Havasu Falls

Havasu Falls

Date: April 27-28, 2017
Miles: 22.0
Elevation Gain: 3,600 ft
Start Time: 11:30 am
Duration: 24 hours

Our day began at 4:30 am in a modest cabin on the East Rim of the Grand Canyon. We debated even cancelling the Havasu hike and just spending an extra night in Vegas because we were so warn out from our hike in the Grand Canyon the day before. But after showering and getting ready for bed Havasu was on again.

In planning the trip I had looked at a shortcut on a dirt road that led from just outside the Grand Canyon park border that led over to the Havasu road making it a 50 mile drive versus a 170 mile drive if we had to go out to the freeway and back. It appeared to be in fairly good shape from Google Maps and when our car’s GPS told us to take the dirt road it confirmed it for us. This was definitely good news because although we would only average about 30 mph on the dirt road it would save us about three hours. It did mean that we would be on a dirt road for about 40 miles which is a very long time to be on a dirt road but seemed worth it. After the first ten miles the road transitioned out of a hilly area to a wide flat basin with pasture land that went on forever.

About 20 miles into the dirt road adventure it suddenly occurred to Sandy that this was the same place that she saw a TV program where some lady got lost. She apparently ran out of gas and spent a week stranded in the wilderness parked next to a water tank. It wasn’t more than 10 minutes later that we spotted that very water tank. It was exactly like the one on TV. Fortunately for us we had plenty of gas. It was just then that I saw what looked like a snake in the road ahead of us. It turned out to be a fan belt. I sure wish it was a snake.

Now I shared with Sandy the fact that I have a very queasy feeling about this dirt road. Shortly after that was when we came up to a fence line with a cattle guard and a large sign. The sign said, “Private Game Reserve – No Trespassing”. Looking at the GPS we noted that this was the only road that lead to the Havasu road. We considered just driving through but the dirt road was visibly in worse shape and the odds of someone seeing us over 18 miles was pretty high. This was a game reserve so they would almost certainly have guns and we would very likely get hung up long enough to miss the hike and possibly be shaken down for some serious cash. Crap!

On the way back out the same dirt road we talked about how we couldn’t believe this girl was stuck out here for a week. We would have just walked through the night twenty miles to the road. She was so stupid. Some people just don’t plan ahead. If it wasn’t for her story as a nice diversion from our very stupid decision we could have taken a pretty good esteem hit. So anyway, we drove the 25 or so miles back over the dirt road and 170 miles all the way around and arrived at the trailhead at 11:15 am.

It was at total zoo at the trailhead parking lot. There were cars parked for probably a mile up the road before we even got to the official parking areas. I passed on a couple awkward spots and decided to at least drive up to the front and then turn around and get what I could. Just as we got to the trailhead a car pulled out of the 2nd closest spot to the trailhead. I took this as a nice consolation for that little diversion we had on the dirt road.

We checked in and were delighted to learn that they actually had our names on the list. The reservation process for campsites at Havasu Falls was chaotic to say the least. It only took us about 100 busy signal calls and one month to book the reservations and then we never got a confirmation email. The Havasupai tribe that manages the process is clearly enjoying an enormous imbalance between demand and the supply of available campsites and have learned that no level of poor service could possibly impact sales.  Although this is clearly one of the most beautiful places on earth it did give us a greater appreciation for what our national parks provide.

Just entering the canyon

The first mile was down some deep switchbacks which led down from the cliff side parking area. There were several mule/horse trains going down so we always needed to keep a lookout for them. The second mile was just as steep as the first but it led away from the cliffs and towards a narrow canyon that we would spend most of our time in. There were several side trail options and we never really knew which one was best. Once we were in the canyon, which was relatively flat, we found that it was usually best to stay in the wash rather than head up the bank. This was due to the fact that the side trails were usually very dusty trails and ironically enough the wash was made up of small pebbles which were more firm to walk on.

The canyon lasted about four or so miles and got progressively more narrow the further down we hiked. This area was actually quite nice with beautiful rock formations around every corner and more shady as the canyon closed in around us more. Considering a lot of hikes we’ve gone on lately this was a pretty easy going trail.

The canyon eventually emptied into a larger canyon. At this junction there were two men on horseback who stopped us and asked our names. After they confirmed we were on the list they sent us on our way. They seemed to me to be the tribal enforcement types who have probably chased down hikers without permits on several occasions. I was imagining the feeling of large hoof nailing me in the back and pinning me to the ground as we took the trail to the left.

LDS Church in Supai

This new canyon we walked into was starkly different than the last. There was a large stream running through it and we were surrounded by a lush forest of mostly cottonwoods. The enforcers at the corner told us it was two miles to the village which seemed odd since it looked to only be about a mile on my GPS.  As it turned out, the village was only about a mile away but it was strung out over a long valley and the place where we checked in was about two miles away.  The town of Supai was guarded on the west side by two large rock columns on top of the cliffs. Most of the homes were modest and run down. There was no pavement so all of the residents either traveled by foot or by horse with an occasional ATV here or there.

Apparently the dogs in Supai can’t read

Before long we wandered up to the campground registration office. Everything was in order and they issued us a permit to hang on our tent. We then found the general store and restaurant shortly down the road. We were soon eating a fine lunch which went down easily after the eight mile hike. Sandy got a Navajo taco and I settled for the burger and fries. I should have got the Navajo taco as well. After eating we went over to the store and picked up a few items for later that evening and early morning. It was still two more miles before we got to the falls and campground so we needed to get everything we needed while we were in town, including the use of flush toilets.

