The Havasu Falls Hike
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.
I ended up going to Havasu Falls at night to try some night photography. The night sky wasn't as cooperative as I had hoped, but I was still able to get a few shots in, and practiced with using flashlights and 'painting' in some exposure shots.
This was a completely new style of photography for me, so I still have to do some work on this. Havasu Falls is probably the easiest and safest to get to do night photography. It doesn't involve any tricky maneuvering, such as you will find with Mooney Falls.
The next morning I suggest waking up at sunrise. You probably are going to be uncomfortable and sore, so this should be no problem since your sleep will be very disturbed! I know I was, mainly because I ditched my sleeping pad in exchange for less bulkiness to my backpack.
Get a good breakfast in, and then head towards Mooney Falls, which is at the opposite end of the campground. Mooney Falls is a bit more difficult to reach the bottom. It involves entering some small caves, climbing down ladders, and using a very brief via ferrata system (check back sometime at the end of this year for my experience in the legendary via ferrata trail in the Dolomites of Italy!)
Wear good shoes, preferably ones that can get wet too. This path down doesn't take longer than 15 minutes, but it requires good traction,
and there are some very slick spots. This probably isn't a good hike to make if you are claustrophobic. Fear not, you can still hang out near the top and get a great view too.
It gets even better when you see these signs that tell you to descend at your own risk. The black and white effects make it even more harrowing!
When you get to Mooney Falls, it may be confusing at first on where to go, especially if you are the first person there in the morning like I was (I was there for nearly an hour by myself before more hikers came along). It is pretty awesome to have this desert oasis with a raging waterfall to yourself to sit and reflect on life, and enjoy an amazing view so few people get to experience in person.
Once you get to the tunnel, you'll know it. It is ominous and creepy looking. There wasn't the greatest of signs marking it, but your gut will be telling you to continue into the dark hole of no return. As Arnold Schwarzenegger once said in one of his Conan movies, "Into the tunnel!"
My biggest reluctance to go in this tunnel at first was the thought that I was the first one going through that morning, so obviously all of the spiders and tarantulas would be waiting around for their first victim to come crashing through their nasty webs and traps. Turns out I was wrong. I didn't see any spiders at all. I made it a point not to look up or around any of the dark crevices though. I really hate spiders. I like to compare it to Indiana Jones's irrational fear of snakes. Yeah, I just compared myself to Indiana Jones. I even have the adventure hat, that everyone seems to hate when I wear it!
The descent down to the bottom of the falls is actually pretty fun, at least if you like climbing around and maneuvering around in tight, slippery, and potentially dangerous areas!
Once you reach the bottom, hang around and enjoy the serenity provided by this epic waterfall. I had a great start to my morning here.
After you finish enjoying this beautiful sight. Continue further down river for about 2-3 miles and check out Beaver Falls. I unfortunately skipped out on this portion due to my time constraints. I wish I would have given myself another day or two in this Grand Canyon oasis.
After I finished up at Mooney Falls, I packed up and prepared to hit the long dusty trail. Literally, the trail gets very dusty at times. I was energized and ready to power through this trail, only feeling slightly daunted by the massive canyon I had to climb up through a series of annoying switchbacks. See, look at how energized and happy I was in this picture at Havasu Falls on my way out.
This would definitely not be the same face I would be making when I reached the Hilltop parking lot, eagerly ditched my heavy 45lb pack and camera bag, and collapsed on the pavement for several minutes. But we'll get to that point later.
The Dreadful Hike out
This hike out was not only dreadful because I was leaving "heaven" on earth in this beautiful desert oasis, but also because I had 10 miles to go before I reached my car at the Hilltop parking lot. I don't even know why the hell they call it the Hilltop, it's not even a hill, that's for damn sure!
The first 8.5 miles went by surprisingly fast. I really powered through this mostly flat river bed trek without any issue, regardless of all of my gear. I was making good time, I was confident in my physical fitness through all of this.
