Havasu. Supai. Havasupai. Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?
Havasu = blue-green water, Supai= a) people; b) village name
Havasupai = blue-green water people
Social media, particularly Instagram, shows users referring to this destination in all three variations, the most common being “Havasupai”.
- May 5-8, 2015; 4days/3nights
- Play at Havasu Falls, Mooney Falls, Beaver Falls, and see the Colorado River confluence.
I found preparation for this trip more difficult than I originally anticipated. Nearly every aspect leading up to the trip seemed like a challenge, from the lack of infrastructure in the area to personal circumstances. Despite all the barriers to getting there, it’s a place worth going back to over and over again.
[ Getting There ]
The Official Website of the Havasupai Tribe states over 20,000 people come visit their blue-green waters, so permit competition is fierce. Due to limited infrastructure, all permit processing is done over the phone. This can be very slow and frustrating. In 2015, it took me 2 days of calling at all hours of the day before I managed to catch someone on the other end. By then, my preferred weekend dates in May were already taken. In 2016, by the third week of permits being available, spots had already been reserved into November.
To make your reservations, they take the group leader’s name and phone number. For confirmation of your reservation, take record of the 4-digit number they give you.
However. I soon found out the lack of paper trail can be problematic.
A few days after I made my reservation, I decided I wanted an additional night and during the conversation discovered the dates they had recorded were incorrect. Luckily they didn’t give me grief and quick to make the changes to the correct days. To avoid confusion, have the person you speak to repeat your trip details back to you to minimize mistakes.
It’s a bit of a drive from any of the neighboring major cities: Kingman, Flagstaff, or Phoenix. It can be as short as 2.5 hours or as long as 5 hours.
Peach Springs or Seligman are the last towns are for gas, light provisions, and reliable cell service. From the towns it’s about 2 hours from the towns to the trailhead parking lot.
The last 60 miles are on Indian Road 18, which is out in the middle of no where, is very dark at night. The route also runs through an area with open range cows, aka there may be GIANT ASS cows next to the road, or worse, on the road. I highly recommend driving with caution.
The parking lot and trailhead is on a hilltop at the end of Indian Road 18. Our 3 cars arrived at various times between 10pm and 1am and spotted parked cars parked on the roadside nearly a mile before the lot itself. Before submitting to the crowd mentality, we drove all the way to the lot and were able to easily snag spots right next to the trailhead. The parking spaces aren’t delineated so if you fit and not blocking anyone, you’re good. Think like a cat, “if it fits, I sits“.
[ DAY 1 ]
The Hike to Supai
It is a 10 mile one-way hike to the campground. Given the net loss of elevation in, it’s a quick journey from the hilltop down to the valley floor.
Once the sun comes up, temperatures can soar, especially on a cloudless day. Since much of the hike is over a rocky landscape, it doesn’t have to take long before it feels like you’re in a searing oven. To combat this, many hikers will start at 5am, allowing them to get to the campgrounds around 10am. Early starts are your friend for less misery and more time to explore waterfalls!
As for how to hike in (or out), this can range from backpacking it in yourself, to riding a mule, or even taking a helicopter. For mule or helicopter ride, ask them for information and pricing when you make your reservation over the phone.
Our group of 7 opted for 6:30ish start because it rained overnight and the morning was forecasted to be cloudy. And because we’re badass, we backpacked in. 😉
The first sign that you’re almost to the village is when rocks give way to trees. The trail will become flat and the packed soil is a treat to tired feet. Keep trudging though, it’s still a ways into town and right up to the Visitor Center.
When you get to the VC, the trail will take you straight to it, shrug off your packs and seek refuge at the shaded picnic tables. The trip leader goes inside to pay and receive wristbands, a very basic map, and a review of the rules. Cash or credit cards can be used for payment.
By this point, you’ll start seeing a lot more locals. Be friendly and say hi! They’re choice to share their home and culturally significant sites is what makes traveling to Havasupai possible.
Past the Village into Campground
It’s a 2 mile rolling hill journey over a sandy trail/road from town to the campground.
The first waterfall sighting is Navajo Falls, followed by Fifty Foot Falls. At that point it’s hard not to perk up and start getting psyched. Almost every visitor offered us words of encouragement as we plodded along the trail, telling us it was sooo worth it that we were here.
The big oh-ah moment is always Havasu Falls. It snuck up on us because it’s not as loud as you think it would be from the trail and it reveals itself on the right side of the trail as it turns a corner and dips down towards the campground. It’s as beautiful as all the photos show. And much more.
After taking a bunch of pictures, we beelined it into the campground so we could dump our packs and take a swim. We passed the Fried Bread stand and spring as we checked out the campground. Our goal was to get a site away from the main trail for more privacy and any site that requires a creek crossing provides just that. All campsite come with a bench and various amounts of space for tent(s). We had no problems finding a site that we like for our group of 7.
Tip: The last sites in the campground are right at the top of Mooney Falls, providing a wonderful view to the valley below.
If the weather is clear, I recommend hammocks as an alternative to tents. There are many trees throughout the campground.
The bathrooms are pit toilets, boo, but they are also the nighest I’ve ever used, yay! They are clean, come stocked with toilet paper, and provide wood shavings to prevent the organic matter from smelling.
The only bad thing about the campground are the persistent and smart squirrels. They are very accustomed to people and have learned plastic often equates to food, regardless if there is a scent or not. The only way to keep your food safe is with a bear can or animal proof bag.
