Unless you've been hiding under a rock, and have had no social media influence in your life (props to you if this is the case!), you've likely seen an almost unrealistically beautiful turquoise blue waterfall in a tropical desert setting. While this has been a well known waterfall, somehow recently a sudden influx of new adventurers and travelers are finding out about this beautiful series of waterfalls. Now due to social media, this location is receiving a TON more of people determined to visit this desert oasis hot spot.
My journey here all began in early 2017 when I had spoken with some friends about making a trip to the Southwest desert region of the United States. There had always been a lot of parks and sights I have wanted to see down here, and this seemed to be one of the best times of year to travel to this region. I had completely forgotten that the majestic series of waterfalls were located in the Grand Canyon area in a off shoot canyon known as Havasu Canyon, until a friend mentioned he wanted to go there.
After that conversation, I began to frantically plan how to make a trek to this sacred waterfall in the desert. I knew it was notoriously difficult to secure a permit to camp here, and also expensive (at the time was about $95 just to hike here, along with $25 to camp) I will talk more about my simple strategy to reach someone to reserve a permit for my hike later on in this article.
I eventually was able to make contact with someone at the reservation and was able to secure a permit for a random Tuesday in April (18th to be exact). I pretty much planned the rest of my trip and flight dates around this specific date. That's how important this hike was to me!
After getting everything squared away for this hike, I was excited to finally be going to this very sought after destination. I definitely felt very lucky to obtain this opportunity to go!
This hike was going to be the first of several experimental hikes the next year or so that I planned on testing myself physically. I also planned on testing new gear as I prepare to take on a whole new level of hiking in the highest elevations in the world, but I'll wait to share more details on that later!
A lot of this trip was going to focus on my ability to go long distances with a heavy backpack filled with necessary camping and camera gear. It was also an experiment with a new type of hiking shoes, or trailer runners more specifically. Prior to this trip, I have always been the type to wear heavy, ankle high boots. After I concluded this 20 mile hike to Havasu Falls, I have determined that trail runners were going to be my shoe of choice for long hikes from now on! I will dedicate a blog entry to this decision in the near future. Stay tuned.
Getting to Supai Village & Havasu Falls
The journey to Supai Village and Havasu Falls begins by a long single lane road that heads towards the Grand Canyon, but on the far west side. This road has one destination, the Hualapai Hilltop parking lot. There is a few other structures in this area, but there is no gas stations, markets, or anything of that sort in the area. Come prepared, its about an hour drive to the nearest town, which is Peach Springs. The hilltop is basically a large parking lot on the side of a cliff with a few bathrooms, a ranger station, and spots for horses and mules to rest. This is also where you drop off your gear if you decide to take the lazy route and not carry your own gear to the Supai Village (where the lodge is) or the campground.
When you park at the lot, take your time to prepare and get your pack settled. It sucks getting a few miles into a hike only to have to rearrange your pack just because you packed it in a haste and something is uncomfortable.
This is a good spot to lather up in sunscreen. This hike gets hot, and shade isn't very common throughout most of the day. Don't get me wrong, there are nooks and crannies along the way you can hide in to escape the sun, but most of the spots aren't overly convenient.
Make sure you also have easy access to water. Some sort of Camelbak or water bladder with a hose would be most ideal. It's easier to access, and really doesn't require stopping to reach a bottle or flask. It's much more efficient!
Once your all geared up, sun blocked, and hydrated its time to make this epic hike!
Its a little confusing at the top. There's a check in station, that I never checked in at mainly because no one was there. I don't think there's any issue, just make sure you can prove you have a permit for the campground/village before you leave. They should have an electronic record once you get to the village, but its always good to be on the safe side with a physical receipt of your purchase.
The actual hike itself
The actual hike itself, for the most part is not very strenuous and I would rate it at moderate due to its distance, heat, and sunlight factors. Also, I did this hike with about 45lbs of gear on my back. It was no easy feat to do this either way.
The first mile and a half going down into Havasu Canyon is quick and easy. Everyone loves going down hill on hikes for the most part. It gets a little steep, and it is filled with switch backs, but it goes by rather quickly. It also offers some great views of the canyon floor below.
This is that point in the hike where you see fellow hikers returning from the falls and they look like they are in complete and utter misery. You also snidely think to yourself that that wont be you because you are much more fit than these people. You will power through this steep canyon wall. I should also mention that many of these miserable looking grumpy folks had barely anything more than a small back pack, which probably held water and snacks (much less a tent, sleeping bag, pillow, cooking gear, camera gear, tripod, nearly two gallons of water, and clothes, among other supplies).
The thing that gets you most on this trip to the Supai Village and Havasu Falls campground is the distance and temperatures. Its relatively flat and easy after the 1.5 mile journey into the canyon. Once you are in the canyon, it's rock river bed and loose sand seem to be your common path most of the way.
You'll keep wondering to yourself how much longer you go after you go through repeated canyon bends for miles. You also begin to realize that water erosion is extremely powerful in carving out these canyons over long periods of time. It really is amazing.
Eventually, you will reach a old sign that states that you're almost to the Supai Village. Immediately, your energy levels begin to restore and you become motivated again. While you are approaching the village, you will begin to come across a stream, and some irrigation canals built by the tribe. It's basically your guide the rest of the way to the village as the hiking trail accompanies the river.
Walking into Supai Village for the first time will be different. It's sort of like stepping back into time a little bit, if stepping back into time also provided free WiFi at the check in building. The village itself has remnants of an older way of life, mixed with new technologies and innovation.
