The Havasupai Falls are some of the most notorious, mesmerising and spectacular falls in all of the Grand Canyon, the United States and probably the world. The Havasupai name is roughly translated as “The people of the blue-green waters,” which refers to the incredible turquoise color of Havasu Creek coming from limestone minerals. While it’s become something of an overcrowded Instagram spot, there is still something so magical about this lush oasis sitting pretty in the middle of the desert.
We did the hike to Havasupai Falls over 4 days and are here to tell you everything you need to know before you go.
You cannot day hike in Havasupai. This means you must camp, and the tribe requires that all campers have a permit. Registration for permits usually begins in mid-winter (February) and they go fast. Luckily the tribe has started to upgrade their system and you can now register for permits online, or by calling the tribe at these numbers:
When you call to make your reservation, be ready with the dates you’d like to camp at Havasupai and the number of people in your party.
If you cannot get a permit but you still really want to go, we recommend going with a tour operator such as BG Wild who will secure the permit for you.
To reiterate, you 100% need to make sure you have a permit. Rumors in the past made it seem like you could roll up and secure a permit on the fly, but that is not the case. There are multiple rangers who check permits on horseback during the hike down and once you arrive in the village, you’ll have to check in at the tourist office as well. As you can tell, the tribe is very strict about permits, which probably has to do with the increasing popularity of the falls.
We’ve never hiked in the Grand Canyon before and although the hike is through the Hualapai and Havasu Creek Canyons, it’s basically tomato, tomahto. Same red rock formations, different canyon walls. It is 8 miles from the trailhead to the Supai village, and then another 2 miles to the campground after that.
The hike begins at Hilltop and heads straight down a series of switchbacks on the side of a sandstone cliff. The toughest part about going down is knowing that in about 4 days, you’ll be racing the sun as you make your way back up. By first mile mark, you’ve already descended 2,000 feet into the dry wash of the Hualapai Canyon and for the next 5-6 miles, the trail follows a gentle slope, dropping down through the red rock canyon. There is little protection from the sun until you reach the junction of Havasu Creek Canyon. Here you’ll see a sign pointing towards the village, and this is when the scenery really starts to throw you through a loop. In a total plot twist of nature, the canyon abruptly transforms from a hot canyon floor to a lush jungle full of cotton trees and a turquoise babbling brook from Havasu Springs. With red rock canyons still soaring high above, this is some of the craziest scenery in the world.
Once you pass the village, it is 2 miles downhill until you reach Havasu Falls, and then the campground which is just beyond. This stretch of the hike is bound to get you excited for your days to come, with views of Navajo Falls and the lush vegetation of Havasu Creek. The turquoise water set against the red sandstone is an image you’ll never forget.
The temperatures in the canyon can get extremely hot, with limited sun protection. You’ll want to hike in the coolest parts of the day when the canyon is shady (i.e leave the campsite before 6AM on departure day) to avoid the sun. Having enough water, a hat and sunscreen are absolute necessities.
8-miles into the hike is the capital of the Havasupai Indian Reservation called Supai. The village is known for being one of the most remote communities in the United States, evidenced by the fact that their postal mail is still carried out by mules. There are no roads, no cars and only about 200 people that truly live here. There is a helicopter landing field, a convenience store and a cafe that sells hot food and fry dough. There is a measly looking church and school, but the verdict is out on whether or not either of these buildings are ever truly used. The village is where you will check in with the tourist office and pay for any transport you want to arrange for the way out.
Stumbling upon the village, you’ll notice that it’s pretty much in shambles. Being there gave us the distinct feeling that we stepped into a third world country and it was pretty shocking to see the living conditions and housing for their people. We have heard that they are doing some pretty advanced stuff with their farming, and we did see lots of people working on their crops. However, given the booming tourist economy, we often found ourselves wondering where all the money is going. Certainly not to the infrastructure, school system or local people. That’s a huge red flag for us and the question mark as to whether traveling to the Havasupai Falls is truly ethical or not.
We were surprised to learn just how many people choose to take the helicopter in order to skip the hike. Our biggest question is why people, WHY? The hike is incredible!
