by Kaylee Sypherd
I don’t even know where to start with this one. No amount of words I type could possibly express to you the pure Eden-like beauty that Havasupai holds!! But I’ll try, of course. Last fall is when I decided I was finally going to check Havasupai falls off my bucket list. One thing I knew is that obtaining a permit was difficult but pivotal, and since they weren’t going to be available to reserve till February, I had a ‘long’ (by my standard) time to wait.
February finally rolled around and that’s when the mission to obtain a permit started. Since the falls are on the Havasupai reservation, permits must be obtained through the tribe itself. The phone lines open February 1st and to reserve a permit you can either call or email (not sure how reliable emailing to get a permit is).
- Havasupai Tourism office: (928) 448-2121
- Email: email@example.com
I’d say that getting a permit was the hardest part of the whole trip. Three of my friends and myself called multiple times a day for almost a whole week, and every call ended in a busy signal. After hundreds and hundreds of calls, on the fifth day we finally got through!! Almost all of the dates we requested had already been booked (every date until July 14th)! Great, another five months I had to wait. I took those five months to physically prepare myself for the 17 day long adventure that was in store come June 30th (when I started my road trip). Aside from my weekly usual hikes, I would spend hours on the treadmill at full incline with my pack loaded up with 50 pounds. And I am so glad I did.
Our permit was for two nights (July 14th & 15th (day hikes not allowed). Since we were wanting to start our hike at 4 AM, we decided to spend the night of the 13th at the Hualapai Hilltop. The Hualapai Hilltop is where the trail to the falls begins, and is roughly 269 miles north of Phoenix. Please know that there are no services, besides vault toilets, at the trail head, not even a water source. It is important that you make sure you have enough water in your car for after your hike out since the nearest services are almost 40 miles away!
All night long I couldn’t sleep, I was like a kid on Christmas Eve! 3:30 finally rolled around and I hopped right up to finish loading up my pack while I waited for my friends. Thank god I trained with 50 pounds because my pack ended up being closer to forty so it felt lighter than normal! We started our 8 mile hike to the Supai village at 4 AM sharp. The first 1 ½ mile entails steep (feels even steeper on the way up) switchbacks and then the trail begins to level out when it meets up with the dry creek bed as you head into the canyon. Hiking the creek bed was brutal and was quite the leg workout…it was all small river rock that didn’t offer a hard surface to easily push off of. Although my calves were burning, the sites helped distract me. It seemed that around every corner the canyon grew bigger and more lush…a sign that we were getting close to water!! It wasn’t until mile 6 when we met up with the turquoise blue creek. Two more miles of following the creek then we had made it to the Supai village where our permits were waiting for us. It was around 7AM when we had made it to the tourist office to get our permits and by then there was already a line, which was great because it allowed us to take off our packs and get a good stretch. The village has a market that has cold drinks and snacks, and there is also a little ‘cafe’ that offers hot breakfast burritos and fry-bread…it was still early so I did without. We each were given a tag to attach to our packs and another to hang from our campsite whenever we found it. We put our packs on and hit the trail again.
The whole two miles to the campground is sand, another joy to walk in. About 1.5 miles past the Supai village, you come to Navajo falls (now two smaller falls: upper/lower). The waterfall is roughly 50 ft tall and you could choose to hop in here but I wanted to make sure we had a good campsite first! Not long after Navajo falls you finally see Havasupai falls for the first time. It took my breath away…or maybe that was just the heat. Seeing that huge, magnificent, turquoise blue water fall after just having walked ten miles is something that I will never forget. As bad as I wanted to hike down to the water at that time, I pressed on. Just past the falls there is a fence, a small house and a fry-bread hut. Just past the fence you may camp anywhere. I chose a spot that was close to the spring and not too close to the vault toilets!
We hung up our hammocks, had a snack, and then headed back up to see the falls. The water felt AMAZING. It’s a constant 70 degrees year round and felt heavenly after hiking my ass off all morning!! We spent the rest of the day swimming and resting up for our hike to Mooney and Beaver falls the following day. Yes, there was a lot of people there…but the place is so expansive that it’s easy to find a quiet spot. One thing that I LOVED is that almost everyone is exhausted around 6/6:30 pm…so when everyone retreated to their campsites, you bet that I was out at the falls soaking up every single minute people weren’t there. I’m not kidding when I say that my friends and I had the falls to ourselves every night for dinner. It was remarkable.
