A Journey Through Spectacular Beauty
By Jeanine Behr Getz
If you’re looking for a challenging long weekend hiking adventure that takes you off the beaten path and combines the most stunning natural beauty with a touch of Native American culture, this hike is for you.
Known as one of the best hikes in the world, put the Havasu Falls Trail (HFT) on your bucket list.
One of the unique aspects of the Havasu Falls Trail is the opportunity to learn about the culture and history of the Havasupai tribe. They are one of the twenty-two federally recognized Indian tribes in Arizona. The Havasupai, also known as the Supai, Indian Reservation covers approximately 188,077 acres in the northwest section of Arizona. The HFT is located deep on the reservation within the Havasu Canyon, which is a tributary of the Grand Canyon, and circa Mile 8, travels through the Supai village. One of the most inaccessible towns in the continental United States. It can only be reached by foot, horseback or helicopter. The Supai people, our HFT hosts, is the only tribe that still lives in the Grand Canyon, making them one of the oldest continuous inhabitants of this region, they have lived here for over 800 years. The Supai are known to have a deep spiritual and cultural connection to the land, believe the Grand Canyon is the site of their creation and that the water that flows through their land is sacred. The Supai people are, and have to be, unceasing advocates for their land, water and the endangered inhabitant species, protecting them from development, mining and many other modern-day encroachments. The HFT is an important source of economic vitality for the Supai people. We are thrilled the Supai tribe opened the HFT back up again this February after being closed since Covid.
The Havasu Creek owes its rare blue-green colored water largely to the high concentration of lime that it carries.
All this water talk to whet your hiking appetite, here are a few of our hike details:
First things first, need know before you go:
A permit is REQUIRED prior to your visit! Some will even say that getting a Havasu Falls Trail Permit is perhaps the most difficult part of the HFT hike. Put February 1st on your calendar, that’s typically the reservation opening date. They say there are 300 3-night permits issued per day. Good luck! Audrey secured our reservation after two years of trying, herculean effort for sure! Although no one ever asked for it on the trail, we were prepared! There were Rangers patrolling the campground.
Good news is when you are lucky to score a permit every time of year, minus monsoon season (July/August), is a good time to go on this hike. If you like cool hiking weather, early Spring and late Fall are best. We hiked this trail in April, just two weeks after a total campground evacuation due to flash flooding. The creek and falls were opaque brown for two days. It’s important to note that the HFT is categorized as a challenging hike, one that requires preparation and planning.
Nature’s beauty captured us from the start.
Looking out from Hualapai Hilltop at sunrise, donned in hats and gloves for 32 degrees, we started our initial decent into the canyon. The 11-mile trek to the Havasu Falls campground starts with a steep but manageable number of switch backs. With each step along the way of this hike you will be awed by towering red cliffs that create an unforgettable landscape. We met many hikers out as we were making our way in. The tales of never seen before beauty, the helpful hints about where to camp, what to see, and the overall joy conveyed from each hiker was unswerving.
P.S. – Yield to the pack mules! They are for hire, transporting gear to and from for “those” that don’t want to carry their own. No comment.
Day 1 Highlights:
After 8 miles of hiking, you arrive at the Supai village, masks required, no pictures allowed and no petting or feeding the irresistible village puppies. Well, I managed to follow a couple of rules…As an FYI, don’t panic if you forgot something, there’s a market stocked with pretty much everything. But their operating hours are “at will.”
We were told by several hikers to set up camp at the top of Mooney Falls, so we did, happily. We hung up all our gear and food, HFT is notorious for critters eating their way through your pack, tent and food bag to get to a Cheeto or two. (Insider secret: use a “rat sack” for your food.)
As soon as we unpacked and hung-up gear and set up camp we ventured back out to explore and take a dip, or two or three. Luckily for us, the sun was hot and the inviting creek water is always 70 degrees fahrenheit.
Our Frolicking Stops:
Fifty Foot Falls: is the first major swimming spot between the Supai village and the campground. It’s not super easy to find, so keep your eyes open for it on the left about 15 mins after walking through the village. The terraces, the plant covered walls, the falls, it was a perfect quiet spot to cool off.