We’ll admit that we thought about taking the helicopter for half a second, and then realized the line would take all day. The whole thing seemed super unorganized, so here is what we know for sure:
From our experience, getting a ride to the village is easy: you register at Hilltop and wait your turn
Where it starts getting dicey is getting a flight out of the village. The problem is that only 6 people can be transported at a time and the ride takes approximately 5 minutes each way + landing/takeoff. If 200 people are signed up, you do the math how long you’ll be waiting (hint: ALL DAY). We were told that if you want a ride out, you need to get up at the crack of dawn to hike out from the campsite to get in line in the village. At 9 AM, the “list” opens up and you can write down your name. However, even though we waited in line, everyone cut us at 9 AM and we somehow wound up on Page 5. We said f*ck it, hiked out by noon, and the people we were with waited until 5PM for their flight.
Our general opinion is that the helicopter is noisy, disruptive, and bringing in a different crowd of people who sometimes act like hiking is a death sentence. So confused. Anyways, we think that helicopter should be used for villagers, supplies and emergencies only… but hey, who made us Queen anyways.
The campground is a huge mile-long stretch along Havasu Creek just past the main falls that accommodates hundreds of people at a time. It is quite the clusterf*ck. The tribe’s website claims only 300 people are allowed a night, but we’ve heard rumors of more (#SupaiMath is what they call it) There are composting toilets that stink and were not taken care of when we visited, and very little nooks and crannies to just pop a squat, so that was kind of a drag. On the upside, there are picnic tables, fresh water piped in from the spring, and plenty of trees to hang your hammock.
You are allowed to pitch your tent / hang your hammock anywhere that you can find space. Our reco is to find a spot as far away from the entrance as you can. In the mornings people are leaving early to make it through the canyon before the shade disappears, so it can get pretty noisy with all the movement.
Pro tip: if you walk all the way to the end of the campground, right next to the top of Mooney Falls, there are about 2-3 campsites where you can set your tent to overlook the falls. You’re far from the bathroom…but holy hell what a spot.
If you don’t feel like camping, you can opt to stay at the lodge in Supai village. It’s $145 a night + all the permit fees. We didn’t stay here, but reviews claim that the rooms are basic but come with a nice clean bed to rest your head, warm showers and surprisingly okay reception for Verizon users.
Onto the good stuff! There are multiple showstoppers in Havasupai, all of which get their infamous appearance from blue-green water and travertine pools. These are the most falls in order of appearance as you descend into the canyon:
8.5 miles into the hike, you will stumble upon the first waterfall visible from the main path. This beauty has a tropical feel surrounded by lush vegetation as it sits deep in the canyon. The water is mighty cold with a strong current, but is perfect for a refreshment when you’re sweaty from hiking. If you look closely enough, there is an area of the falls where the stream seems to be broken up – there is a grotto just on the other side of the flow and you can access it by diving underwater. Once inside the cave, the crashing sound of the falls is all but a distant noise, and the sun lights up the water. Be careful when going in, and only attempt this with someone who is familiar with how to find the cave.
Navajo Falls is the silver lining to a flood that ravaged the canyon back in 2008 and we should all give Mother Nature a high five for leaving us with this gem. It’s just half a mile from camp, and easily missed as it’s tucked away from the main trail. It’s technically split into an upper and lower section, with a series of cascades that connect the two.
If you came to Havasupai to cliff jump, this is the place to do it. To get here, look for the trail that starts just past the bridge (coming from camp) near the picnic table with burlap hanging on the front. Obscure, we know, so if you get confused just ask around. You’ll follow the path as it hugs the rocks going up-river. You’ll get a little wet as you make your way to these falls, at some points knee/thigh deep depending how tall you are. Once you make it to the falls, there’s not a lot of space to swim or hang out as this place is mostly to get your adrenaline fix. You’ll see a couple spots to jump, ranging form about 30-60 feet. If you go for the 60 footer, just make sure to jump far out so you clear the rocks. The water is plenty deep, and once you plunge into the pool you’ll be carried downstream by the strong current. Be careful with the sharp rocks – you’ll want to wear shoes – we got most of our cuts and scrapes from this bad boy.