Everything came to a crashing halt once I hit the very beginning of the ascent to the Hilltop. Remember way back at the beginning of this entry, when I mentioned miserable and cranky people, who I would greet, and they would barely even offer up a smile in return? Well that was pretty much me not even a 1/8 of a mile into the ascent. Now I know the pain of all of those people, less than a day later. Now I probably know the pain even worse since very few of them had the same amount of equipment strapped to their back as I did.
I would definitely rate this uphill hike probably the most draining physically and mentally I have ever done. Had I not been weighed down, and not 8.5 miles into the hike already, it wouldn't had been much of an issue, but that wasn't case. I definitely have a new found passionate hate for switchbacks after this trek!
On the way up, I swear I would stop every 100-200 feet and rest upon whatever comfy looking rock would be nearby. Keep in mind that every one of these rocks was smack dab in clear view of the sun's beaming hot rays. There was pretty much no shade to be found. This only added to the difficulty, and the dwindling supply of water I had left on me.
This was the first time on a hike that I thought that I may have to ditch my gear, or call for help from the tribe members who brought village supplies and hiker gear to and from their village. My body felt like it was totally exerted. I was running extremely low on energy and motivation to keep going.
It was at this point, where I was laying on a large rock slob staring up at the sky that I had remembered once before when I had been this exhausted and mentally drained. It was during an week long "boot camp" for a special operations team (SORT) I was a member of when I worked in a prison. This week long "boot camp" was nothing but physically demanding and mentally draining in attempts to break potential members and make them quit, or have them push on harder and realize they were capable of continuing on and pushing their limits farther than they thought possible of themselves. It was this experience a few years ago that made me realize I could keep pushing on, and finish the trek without needing help or ditching my heavy pack. I got the motivation and kept pushing on slowly but surely. It was hell, but I finally made it out of that canyon after many stops. Whether it was the motivation of knowing I wasn't beat and wouldn't give up, or the thought of a greasy fast food burgers and fries that would await me soon as I got to civilization I don't know. Or maybe it was the thought of a ice cold IPA. Who knows, its not important at this point.
The hike was over, I did it. I eventually got into my car and took off without looking back! It was a good thing I didn't give up, because when I reached the top, there was absolutely no one there who would be able to help me. It was a parking lot filled with cars with not a person in sight. I could have been waiting until the next morning.
How to Prepare and What to Bring?
Being physically fit and prepared for this hike is the first recommendation I have. I'm no expert on planning physical fitness goals and training programs to prepare, so check online. There are plenty of people who can provide recommendations on this topic. Good physical shape is important for this hike since its a total of 20 miles!
Probably the most important thing on this list. The tribe won't respond too fondly if you are found going to the falls without a permit to be there. Don't ruin this awesome opportunity the Havasupai Tribe allows outside visitors to see. Please do not go without a permit!
A solid pair of hiking shoes or boots
This was my first hiking experience using trail runners over my usual go to of big heavy hiking boots. Its safe to say, I'll probably never go back to hiking boots after this experience. Trail runners were everything I had hoped and more. They are basically like running shoes, but more rugged and produced for non paved hiking trails.
I didn't even wind up with any blisters on the bottom of my toes or heels, which generally always happens. I didn't even have time to break these trail runners in either. How awesome is that?!
I will be posting an article about my experiences with them, and why you should try them out too!
A good sized hiking backpack
I used a 75 liter, which may be excessive, but I just had myself to carry my gear down. Something that you can fit your tent, camping gear, clothes, water, food, and whatever else you may have. Make sure its sturdy. 20 miles is a long distance with a poorly attached backpack.
While there are some supplies you can pick up at the store in Supai village, it is good to have a supplies going into the hike, just in case. This was also my first experience ever using freeze dried food with a camping stove. It was excellent for the most part. Light weight, compact, quick, and generally pretty delicious! Everything a hiker can hope for in preparing meals.
This is vital. Lots of water is good to have on this hike. It is 10 miles each way, pretty much in the sun, with little to no shade. I believe they recommend having a gallon of water. Depending on the time of year, maybe even a little more than gallon would be wise. I would recommend having some sort of water bladder with a drinking tube fixed into your back pack. This makes staying hydrated much easier, no need to stop and dig out a water bottle! Once you get to Supai or the campground, there is fresh, drinkable water. I accidentally brought probably over 2 gallons of water thinking that there was no water source visitors could use. Woops!
