Words and (most) photos by Chris Dickerson
Havasupai was always on my bucket list of places to visit. All the photos and videos that I have seen made it seem too good to be true, but in reality, no photos or videos can really do Havasupai justice. Imagine my excitement when a friend called and told me she had won the permit lottery for four camping permits!
Havasupai, located on the Supai reservation, borders the Grand Canyon. Hikers start at the canyon rim and hike 10 miles down to Supai Village and check in at the tourist office. Once you have obtained your permits and wrist bands from the office, you are permitted to head down to the campground. NOTE: there is no day hiking into the Havasupai – visitors must have a permit to enter the canyon, and permits are limited 200 people per night with a maximum of 3 nights.
Pack-horses headed down into the canyon
Originally, we planned our visit for the middle of July, however, mother nature had other plans. Summer is also the monsoon season in the southwest, and July of 2018 was disastrous. A massive flash flood destroyed the upper canyon trail, along with the campgrounds, and forced helicopter evacuation of over 200 campers. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt, but you can see the power of potential flash flooding and easily understand how important it is to come prepared.
This forced us to rebook our permits for the END of monsoon season, which is toward the end of September. We flew into Las Vegas, rented a car and drove out to the Caverns Inn Motel on Route 66, the closest lodging to the trailhead, about an hour away. Cavern’s Inn is a kitschy old Route 66 motel stuck in time with classic cars, caverns, dinosaurs statues and GREAT pie! They start serving breakfast at 4 am for early-morning hikers that aim to hit the trail early.
Left: early light floods the canyon walls; Right: peering down into the falls.
It should be noted that the drive from Route 66 to the trailhead is narrow and windy. We nearly sideswiped Bambi several times (enough to make the girls scream). Be caffeinated, be alert, and don’t drive too fast!
The hike down into the canyon is breathtaking – the sun rises in the east as you descend the first mile of switchbacks towards a more manageable flat trail. The path winds its way through into a shallow canyon (I often made mental notes of high ground along the way, as flash floods can come without warning. I also had the reassurance of a Garmin inReach Mini, just in case). The trail winds along a river bed with lots of loose rocks and gravel, so our trekking poles came in extremely handy for these sections, especially with the large packs we were carrying. Better to have four legs than two for stability and pressure relief.
Four legs are better than two! We recommend trekking poles (and/or hiring pack animals).
If you are looking to lighten your load, you can always hire a burro. They run the trail all day long, delivering mail to the village and carrying packs for hikers. Keep in mind that it is a bit pricey. While the high canyon walls do offer some protection from the sun, keep in mind that you are still in the desert and it is HOT! Remember to lather up on sunscreen and bring an adventure hat of some kind.
After about 10 miles, you stroll up to the picturesque village of Supai and your excitement grows. The final couple of miles to the campground is spectacular – you start to descend further and further into the canyon, the walls begin to climb higher and higher into the sky, the rocks are a deep red, the sky is a brilliant blue and the desert landscape gives way to lush, bright green foliage all fed by the cascading Havasu Creek, which runs at a constant 70 degrees.
Views from the trail of Supai Village the way into Havasupai.
As you round the final turn towards the last decline, you finally catch a glimpse of the Havasu Falls gushing over the red rocks into the most teal blue limestone pool you have ever seen 100 feet below. It is truly a spectacular sight to behold.
The campground is roughly a quarter of a mile from the Havasu Falls and sprawls along the creek for about a mile. You can fill up your water at the natural spring near the entrance. We all filtered our water at the spring, but I also treated mine, just in case.
Some of the foliage observed in the canyon.
We arrived a bit late to the campground, so spots were limited. Due to the flash flood in July, the footbridges were wiped out, offering limited access to the sites on the other side of the creek. After searching and walking the grounds and, exhaustion and hanger started to kick in. We decided to ford the creek (which was about knee/thigh deep) and found the perfect campsite on the other side along the shore. We set up our tents, made dinner and crashed hard. Pro tip: Bring a camping chair for your final destination! It is well worth the extra ½ lb!
Left: our emergency campsite on the last night; Right: early-morning yoga.
The squirrels near the campsites are no joke! I highly recommend a cache food storage bag for your food and toiletries; the squirrels WILL eat through your tent to get your toothpaste. We stored all of our food in storage bags and hung them from a tree. Several times saw a squirrel jump onto the hanging bags, making valiant attempts to break-in. Our neighbors stored their food in a dry sack and hung it from a clothesline… it stood no chance.