Havasu Falls: is the most famous of the HFT waterfalls. It is actually the third waterfall during the hiking journey, it is the one closest to the start of the campground, right next to the frybread stand! It offers fantastic swimming, a relaxing sandy area near the water, wonderful shade, and world-class photography opportunities.
Mooney Falls: is the highest and perhaps the most spectacular of the falls and was the most terrifying to get to! No one talks about the required 200-foot semi-technical downclimb/upclimb using bolts, ladders and chains to get to it. My knees still wobble at the thought. Don’t worry, there are mounds of grippy gloves at the top and bottom, left behind, for others to use to scale this terror. The roaring of the falls reverberates off the limestone walls and echoes up and down the canyon. Mooney Falls is named after James Mooney. We were told that this fall was named after him because he leapt to his demise from its top, but that’s hearsay. In fact, Mooney was mining the waterfalls and one of his associates was injured. Mooney tied his friend to his back and as they climbed the waterfall, he fell to his death. …And I was knee wobbly carrying a day pack!
At the end of the day, as the sun started to wane, not surprisingly, we ditched the cooking equipment and food we packed for sodas and frybread with Nutella and bananas. Our Mountain House mac and cheese didn’t stand a chance! Frybread is a dish of the indigenous people of North America that is a flat dough bread made from flour, sugar and salt, and deep fried in oil. Bring cash. Bring your own food and cooking equipment, the stand’s hours are “at will.”
Our views were amazing, the sounds of the creek and falls lulled us into restless sleep.
Day 1 Wrap Up:
Hiking mileage: 15 miles. 11 miles from the trailhead to the campground, plus 1 mile to Mooney Falls campsite (insiders secret: go the extra mile to Mooney Falls, best camping sites), plus another 3 miles hiking all around.
Started our day with a 4:30am hotel departure, drove 1.5 hours from our hotel to Hualapai Hilltop parking lot/trailhead. Be careful of the wildlife on the road.
Elevation loss: 2,500 feet
This was a lifetime carpe diem kind of day.
This was our favorite day by far! Many hikers don’t make this hike, all the more reason to go. The beauty, tranquility, and thrill of blazing our way down, under, over and through the roaring Havasu creek to the Colorado River made for an adventurous day.
At daybreak, we started our hike to the Confluence with the terrifying decent of Mooney Falls, again, second time down, knees still wobbled, our goal was to stay focused, not be distracted by the many enticing “Instagram worthy” spots along the way there because the mileage for this hike was reported to be anywhere from 8 – 20 miles round trip; dilly dallying was for the return trek.
The Confluence: is where the Havasu Creek meets the Colorado river and is not to be missed. We counted 8 creek crossings, most knee to waist deep, roaring water flow, Audrey used poles to cross, I brought mine but didn’t use them. In our planning process we read to bring water shoes to change into for the crossings, uh, no! Taking off and putting on our boots for water shoes for each crossing would have added hours to our trek. We gladly strode on through the water in our boots, full stop. If you wear shorts, expect to get scratched up a bit. We packed water, lunch and snacks for the day. After 8ish miles we reached the Confluence. To our excitement, there were two teams of scientists there. One set was studying two threatened fish species, the flannel mouth sucker fish and humpback chub. The second set were hydrologists, on a 21-day rafting trip studying the water of the Colorado river. We were encouraged by them to float down the remainder of the creek to meet the Confluence, this was a lifetime carpe diem kind of day. Although the scramble climb out was less than graceful. The Colorado River water was much colder than the creek. We enjoyed lunch in the sun overlooking the scientists at work, the threatened fish species spawning and several rafts filled with tourists pull up.
Beaver Falls: we felt compelled to visit Beaver Falls on our return trip. It’s a very hyped up, highly photographed spot, it is the farthest downstream waterfall from the campground. It too requires a bit of off-trail hiking, scrambling, ladder climbing, wading, and bushwhacking to reach. After the peace and quiet of the Confluence, Beaver Falls seemed liked Coney Island in July. It is a must-see fall, but go early.