The next day came and we were thrilled to see more falls! Mooney falls is around .5 miles past the campgrounds so it was a quick hike to get there….well to the top anyways. Now this part, I DO NOT recommend for anyone who is afraid of heights or tight spaces. You have to descend almost 200 feet down to get to the base of the falls. The descent begins with having to climb through a short section of a cave that then brings you to the wooden ladders and chains. Obviously, the wooden ladders got a little sketchy because they were wet and covered in mud…but that only added to the adventure. Mooney is taller and much more grand than Havasupai falls and is definitely worth the hike in! There you can enjoy cliff jumping and rope swings! Below the rope swing waterfalls I even found a small cave you can swim through (waterfall caves are a must…so start searching!). Another three miles past Mooney falls is Beaver falls. On the trail to Beaver you veer away from the creek for a bit and walk through an insane ivy valley. Seriously, it looked prehistoric…dinosaurs should have been walking around. Beaver falls offers great ‘cliff’ jumping, especially if jumping off HUGE falls isn’t your thing. Just below Beaver, in a little cove, we made our lunch and relaxed in the sun for quite some time. I could have laid there listening to the rushing water all day. At this point, I was getting pretty dang crispy from being in the sun. I may sound like a weirdo, but one thing that really helped with burn prevention was covering myself in the amazing clay/mud that can be found beneath the water. I lathered that stuff on real thick and I didn’t burn AT ALL. I may have looked like a freak but I’d rather have that than carrying a 40lb pack out of the canyon on sunburned shoulders!
The morning of the 16th we woke up at 2:30AM, to start our hike out at 3. The sole purpose of starting that early was to beat the heat AND the sun. While walking on the trail that early morning, watch out for scorpions because there was a ton!! On the way out we took multiple breaks that were each one minute or less (besides the one at the base of the switchbacks). We knew the hike out was going to be tough but we also knew we had to keep a “fast” pace in order to make it to the switchbacks before the sun hit them. Let me tell you…the switch backs were HARD. It was the hardest I’ve had to push myself in a while. By then we were exhausted from hiking, swimming, the heat…you name it. I don’t know what was harder the physicality of it all, or the mental games I had to play with myself to take one more step towards the top. With every silent expletive I said to myself, my feet reluctantly moved! We finally made it to the top at 9:15AM. There we all took off our packs and laid on the asphalt as if it had been a memory foam mattress. WE MADE IT. It was the best feeling knowing how hard we pushed ourselves and knowing that every single second was beyond worth it. I can honestly say that everyone needs to experience this place before they die!
One thing I must warn about though, are the sneaky squirrels and mice!! They’re mutant and the squirrels know how to work zippers!! We had to stop many squirrels from getting into people’s packs and one evening when we approached our camp, mice scattered up a tree near our bags. Well, I thought things were all fine and dandy until the next morning I realized they chewed through my food sack and had eaten my rice and trail mix! The crazy thing was, my food bag was inside my pack which was closed by two cinches and two buckles!! Lock that stuff up tight!
- Entrance Fee: $35/person
- Environmental fee: $5/person
- Camping permit: $17/person per night
- Helicopter (if forgoing the hike in): $85/person (one direction)
- On first come, first serve basis
- Sun/Mon & Thurs/Fri
- 10am – 1 pm
- Havasupai Lodge: $145/night – for up to four people
*** Yes, you can rent horses/mules to carry your bags…but after witnessing first-hand the condition they are in, I will never recommend to anyone to use them!! Get in shape for this trip so you won’t have to rely on anyone but yourself to carry your things…you’ll realize quickly there are only a few “necessities” to bring on a backpacking trip, anything more than that is not worth strapping to an animal for over 10 miles!
Things to bring
- Hiking boots
- Hiking sandals/water shoes (A MUST!!!)
- Daypack (for day hike to Mooney and Beaver)
- Tent (I did not bring a tent and slept like an angel in my hammock)
- Sleeping bag/Blanket
- Wicking clothes/swim suit
- Dehydrated meals (I also brought summer sausage)
- Snacks (nuts, dried fruit, jerky, etc.)
- Fuel/stove/pots/utensils (no fires are allowed!)
- Sunscreen/bug spray
- Pool float (optional of course, but it made lounging by the falls all the more enjoyable)
- Water filter (there is a natural spring near the campground that does not need purifying. We used them to filter the water from the falls so we could enjoy something a little more cold and refreshing!)