Be on the lookout for tarantulas, which are about 3-4 inches in diameter and move slowly and deliberately. Fall is mating season for these hairy critters, and we did encounter a couple of them near our campsite. I am by no means a spider fan, but they are pretty interesting to watch and less scary than many other spiders – let them be and they will head for the canyon edges hoping to get lucky. You are not on their menu in this scenario.
Climbing down to Mooney Falls
From the campgrounds, there are several different zones you can head towards and each one is very unique.
Havasu Falls – These are the famous falls with the amazing turquoise pool at the bottom. We were up at sunrise each day and had the falls to ourselves for an hour or two, with the exception of an early morning yoga group. Eventually, more and more people woke up and made way toward the falls to hang out by and jump in the cascading pools.
Mooney Falls – Towering roughly 200 ft tall and at the edge of the campground is Mooney Falls. To get to the bottom, you need to hike down through a small tunnel cut into the canyon wall where you’ll emerge at the top of a small ledge about 150 feet above the floor. From there, it is one person up, one person down at a time. A series of sketchy old chains and slick, wet rock lead the way to the bottom of the falls. Hold on tight and lower yourself down slow and steady, as this is NO FALL ZONE. The scenery surrounding Mooney Falls is incredible. You feel the mist, the wind, and the power of falls. There is also a small rope swing on the far side that launches you into a lower pool.
With waters constantly at 70 degrees, it's always a good time for a dip!
Beaver Falls – Once you brave the climb down from Mooney Falls, you can then proceed to Beaver Falls by following a trail several miles down into the canyon. Remember that you are hiking in and out of the water most of the time, so water shoes are a huge advantage – they offer amazing traction on the limestone creek bed and sufficient support on shorter hikes. Once again, we were up at sunrise for our Beaver Falls hike in order to beat the crowds. Arriving before any other hikers, we swam and jumped into the unique cascading falls and even ventured behind one of the falls for a photo op. The new iPhone’s waterproof claims hold up.
The confluence of the Colorado and Havasu Creek – About 8-10 miles past Beaver Falls is the confluence of the creek and the Colorado River. We searched for the trail but were unable to find it (do some research before you go). Our neighbors had hiked it the day before and said it’s worth the trip down.
Left: Lower Navajo Falls from above; Right: views from the banks of Beaver Falls.
On our last evening camping, thunderstorms rolled in thanks to the remnants of a hurricane making its way across Arizona. We got word that the water was turning brown in the village, which was a warning sign that a flash flood was coming. The Rangers came by and evacuated all the campers, forcing us to move to higher ground, making for a cozy night with our 200 or so neighbors. Luckily, the storms let up and the creek stayed in the banks, but it was still a night of excitement and little sleep.
For the hike back out, I highly recommend that visitors get up early – the earlier the better. We were up at about 4:30 in the morning for our hike out, but in hindsight, leaving even earlier would have been better. While the 12 miles in was a long slog, it was all downhill. Therefore, the hike back out is all uphill, and while it’s just as amazing to experience the canyon and the scenery from another vantage point, it wasn’t an easy trek. The temperature heats up fast in the canyon, making for a HOT final climb.
Headed home after a long weekend in the sun.
As you emerge from the canyon, the parking lot finally appears at the rim – It feels so close. You are greeted with the last mile of switchbacks and another 2000 vertical feet to climb as you bask in the desert sun. Once again, our trekking poles and sunhats came in handy, and we were reminded of the importance of staying well hydrated.
Once you reach the trailhead, you will be exhausted, excited, happy, soaked, and content. Make sure you bring some cash to buy a Gatorade from the guy in the pick-up truck – it will be the BEST Gatorade of your life. PRO TIP: leave an extra set of clothes, food and a big jug of water in the car for your return. After resting and changing, we headed back to Las Vegas, stopped at In-N-Out Burger (of course), and hung out at the pool, a great way to unwind after a very exciting yet exhausting four days!
The office at the rim of Havasupai.
There is a famous quote that says “life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans”. In the modern world, we spend less time being present and are constantly distracted by technology and what’s to come. Havasupai offers a break from that restrictive mindset – it is a true desert oasis with stunning views at each turn and an extremely unique landscape. You can’t help but to take it all in and reflect on how lucky you are to see and experience it first-hand.