After a quick visit to Beaver Falls, we continued on our way back to camp, whereas before we were the only two on the trail, the return was a conga line. My inner daredevil was awakened when a person three people ahead of me opted for a leap off a 20-foot boulder into the creek, instead of using the rickety ladder, inspiration, challenge accepted sir…ooops, another rule broken.
As we got close to Mooney Falls, we were rewarded with a sighting of two big horned rams eating dinner 100 yards from the trail.
I attempted to find a way to stay at the bottom of Mooney Falls, but to no avail, up the wall of terror I went, motivated by the prospect of frybread. This is an adventure all unto itself!
Lucky for us…the frybread stand was open on day 2 as well, sodas and frybread for dinner again!
After a long fulfilling day of majesty, we were gifted a starlight show in the sky.
Day 2 Wrap Up: Hiking mileage: 20 miles. 17 miles to and from the Confluence plus another 3 miles hiking around camp.
Started our day at 6:00am, departing from our campsite aiming for the Confluence. There was NO way we were taking on the Mooney Falls downclimb with a headlamp!
Our two nights on the Havasu Falls Trail were action packed. Our permit allowed us to stay another night /day to chill but we were ok to push on.
Day 3 Highlights:
We were packed up, headlamps on, water refilled at the spring and traveling at 2 ½ miles an hour by 5:00am, back the way we came, through the Supai village, up the Havasu Canyon to the last 1,500-foot steep death march up to the Hualapai Hilltop parking lot. Passed by the busy comings and goings of pack mules, taunted by a helicopter carrying those who were in no mood to carry their bags nor themselves back to the trailhead! Lol, no comment. Our trek ended with the same spectacular views that first enticed us into the canyon, but now we basked in the great satisfaction of having hiked one of the best hikes in the world.
After our 1 ½ hours back to civilization we detoured to devour french fries, sloppy sandwiches and homemade slices of pies at the Rt. 66 Road Kill Café, this stop is truly the only way to top off this memorable hike in style.
Day 3 Wrap Up: Hiking mileage: 12 miles. Mooney Falls campsite to the Hualapai Hilltop trailhead parking lot.
Departed at 5:00am, donned with our headlamps.
Elevation gain: 2,500 feet
To help you plan your trip – Logistic Highlights:
How to get there: Flew early morning from JFK to Phoenix (Las Vegas closer but had less travel time options), drove 4 hours to Grand Canyon Caverns Inn, near Seligman, AZ for permit check in. This takes 5 minutes and is a must the day before your permit date. Highly recommend you rent a fuel-efficient car; gas is $5.00 a gallon!
Where to stay: Stayed at Hualapai Lodge on the old Rt. 66, in Peach Springs, AZ the night before our hike. Not fancy, but clean. Peach Tree is the capital of the Hualapai Nation.
Where to eat: Favorite eating place…there’s only one! Diamond Creek Restaurant. Food and service were good.
Where to refuel: There’s no gas to be had over the 3-hour drive to and from the trailhead, so be sure to refuel the night before. We refueled and replenished our snacks at the Walapai market across the street from our hotel.
Hike tips: Download the Havasupai Trail to Supai on AllTrails before you start your hike. The trail was pretty well marked and cell service was pretty good throughout the hike, but always be prepared. Do what I say, not what I do…this is a self-sufficient hike, meaning, you carry in and out your tent, food, cooking equipment, necessary and luxury items etc. Make sure you test all your gear before you go! I did not, but luckily, I over packed a second set of tent poles, I’ll leave it there. At the entry to the campground there is a ranger/worker/first aid house, a bit further down there is a spring of clean water and throughout the campground there are three banks of privies scattered about. Just a friendly reminder, when planning any hike, but especially longer multiple overnight ones, there are basics to assess and ensure before you start: your fitness level, the weather, your trailhead location, route & timing, your gear, hydration system and food supply.
To hike the Havasu Falls Trail is to undertake a truly memorable adventure. Hope you make it here too!
Thank you for reading and sharing this hike with us.
See you outside!
Jeanine & Audrey