I am sure you had seen pictures of this place somewhere on the Web and Instagram. This place had become very popular from being shared and re-shared on social media over the past few years. That is also how I first learned of this place too. Blue-green water rushing down a tall waterfall into a canyon with walls of red rocks. It’s a short distance from Grand Canyon in Arizona.
Reservation and Cost
Havasupai Indian Reservation is now a backpacking destination that attracts way too many people that they had to set a limit to daily visitors. My sisters wanted to go, so we marked our calendar to wake up at 6 AM on a February morning when the reservation opened up online. We were still living in the van at that time, so we had to drive to an open Wifi spot. There were probably thousands of other people waiting online just like us. After one hour of efforts, four laptops, and constant refreshing of the web page, we got four spots for a random weekend in April and we just hoped that mother nature and everything else would all cooperate when the time comes. A 3-day, 2-nights permit also cost a piece of our wallet. It was about $180 per person and they have been increasing the cost every year. I get it. The cost goes into all the efforts to maintain the place and trails and we are entering a reservation. But when I think about the fact they accept 300+ people every day at $180 per night. That’s a lot of money.
My sister flew from New York, then we took the car and drove from the SF Bay Area to Kingman, Arizona. The drive took the entire day, but good company and music made a great roadtrip. We spent the night at an inn there and drove the last 1.5 hour to the Havasupai Trailhead.
One of the fun things was planning what to do after Havasupai. My sister had never been to Las Vegas, so we made sure to make a stop there on the way back. We spent a night at Vegas before heading back to SF. A shower and comfy bed sounded so good. Of course, good food too.
The preparation was actually quite easy for this trip. Havasupai Reservation provides drinking water, picnic table, compost toilet and even an convenience store if you forget something. It was going to be hot during the day and cool at night, so we brought a 2-person tent for 4 people. Two of us slept in the tent and two slept under the moonlight. That worked out very well. This time I explored dinner options at Trader Joe’s and they got some excellent ideas for me. Mushroom & Herb Risotto and Rice Orzo Pilaf Mix both went very well with salami sausages. They just took a little time to cook. We also brought a couple packs of the korean shim ramen noodles. Dinner was surely a luxurious meal for camping! For breakfast and lunch, we had a lot of bars, jerky, personalized trail mix (nuts with coconut bits and candied ginger, my personal favorite!), tuna packet and crackers.
Day 1: Trailhead to Campground – 10 miles
Day 2: Round Trip from Campground to Beaver Falls – 6 miles
Day 3: Campground to Trailhead – 10 miles
We visited all the waterfalls along the way: Navajo Falls, Havasu Falls, Mooney Falls and Beaver Falls.
The interesting thing about hiking in a canyon was that you first have to descend to the canyon. It made an easy 1.5 mile start and what that meant was that it would be a stretch of uphill at the end of our hike out. It’s really not that bad. The rest of the hike was very mellow and flat.
The trail was exposed and dry. We carried enough water for the 8 miles between the trailhead and the village before we can fill up. Hat, sunglasses and sunscreen became necessary because there were barely any shades.
When we arrived at the village, I was surprised to see helicopters! Apparently you can opt for a helicopter ride in or out of the canyon, at a cost of course. There was also a lodge at the village if you are not pitching a tent at the campground. I can’t imagine how much a night would cost if camping is already a lot of money.
We spent some time at both the Navajo Falls and Havasu Falls before heading to the campground. We walked through the entire campground and could not find a spot at the designated campsite, and then we saw some space at the end of the campground right next to the brink of Mooney Falls. Sounds of waterfall, view of open canyon, bright moonlight, it was just right.
The second day we hung out at Mooney Falls and Beaver Falls, which is only 3 miles away. The close proximity of all these waterfalls truly explained why this place is so enjoyable. You get 4-5 waterfalls to play in within 13 miles!
Crowdedness aside, this place was very pleasant and I had an incredible weekend. Weather was perfectly hot enough to dip yourself into the blue water. We spent a good amount of time at each waterfall, snacking, wading in water and just enjoying the outdoor. When evening came, we made our Trader Joe meals and relaxed with the view of the open canyon. Funny thing was that it started raining out of nowhere while we were making dinner and all four of us covered all our stuff and hid in the small 2-person tent. The rain only lasted like 10 minutes and it was gone.
Some thoughts on Havasupai Reservation
Havasupai is a Native reservation, where the Natives live their lives, just like anyone of us. There is a school, post office, store, clinic and fire station. I felt like we were intruding their lives by flooding into their home. We passed by their homes and backyard along the way to the campground. If it was me, I wouldn’t want hundreds of people passing by my home everyday. Here is a picture of us passing by the Natives in the morning as they were probably heading to school or work. It felt like they are used to seeing backpackers in their village and there was little to no interest in interacting with us. This part actually made me a bit sad and unwanted.
An interesting thing I noticed along the hike was that there were hikers of a variety of age groups, there were kids and retired old people, and this was something I did not expect on a backpacking trip. So I later found out you can have horses to carry your packs in, or join a tour group that helps you prepare for the hike. The tour groups take care of carrying your heavy packs on horses and cooking your meals. Well you still need to hike the mileage but on a water pack only. We took lunch breaks at the same place as a lady group and the guide was preparing fruits and cheese platter while we were munching on our trail mix and bars. They really took care of everything! I overheard that one person’s cost is like $1600 for a 3 night trip?!!
A couple fun and not-so-fun things at Havasu
At the base of Mooney Falls, there is a little swimming hole where you can jump off from a rope. We were lucky to get there in the morning before everyone else came.
Beware of squirrels! They will eat your food!
We hung our food on a tree for the day and came back to a chewed through bag, a few empty bar wrappers and all of our banana chips were gone 😦 In retrospect, now it totally made sense why other campers had a bucket with them.We found out later that the ranger station were giving out buckets for food storage to prevent exactly what happened to us.
Here is a last pic at the base of Mooney Falls.