On February 1st, 2018, my friend and I set alarms for 6:30am, determined to get a permit to hike to Havasu Falls this year. Every year, within minutes of going on sale, the permits sell out. For the year. You read that right. We were not going to miss out this time – so we got our browsers and our cell phones queued up to reserve the minute they went on sale, and it paid off. We were the lucky recipients of 6 Havasupai Hiking permits for Memorial Day weekend 2018. Let me tell you, it did not disappoint.
Hike Date: May 26 - 28, 2018
Distance: 10 miles one way + 6 mile optional hike to Beaver Falls
Elevation Loss/Gain: 2,800 feet
Dog Friendliness: I've seen mixed reviews, but I wouldn't recommend it
Regardless of where you’re coming from, there’s only one way into Havasupai Trail – by way of Hualapai Hilltop (aka the Havasupai Trailhead). In order to support an early start that start with 4 hours of driving, we opted to get a camping space at the Grand Canyon Caverns Inn about an hour and a half from the trailhead. It was the right decision. The camping space comes with restrooms (including a shower should you want to start the weekend clean), a continental breakfast (which consisted of all carbs) and drinking water that can be used to refuel your camelbacks and water bottles.
Once you hit the road, you’ll make a pretty quick right onto Indian Road 18 (assuming you’re coming from the Inn), which you’ll follow for around 60 miles. You’ll know you’re close when you see the shocking amount of cars parked at the trailhead (and down the road for about a mile in our experience)
An unexpected surprise? The wild horses along the side of the road if you’re lucky.
At this point, you’ve probably heard about the steep hike in. That it’s a mile and a half down steep switchbacks, followed by a steep hill before you get to the desert floor. The rumors are true. The first mile and a half is somewhat brutal, particularly because the entire time, you’re thinking about having to hike the opposite way.
Once you get to the floor, the trail continues for another 6.5 miles into a beautiful canyon that people don’t post about nearly enough. The scenery was gorgeous, and the shade extremely welcome. We encountered more foot traffic than I was anticipating, but the real surprise were the sheriffs on horses who were checking permits. We were checked twice. The first time by a man who rode up and Tokyo-drifted his horse next to a large group resting next to us before demanding to see their (and our) permits. The second by a man who was waiting on his horse around a bend, ready to stop anyone that was passing through. Word to the wise: get a permit.
At around the 6 mile mark, you’ll get to the infamous Supai sign. That’s when you know you’re getting close. 2 more miles to the city where you’ll check in at the Tourism Office. The final 2 miles to round out the 10 mile descent take you through the city of Supai (which, to be honest, was much more developed than I was anticipating), then past your first taste of the falls, starting with Upper and Lower Navajo Falls (est. 2008). You’re getting close.
The next rewarding site is that of the highly anticipated Havasupai Falls. I was surprised to have reached them before we got to the camp ground, but it was a very welcome distraction along the way.
The first sign that you’ve reached the campground is the ranger station to your left. Walk into the campground, pass by the over-photographed bridge (guilty) and keep going. By the time we got to the campground, our legs were beat and we were ready to set down our packs so we chose the first campsite we passed that was accessible to the water. It was a mistake. Keep going. The closer you get to Mooney Falls, the more beautiful the campsites become. It’s worth the extra steps, no matter how tired your feet might be.
That said, the closer you get to the falls, the further away you are from the natural spring (if that’s your source of water) and the restrooms. We all have our priorities.
Day Hike: Mooney Falls to Beaver Falls
Just beyond the campground is the tallest of the Havasu Creek waterfalls. You may have heard about the sketchy climb from the ridge to the base of the falls. It’s sketchier than you’ve heard. But you must venture down. Once you’re down and have spent some time admiring the sheer power of the falls, you must continue on to Beaver Falls. It’s an additional 6 miles. You’ll thank me.
First, Mooney Falls
There are few things in the world that will put your size into perspective. Mooney Falls is massive. And so, incredibly powerful. The iridescent blue water is striking. Surrounding the falls are sandstone formations from previous water paths. The mist that you can feel on your back, even when you’re facing the falls. It’s all incredibly humbling. Look for us at the top of the below picture for perspective and scale.
The immediate area around the falls is an equally magical oasis covered in moss and mini-falls. Note: the service at the under water picnic table is slow. I would bring your own lunch.
Next, Beaver Falls
We were debating whether or not to make the trek down to Beaver Falls. In retrospect, I have no idea why it was even a discussion. It was one of my favorite parts of the area. The hike from Mooney Falls to Beaver Falls will take you along the creek for about 6 miles, occasionally requiring you to cross through the water (wear your water shoes). You must do this. If you don’t, you will be missing out. And then you’ll get FOMO and who knows what will happen.
A few things to keep in mind:
- If there’s an option between man-made ladders and crossing the creek, take the ladders. Which should have been obvious, but it was not. Take the ladders.
- Well.. the first set. The above tip only rings true for the first set of ladders that you see. The next tip is, when you get to pretty much the only palm tree on the trail (if not the only), cross the creek. There’s a ladder to the right that will take you another half mile or so out of the way (unless you’re into desert hiking versus spending your time jumping into the pools).
- Keep your eyes peeled for animals. We saw a mountain goat and a big horned sheep on this trail. And they were beautiful, and so easy to miss.
The Final Ascent
I won’t sugar coat it, the hike out was tough – particularly the final mile and a half. Should you decide that it’s not for you, the Supai tribe offers an 8 minute helicopter ride to the Hualapai Hilltop. I ask me (which you didn’t), I think it’s cheating – you hike in, you hike out, but to each their own.
The best (or maybe just the most positively distracting) part of the hike out was watching the mules run across the desert and venture down the trail back to their town. It felt a bit cruel watching them clop down the switchbacks, but when they hit the desert floor, they were free. Very similar to the way I felt when I finally made it back to the top of the trailhead, eager to do it all again as soon as possible.