passes went on sale in Feb 2017, I called for hours while driving to New Mexico but the lines weren’t open. They had just launched a new website but it wouldn’t be ready until the following day. The next morning I was able to hop onto some Starbucks Wi-Fi along my drive and miraculously scored some passes! On May 17thsome lucky friends and I made our descent into the canyon on what would be the adventure of a lifetime and top bucket list item—Havasu Falls.

We camped at the top of the trailhead. Which if you type in “Hualapai Hilltop” into google maps, it will take you directly there.  We arrived in the dark, parked and set up camp. You’ll need to arrive at the ranger station during the day so plan your hike in accordingly. Remember to bring plenty of water to start your hike and stay hydrated.

The hike to the campground is 10 miles and there are no water sources along the trail until you get to the village (8 miles in). There’s not much shade so it’s best to start early to avoid the blistering desert heat. We began our way into the canyon around 4am.

The first 1 to 2 miles are a steep 2000 ft. descent into the canyon, but it levels off for a long while. Depending on the speed of your group, I would allow 4-6 hours to make your way to the campgrounds. There are plenty of  spots to rest and take in the beauty of it all.  The vastness makes you feel humble and small. I’ve seen the Grand Canyon from the South Rim, but being inside was a whole different ball game. Along the trail you may find a few dogs that stick with you throughout your hike, they’re all friendly and love attention (sometimes a little too much).

Eventually, after 8 miles we found ourselves in the little town of the Havasupai Reservation. There is a ranger office to stop in to get your tent stickers and check in to make sure you have a reservation. DO NOT EVEN ATTEMPT THIS HIKE WITHOUT A RESERVATION AS YOU WILL BE TURNED AWAY. To speed along the process, bring a print out of your reservation confirmation. Fun fact – the post office is one of the only ones left in the country that still receives and sends their mail via Pony Express (yes, an actual pony 🙂 There is a restaurant and small grocery w/ limited items but remember to bring cash!

The Havasupai

If you’re unfamiliar, The Havasupai People have been badly mistreated throughout the years by the United States Government. This is why it is even more important to respect their scared land and culture. Before you go, please do your research so you know what the Tribe has been through and have a deeper appreciation of the sacred grounds you’ll be staying on. Please also bring bags for your trash to pack in and pack out and respect the Reservation rules.

The Tribe is one of the smallest left in the United States, and almost all of their income is from tourism. Do not take photos of tribal members unless you have their permission, and always be respectful. Every tribal member we encountered was kind and if you’re lucky, you may even get to hear stories of their people and culture.

Journey Continues

Once you pass through the town you have another 2 miles to go before you make your way to the campgrounds. At this point, your rocky ground becomes another steep decent in sand, which was more difficult to walk in. My calves were starting to scream and I was so ready to be there.  You will pass Little Navajo falls along the way rather quickly, which is one of the four falls you can see on this trip.

When we heard the sound of roaring water we knew we were close. I ran ahead to round the bend and finally had my first look at Havasu Falls! It was so breathtaking…the water was the perfect turquoise hue I had always imagined and the beauty was better than any photograph I’d ever seen. Feeling the ions from the water flooded us with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. We made our way to the falls to make breakfast and begin the rest of our first day.

The Falls-All Four of Them

Little Navajo Falls

This is the first falls you come across, however, we didn’t spend time here until our last day. We rock jumped, sat in swimming holes, and laid out on a rock like lizards for hours soaking in the sun and the sounds. This was a less crowded area, and we loved every second; it was one of our favorite days.

Swimming pools at the top of the falls. Be sure to spend some time here

Little Navajo Falls. We did a little Rock jumping here

Havasu Falls

The most iconic waterfall on the reservation is Havasu Falls. There are picnic tables and plenty of rocks to lounge on. It gets crowded at times so go early or after lunch time. The sun hits just right here, making the water crystal clear. “Havasu” means blue-green water and “pai” means people. Hence the name of the tribe, Havasupai–people of the blue green water.

 

 

First Group Picture at Havasu Falls (photo by @jbecker05)

Mooney Falls

We eventually decided to make our way to Mooney Falls, the 2nd waterfall, which I found more impressive than Havasu Falls. A shade darker than Havasu, but equally as stunning. Mooney falls isn’t a far walk, but you will have to descend about 150 ft to reach the bottom on ladders, metal stakes and ropes. Descend at your own risk is the disclaimer. This was a little sketchy but one of the most fun hikes I’ve ever done. This is the perfect spot to relax and enjoy the scenery. There is a rope swing and little wading pools to play in too.

If you can spot the person in the photo, it will give you an idea of how massive these falls really are.

The epic climb down to Mooney Falls

Beaver Creek Falls

These falls are an 8-mile round trip hike from the campground. Allow about 2 to 3 hours to get there unless you are stuck in traffic during the climb down to Mooney Falls. Allow a few hours for staying at Beaver Creek Falls, and the same amount of time to hike on the way back. Be prepared to traverse rivers multiple times and remove your shoes on the way there. Eventually you come across an area you wouldn’t expect—flooded with beautiful green trees and the canyons beside you. This area is called “The Valley of the Vines.” You’re almost there!

