This past week I crossed something off my bucket list that has been on there for quite a while: backpacking Havasupai! It was both the hardest and the most rewarding thing I have ever done and it definitely lived up to the hype. I decided to share this post in more of a “trail journal” type of way, so come along for the ride with me.
What is Havasupai?
The Havasupai tribe is actually an American Indian group who have lived in the Grand Canyon for at least 800 years. Havasu means “blue-green waters” and “pai” means people. Havasupai = people of the blue-green waters. The tribe owns around 185,000 acres of land in an area known as Cataract Canyon, a part of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. The main attractions on their land are a series of bright blue waterfalls colored by a high calcium carbonate concentration in the water, and there are few things I’ve seen that are more beautiful.
My friend Amy (go follow her on IG, for real – she’s rad) asked me about a week and a half before the trip if I would want to go since she had an extra permit. Of course, I was in, even though I was going on a couples trip by myself (#chefwifelife). It was all worth it.
Day 1 / Hiking in and Mooney Falls
The trailhead, known as Haluapai Hilltop, is about a 10 hour drive from where I live in Salt Lake City. We packed our bags and drove town the day before, planning on sleeping in our car at the trailhead to get an early start on hiking at 3:00 am to avoid the heat. The last we saw of civilization and normal cell phone service was on Route 66 in Peach Springs, AZ, before we turned down the 60 mile long Indian Road 19 to arrive at the hilltop. Wild horses roamed the parking lot where we, along with several other groups, tossed and turned in our cars all night in anticipation for the hike ahead.
We woke up a little late at 3:30, met up with the other half of our group, and were on the trail by 4:00 am. This was my first time backpacking and I was already feeling the weight of that huge pack. The trail to the village, Supai, is 8 miles long, and the first 2 miles are a quick switchback descent into the canyon. The next 6 are relatively flat or a slow descent, and then once you get to the village, it’s another 2 miles to the campground that are a little steeper of a slope down. As our headlamps bobbed in the dark, we passed more wild horses coming up the trail and as it started to get light, we arrived in the village, grabbed our permits, and headed on to the campground.
On the way to the campground, you pass two waterfalls – Little Navajo and Havasu Falls. Havasu is the one you see most often online or on Instagram and as soon as I laid eyes on it, I felt something stir in me. We had arrived.
We chose a campsite at the very end, almost right above Mooney Falls. We set up camp, ate some snacks, and immediately changed into swimsuits. We were ready to go. Since we were closest to Mooney Falls and we had just hiked 10 miles, we decided to head there for the day.
To get to Mooney Falls, though, you have to basically climb down a side of a cliff. The way down has been outfitted with chains, handholds, and stairs carved out of the rock, but if you’ve ever been to Angels Landing in Zion National Park, this is ten times scarier than that. The bottom half of the cliff is wet and slippery from the mist of the waterfall and I could feel myself breathing faster as I put all my concentration into controlling my legs which were already shaky from the hike. There’s this part when you go through a cave on the cliffside and when you come out of the dark, you’re suddenly faced with your first full view of Mooney Falls, and it took my breath completely away. I knew immediately that I was in love with this place.
We all made it down the last few ladders at the bottom and spent the afternoon playing in the pools, swinging from the rope swing, and reveling in the glory of the sun and the bluest water you’ve ever seen. Finally we got hungry enough that we decided to head back up the cliff – way scarier on the way up, by the way – and make dinner back at camp. As it got dark around 8:30 we realized how tired we all were and I climbed into my hammock and slept until morning.
Day 2 / Beaver Falls
Beaver Falls is the farthest away from the campground, and we decided to head there on day 2 of our trip since we had a good night’s sleep and were (somewhat) ready for another hike. We ate breakfast, packed our lunch into our daypacks, and again descended the sketchy, terrifying cliffside of Mooney Falls. Instead of heading for the waterfall, though, we trekked the other way, following the river downstream.
The falls was 3.5 miles away and the trail led us through the “jungle” of Havasupai: hills overgrown with ivy and caves tucked into the canyon walls. After several river crossings, ladders climbed, and another rock climbing adventure (rock climbing is really not my thing – no upper body strength here), we were at the base of Beaver Falls. It’s very different from both Havasu and Mooney – while they are large, thundering falls, Beaver is a series of smaller falls and travertine dams created again, by the calcium carbonate in the water. Of course, it’s just as beautiful, and has multiple pools to bathe and relax in.
Beaver Falls also has lots of spots for good cliff diving. I am a wuss about that kind of stuff, but I did walk downstream to the main spot and watch for a while. This is another area where avid divers descend down a cliff through the use of ropes before jumping 50 feet into the pools below.
After taking some photos, eating lunch, and swimming around, we decided to head out after most other people had left. On our way back we stopped again at the top to do some jumping – I elected to be a photographer this time. But honestly, could there be anywhere more picturesque?
That evening I made my dinner and walked the half mile back to Havasu Falls – the only place you can get cell service without going all the way back to the village – to call Colby. Even just sitting there above those falls, eating freeze dried chicken and rice, I couldn’t believe I was actually there.
Day 3 / Havasu Falls and Hiking out
On our last day in Havasupai, we decided to have a chill day and relax at Havasu Falls. Half our group left the night before, so there were only a few of us left and we were planning on hiking out very early the next morning. Again, we packed up some food and walked the half mile to the falls. We staked out a picnic table and a perfect spot to set up a hammock behind the waterfall, and spent the day in the sun, playing cards, reading books, and jumping off the travertine dams.
Just before the sun disappeared behind the clouds for the day, I ventured onto the rocks surrounding the falls. As I stood there, breathing in the cool mist, I felt my heart pounding as I prepared to jump into the roiling blue water. It was a feeling of being wild and being where I belonged, on this beautiful planet surrounded by things that make me feel the most alive. I jumped and the current from the waterfall rocked and pushed me as my hair spread out in the water and the chilly water engulfed me. It was a moment I won’t ever forget.
Finally, we had to go back to our campsite as it started to rain, so we stopped and grabbed some Nutella fry bread on our way back (a necessity if you’re ever in Havasupai). We ate dinner, set our alarms for 1:30 am, and drifted into a fitful sleep. The rain returned around 11:00 that night so I woke up in a frenzy to throw a tarp over my hammock, but before I knew it, it was time to wake up and get back on the trail.
The hike out was so much harder than the hike in, although in hindsight, I was way more sore after going downhill than uphill. Luckily, my pack was significantly lighter on the way out, but the 2.5 miles to the village from our campsite were not easy, and by the time we got to the switchbacks at the end, I didn’t know how I was going to make it. As I slowly, slowly climbed I couldn’t stop thinking about how proud of myself and my body I was. How can you hate your body after doing something like that?
Huge shout out to Amy and Alan for inviting me on this trip – and my amazing job at Lime Ricki for being flexible with me and giving me the chance to go! I can’t wait to go back to this beautiful desert oasis someday – and this time, bring my husband along with me.
Have you ever been to Havasupai or are you planning on going sometime?