What comes to mind when you hear Havasu Falls? Maybe your dream vacation? Maybe memories of a life time from last year’s visit? Or maybe you’ve never even heard of it? And for those who are curious and wanting to go-but don’t know enough about it, hopefully this will add to your clarity!
I just recently completed my second trip down to Arizona’s great hidden treasure; Havasu Falls. Last year for my first trip I was extremely nervous. My pack ended up weighing 50 pounds and I had never carried a pack that heavy. That year I was running anywhere between 30-50 miles a week so the mileage hadn’t scared me, but the weight did. Me and a girlfriend had researched the falls, the hike, and the mileage and still kind of had missing links until we experienced it ourselves. Some things you can never truly understand until its hands on!
We thought you might see one of the falls before the village; WRONG! It is exactly eight miles from the trail head to the village. You check in there and then it is another two miles to the campground. The first one and a half miles down is switchbacks. They are extremely brutal coming back up so leave early to beat the heat. This last trip that my daughter and I took, we left just after 2 am. My first trip we left after 3 am. After the switchbacks you hit the wash. It’s more of small rocks, not sand, but can be brutal on the body if you’re not in shape. My calves were extremely sore the first trip down. From the village to the campsite that is sandier there. We wore 100% wool socks to prevent blisters which I’d say worked like a charm.
Now back to the falls! The first two falls after the village are the fifty foot falls and little Navajo falls. These combined with the turquoise waters are breath-taking in itself, but still did not prepare me for the next one. Within a quarter-mile before the campgrounds you start to descend and you can hear the rushing water. All of a sudden you turn the corner and to your right was one of the biggest and most beautiful waterfalls I’d ever seen. It was actually even my first waterfall. It was amazing and made every mile hiked well worth it! I was staring at Havasu Falls and completely mesmerized by it. Exhausted but now refreshed we made it to the campground. There are three different bathroom areas throughout the campground as well as a natural spring to refill water. I was concerned it wasn’t all that drinkable but we were fine and never got sick from it. We also took water bottles with filters but didn’t end up using them. The further you walk thru the campground the more it opens up some. Both years I ended up just before the second bathrooms. Word for the wise: pick a spot in the shade!! It gets nasty hot. Both years I went in June and this seemed worse than last year, but it reached 110 the weather station said. After we set up camp, rested and ate, we decided to walk thru camp and check it all out. Before we knew it-we were at the climb down for Mooney falls. So we figured might as well go check it out. This climb is one way and narrow. It was about a 30 minute wait at least between people trying to come up and people going down. You go thru small caves and climb down ladders and chains. But once down it is a beautiful oasis, and more small pools to play in. There is even a rope swing down there with plenty of amazing photo opportunities.
There was another long wait going up and we hear beaver falls was only a mile out so we decided to go ahead and go see it. Well we were wrong again! Beaver falls was 3.5 miles one way. We hadn’t packed much but did have some water and hiked it just fine in flip-flops. Which I would recommend packing some better sandals or water shoes which I did my second year and made it much easier on my feet. The trail to Beaver falls though is a fairly smooth and easy one. Apparently there’s a short cut to it. You go thru some palm tree tunnel and we were told (after we visited it of course) you can cross the river there and it’s a short distance. We stayed to the right and did a bit more climbing but did finally reach the last but not least waterfall; Beaver falls. It truly is an unbelievable sight to witness and take in down there. To see the village and the simple way of life the Havasupai Indians live, to the astounding beauty of the hidden falls in the middle of nowhere!
The trek back was rough. We did a turn around and left the next day, which I do not recommend! Both my trips have unfortunately been like that. It is a 2600’+ elevation gain coming back and again the switchbacks are brutal. You do not want to hit those in the heat of the day. I suggest hiking out very early. Leave if at all possible around 3-4 am or earlier! Stop when needed but do take advantage of the sun not being up! Word for the wise: the Indians do not help you or care! We witnessed a man fall out the last mile up. His buddy left in the shade to go get help at the top. There were tons of saddled horses and mules and no one would ride down to help him. His buddy had to walk back carrying two gallons of water and do what he could to get him out. You can have your stuff packed out on mules or flown out as well. All of course for extra charge. When I was down there with my daughter we were trying to find out if the helicopters flew out the next day and we couldn’t even get a solid answer out of the several we asked. We got the run around from them all. They either said they don’t know, or ask him over there, one said go ask the ranger he can radio the office, the ranger said his radio was dead. They’re cordial, but pretty sure they don’t like us at all!! Just remember that! Be completely prepared and self-sufficient on your own the best you can be! There is also a lodge in the village you can stay in if there’s availability. I haven’t been in there but keep in mind its two miles to the falls and campgrounds from there.
Another note; try to remember trail etiquette. A lot of people sleep at the trailhead to leave super early. I have done so both years. A group of guys spread hammocks out right in front of my truck and were extremely loud for at least an hour while everyone was trying to sleep. Try to keep that in mind and quiet down early out of respect for others. As well as not littering along the trail. Keep it nice and clean. I noticed more trash along the way this year which is sad.
All in all it was a truly amazing experience. I feel blessed to have been able to do it twice. And the second time with my 12-year-old daughter. In closing I’ll leave you with some tips and ideas or suggestions you may want to consider if your taking your first trip down;
1) Do not forget sunscreen!!!
2) Hang bags, trash or food in trees or squirrels will rummage thru them and eat your food and tear up your bags.
We packed freeze-dried meals which were delicious as well as protein bars, nuts, tuna packs, and snacky things like that.
3) We packed a jet boil-but forgot matches! A friend once told me to keep some in my first aid kit. I’m always switching out packs and left my matches in my camel pack I didn’t bring. But remembered my first aid kit. So now there are matches in there as well so that doesn’t happen again.
4) Pack extra batteries for your head lights! Ours got bumped in our packs and got turned on overnight. We ran out of juice on one of them for our way back.
5) The earlier you leave; the better!!!
6) Pack plenty of water!! My daughter and I had 10L on us. 5 of which was the smart water with electrolytes!
7) Reservations for the year open up Feb 1st! It’s almost impossible to get thru on phone lines and they normally fill up for the entire year before February is even over. They opened up a website to make reservations on last year and may do so again next year. Here’s a few numbers for them to call; 928-448-2141, 928-448-2121, or 928-448-2180. If you have questions its best to call between October and January where it’s easier to get them to answer and ask them all you can think of before Feb 1st hits and they’re phone lines go nuts!
8) Keep in mind to always be aware of your surroundings. My daughter and I passed a man sleeping in the wash in the middle of nowhere around 3 am. No one bothered us, the stray dogs seem to be harmless, but always be aware and be prepared for anything. It could be Mother Nature, and flooding, to extreme heat, twisted ankles or injuries. Be smart, think things thru and enjoy every experience you get to have to it’s fullest!