Havasu Falls, the perfect place for a backpack trip! A destination I’ve been wanting to see since my 2014 Grand Canyon White Water Trip This was when I first experienced the gorgeous turquoise waters of Havasu Creek that flow from the falls. Being a curious person, I knew I would have to visit the falls one day. Three years later, I was packed and ready to go.
Havasu Falls is located at the bottom of the western part of the Grand Canyon. There are actually 5 falls; Havasu, 50 Foot, Navaho, Mooney, and Beaver. The Falls are in tribal land which belongs to the Havasupai Tribe or “The People of the Blue-Green Water”. Their village of Supai is located 8 miles down a remote canyon. Havasu Falls and campground are 2 miles further. You can reach the falls by hiking. Helicopter transport is possible, tribal members, other Native Americans, and official business have priority. Therefore you may wait all day and not get a spot on the helicopter. Either way, you must pay for a permit to go to the falls and also a camp permit (there is a 3 night minimum stay). You can find Information on obtaining a permit and reservations at https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/havasupai.htm
Being a solo hiker, I am fortunate to be part of the Grand Canyon Hikers Community Group. In Oct of 2017, the group offered community members an opportunity for a Havasu Falls backpack trip. I was able to meet like minded people and have the feeling of security and support of the community. Each person hiked and camped on their own and in the evening, gathered to regroup, exchange information, and get to know each other. Much gratitude towards the organizers as I would not have solo hiked here without knowing there were community member with experience and knowledge.
The Hike Down
Hualapai Lodge in Peach Springs, Arizona, is where I spent the night. The motel was comfortable and unless I wanted to spend the night in my car by the falls, it was as close as I was going to get. They also offered a breakfast to go if you were leaving early to hike. I thought that was a nice feature.
Before sunrise, I drove 2.5 hours to Havasu Trail Head. With backpack on, trekking poles in hand, and a big smile on my face, I was off. The morning was chilly, I dressed in multiple layers as the canyon would heat up quickly. Just as the sun rose I began my canyon journey. The first 2 miles are switchbacks, not bad hiking down, up is another story. You will follow a dry water way, as you gradually hike down through the canyon until you reach the village of Supai. I felt isolated the first several miles, with seldom a person in sight. Occasionally hikers would pass and exchange pleasantries, some expressing surprise I was hiking by myself. As the day progressed it became warm. There are no trees for shade, just the high canyon walls which seem to surround you.
The hike was pleasant, until my backpack broke. Somehow, as I was trekking along, my left shoulder strap tore away from my pack. I used a carabiner to connect the strap to my bag, but hiking was not the same after that. My bag just didn’t fit right causing my back and shoulder to hurt. I usually take a break every hour when hiking, to eat something and drink electrolytes. Now I started taking breaks about every 30 minutes just to take my bag off for a bit. I had a lot of concern about hiking back up with this broken bag causing havoc. Scenarios were going through my mind, like mailing all of my gear back home or giving some it away before heading up.
Village of Supai
Supai was a welcome oasis after hiking the hot canyon with a broken strap. You can find the tourist center along the path shortly after entering Supai. Your permit is issued here in form of a wrist band. This is also the place I found out you are able to rent a mule to take your bag up. Each mule can carry 4 bags that meet criteria. It was my lucky day, there was a group of 3 from the Grand Canyon Hiking Group looking for another person to share a mule with. I was happy to join! I was feeling much better about my hike up. After having an ice cold Pepsi from the grocery store, I headed to camp.
Havasu Falls and Campground
The 2 mile hike to Havasu Falls was rough. You will find the path is deep sand. Definitely a work out, like leg day at the gym! It was a pretty hike made tolerable with trees lining the path and Havasu Creek peeking through the trees. Fifty Feet Falls and Navaho Falls will be on the left. I decided to see them later, I was ready for the campground. You will know you are getting closer when you hear Havasu Falls. After following a curve in the trail and continuing down hill, the beautiful falls appear. From atop the hill, I was looking directly at the falls. I had made it! Just another half mile down through the sand to the campground.
The campground doesn’t assign camping spots. You can pitch your tent where you like. Although there are no specific campsites, you will find many good places to camp either along the main path or further from the trail. The main path goes straight through the campground to Mooney Falls with Havasu Creek just off the trail. Foot bridges cross the creek in various spots with trees all around. Not far from the entrance, just off the path and well marked, is a fresh water spring for drinking use. There are 3 compost restrooms spaced through the corridor. Another backpacker, told me after the 2nd and before the 3rd restrooms were the best place to camp. Less crowded, as most people set up the first place they find, or set up near Mooney Falls. Taking his advice, I found a spot along the creek, off the main trail.
Setting up Camp
I pack light so it didn’t take long to set up. My tent is a Big Agnes Fly Tent UL 2. Just over 2 lbs it’s light but sturdy. Very easy to set up on my own. My sleeping mat and bag went in my tent, I lay a quick dry towel in front of the entry to catch sand from being drug in the tent.
You will want to hang your backpack upside down with all the zippers open. I used a rope between trees. This deters rodents or birds from entering your pack. Zippers left open give creatures easy access to explore if they do crawl in, instead of chewing to see what’s there. Critters and crows want your food and I wasn’t sharing mine! I keep my food in an odor proof bag, put the bag in a Ratsack (which is a wire mesh bag designed to keep pests out), then hang it from a rope. This works well. Nothing bothered my stuff. I also hang my water bladder from the rope. Around the camp I wear water shoes so I put my boots in the vestibule of my tent, for the hike out. I didn’t want anything in them either. Always shake boots and shoes out before wearing.
Enjoying Havasu Falls
Havasu Falls is where I spent the rest of my day quietly enjoying nature in all its glory and the beauty all around. Turquoise water falls over 90 feet to the pool below, the rust and brown colored cliffs behind the falls give Havasu Falls a beautiful background. The turquoise color in the water naturally occurs from calcium carbonate. The pool at the bottom of the falls flows down small waterfalls that create Havasu Creek, which flows through the campground to Mooney Falls. Mooney Falls flows off the edge of another cliff at the end of the campground. From there, the creek flows to Beaver Falls and eventually into the Colorado River.
Back at my campsite, I ate some dinner then settled myself for the night. The canyon walls are narrow resulting in evening arriving early. Once the sun was no longer above, the canyon became chilly. Fortunately, I packed fleece for the night, just in case, I was glad I did, the night did get cold. I fell listening to the babbling of the creek.
Mooney and Bever Falls
Early in the morning I was off to Mooney and Beaver Falls. You can’t miss the Mooney Falls trail, it’s at the end of the campground. No one was there when I arrived. Here I was ready to embark on adventure, yet a bit chicken descending the falls by myself. The descent involves climbing down the edge of a steep cliff using chains, ladders and natural areas. I noticed 3 other hikers walking this way and timidly asked if I could go down the cliff with them. It was a go! Turns out, they were also solo hikers from the same group, and were wonderful women who shared my sense of adventure. I stayed with them throughout the hike and had a great time!
The Climb Down Mooney Falls
Following the path, you walk down a few steps then pass through small caves or tunnels, coming out, you will see see Mooney Falls. Now the adventure begins! Carefully I climbed down the steps, ladders, and chains. I admit, I was a bit petrified, but loving I was loving every minute of it. My legs are short, so I had to really stretch on a couple of steps and I clung to whatever I could. Close to the bottom, mist from the falls createwet slippery steps, so step carefully! We all made it with no problem!
Very important, when climbing down this, or any cliff, you must maintain 3 points of contact at all times. Meaning, if you take one foot off to step down or up, you must keep both hands and your other foot on a secure surface, step, chain, etc. Only when your foot is secure you can move another limb. Slow going, but for safety sake, it is a must. Three points of contact is hands down the best advice I received for any hiking trip.
Once at the bottom of the cliff, Mooney Falls was magnificent. You will find Mooney Falls taller than Havasu Falls, it stands at 190 feet. Again, you will marvel at the turquoise water falling over the cliffside. The splash from the falls is massive, you can feel the mist all around.
Hiking to Beaver Falls
Next stop was Beaver Falls, about 2.5 miles away. We did not see any directional signs so took the first path we found and followed it through trees. We wandered in and out of trees and through greenery. At times we would follow wooden planks over Havasu Creek or just walk through it. We seemed to hike back and forth over and through the creek many times. I was so glad I wasn’t hiking this by myself. The creek was cold, at times when crossing the water, it was up to my waist. We saw very few people as it was still early in the morning which made the trek more of an adventure.
It seemed like I’d never get to Beaver Falls, then it seemed to suddenly appear. One moment I was walking through trees and crossing a creek, and the next moment, there it was in front of me. There were more people at the falls than I had seen on the trail, but not at all crowded. This is a group of falls that terrace down the canyon. The same turquoise water continues down the falls making its way to the confluence of the Colorado River. I sat on a terrace, all smiles with my new friends, and just enjoyed the moment.
Climbing Back up Mooney Falls
This is where you can decide to go back or continue for another 5 miles to the confluence of the Colorado. If you decide to go back to camp you just retrace your steps. There were more people on the trail than earlier. Climbing back up Mooney Falls was a bit more tricky. More people had been up and down the cliff resulting in the ladders becoming muddy, therefore, more slippery. Remember to use the 3 Points at all times rule. My water shoes performed well on the slick’s steps and rock. I breathed a huge sigh of relief once I reached the top. I spent the rest of the day hanging at the beach area of Havasu Falls and relaxing at my campsite.
Hiking to Fifty Foot and Navaho Falls
It was my final full day. I had two falls left to see. First things first, I was hungry for some real food and a cup of coffee. Eating jerky, trail mix, crackers, almonds, etc., gets old after awhile. There were two restaurants in the village of Supai, regardless of the 2.5 mile walk I was on my way. My plan was to eat breakfast then visit Fifty Foot and Navaho Falls as the two falls are between Supai and the campground. I trudged through the sand uphill to the small village. I enjoyed a delicious breakfast burrito and hot cup of coffee at the restaurant across from the grocery store.
Fifty Foot Falls
Fifty Foot Falls is the first waterfall just a few minutes outside the village going towards the campground. Take the well worn path and follow it down. The falls are on the left. The sun was still crawling over the canyon when I arrived at the falls. There was no one else around. Enjoying the solitude, I found a rock to sit on and became mesmerized by the ever changing colors as the sun continued climbing in the sky. There was a nice pool under the falls that looked like a good place to swim. Too chilly for me though so I didn’t swim.
Navaho Falls was just as spectacular. It was formed after a flash flood in 2008. All of the falls in this area change when flash floods occur, they may become wider or narrower or take a different path. Regardless, their ever changing beauty continues to awe those who make the journey to these tribal lands.
After visiting the falls, I returned to my camp and spent my time enjoying my peaceful campsite and wading at Havasu Falls. I visited with other campers, enjoying the diversity of the people who made this trek and listening to where others have been and where they were going.
The Hike Up
I awoke well before daylight and packed my camp up. Even though it was cold and dark, I wanted to get a good start before the sun was completely over the canyon and baking me. I dropped my bag off at the designated place for the donkey train to carry it up. Surpringly many others had already dropped there’s off. I wasn’t the only one wanting to hike before the heat! I was glad to have my headlamp as I climbed through the sand to Supai, the trek up wasn’t bad as I only carried my camelback. Much lighter than my backpack and no broken straps!
Dawn had broke and the sun was rising as I passed through Supai. I continued my trek up, watching as the shadows danced through the canyon and the sun crept slowly up the canyon walls. There were more hikers on the trail than on my way down. Many asked questions, some gave updates on how far I was from the top. The incline was gradual, and the weather was nice, I didn’t mind the hike, until the sun came over the canyon walls. Once the sun was shining, it became hot. I took a break about every hour, even if for a few minutes. I would find any shady area I could.
Then came the dreaded 2 miles of switchbacks. No shade. This was really tough. It was slow go. Hiking up a couple of switchbacks, then resting, hiking a couple more, then resting again. My motivator was seeing the top getting closer. Finally, I reached the parking lot. My hike down took 5 hours, my hike up took 6 hours. I felt fabulous! I made it, my Havasu Falls backpack trip was a success!! One more check off the bucket list.
My Favorite Gear for a Backpack Trip
I used all of the following items on my Havasu Falls backpack trip and had no complaints with any of these.
This Big Agnes tent is perfect for 1 or 2 people. It is light weight and sturdy. I had no trouble setting it up myself.
As sleeping mats go, this mat is pretty good. It is light weight and compact. There is a self-inflate feature and the mat deflates easily.
I bought this bag after my strap broke on my old one. I love this backpack. I’m 5’1 and this back fits me well. There is plenty room for everything I need. The top is removable and I often do not need the space so I leave it off to lighten my load.
This CamelBak is great for short day hikes. There’s room for a water reservoir and also room for snacks and cellphone.
The Ratsack is designed of mesh and a tough velcro top closure. It keeps rodents and birds out of your food. They can’t chew through the wire. To further protect your food, you can hang the sack from a rope or tree branch.
Merrell hiking boots are comfortable and durable. They have just enough ankle support and don’t feel heavy to walk in.These are similar to my boots as mine are older.
I have small feet so had to get youth shoes. Keen water shoes performed well in the water but also were comfortable and durable enough to hike and climb in.
This sleeping bag is light weight and compacts well.
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