Havasupai is an incredibly beautiful area deep down in an offshoot of the Grand Canyon filled with brilliant blue waterfalls and red canyon walls. It is an amazing spot and truly one of the most unique and beautiful places I have ever been. But the process of getting to these epic waterfalls was not simple or easy. Let me explain…
STEP 1: GETTING THE PERMIT
The story of our Havasupai trip began on February 1st: the day Havasupai permits went on sale. Photos and videos of this area have been going viral on social media in the past few years and it has become an extremely popular destination. Due to the fact that the waterfalls are a 10+ mile hike from the trailhead, no day hiking is allowed and you can only visit if you camp in the official campground or stay in the single lodge down in the canyon, which both require a permit. Knowing this, we were prepared at 10am on February 1st to reserve one of the coveted camping permits. We were lucky that we had complete flexibility on dates due to the nature of our extended road trip, just as long as we could get through the notoriously busy phone lines. We were aiming for mid April for the hike, but knew that other days could also work. We had 3 cell phones and a landline calling constantly for five straight hours, but had no luck getting through. A few times lines got crossed (is that even still a thing?!) and the landline seemed to connect to random strangers’ houses. Awkward! We checked the website to make sure we weren’t doing something wrong, but the website was down and had one of those ‘Page Not Found’ error messages, seeming to indicate that their website had been shut down.
Fast forward two days and we were getting tired of calling and listening to busy signals. I then noticed one of my friends on Instagram had excitedly proclaimed that she got her Havasupai permit. I asked her how she got through or what tricks she had. She kindly pointed out that the website was up and reservations could easily be made there. Apparently the new website had been launched some time after we checked it and since two days had gone by since the permits went on sale, almost everything was booked. We checked every single date from March to November and only found two open dates: March 7th and March 8th and knew that was our only chance. That is why we had to rush across the entire US in less than a week from Key West to northern Arizona. While I was bummed about missing the American south and really hated the excruciating 8-10 hour drives each day, being able to do the Havasupai hike was well worth it.
STEP 2: HIKING DOWN TO SUPAI
In order to start our hike early in the morning, we slept in our van at the Hilltop Trailhead parking lot. There were pit toilets and plenty of other people camping in cars or tents for the same reason.
The hike down was pretty brutal for me. It wasn’t the length of the hike, the steepness, or the desert heat. It was carrying my heavy backpack. No matter how much I try to pack light for an overnight hike, it never works. We packed food and water, extra clothes, warm layers for night temperatures in the 30s, towels, bathing suits, water shoes, camera equipment, tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, flashlights, plus the “ten essentials” and first aid supplies. Every little item added up, and by the time I stuffed my bag and forced the zippers closed, it was very heavy. I felt like Cheryl Strayed from Wild at the beginning of her PCT hike. I also realized, that however in shape my lungs and legs were from jogs and short hikes throughout the winter, nothing I did had strengthened my back or shoulders to carry a heavy pack.
It took us six hours, including stops for water, snacks, and taking photos, to reach the Supai village deep down in the canyon. The hike itself was truly gorgeous. It started with a very steep descent comprised of many switchbacks to get to the bottom of the canyon, which was interrupted every ten minutes or so by a group of horses passing through. Once at the bottom, the hike was mostly flat but no less beautiful. Giant walls of red rocks surrounded us, widening and narrowing at times, with incredible geological formations on all sides. As we hiked deeper and deeper into the canyon, brilliant green trees started to appear and it felt like bits of the tropics were sneaking into the desert.
After 8 miles of hiking we reached the town of Supai. We hiked the path that winds around the village and registered for our campsites. Thinking we were finally there, I breathed a sigh of relief. That is, until I realized there were another two miles of hiking required to reach the campground.
The campground was beautiful, with many sites along the bright blue river surrounded by trees. To my delight, there were plenty of pit toilets and a spigot of flowing spring water for drinking. I imagine the campground must be even more lovely in the late spring and summer when all of the plants and trees are in bloom. We set up our tent, stretched our legs, and spent the late afternoon and evening exploring the easily accessible, and stunning, Havasu Falls. We cooked some delicious freeze dried camping meals for dinner (at least they tasted delicious to us after the long hike!) and went to bed around 8pm.
STEP 3: THE DESCENT TO MOONEY FALLS
The next morning after some camp coffee and granola bars for breakfast, we set out for the hike to Mooney and Beaver Falls. I assumed these would be close to the campground, but I was very wrong. It was a one mile hike from the tent to a spot where you can view Mooney Falls from above, but to get down to ground level was a much more difficult and steep descent than I had had anticipated. With metal chains and spikes to hold onto, it is an almost completely vertical climb down, occasionally through narrow tunnels built into the rocks. It reminded me of the Angels Landing hike in Zion, only much steeper and also wet from the waterfall’s mist. Luckily we descended at the right time and didn’t have any other people to pass as we climbed down.
The moment my feet hit the ground, I was flooded with relief and then awe as I looked up at the majestic Mooney Falls towering above me. We spent some time exploring the aqua pools and photographing the falls. We had the whole area to ourselves!
STEP 4: BEAVER FALLS
We then continued hiking the extra two miles to Beaver Falls. This included several river crossings, between knee and waist deep, with the occasional rickety bridge. There were also several wooden ladders and rock scrambles up and down the canyon walls. The beauty at every turn was breathtaking. There were layers of cascading falls, looming red canyon walls, and brilliant green trees lining the trail. It was a long day of hiking, but I hardly noticed because of the intense beauty around us.
Once we reached the end and took more photos in the waterfalls, we made our way back to camp. The climb up at Mooney Falls was much better than the descent! We enjoyed another delicious freeze dried dinner and another early bedtime (except for Steve, who took a few extra hours to take some stunning nighttime photos of the falls, seen below!) Find him on Instagram: @walasavagephoto or his website: walasavagephoto.com!
STEP 5: THE END
In the morning, we had an uneventful hike out. We indulged in some breakfast burritos in the cafe located in the town of Supai to fuel our return hike. The flat part of the return hike was fine, but the final hike up the switchbacks to the parking lot in the heat of the desert sun was pretty tough. (Though to be fair, it was only around 78 degrees. I can’t imagine doing this hike in 90+ degree temperatures in July and August!) We had our dorky adventure hats, sunscreen, hiking poles, and plenty of water to get us to the top.
All in all, the difficulty of obtaining a permit and the challenge of hiking around 30 miles over three days was far surpassed by the beauty we found at this oasis deep in an offshoot of the Grand Canyon. If you can get your hands on a permit (don’t forget to check the website when you do!), I highly recommend you take the time to visit this gem. I would say 2-3 nights at a minimum are required to fully appreciate the beauty of Havasupai, and I highly recommend making sure you are in good hiking shape and that your bag is a reasonable weight when you go!