Backpacking Havasu Falls was the most awesome experience. Havasu Falls is located in Havasu Canyon, or Cataract Canyon, and it is my understanding, that this is a side canyon of the Grand Canyon. The many waterfalls of Havasu Creek are what make it a world renown Grand Canyon destination and has become even more popular because of social media. The turquoise color of the water is caused by white travertine (a form of limestone) formations that line the bottom of Havasu Creek and reflects the turquoise color so strongly. The water is clear in color, and no different from that of other streams, but the majestic reflection of travertine leaves it such an unbelievable color.
Havasuapai Indian Reservation
Havasu Creek runs through the village of Supai, the capital of the Havasupai Indian Reservation. Havasupai is translated into “the people of the blue-green waters”. Supai is the most remote community in the lower 48 states and is only accessible by helicopter or by hiking 8 miles down into the canyon. A short two miles past Supai, is Havasu Falls and the campground, which tourists are able to obtain permits to camp. Several months ago, I broke my hand and had to have surgery and thought what a better way to spend my time off from work, recovering, than backpacking in such a fairy tale like location? My doctor didn’t like this idea, considering I still had stitches and a black and blue hand, but I am nurse, I’ll be fine! (said every nurse who thinks they know just as much as their doctor).
Havasu Falls Camping Permits
Obtaining a permit through the Havasupai Tourism Office, is not quite as easy as I thought it would be. Minimal permits are granted per day, and when I was finally able to reach someone (at the end of February) I was told that all permits were reserved until November. As many of you know, when I want to do something, I will do it.
Note: I read claims that you can hike down without a permit and obtain one in Supai; however, about 2 miles into our hike, a man from Supai was riding around on a horse, sending those who did not have a permit away.
I called several guide companies, who already have a set number of permits, and was able to obtain a reservation with Wildland Trekking Company (www.wildlandtreeking.com) on such short notice. The trip consisted of 4 days, with all gear included and all meals included, and transportation to and from Flagstaff, Arizona to the Hualapai Hilltop.
The 4 day trip option included the following highlights, some obtained from The Wildland Trekking Website:
Flagstaff to Hualapai Hilltop: 3.5 hours
Hiking Distance from Hualapai Hilltop to Havasu Falls: 10 miles
Elevation Loss: 2,400 feet
The bulk of the elevation loss was in the first two miles of steep switchbacks, as we hiked down into the canyon, leveling off in a deep red sandstone canyon. About half way through the hike, the vegetation of the canyon started showing evidence of a nearby water source and soon enough, the enchanting turquoise waters of Havasu Creek came into view, and was more than I ever expected. Soon, we arrived at the village of Supai, consisting of several homes, an elementary school, basketball courts, a church and a lodge of what I observed. There were stray dogs around us, not to mention it was rather sad to see the condition that some of the land owners’ horses and dogs were in. Note: If you’re a huge animal rights individual, this would not be the place for you to visit. Although it did break my heart, the Havasupai people allow us to come on their land and visit their beautiful remote waterfalls, so I had to keep my feelings regarding this issue to myself.
2 miles after leaving the village of Supai, we came to Havasu Falls, which was more than I ever expected and more majestic than any photograph can depict. Our guides sent us off to explore the waterfall while they set up our tents and prepared for dinner. Exhausted from the long day, as soon as my head hit my sleeping bag, I fell into a deep sleep.
Havasu Falls at Night
Mooney Falls & Beaver Falls
Hiking Distance: 7 miles RT
Elevation Change: 500 feet
After a very refreshing 10 hours of sleep, we awoke to our guides making us a wonderful breakfast, what an awesome way to start the day. We packed up our day packs and began our hike to Mooney and Beaver Falls.
The Story Behind Mooney Falls
Mooney Falls is named after James Mooney, who in 1882, was attempting to mine around Mooney Falls, and as his co-miners were lowering him down to the cliffs next to the falls, the rope got stuck. After James was hopelessly hanging for 3 days, the rope broke resulting in the death of James Mooney. The story that was told by our guides, was that a year later, Jame’s brother came back to the falls and created the rugged path with dynamite, ladders and chains to retrieve his brother’s body. That is a good brother! I doubt my sister would go to those extremes for my body!
