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 with envy ever since. What feels like ages ago now, I had called in and reserved two nights at the campground for myself and my faithful hiking pal TUBS. We arranged time off from work and the mini-vacation to the picturesque falls had finally come around. 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. Sadly, we didn’t have time to do any hiking… we came instead to do some jumping! As you are leaving Sedona via the 89A, we pulled over on the side of the road and I showed TUBS the jump. It is a 45 foot drop from the cliff into Oak Creek below! TUBS almost shit a brick, “We’re gonna to do that?” From above, it does look absolutely terrifying. After pumping myself up a bit I made the leap… SPLASH! I hit the cold water after what felt like minutes hanging in mid-air. It’s a rush unlike anything else! Considering the height, I wasn’t too sure if TUBS would give it a go. He manned up and proved me wrong. Now filled with adrenaline, we continued on our merry way. The drive was an interesting one, probably a bad idea to do at night, but eventually we made it to the parking lot at the trail head. I pulled a spot next to a rundown truck that was literally half buried in the gravel. We got out to stretch our legs and gaze up at the night sky when a man popped up out of the back of the truck and scared 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. Pretty weird, right? This is why I love going on these adventures; you literally can’t make this stuff up!
The morning was brisk as we descended the switchbacks into Havasu Canyon…
Or maybe the Phoenix heat is just turning us into pansies. The scenery was typical of a dry wash- a gravel bottom 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 areas. It was mostly an easy hike, with the exception of having to jump out of the way of stampeding mules! Mules carry packs and people to and from Supai, the Indian village located 8 trail miles from the hilltop trail head.
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 a 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. It was the same old story as other reservations, despite the fact that they actually still live on their traditional land. Enough of that though. As a tourist, the location was gorgeous. Massive cottonwoods line the creek, as well as willows and vines of all nature. It’s an anomaly and resembles more of a jungle than a hot, dusty, desert.
Now, onto the falls!
The first waterfall that you come across is Little Navajo Falls. It was a beautiful waterfall with a drop of around 40 feet high. The backdrop behind the waterfall was spectacular. Below the falls was a great little swimming hole. I took a dip into the chilly, blue water. I then swam out to the falls and explored the hanging gardens behind it. Only a half mile down the trail is the majestic Havasu Falls.
You hear the thunderous roar of the falls long before you get your first glimpse. Your first view of the falls is from above. It is mesmerizing, watching the falls shoot off a cliff and drop 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. More than you would expect for a remote location that can only be reached by a 10 mile trail. I’m sure most have either their packs carried in, themselves, or both. We spent the afternoon near the falls before setting up our tent among others in the campground. We found a nice location right above the river and went to bed early, before the sun had even set.
Hey… we had a tough day!
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 through tunnels and followed chains and ladders basically straight down the cliff side. 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. Rather than falling a long ways, Beaver instead fell over a series of terraced pools. It was beautiful. We continued onwards 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 to the sides of the canyon walls. We talked with a few and they said most of them were on a private 21 day trip! It sounded incredible. 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. When we had enough, we turned around and followed the creek back to our campground. It was quite a long day and we were again worn out. Dinner consisted of rice and canned chicken, supplemented by 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. I dreamed of the sweet blue waterfalls we had passed.
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. With this complete, we headed back through the village. From there, 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! 68 miles and 4 or 5 sets of Burma Shave signs later we made a pit stop in Seligman to cook some ramen and tuna in the parking lot of a gas station. From there we drove to Prescott and took a little stroll around the old downtown. It was small, but neat nonetheless. We finished the drive and got home by 6 o’ clock. Like any good end to a trip, we feasted on brats, consumed lots of beer, and watched an action packed Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. It was another exciting get away. Can’t wait for the next one!
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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 $35/person. Tack on another environmental fee of $5/person. Staying at the campground is $17/person/night. The lodge is a hefty $145/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.