(Photo: Havasu Falls)
Quite possibly one of my favorite backpacking trips, ever. I’ve been making treks there since July of 2008. I had only been dating my now-husband for about 6 months when he and a bunch of his friends began planning a trip to Havasupai Falls and asked if I wanted to join. I said yes, having no idea what I was getting myself into. I have lived in Arizona my entire life and had never even heard of this place that was supposedly one of the most scenic in the state. Havasupai Falls is the collective name of all the falls that you will find down here, which is different from “Havasu Falls.”
It sure lived up to the expectations I had for it. Havasupai Falls is located within Supai on the Havasupai Indian Reservation (which is also in part of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, not the tourist-y part, though). You park at the Hualapai Hilltop and depending on how you’ve planned your trip, do one of the following: wait for the helicopter to take you into the village and either check-in at the lodge or finish the hike to the waterfalls to camp, check-in to give your stuff to the mule that will take your belongings down for you as you either hike or take the helicopter, or, our preferred method (I’ve never tried any of the other ways)- strap on your backpack with everything you are taking and hike the 12 miles to the camp site, where you’ll set up camp among a beautiful creek between the falls. I feel like backpacking both in and out gives you a sense of accomplishment and I wouldn’t have it any other way. You practically cover 90% of the elevation in the beginning (and end) of the hike…it’s pretty flat until you get to the village. Once at the village (native Indians reside here, so it’s proper to be quiet and respectful when passing through), you check-in and pay, and then proceed downhill for a couple more miles. If you’re in need of a snack for some reason, there’s a store here you can stop in at if it’s open. We usually stop mid-point during the hike and find boulders to sit on and have a pre-packed sandwich or something.
NOTE- Advance reservations are required, camp fires are not permitted, and you should carry plenty of water with you! The desert is tricky and you can dehydrate quickly. This is NOT a day-hike unless you are extremely skilled and experienced to hike 24 miles roundtrip in one day! Not recommended. Especially because to see all of the falls, you’ll have to hike downstream. I think from camp, Beaver Falls is another 5-6 miles roundtrip. I’ve seen many people as I’m going in or coming out in the middle of the day during July that are carrying a 16-ounce bottle of water. Not smart, folks. You can find a lot of info to be well prepared here.
There are some groups that offer “guided tours.” I tend to think that if you’re not hiking savvy, then fine, but if you are..there’s really no way to get lost down there and it’s not something I would personally spend my money on. But- better to do that than not know what you’re doing and be sorry! You stay along the river the entire time…camp is upstream and the falls are downstream.
Anyway, you set up camp and then you’ve got a natural water park to play in for however many days you are staying! We usually stay 2-3 nights. In summer, we begin our hike around dusk and get in at night to avoid the heat. We wake up super early and hike out as well. For the most part, this is a pretty exposed hike- not a ton of shade. I’ve been during monsoon season and sometimes you get thrown for a loop. In 2013, we literally had to sleep in our cars at the hilltop until given the okay to begin our hike because they were expecting some flash floods to go through the canyon. We got the okay around 1am or so and so we stayed as a group and began the hike. Bring headlamps. =)
It is much different now than when I first went in 2008. We went 2 weeks before the major flood that occurred that year. This flood changed the dynamics of the landscape for sure. Some of the falls were completely erased as the river re-routed itself (a favorite of many because you could safely jump off of it, Navajo Falls, is now gone) and some newer falls were formed. It’s not safe to jump off most of the falls because they are so tall, but they’re beautiful to look at and to swim in as well.
Our friend was actually down there during the major flood and took this video as he was being rescued via helicopter. Scary, but a cool thing to witness as well I suppose.
This really is a fantastic trip and well worth it. The different falls you can see are (the most famous one) Havasu Falls, Mooney Falls, Beaver Falls, New Navajo Falls, and Rock Falls. The “old” Navajo Falls disappeared, but the link I have above has a photo of what it used to look like.
Here are some photos for you to enjoy! You can also Google “Havasupai Falls” and get world-class photos where the water is even more blue and green. Beautiful little slice of heaven right here in Arizona!
This is part of the backpacking trail:
“New” Navajo Falls during monsoon season after a flash flood had gone through (hence the mud-like water):
The tallest waterfall, Mooney Falls (190 feet!):
A note about Mooney Falls, you’ll need to scale the side of the canyon via a carved out path (not visible in this photo because it’s not right by the fall) and along some ladders near the bottom that are bolted into the side of the rock. Be careful as it gets super slippery from the mist of the fall!
Below, this was water that used to spout from the sides of the canyon just upstream from “old” Navajo Falls. It is dry now as this also re-routed during the 2008 flood.
A little piece of trivia to leave you with: Havasupai Indian Reservation is one of only TWO places left in the United States that still receives its USPS mail via mule. The other place is also at the bottom of the Grand Canyon at Phantom Ranch.