Up until the last part of the Mooney Falls trail, the trail isn’t that difficult. Once Mooney Falls comes into view, the trail gets very difficult and what I would consider dangerous.
A small cave, just wide enough for one person to walk through at a time, starts the difficult portion of the trail. After passing through a second small passageway, the trail turns into a semi-vertical rock climb with chains and spikes in the rock surface to grip onto while climbing down.
At the end of this very frightening portion of the hike, there are a few vertical ladders that you must climb down to get to the bottom of the falls.
For someone scared of heights, such as myself and who had previously had hand surgery the week prior, this was a very difficult trek to the falls. As the famous quote goes, anything worth doing, is going to be easy!
The hike down to this magnificent 200 foot waterfall was amongst my favorite; I love the challenge and the waterfall was beautifully photogenic. After spending some time enjoying Mooney Falls, we continued another 2.5 miles to Beaver Falls.
The hike to Beaver Falls was also quite fun. There were several river crossings and a small ladder that you have to climb up. The hikes in Havasu Creek go by so quickly because of the beauty that surrounds you.
Beaver Falls to me, is more of several small cascading waterfalls, that are fun to play in and swim beneath. Supposedly, Beaver Falls was once more extraordinary; however, the flood of 1910 destroyed the impressive 50 foot waterfall, leaving behind what you see today.
Canyon Side Hiking
Our guides took us hiking into a side canyon of Havasupai Canyon. It is so magical that so much green can exist in the middle of the desert, but unseen from above.
Rock Falls & Fifty Foot Falls (New Navajo Falls)
Hiking Distance: 5+ miles
Elevation Change: 300 feet
Rock Falls (New Navajo Falls)
Rock Falls was created by the flood of 2008, that destroyed the original Navajo Falls. Rock Falls (New Navajo Falls) is the first waterfall that you see on your hike down to Havasu Falls Campground, which we bypassed on day one.
The awesome part about Rock Falls is that you can walk behind the waterfall on fairly stable rocks.
You can also jump off the top of the waterfall, which is not recommended for most waterfalls in the area.
Fifty Foot Falls
Fifty Foot Falls is the first highly visible waterfall you see from the trail while descending to the campground. We spent day 3 exploring Fifty Foot Falls and New Navajo Falls, which we bypassed on our way to the campground.
Our guides took us to caves behind fifty foot falls, which was surprisingly frightening and exciting at the same time. When you get close to the falls, the water is gushing down and no cave is visible from the outer surface; the cold mist of the falls literally takes your breath away, while pushing you away from its’ core. It is almost as if the waterfall is protecting itself from you getting any closer. The guides made it look so easy to take a big breath and fearlessly dive for the unknown. I finally pulled courage out of my gut and took a deep breath and plunged for the waterfall, but its’ force was too strong and pushed me back far enough that I couldn’t hold my breath any longer. I had to take a new approach… I had to dive deep enough to get below the force of the falling water. The second attempt was successful and as I opened up my eyes, I was so thankful to see the legs of my guides through the clear teal water.
As I stood behind the falls, watching the water come down with such authority through a small cave opening, I couldn’t believe this was real life. Leaving the waterfall wasn’t as scary, but I was still a little frightened. As you are preparing to leave the cave, you aim for the belly of the waterfall and the force of the falls pushes you out, like an invader, and eventually you are free from its energy. Such a breathtaking (literally) experience!
Havasu Campground to Havasupai Hilltop
Hiking Distance: 10 miles
Elevation Change: 2400 feet
Sadly, our backpacking trip to Havasu Falls had come to an end. We left fairly early for the long day ahead of us. We hiked back through the Supai Village, Cataract Canyon and up to Hualapai Hilltop. Exhausted had kicked in after the 2400 foot climb, but well worth the effort.
Although initially I thought I would have rather gone on my own and saved the money spent to go with a company, in hindsight, I am so thankful that it played out this way. The guides knew about hikes, caves behind the waterfalls and history of Havasu Canyon that I would have never experienced on my own. Plus, the meals were spectacular. I highly recommend adding Havasu Falls to your bucket list and highly recommend going with Wildland Trekking!