If you are one of those people who get sucked into clicking on links titled ‘Places to visit before you die’ or similar, you have almost certainly come across Havasupai falls and the surrounding area. Conveniently located in the middle of thousands of acres of Arizona desert, a simple 2 hour drive and 10 mile hike from the nearest town, the falls are something you can simply not forget once you’ve seen them.
After my recent and unlikely visit to the falls, I thought I’d have a short write-up about the trip somewhere and share the pictures I took with some context. I will be going from the start of the hiking trail till the end. If you are absolutely busy right now and have no time for my non-sense, I urge you to take a look at the following photo before you leave. Thanks!
Yes, that blue is real! Sorry about all that scrolling down. I thought it will give you a sense of how big the fall is, since this perspective is usually lost in photos shared online. That will be the last blown-up picture, I promise.
‘Havasupai Falls’ is usually used by people to refer to a number of falls along the path of the Havasu Creek. The only way to see these falls is by reserving access through the Havasupai Indian Tribe who manage the land. Reservations for the campgrounds are extremely limited and hard to get. Also to add to that, there are no online reservations, and you need to keep calling them on their hit-or-miss phone numbers till someone answers.
After having tried half-assedly to get a camp site here for the two years I lived in Arizona, I moved to California and forgot completely about it. Thanks to my determined friends in Phoenix who kept up the calling this year, we got a reservation and started preparing for the hike.
The trail-head is a 5-hour drive from Phoenix, and is just an open parking lot in the middle of nowhere. The first leg of the trip is an 8-mile hike down into the canyon till the Supai village, home of the Havasupai tribe. Here you make sure you still have that reservation and get wristbands to prove that you did not sneak in.
From the parking lot, which is at an elevation, the canyon looks very intimidating. Good weather or bad, there is a lot of exposure to the elements throughout the hike, except for the shade from the walls of the canyon.
From here on there’s going to be more show, less tell.
The hike begins immediately, and unlike in a National Park, there aren’t fancy trail marks or a length of paved route to ease you in.
The Havasupai people have been living in the Supai village area for at least 800 years, and these paths have been used for generations. The village is so remote that it gets everything – groceries, household items, building material, medicines and even US mail on mules and horses. We happened to meet some of these mules at the parking lot and they were nice enough to carry our tents and other camping equipment till the campgrounds for a small fee. (disclaimer: we had to reserve mule service a week in advance, and the fee was not small).
Each set of mules is followed by a herder or two, and one of the perks of being a mule herder is getting to look this cool.
On our person, we each had a backpack with water, food and other essentials which weighed in the range of 25-30 lbs. The trail goes on generally northbound, but often forking into two or three paths and then regrouping.
AZ canyons are a thing of their own. When you stay in the desert for a long while, it really grows on you and you become a ‘desert person’. If you never imagine deserts when you think of the USA or if you have your doubts about how true a desert the American Southwest is, we have a guest speaker to clear that up for you.
While hiking in AZ and especially in the canyons, it is the mental stress of the constantly outstretched landscape that gets to you more than the physical exertion. Hiking in a forested area means that you often pass by an interesting feature, like a pond or a weird tree. These register as proof that time and distance have passed by and that you’re getting closer to your destination. But the desert offers no such relief, and I could be making this up, but I feel that desert hiking routes pass through the most ‘interesting’ path to the destination rather than the shortest one for the sake of our collective sanity. Sometimes these features are created artificially.
Studies made primarily by me have shown that people can only handle my jabber for 8 miles (13 kms) or less before wanting to strangle me. Thankfully, that is how far we had to hike before we came to Supai village. Only around 200 people reside in the village which has a school, a small store/trading post/souvenir shop, a post office, a church and a cafe besides the houses.
The two mile hike from here to the Havasu creek is the most demanding, since you know you’re almost there but there’s no signs of water. Imagine being a guy lost in the desert hundreds of years ago, tired to the bones and ready to give up hope. Then imagine hearing bubbling water and crawling up to this.
That was exactly how we felt. This particular blue coloration of the water has been a mystery to the tribes for centuries and modern science has not been able to explain it to this day. Sadly, we might never know.
After a short climb down further into the bed of the canyon, we arrive at the Havasu falls, the most famous of all the falls in the vicinity.
Another view below, showing the ‘terraces’ that cause lime deposits and lead to the eerily beautiful cascades.
The campgrounds are a few minutes’ walk from Havasu falls and are right by the creek. It is amusing to think that there were more people camping here than there were residents at Supai village. Miraculously, we felt half as tired as we were after looking at the water, and could muster the energy to play in it for a while and later cook dinner. Anyone who’s camped at the end of a hike can tell you how well they sleep on those nights.
Day 2 of the trip begins with a small hike into the Mooney falls area, which was the first picture in this post. The climb down from the place where the picture was taken to the foot of the falls is yet another exciting blast-from-the-past feature of this hike. Muddy, wet and precarious on the most parts, and passing through small ‘tunnels’ in the wall, this 30-minute climb down is just the thing you need to wake you up all the way. Just like in the city, you have to sit and wait (as you can see in the picture below) for the traffic to move, and sometimes wait for people who are climbing up. Traffic is a curse that follows me wherever I go and at this point I am in complete acceptance of the fact.
Also seen in the picture are many people who can’t stop staring at the falls even while hanging out on the side of a slippery, muddy wall. The view is just that good!
The climb is challenging but very doable. If you feel claustrophobic, you should try to go very early so you won’t have to wait inside a tunnel-like part.
From here on, any further hiking is optional, and you can follow the creek as it snakes its way to the Colorado river (famous for sculpting the Grand Canyon). We went ahead for up to 6 miles (9.5kms) to see Beaver falls, which is a preferred diving spot. The terraces here are up to 20 feet high and the water is also much deeper. I am now going to break my promise of ‘no more blown up pictures’ as a lesson for you to not trust strange men on the internet.
Havasupai for me is a new benchmark for a long-time wish being fulfilled. Although the odds were not stacked up heavily against it compared to some other things on my bucket list, it still was exhilarating to have experienced something that I had looked forward to without a particular due-date in mind.
Visiting nature in general, and hiking in particular, is a meditative experience for me and I feel completely humbled by the gifts that we are given for simply being. The greatest disservice you can do to yourself is failing to see beautiful things that surround you, and with the world shrinking every passing year, we are all running out of excuses not to go out there. Gangnam Style is the 18th K-pop single by the South Korean musician Psy. The song was released on July 15, 2012, as the lead single of his sixth studio album…just checking if you’re still with me.
Like all good things, this trip too came to an end. By end I mean we were still in the middle of the desert and had to hike 6 miles back to the campground and 10 miles back to the parking lot where we were met with a flat tire on one of the cars, but that story is only for premium subscribers.
I think anyone who can should visit Havasupai at least once. For those who completely hate the idea of hiking, there is a chopper service till Supai village (but you still hike the rest of the way) or you can ride on horses. I do feel both these modes take away a little from the experience, but you would have still done the best parts.
This post was not meant to be a guide for a Havasupai trip, but just a log of my own experiences. If you are looking for more information, I have copied some links below.
Official Havasupai tribe website : http://www.havasupai-nsn.gov/
Details from a guy who seems to know what he’s doing: http://www.mikestith.com/havasupai-falls-the-complete-backpacking-guide/
A shorter version of my god-awful post : http://www.waterfallsofthegrandcanyon.com/havasu-falls/havasupai-waterfalls/
Thanks for reading, people!