High on my bucket list for some time has been Havasu Falls.
The famous turquoise waterfalls are plastered all over postcards, travel magazines, and Arizona guidebooks. It is one of the most photographed and most famous waterfalls in the world. While working in the Grand Canyon, several co-workers made the trek out there and I had been jealous ever since. Months prior, I had called in and reserved two nights at the campground for myself and my faithful hiking pal, TUBS. Beating the afternoon traffic, we zipped out of the city on the I-17, taking a detour through scenic Sedona. We caught it at prime time; the red rocks really seemed to glow in the late afternoon light. Later that night when we finally reached the trail head, I pulled into a spot in the gravel lot next to a rundown truck, half buried in the gravel. We got out, stretching our legs, when a man popped up out of the back of the truck, scaring the hell out of us. WOAHHH! Apparently he couldn’t find a comfy spot in his car so he decided he would stretch out in the back of this one.
The Hike Down
The morning was brisk as we descended the switchbacks into Havasu Canyon. At the bottom, we followed a sandy, dry wash with scarce vegetation. The walls of the surrounding cliffs were a beautiful red, similar to the sandstone we had passed by the previous day in Sedona.
Black stripes from the oxidization of iron were visible in some areas. Once the switchbacks were over, it was a relatively flat, easy hike. The most dangerous part was the stampeding mules! Mules carry packs and people to and from Supai, the Indian village located 8 trail miles from the hilltop trail head. Trains of them come barreling down the path so fast you literally have to jump out the way.
The Havasupai Indians have resided in this area of the Grand Canyon for over 800 years. A subsection of the Hualapai Indians, Havasupai translates into “people of the blue-green water.” While traditionally farmers and hunters, the tribe has recently begun to heavily rely on tourism as their primary means of survival. With the gorgeous turquoise water, beautiful falls, and exotic location, it’s easy to see why. Sadly, the village didn’t seem to be benefiting from the increase in cash flow. Lodging mostly consisted of run-down shacks behind barb wire fences. Yards were overrun with malnourished pets, horses, and heaps of trash. The setting for this though, was absolutely gorgeous. Massive cottonwoods lined the creek, as well as willows and all sorts of small shrubs. It resembles more of a jungle than a hot, dusty desert.
Little Navajo Falls
Shortly after leaving Supai, you approach the first waterfall of the trip: Little Navajo Falls. It is a beautiful waterfall with a drop of around 40 feet high. Behind it, picturesque sandstone cliffs rise high above creating quite a backdrop.
Below the falls sits a great little swimming hole full of turquoise water. I took a dip in the chilly water and swam out to the falls, exploring the hanging gardens behind it. Half a mile farther down the trail is the namesake falls everyone comes for.
You hear the thunderous roar of the falls long before you get your first glimpse. The first view is from above. In a mesmerizing fashion, water shoots off a cliff and drops 90 feet to a beautiful pool below. A high mineral content in the river’s water creates the wonderful terraces and natural dams. These terraces make the perfect place for visitors to lounge about and play in the water. A type of limestone mineral called travertine is what gives Havasu Creek its beautiful color. We joined in the fun and swam about in the water, dipping in pool after pool and drying off on the rocks like lizards. There were quite a lot of people down here giving its remoteness, though I’m sure many rode mules or were helicoptered in.
We spent the afternoon near the falls before setting up our tent right along the creek.
The next morning we decided to hike down to the Colorado River. It was a 7 mile hike each way, following the windy Havasu Creek to its mouth at the mighty Grand Canyon carver. The trail continuously crossed the river and along the way we came to several other impressive falls. A mile after the campground was Mooney Falls, the tallest of the Havasupai waterfalls. It drops an impressive 190 feet to the bottom of another turquoise pool. We both agreed that this one may even be more spectacular than Havasu.
Descending to the bottom of the falls was one hell of an adventure. We followed an old mining route that led straight down the cliff through tunnels, down ladders, and chains, wet with the falls spray. It was exhilarating!
After the falls, the trail once again took us up a cliff before descending via some crudely constructed wooden ladders. This time, we popped out at Beaver Falls. Beaver Falls is rather different than the previous waterfalls. It is a cascading fall connected by a series of beautiful terraced pools. Again, it provides a great place to swim and relax.
Hiking to the Colorado Confluence
We continued onward through long swaths of vines and young cottonwoods. Miles downriver, the river wound through a narrow canyon until it finally dumped into the Colorado. It was neat to see the bright blue of Havasu Creek mix with the green-brown of the Colorado and be swept away.
As we ate our lunch and listened to the nearby rapids, rafters continued to flood into mouth of this meeting and tie up their rafts. We talked with a few and they said most of them were on a private 21 day trip! After lunch, we strolled up the shallow Havasu creek through some really beautiful narrows.
The blue water was a stark contrast to the pink and red sandstone walls. Back in the campground, we supplemented our rice and chicken dinner with some fry bread and other homemade goodies the Indians were selling out of a nearby tent.
We fell asleep shortly afterwards, gazing up at the beautiful night sky.
The Hike Out
We took down the tent the next morning, ate a pop tart for breakfast, and were off. On the way out, we paused for a few minutes to savor the breathtaking Havasu Falls one last time. Who knows… we might be back. Before we could officially leave the canyon, I had to check one thing off the list: Jump off a waterfall! I took the plunge at Little Navajo Falls. Heading back through the village, we picked up the pace and really shred the miles heading out of the canyon. Soon we only had a mile and a half left. That last bit is where you ascend most of the 2,000 feet so it was a bit tough. We passed waves of people who were beginning their descent; it seemed like it was going to be a real busy weekend. At the top we were shocked to find our Mountain Dew was somehow still cold! It was going to be a real great drive back.
While there are many guided trips to Havasu, I went directly through the Havasupai tribe. If you are planning on doing this as well, reservations must be made by telephone. Since they have several different phone numbers listed, just head on over their website.
Since it is located on Indian Land, they charge a entrance fee of $50/person. Tack on another environmental fee of $10/person. Staying at the campground is $25/person/night. The lodge is a hefty $150/night (up to 4 people).
The trail head, referred to as Hualapai Hilltop, is remote but easy enough to get to. Be aware that it has no services, so you will want to prepare all your supplies for your trip ahead of time. Head West on I-40 from Flagstaff. Get off on exit 121 and continue West on AZ-66. Turn right (North) onto Highway 18 and follow this all the way to parking lot on the edge of the cliff. This is the “Hilltop”! I didn’t find any good maps out there other than the hand drawn one below.