Havasu Falls is the pinnacle of Havasupai, and the most accessible falls from the campground. You’ll get an amazing view of this main attraction as you are coming down from the village and you can easily make your way back up here for a quick dip once you get settled in. We honestly didn’t spend much time at these falls since they are crowded and full of people ruining our photos with things like pizza floaties (they are cute, just not in our photos). We think the real beauty of Havasupai can best be enjoyed long after the crowds head home and the sun goes down. You can easily walk back to the falls after dark and bask in the thousands of stars that dance around the desert sky to the sound of gushing water. It’s by far one of the most magical experiences of camping in Havasupai. Maybe you’ll get lucky and spot a shooter star or two.
While many might argue that Havasu Falls is the big she-bang, we would make the case for Mooney. This waterfall sits just at the end of the campground going down river and is beyond beautiful. You’ll get a nice view point from the top, but the real adventure is making your way to the bottom. To get down the canyon wall, you’ll have to make your way through a series of caves and heart-pumping ladders. With all the crowds, you’ll certainly be waiting in line. While the top part is relatively tame, the bottom part is where it becomes a bit more hairy. The ladders are soaked with mist from the falls, and the thought of of one misstep is enough to make anyone’s heart pump faster.
3.5 miles downstream from Mooney is the incredible Beaver Falls. Getting here is half the adventure as you make your way along the canyon walls, tackle multiple river crossings, climb ladders and balance beam your way across tiny bridges. Once you reach the falls, sit back, relax and enjoy the view. Coming back from Beaver, if you want to up your adventure level, you can actually choose to walk up-river from the river crossing closest to Mooney. You’ll find a hidden waterfall, and gawk at nature’s awesomeness as you meander your way through travertine pools under jungle canopy. You’ll come out right at Mooney Falls and you can thank us later for this extra tip.
Havasu Creek meets up with the Colorado River about 8 miles downstream from camp. It’s an all-day endeavor to do this hike that requires getting up at sunrise to make it back in time for dinner. It’s not the milage that makes this hike extreme, it’s the terrain. Getting to Beaver Falls took us most of the day simply because it’s an obstacle course getting there.
If you are interested in making the trek, we really like this guide to hiking to the confluence, found here.
There are a few disheartening things about visiting Havasupai, but the most disturbing thing of all is the way the pack horses and mules are treated. Hiking into the canyon we saw train after train of tired, exhausted, overheated, bleeding horses. Do a simple google search on the treatment of these animals and you’ll be disgusted.
That said, instead of giving you the information on how to reserve a mule to carry your pack, we’re going to give you a link to sign the petition to save these poor animals instead. Click here to do your part in preventing animal cruelty.
If you forget anything basic, you can most likely find it at the village store for an upcharge. They have everything from ice cream to bug spray. Don’t expect to find any true hiking or camping gear though, and definitely don’t rely on the store for necessities.
TL; DR : because of the minerals.
As for the long answer for those of you who want to geek out, the question is answered by UC Davis hydrology student Emily Edwards:
“The chemistry of the rocks and water hold the key. Because the Havasu is spring-fed, the water comes into the creek from underground, where it picks up minerals like magnesium and calcium from the rocks, resulting in high levels of dissolved magnesium and calcium in the waters of Havasu Creek. In addition, Emily says, as water flows into the soil and through the ground, it meets air with very high levels of carbon dioxide–100 times more than in the air we breathe. The carbon dioxide dissolves in the groundwater, forming a compound called bicarbonate. When the bicarbonate-rich groundwater meets the atmosphere in the desert springs that feed Havasu Creek, another chemical reaction occurs, and calcium carbonate—the same stuff that makes up chalk, snail shells, and eggshells—precipitates out of the water. Together, the dissolved magnesium and calcium and the suspended calcium carbonate reflect sunlight to create the turquoise color. The riverbed is made up of reflective limestone, which makes the color appear even brighter.”
There you have it! Everything you need to know about visiting Havasupai. Let us know if you go – what did you think?
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