The squirrels literally chew everything in order to test if items are edible. Even matches. Because fuck you. My pack got a fist sized hole because the scent of a fruit gummy wrapper. One of our tents was renovated with a squirrel entrance hole because my friend left trail mix inside. Turns out squirrels don’t like raisins.. On our third day, we thought we would get smart and hang our packs. Not. Came back and all our packs were on the ground because they know chewing the rope releases the packs. Ughhhh.
After we made camp and got settled, we spent the rest of our day 1 at Havasu Falls. The reward of swimming and floating below a beautiful waterfall makes the 10 mile hike in seem like a distant memory.
Some people climb the rocks along the bottom of the waterfall and jump in. It can be done, but can also be very slick on the rocks. In front of the falls by the middle island, there is a lower pool that is fun and relatively safe to jump into. Jumping off anything is at the jumpers risk. The VC does not support jumping off things. Remember, if you get injured, you are in a very remote area and medical help is not readily available.
[ DAY 2 ]
At the end of the campground, you’ll find the top of the largest of the five falls in Havasupai, Mooney Falls. It is a 200 feet climb down to the base of the falls. The climb is slippery from the fall’s mist, but the provided chains and ladders make it doable. Trust your hands, proceed feet first, and go slow – you’ll be down in no time!
From Mooney Falls, continue on the main trail on the left side of the valley and the next stop is The Jungle. The thick ivy between canyon walls made us feel like we were in Jurassic Park. It’s a gorgeous oasis of green gets more magical with each twist and turn.
This is 3 miles from Mooney Falls. Follow the side trails that go left, which go down from the main trial to reach the falls themselves. Ladders are placed between most of the pools, allowing for easy access to explore.
There is popular jumping spot at Beaver Falls. There can be a local watching the area to prevent people from jumping. However, they aren’t there all the time..
Most of our group spent the day exploring and swimming in the pools at Beaver Falls while my friend Nelson and I moved our camp to one of the sites at the top of Mooney Falls. There are no restrictions to moving to other available sites. We found our original one to be close to Havasu Creek, therefore too loud at night.
[ DAY 3 ]
Two people from our group hiked out the morning of our third day, while the 5 of us spent our day hiking the 16 mile round trip hike to the Colorado River confluence.
Colorado River & Havasu Creek Confluence
Due to the distance it takes, the majority of Havasupai visitors will not make the journey to the Colorado River, giving anyone who does do it a reprieve from the crowds associated with the main waterfalls. We came across only two dudes our entire day that were from Havasupai.
From the campground, we went through The Jungle, by the weird palm tree, and to the trail junctures at Beaver Falls. Rather than taking the side trails that got down to Beaver Falls, stay on the trails that take you upwards on the right. Follow the trail and you’ll quickly arrive at the border of the Havasupai Reservation and the Grand Canyon National Park. Pass the sign and continue on the trail down the canyon, following Havasu Creek downstream. When the trail ends, look for the cairns that show creek crossing and the trail on the opposite bank. We made at least half a dozen river crossing. The great thing about this trip is that it’s nearly impossible to get lost. You’re either going downstream towards the Colorado River or upstream back to the campground.
Most of the hike is in the same type of ivy seen in The Jungle, but thicker and more encroaching on the trail since there are fewer people coming through the area. We were mildly concerned of snakes and had Ian at the front of the group poking the ivy with his hiking pole. At one point we did come across a King Snake. Giving it a wide berth, it didn’t bother us.
You know you’re getting close to the confluence when you see people from the Colorado River rafting trips. We saw our first rafters 30 minutes from the confluence
When you see the slot canyon, hop off the trail and straight into the water and swim/walk through the slot canyon. When we went the water was fairly shallow, allowing ample time to drift to the left bank and hop out before it Havasu Creek feeds into the Colorado River. From here, dry off in the sun, eat lunch, and watch the rafts float by.
The 8 miles back to the campground feels longer because the excitement is over. Unfortunately for me, the hike back also thrashed my feet from walking in wet shoes most of the day. Oops. When we emerged from the trail to the bottom of Mooney Falls, a friendly and fit man from the village was there waiting for us. Apparently he ran into the 2 guys we saw earlier and wanted to make sure our group made it back to the campground. He was super nice and just wanted to make sure we were safe.
[ DAY 4 ]
Jamming my raw feet into hiking boots to walk 10 miles with a pack uphill was an unfortunate way to end the trip. Remember the parking lot is on a hilltop? Well, you become very aware of it during the final slog up to it.
The trip back to the car may be one of those situations where you should “treat yo self” and hire a mule or helicopter up outta there.
Lots of guides on the internet will say 2 nights is adequate for Havasupai, I don’t agree. A 2 night schedule is a hectic rush to see just the features (Navajo Falls, Fifty Foot Falls, Havasu Falls, Mooney Falls, Beaver Falls, and Secret Falls), leaving no time to go out to the confluence. You’re already out here, give yourself a bit of extra time to see everything and have some time to relax.
After mangling my feet on the 16 mile hike to the Colorado River, I should have changed out of my wet shoes used for water crossings and more often into my dry hiking shoes. It seemed like such a hassle at the time, but boy did I pay for it later. Do not wear wet shoes going long distance!
Get out there and smash it!