Sun Screen/sunglasses/other gear to protect yourself from the sun
Like I said many times throughout this article, there is not much shade, and it gets quite hot during the day. My skin burns easily and I was glad I went into this hike with plenty of sunblock, otherwise it would have been rough!
A tent/sleeping bag/sleeping mat/hammock
Lightweight stuff is optimal. These are all pretty necessary if you intend on camping here. Remember dayhikes are not allowed, plus 20 miles in a day is going to take up your entire day, and you won't be able to actually see the falls really.
This is a stunning area. It would be foolish not to get some sort of photos while you are here!
Swimsuit and water shoes
So you can enjoy the beautiful turquoise water.
A good attitude
Be respectful of nature, the tribe, and the entire area. Don't be an ass and ruin the experience for other hikers.
Yes that's right, bring your garbage out with you. Bring bags to store it in too. There is no place to throw out trash in the village for visitors. Don't litter, that would be a quick way to ruin this beautiful area.
This is not a all comprehensive list of items you may need. It is just some of the most important items I thought necessary for this trip.
Things to know
The Hilltop parking lot is about 65 miles away from any nearby town. Bring enough gas and supplies to not need to go back to town to get anything you may of forgot.
Be respectful of the Havasupai Tribe, their community, and their reservation. They could change their mind and not allow visitors to come to this oasis.
Horses and mules have the right of way, don't get in their way. Get to the side of the trails and allow them to pass. They will pass you pretty frequently on your journey. They recommend not wearing headphones while you hike, so you can hear them approaching you. It's really impressive to see all of the supplies that go in and out of this village.
There is the ability to have your gear carried by horse or mule. They also have helicopter flights in and out of the village area too. This all costs additional money. I spent about $95-120 total for my one night stay, and my permit. Plan to spend another couple hundred if you take these options. My own recommendation is do it on your own, don't be lazy. It was a rewarding experience to know that I brought all my stuff in on my own, and brought it out on my own.
Try to start your hike in or out of the canyon by early to late morning. This will be the time for most favorable temperatures, and less sun exposure. Also less wind, it gets a little bit dusty in the canyon at times. I would recommend some sort of bandanna if you don't want to breath in all the dust kicked up by the pack horses.
There's quite a bit to see and do here. I would say two full days at minimum are required to really enjoy everything. I would push for 3 though. It's really a great experience.
The squirrels in this area have a tendency to be aggressive towards obtaining food, and they are quite good at sneaking around and getting into your food. Store things well to avoid this. Don't feed the squirrels. It only encourages them.
All of the information you need about making reservations, and more detailed need to know information can be found on the tribe's official website, found by clicking this link.
At the time of this article, it should be mentioned that it is notoriously difficult to get reservations at this waterfall. You need to begin calling immediately when their office opens up to booking permits at the beginning of the season (I believe usually in February). I know they are in the process of making reservations all electronic, but for now its by phone. Expect to call many times with no answers, or a busy tone. The number on the website does work. I can speak from experience since I spoke to someone on that line. I called early on a Friday morning. My friend was able to reach someone to briefly after I did, so maybe Friday morning is a good time to call? Who knows.
Permits for the year apparently go pretty quickly, so act fast, and plan in advance.
This was one of my most favorite hikes I have ever done, and I hope that this article will provide some inspiration for others to try it too. This area has definitely seen a lot of advertisement lately on social media, for good and for worse.
Hopefully the flocks of people that are heading to this spot all have the same thoughts and regards about nature, and respect the Havasupai Tribe's rules. This is a great spot to see, and I can only hope it stays that way.
It was definitely worth the price of "admission". If I do it all over again, I will definitely give myself several days to explore, relax, and soak in the beautiful scenery.
If you are looking to check out another awesome area within Arizona, check out my article on Monument Valley by clicking here.