The tribe has made good use of this tucked away little canyon. It's a neat little village. Be respectful of the village and it's people. It may seem like its set up to be a little tourist town with an old settlement theme, but its not. This is the day to day life for these Havasupai tribal families living here.
After 8 miles of hiking, and entering the small village, you kind of have the feeling that you are somewhere where you don't belong almost. I don't know if I was just tired, or the fact that I had no clue where exactly I was going. I just kept wandering down the main path through the village until I came across the first sign that mentioned food and drinks for sale. A little ways past that then I came across the visitor check in building. The air conditioning felt amazing to walk into after being out in the scorching sun and hiking for 3-4 hours. (This wasn't even the hot time of year down here, but I came from Minnesota where we were just finishing up our winter season)
After checking in, you are good to go to the campsite, which is located an addition 2 MILES away from this point. Use this point to refuel, rest up, and rearrange your pack. If you carried it down on your own. You will be given a area map, and some further information, along with a permit once you check in at the visitor center.
You have to continue through the village for a bit of a distance more. You will wander by a church, post office, school and more. It's a cool little "downtown" area.
If you need any last minute supplies, or want some cold drinks, stop by the town store to pick up whatever you may need. You can always hike the two miles back to town if you find out you forgot something, but once you get down to the falls and the campground, you're not gonna want to leave! That is of course, if you are not staying at the village's lodge.
After you're ready to hit the trail again, follow your map that was given to you by visitor services attendant. The town is fairly easy to navigate, but you may be weary and head in the wrong direction. The last two miles fly by. Its relatively more easy hiking, until the last little bit, which fortunately is downhill anyways.
As you reach the end, the sound of water falling will likely lighten and quicken your step. I kept wondering too myself when I would finally see the wondrous blue waters of Havasu Falls. You will pass by the first two falls first. These two are Fifty Foot Falls, and Navajo Falls.
While it is tempting to stop, you are almost to your final destination! (No, don't worry you're not going to suffer some horrific Final Destination like death upon arrival.) The instant your eyes fall upon the cascading 90 foot Havasu waterfall, the whole 10 miles you hiked, and the pain accumulated from that instantly go out of thought. It is a stunning sight to see such a blue and green display before your eyes in the Grand Canyon region.
When you descend into the river valley, you are still going to have to hike for a tiny bit more before you hit the actual campground area (if you are camping that is). It was tough for me to walk away from the waterfall I just hiked 10 miles to see, but I knew it was going to be important to set up camp first.
You pretty much get free roam of where to place your tent in the campground, as long as its within the boundaries of the campground itself. Some spots are more suitable than others, and there is a good amount of picnic tables by potential sites to choose from. Fires are not allowed down in this campground, so make sure to bring a cooking stove.
It would be wise to set up next to one of the picnic tables for obvious reasons. Also, try to pick an area that may be sheltered from the wind somewhat. It can get pretty windy down there.
Within the campground are three separate raised bathrooms, and they also have a spot for fresh water that is drinkable. Do not wash your dishes out at this water location, it is not meant to be contaminated by food scraps. All trash that you make during your stay must be brought back out with you when you go, there is no place to really throw out garbage.
Please be strict with your leave no trace camping rule here, it would not take long for this area to become littered and dirty if people didn't clean up after themselves. Check your site multiple times before you depart.
There is a ranger located in the park area who checks for permits, and also a make shift "restaurant" where you can buy hot meals if you want. I am not sure of the hours at this spot, but its near the entrance of the campground. I heard the food was pretty good,but after 10 miles of hiking, anything can be pretty appetizing at that point. If I remember right, they have fry bread. Which is a Native American food item, which is a pretty delicious.
Once you finally reach the village and the campground areas, there are quite a few waterfalls (5 to be exact). Though, some are not nearly as dramatic as Mooney and Havasu Falls, in my opinion.
You might be thinking after seeing these photos that the water can't possibly be this turquoise blue in person. Well, it is. The reason for that is due to the minerals that are in the water from limestone that the river flows over. The minerals are mainly magnesium and calcium, which when in the water reflects light from our sun off of it, giving it that paradise like blue water.
The first two waterfalls are before you even reach Havasu Falls. I will admit, I totally failed and did not explore these due to my time constraints. I definitely messed up on giving my self enough time to spend here. Don't make my same mistake if you can avoid it!
These two waterfalls are Fifty Foot Falls, and Navajo Falls. I only took photos of one of these, and at a distance. When I first got to these two falls, I was too focused on the end prize to care. When I was leaving the area I was too focused on getting to the Hilltop parking lot by 2. ( I missed this goal by about 2.5 hours anyways).
Havasu Falls is the most famous of the waterfalls here, and the one that you will find next after Navajo Falls. You will hear this one before you even see it. It's quite loud.
This is likely going to be the most populated for visitors as well. I spent a good hour here after my hike. Its really an impressive sight. You have probably seen this waterfall in tons of pictures and videos at this point. You probably have thought it's pretty cool, but pictures probably make it seem way better than it actually is. You're wrong. Its even more impressive than those pictures and videos have made it seem. These are in my top waterfalls I have ever seen... And I've seen a ton of waterfalls, especially after visiting Iceland!
Havasu Falls is conveniently right next to the campground, so this is the quickest to get to after you get established. It's a good point to relax and spend your evening after you arrive. Save Mooney Falls for your next destination the following morning.