Valley of the Vines

Once you get to Beaver Creek Falls, you may meet Vincent (one of the rangers). He is a wealth of knowledge and we actually spent quite a bit of time conversing with him and learning about his culture. We learned about the Havasupai people’s history and discovered interesting facts about the sacred grounds. To traverse the river you’ll need to get in about waist deep. The water was freezing, but refreshing. We spent a lot of time above the highest fall swimming and jumping off small rocks.

At the bottom of Beaver Creek Falls (photo by @cwtracy1)

If you’re feeling very adventurous you can continue your hike to the confluence, where the turquoise water meets the Colorado River. That was a goal of ours, however, we were enjoying our time at Beaver Creek Falls and decided to stay longer to let it all soak in. If you decide to go to the confluence, it is an all day event. If you have 5 days here I’d definitely say it’s worth it but otherwise you may want to hold off.

The days in the Havasupai Reservation passed slow. Enjoy your time, soak in the beauty and vibrations, and stay present. I would often see people make it somewhere, snap a few photos and leave. Nature is meant to be enjoyed so take the time to connect with yourself and with others. If you do I promise that this trip will be more than what you bargained for.

Canyon at night (photo by @cwtracy1)

I feel that 4 days was the perfect amount of time here. The first day was the hike-in w/ mild exploration. Days 2 and 3 were play days and the last day was the hike out. I recommend hiking out early to miss the sun at its highest point. Be sure to fill your water up prior to your departure! And as always, remember to leave no trace. Use the garbage, toilets and grounds appropriately. It is our duty to help preserve these places for others to enjoy them as much as we did.

Our last group shot before exiting the canyon. (photo by @cwtracy1)

 

 

Reserving Passes/General Info

For many years, it was by phone, but now it’s online. Here is the Havasupai Tribe’s website where you can get more information and reserve passes here. Passes go on sale FEBRUARY 1st at 8:00am. As a reminder, Arizona does not participate in daylight savings time so currently operates on MST.

Although it asks you to select a campsite area, no one cares where you set up camp. For 4 days the total was $198.00 per person. There is also a Facebook group called “Backpacking Havasu Falls” where you will find a ton of suggestions and information.  Try to join before passes go on sale. This was the only reason I found out the phone lines didn’t work and that the passes were now available online.

They no longer allow day hike permits – you must stay one night minimum. If you are one of the unlucky people to not get your hands on any passes, please note you can call the office and see if there are cancellations on reservations.

Getting to the Campground

Helicopter: This is done by a first-come, first-serve basis. It is $85 cash each way and allows for one medium sized backpack. The ride is dependent on the weather conditions and should take less than 10 minutes. The helipad is in the town of Supai and you still need to hike the 2 miles to the campgrounds. There is more information on the website.

Hiking: Obviously the most popular and adventurous way. Take advantage of Mother Nature! Remember, there are no water sources until you get to the village or campground.

Mule: You may ride them, or use them to transport your belongings and then have an easier day hike. All of this information is on the website.

Where to Stay

Campsite: Included in the cost of your reservation if you choose this option. Just pick a spot and set up camp. There are plenty of spaces. There are multiple bathrooms along the way too. We opted for a campsite that was a little closer to the water source but there are some amazing spots further down the trai as well.

Lodge: Details on the website. The lodge is in the town of Supai and is still a 2-mile walk to Havasu Falls.

Guided Tours: Some companies and people offer guided tours and supply all that you will need for camping, food and transportation. There is a little information on the website but you can also find independent companies too.

When to Go

If possible, try to avoid July and August as this is monsoon season and the heat is intense! There’s also the chance for flash flooding and the need to evacuate. May, April, September and October are perfect weather months, not terribly cold or hot.

What Everyone Should Bring:

  • 2 to 3 L water for your hike in. Once you arrive there is a water source that is tested daily for purity. A filtration system is also not a bad idea.
  • Day pack for day hikes
  • The obvious camping supplies: tent, sleeping bag/sleeping pad, jet boil, fuel, camping utensils/containers
  • Enough food for the duration of your stay (3 meals/day + snacks)
  • Rain jacket
  • Dry bag
  • Portable or solar charger for phone/cameras
  • Extra battery for cameras
  • Lounge shoes/flip flops
  • First aid kit/moleskin for blisters
  • Positive attitude
  • Headlamp
  • Appropriate clothing for the weather
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Swimsuit
  • Sunscreen
  • Hiking shoes
  • Ziplock bags for trash—dispose of this upon your exit in the village
  • Cash
  • Camping towel

What I Brought

Food

Breakfast:

  • I portioned out 1 cup of oatmeal for each day in one giant Ziploc bag and added a bunch of hemp seeds, chia seeds, PB powder, and cinnamon. Every morning I would just scoop out a portion into my collapsible container.

Lunch:

  • 10 squeeze packets of honey/peanut butter
  • 8 tortillas

Dinner:

  • 3 Good to Go dehydrated meals (get them here) These babies are DELICIOUS. They are healthy and have vegan, vegetarian, gluten free and dairy free options available.

Snacks:

  • Dried mangos, banana chips, 4 protein bars
  • There is also the fry bread hut that takes cash 🙂

Be mindful that 1 liter of water is 2.2 lbs and that food takes up a lot of weight. Over the course of an 8-mile hike every ounce really adds up.

Lastly, enjoy yourself and be prepared for memories that will last a lifetime!

Kindly,

Kayley Scaffidi