There are some beautiful places in this world that can be difficult to get to.
Mount Whitney. Yosemite Half Dome. Crossing the Grand Canyon.
I realize these places are no comparison to the difficulty of reaching Mount Everest. But they are some of the most beautiful and difficult places I have personally dragged myself to.
One place that has been on our “list” is Havasupai Falls. Pictures of it’s incredible blue green waters set against the red rocks of the Grand Canyon created a longing and curiosity, despite the challenges to getting there.
Havasupai Falls is located on the Havasupai Indian Reservation. The Reservation consists of 188,077 acres that makes up the West side of the South rim of the Grand Canyon. The remote village of Supai, Arizona is an 8-mile hike below the rim and is home to Havasu Baaia, “people of the blue green waters”. Two additional miles past the village is the Havasupai primitive campground nestled along the Havasu creek.
There are no roads to Havasu Falls. Access to this Garden of Eden is strictly by your own two feet or pre-reserved helicopter ride that will drop patrons at the village.
There is a 2,000’ drop in elevation within the first mile. But once you hike the switchbacks the remaining 9 miles is mostly a gentle decline to the campground. However, the trail to the village is completely void of trees so temps can sore at the bottom of the canyon. And during monsoon season you must be aware of potential flash floods, as you will be hiking down the gut of the canyon.
Probably the biggest challenge to Havasupai Falls is getting a permit. There are only 300 permits issued per day via a very antiquated phone system; that for the most part, goes unanswered. I’ve read stories of people spending hours/days dialing over and over to get a busy signal. With large organized groups scooping up blocks of permits, it leaves very few to those individuals from around the world clamoring to get the rest.
After researching the falls, I didn’t think we would ever make the hike to this special place. We are RV’ers after all. Our camping supplies consist of holding tanks, fully equipped kitchen and queen sized tempurpedic mattress. We don’t own backpacks, sleeping bags or a tent nor do we have the space in the RV to store such items. And then, how would we ever get a permit?
But my attitude changed earlier this year when we noticed an invitation to go to the falls on the Grand Canyon Hikers Facebook page. They had 260 permits available for a 4-day/3-night trip in October of 2017. The permits were snatched up quickly and we put our names on a waiting list if others decided they couldn’t go after all.
Sure enough, as the date approached, people started cancelling and we were able to reserve permits for the trip! We just could not pass up an opportunity to see Havasu Falls.
After purchasing backpacking gear (that I hope to God we use again) we laid out 4 days worth of minimal food, clothing and gear, which came to 35lbs for Jeff and 25lbs for myself.
We met up with our group at the Haulapai Hilltop Trailhead at 6am to receive our group wristband and dropped down the tight switchbacks along the steep walls of the canyon. The view was vast with the sunrise waking up the treeless valley below.
We quickly made it down the first mile and picked one of many trails that spread over a wide-open area. There are no trail markers here and everyone seemed to be on a different trail. But they all led to the same place so if you hike here pick a trail and go with it.
We eventually reached the wash that guided us directly through the canyon. The trail is rocky here but the views of the canyon walls were glowing red from the sun. We started to run into mule trains that were carrying hikers packs up to the trailhead. We also ran into other hikers who had left the campground at 3am to beat the heat.
Once we entered the Supai Village we had to check in to receive a second wristband that allowed access to the campground. By the time we hiked 8 miles and made it to the Village, Jeff and I were miserable. Our legs were doing fine but our shoulders were screaming from the weight of our packs. We are trail runners after all and being newbies to backpacking, we hadn’t quite figured out how to distribute the weight of our packs to our hips.
We left the village quickly and headed down the last 2 miles to the campground. Thankfully this steeper section was more wooded offering nice shade on the dusty trail.
We started getting glimpses of Havasu Creek and its stunning blue green waters along the trail before reaching Navajo Falls. The water is like nothing we have ever seen before. What the eye sees looks fake. The lime content that cakes the bottom of the creek somehow reflects the blue sky through is perfectly clear water.
Further down the trail we got our first glimpse of Havasu Falls. One large fall that spilled into a beautiful blue green reservoir made up of tiny pools of waterfalls. People were already swimming far below. They looked like tiny specs in a vast wall of blue.
By 11:30AM we reached the campground and found a wonderful narrow peninsula wedged between the creek on either side to make camp. If you plan on hammock camping there are plenty of trees in the campground to stretch between. And the creek offers the perfect volume of babbling brook as background noise to shut out other campers.
We took a quick nap before we explored the campground and met with our group for a meeting. We were instructed to be respectful, tidy and have a good time at one of North America’s most beautiful treasures.
Day two was Jeff’s birthday. And like any good camper without a calendar or reference for what day it was…I completely forgot!! (BAD WIFE!) Jeff and some friends made the 18-mile round trip hike to the confluence of Havasu Creek and the Colorado River while I made the 8-mile round trip to Beaver Falls. Both hikes follow the same trail that starts at the far end of the campground at Mooney Falls.
You HEAR Mooney Falls before you SEE Mooney Falls. There are excellent vantage points to see the falls and take pictures. From there, several of us were looking for the trail to head to the bottom of the falls. There was a small cave formed by large boulders, but none of use considered it the trail until I walked back to the area and finally saw a faint arrow pointing into the hole.
The trail stepped down through the cave and poked out the side of a cliff with an amazing view of the falls. Chains led you a few steps to another cave that stepped down to another opening in the cliff. Visually I lost the trail here only to discover that it drops right over the edge by staggered indentations meant to be stairs, then chains and then a system of slick wooden ladders.
My heart was pumping out of my chest! At our group meeting the advise for Mooney Falls was to maintain 3 points of contact at all times. Two hands-one foot. Two feet-one hand. Take your time and be intentional with every movement.
When I finally reached the bottom my head thought, “that wasn’t so bad”. But then I went to take a couple of steps and almost collapsed from my scared s*%tless wobbly legs.
But as soon as I turned around and saw Mooney Falls up close, equilibrium was restored! IT. WAS. STUNNING!
There are a few picnic tables scattered about and beautiful natural pools of hallucinogenic colors. A rainbow forms from the mist given off by the falls in the sun that was just peaking over the canyon walls. It truly is a Garden of Eden.
I followed the trail along Havasu Creek. The trail crossed the creek several times and I left my hiking shoes on to protect my feet from the lime coated creek bed. The trail veered away from the creek into what looks like a mangrove of foliage, then back to the creek again.
It was an easy hike and I reached another set of ladders that climbed up a cliff face and then along a bluff. The views were incredible with more of the same blue green waters along the red rock canyon until I reached Beaver Falls. And WOW!
There were people swimming in the falls and jumping off of rocks. The sun was fully over the canyon. The waters were crystal clear and not overly cold. Just the right temp in full sun and a bit cold in the shade. There are layers of waterfalls that are created by dammed up lime covered logs and branches. The logs are so covered that the surface is fully rounded over creating very nice places to sit and soak.
It was pretty crowded at the falls and I decided to hike back on the trail just a bit to find a private pool to soak in. It was such an interesting but easy hike (once you are past the ladders) that was a relief from my sore muscles from the day before.
I returned to camp and rinsed out the lime and sand from my shoes and swimsuit.
Part II Next Time