Navajo Falls
Navajo Falls

The next stop down the trail was Navajo Falls. The sun was facing us at the time so we couldn’t get the photos we wanted but in person the whole area was much more impressive than I had imagined. There was an upper falls and a lower falls separated by a beautiful section of river with small tiers. We hiked down by the top of the lower falls and then below the falls. It was around 5pm at this time so we needed to move along before we wanted it.

Shortly after Navajo Falls the trail started down hill into what was obviously the Havasu Falls area. Our first view of the falls came as we descended down a somewhat steep trail giving us a great side view from above the falls. It was every bit as breathtaking as all of the photos I’ve seen. We made our way down to the bottom and found a tight little notch that we climbed down through to get to the base of the falls. With all of the people I knew would be staying in the campgrounds I was surprised to only see a few small groups of people there. We setup the tripod and got a few shots but we still had our packs on so we headed out to find a campground and then promised ourselves we’d be back at sunset to get some good low light photos.

Havasu Falls
Havasu Falls
River near campsites

The campground started just a few hundred yards downhill from the base of Havasu Falls. The first of the camping area was occupied by some local Havasupai tribe members selling Navajo Tacos as well as few other items. We were still full from our dinner in Supai so we walked on by. The campsites bordered the stream between cliffs in a narrow canyon. There were group sites at first and then several smaller sites that were all occupied as we made our way down the path. The river was absolutely gorgeous but it became fairly obvious the further we got that given how late is was in the evening that we would have to take what we could get. We were planning on staying nearer to the end of the campsites anyway so we could hit Mooney Falls, which was on the other end of the campsites, early the next morning.

We eventually found a spot up the hill in the trees which was perfect. We setup the tent, blew up our sleeping pads and then went down to the river to wash off a little. We then headed back up through the campgrounds to Havasu Falls. It was a beautiful sunset and we were about the only ones down at the base of the falls. It made me wonder if most people come here to stay in their campsites. It was dark as we headed back so we donned a headlamp and headed back down. It was a little difficult finding our site in the dark but we eventually found our way back.

Looking back near the falls toward the campgrounds
River below Havasu Falls

After settling in for the night it became apparent that it was going to be a warm night. We basically laid on top of our sleeping pads in our underwear and were still too hot to sleep. I opened up the side doors so that the wind could blow through the tent through the screens relying on the surrounding bushes and lack of light for privacy. Some time during the night a breeze picked up making things much more comfortable for the rest of the night.

We were able to get on the trail by 5:30 in the next morning. We left Sandy’s pack empty except for the camera, tripod and a few incidentals. Mooney Falls is about a mile below Havasu Falls. Fortunately, since we camped nearer to the end of the campground it wasn’t long before we approached the overlook to the top of Mooney Falls. It was very similar in size and appearance to Havasu Falls except that it was in a much smaller canyon.

Mooney Falls
Looking up the ladders from Mooney

The hike down to the base of Mooney Falls was a real treat. The further we made our way down the more sketchy the trail became. After making our way down through a couple of steep tunnels that were cut directly into the cliff we found ourselves climbing down a series of steep sections with chains anchored into the cliff. Although it looked quite daunting there was always a foothold for each step and it was just a matter of taking each step slowly and deliberately. The chains sections led to a section of three separate ladders that were bolted into the cliff. The second ladder was loose so the sudden movement outward of about two inches was quite jolting as we stepped onto it. Just for fun, the last section was wet from the mist of the falls. It looked worse than it was though.

Moonie Falls
Sandy at Mooney Falls

Since we started early we were the only ones down at the falls. It was difficult finding a place to photograph the falls without getting the camera wet but we were able to find a spot before too long. We didn’t spend too much time down there because we still had eleven miles between the top of the cliff and our car with all of it uphill. The climb back up went much easier because we could see exactly where our feet went with each step without having to feel around for a foothold. Even before we reached the top we looked at each other and agreed that we would never forget this experience and we mean’t that in a good way. There was a young Asian couple looking over at us for the overlook as we came up to the top and they were both shaking their heads. They must have been watching.

We made it back to camp and quickly packed up everything and headed out. As we climbed up the trail, giving us a final view of Havasu Falls, we were still dumbstruck by its overwhelming beauty. There were several people in the area now which made us appreciate the time we spent there the night before with very few people around. What an incredible place.

Havasu Falls in the morning
Upper Navajo Falls

We stopped by Supai on the way out to use the facilities and top off our water for the long hike out. We’ve hiked this distance quite a few times and set a good pace. There were several people who we would hike behind for a while and then watch them start to struggle and then eventually pass them where they rested in a shady place. It makes a big difference when you hike as much as we do. Many of the red faced people we passed in shady spots with their brand new huge backpacks obviously have not spent a lot of time on the trail before.

The final two miles were tough due to the incline and exposure to the sun be but we knew that going into it so we just kept the pace and powered through it. We got to the trailhead at exactly 11:30 am which was kind of cool because that’s when we left the previous day. We both acknowledged that it would have been best to stay down there for two nights so that we could explore more below Mooney falls.  But it was also nice knowing how much we accomplished in 24 hours.

Here’s a YouTube video of our hike: