Havasupai Falls is one of the most mystical destinations I have ever been to. Every year thousands of people fight over a ticket to be able to hike and camp at Havasupai Falls. Havasupai Falls is in an Indian reservation in Arizona that sits among the cliffs that make up the Grand Canyon. There is even a trail that goes from the trailhead to the falls all the way to the Colorado river at the bottom. The other thing that Havasupai is known for is their turquoise waters that add to the mysticism of the area. It’s no surprise that Havasupai is a big backpacking destination.
Havasupai Falls, The Hike of a Lifetime
My adventure came from meeting my wife. Shortly after we started dating, she invited me along as there was an opening in her group. I had heard about it, but I had never been there. As a hunter, going on a nature walk didn’t quite appeal to me but this was no ordinary place. I knew that it would take some preparation and effort for this trip and I looked forward to the challenge that was before me. Our original travel date had to be postponed. Just before we were getting ready to leave, monsoons had come through the area and flash floods had forced the Supai tribe to close off the campground and evacuate all the campers. This did move our trip to early November. I’m glad that move happened, November is the perfect time to go on this trip.
Even though we think of November being winter, it does make it, so the weather is perfect in Arizona. While we were there, the temperatures during the day hung around 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 Celsius). The nights got cold, as is expected in a desert, but a sweater and a sleeping bag made me perfectly comfortable. The other advantage of making the hike in November is that we were able to hike during the daytime. Most people making the trip in the summer prefer to hike at night where the temperatures are cooler. Arizona has many days in the summer over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (31 Celsius) and backpacking in that weather can drain everything out of someone.
Prior to this trip, I had some backpacking and hiking experience. When It came to packing, I made sure to pack for a 4-day trip. The plan was to drive in the evening before, camp at the parking lot and then wake up and backpack into our campsite. For the first night, we just planned on sleeping in the bed of my truck. The rest of the trip would be a typical backpacking trip. The backpack I use is made by King’s Camo. It’s a hunting backpack but it is the most comfortable backpack I have ever worn. It has lots of space and plenty of compartments for me to pack essentials. Without going into too much detail on the backpack, it has 2200 cubic Inches of space. The backpack also comes with a hydration bladder. In my backpack, I was able to pack clothes, a tent, my sleeping bag, and a sleeping pad. That was all in the main compartment. I also carry a basic first-aid kit and basic survival gear. I never backpack without a compass and a GPS. I do use OnXmaps as a mapping software on my phone and on my GPS. For this trip, I also brought a string bag for day hikes and some swim shorts since I would get wet on some hikes. During some of the hikes, you must cross in waist-deep water.
As backpacking trips go, this one is long, but I’d say a medium difficulty hike. The toughest part is the switchbacks that start the hike. For 10 miles, you mostly hike on a dried-out riverbed. Once you reach the bottom of the switchbacks, cliff walls surround you on both sides and quickly you realize how small you are. The vegetation seems to have survived some long dry times and the only life you may see is birds that seem to find some food at the bottom of the canyon. For most of the hike into the Supai village, it is a slight decline until you’re just about at the Supai village. A few things to be aware of as you make your way down to the village is that if you need to use the bathroom, you’ll have to pack that into the village and really into the campground. Being prepared is key when you are backpacking and need to carry your own feces around. As you make your way down to the village, be prepared to move out of the way of the mules. There is an option to have pack mules carry your gear in and out of the campsite. This means that as you hike into the village if you plan on hiking during the day, you’ll have to move off to the side for the mules to come by. They are usually led and followed by two wranglers.
The only other thing I have to say about that initial hike to the village is that it’s hard to get lost but it’s still possible. When you are getting closer to the village, the canyon opens a bit and as you follow the riverbed, there’s an option to turn right, the correct answer is to go left. There’s a sign pointing towards the village, but people have put so many stickers on it that the sign is no longer legible. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you feel like you’re walking into the woods. You’ll need to cross a bridge and head up a slight hill just before you get to the village.
After checking in at the tourism office, you’ll have a 2-mile hike to the campgrounds. This part of the hike is where the magic starts. Once you leave the village, you’ll start seeing the turquoise waters that Havasupai is known for. These last two miles are the worst two miles of the entire hike. After doing 10 miles with a backpack on, you now must start gaining altitude. It’s not horrible but by now my legs started begging for mercy. This is also where I realized that my boots were a bit old. What this meant is that I broke the sole of my boot and gave my self a stress fracture on my foot. The only solace I had was that the magic of Havasupai came in full force. The color of the water made me feel like I was in a different world. Then I came to the first falls. It starts with some rapids that create some pools just before the 50-foot falls. Here you’ll find the first latrines and a nice place to relax if you need. Continuing you begin going downhill and eventually come off the top of the famous Havasupai falls. These falls have been the trek of many hikers. They are impossible to forget.
The campsite is nice. It is first come first serve. There are 4 bathrooms at the campsite and there is a freshwater spring that comes right out of the mountain. That water is completely safe to drink. I did pack a foldable water container I bought on amazon. This was a great way to have water at our campsite. We used a Jetboil to cook with and Mountain House meals hit the spot at the end of the hikes. We did also bring some hot chocolate packets to drink at the end of the night. While down at Havasupai, there are a few more waterfalls to go see. Continuing down the trail that cuts through the campground, you eventually come to Mooney falls. To get to Mooney Falls you’ll have to do some muddy wet hiking. It was my favorite part of the trip. You’ll need to hike in and out of the mountain holding on to chains as you hike down. Mooney falls are impressive to see. It is the biggest waterfall in the area and completely worth the wet hike.
Following the trail may be hard from here. There are a few rabbit trails that people have created but following down the trail will take you to Beaver falls. That hike seems like you are in an even different planet. You’ll walk through trees, cross the river a couple of times, walk through a vine forest and if you’re lucky, you’ll see some Desert Sheep who live in the area. Just before you get to Beaver falls, you’ll walk past a palm tree that no one knows the true story of how it got there. The last part of the hike also brings out that adventuring spirit out. Wooden ladders help with the climb up this desert wall and once you get to the top, you’ll be just above Beaver Falls. A few wooden ladders help you climb down to the bottom.
These are the main hikes to do at Havasupai. Some people continue to the convergence where the turquoise waters of Havasupai meet the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I have never pushed that far as it would take a full day’s hike to get there. Spending time in Havasupai is something you’ll never regret. It was worth every ache to get there and hike out. If going to Havasupai is one of your goals, be prepared to book your tickets the second they come open as this is a destination where people flock to from all over the world. One thing is for sure, I have never been to a place more magical than Havasupai.
a full-time firefighter in Utah who also enjoys hunting and writing about the outdoors. Homero shares his tips and experiences so that you can get out there and enjoy what nature has to offer. Visit his blog birdsndogs for more inspiring readings.