Let me first preface this by saying I have never camped in my life.
No, no, let me back up and rephrase. The extent of my camping experience was the one time when I was about seven years old when my dad and brother set up a tent in our backyard and tried to get me to stay in it. I lasted all of 10 minutes. Now we can continue.
I grew up hearing the stories of my dad, who had gone to college in Arizona, leading groups of students into the desert. Once with dreams of working for the National Parks, he lived for the adventure of the outdoors. One of his most frequently-told stories was always the story of Havasu Falls, the incandescent, turquoise blue waterfalls that led into pools of green-blue water; a hidden oasis at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. As a kid, my eyes would light up at these stories. As a teenager, my wildest dreams became goals I set the more I Googled photos and researched how I, too, could make the trek. It wasn't until years later, now almost 25, that my dream became a reality.
Some essential things to know while planning your trip:
- The falls are located on the Havasupai Reservation. Meaning, you will need to make a reservation online with the tribe. Because of the increasing popularity of the hike, reservations are made almost a year in advance (to give you an idea, last year the website opened on Feb. 1st - we hiked on Nov. 5th.) You will make your reservations here.
- All campground reservations are 3 days, 4 nights. This is not a day hike, and to be honest I can't imagine even doing it in two. You will not only want a rest day once you reach the bottom, but there's so much to explore, you could stay for a week and still not see everything.
- While commonly referred to as Havasu Falls, the hike is made up of three magnificent waterfalls - Havasu Falls, Mooney Falls, & Beaver Falls. Each is unique and breathtaking in its own way.
- When it comes to packing, pack light + pack wisely. So many things we thought we might need, we didn't, and a few things we opted not to bring would have been really nice to have (ex: plastic water storage container). Definitely join Facebook groups prior to traveling and listen to the advice of past hikers!
- If you plan to helicopter in/out, arrive early! We woke up at 4 am the day we decided to helicopter out, arrived to the village around 6 and there was still a line of about 20 campers ahead of us. Keep in mind residents get priority, too, so what you might not think would take long (the ride itself is only about 6 minutes) takes an extremely long time depending on the day.
Speaking of packing, we spent about four months drafting, revising, adding and removing items to our packing list. The final list that we put together can be downloaded here.
***DISCLAIMER: We hiked in November, so this list may not be fully appropriate for those hiking in the hotter summer months.
A few additional packing tips:
- When choosing between a rat sack and keeping our food in bins, we opted for the rat sack, and (thank God) had no problems! We did, however, store our garbage in a bin weighted down by a heavy rock and stored fifty feet or so from our campsite.
- I read on one of the many Facebook group forums I was a part of to bring peppermint oil and some cotton balls to keep the critters away. We decided to give it a try and I swear by it, we had no problems with creatures the entire time!
- I would also recommend bringing a roll of toilet paper as the bathrooms, while pretty well kept up considering the circumstances, aren't always stocked up.
- Depending on where you camp within the site, you could find yourself almost a half mile or more away from fresh water. Plan accordingly if you plan to set up camp farther down toward Mooney like we did! You won't want to walk back and forth day after day.
My trip started with a 6 am flight into Phoenix the day before we were set out to hike. There really is no easy way to get to the trailhead; wherever you fly into (I found Phoenix or Vegas to be the closest), you still have about a four hour drive ahead of you.
We woke up at 3 am on the day of our hike. Packed and ready to go the night before, we piled our gear into the car and set out in the pitch black. We got to the trailhead around 8:15, and after checking in with the reservation (permits, potential contraband, etc.) and one final bathroom break, we officially started the hike around 9. The trail is 8 miles to the tribal office/village, and another 2 to the actual campground, and takes anywhere from 4-6 hours to hike (it took us nearly 6 😂)
As you get close, you'll hear the water before you see it. About a mile away you'll see the first signs of the dreamy blue water, a happy sight after being surrounded by canyon walls and sand all day. I have to say, as much as the nights got a little chilly and the water had a bite to it, November was the perfect time of year for the actual hiking - 70 degrees and sunny the entire time.
After checking in, we got in to our actual campsite around 3:45. With daylight savings, it was already starting to turn to dusk, so we quickly set up the tent and ran (read: hobbled... picture a dehydrated penguin) back to Havasu Falls (the first and closest of the three falls) to bask in its beauty for the remaining daylight and enjoy a cup of tea. I think we turned in around 6 pm this night, exhausted and absolutely thankful to be horizontal for a few hours.
The next morning, following my immediate collapse to the ground trying to exit the tent, I partook in some rigorous yoga and foam rolling and accepted the fact that my calves would never be the same again (sure, I sound dramatic but wow will walking in sand for 6 hours do some damage to ya). On today's itinerary: Mooney + Beaver. We made some friends who told us they left for their hike around 2 pm the day prior, so we figured we had plenty of time leaving at 11... and thank God we did. The hike to Beaver is much longer than you expect, and with no real trail in place, we experienced a decent amount of trial and error in getting there (expect it to be unmarked much of the way and don't be alarmed if you cross the river and back several times).
Before we could get to Beaver, though, we had to scale the treacherous Mooney Falls. Of all the research I did on the hike, this seemed to be where people were the most opinionated. I will say, after hiking Angels Landing this summer (my hands still sweat at the mere mention of it), Mooney was not nearly at bad. But it's definitely not for the faint of heart.
Tip 1: bring rubber gloves for grip! Tip 2: take your time and don't look down. Lol.
While the pictures of Beaver were what initially drew me to Havasupai, it was this little oasis at the bottom of Mooney that stole my heart. Small trickling streams of water, a picnic table wedged in the base of the falls and a sun just about to disappear over the rim of the canyon made for the most idyllic afternoon. Definitely plan to spend some time here.
As I mentioned before, the rest of the hike to Beaver is at times sketchy, to say the least. You'll climb not one, not two, but three more ladders, travel through shrubs, wade waist deep through water and if you're lucky like us, come head to head with a bighorn sheep or two. But the end result is incredible, and well worth every minute of it.
Although we had every intention of carrying out the extent of our reservation, sometimes life hits you just a little too hard. When we got back to our tent after Beaver, we made the executive decision to fly out the next day (helicopters only fly out of the village certain days during the off season, and this was our one chance). A decision well-made, albeit a little terrifying (as it turns out, hiking in the depths of the Grand Canyon in the pitch black with no idea of what lurks around you is to date one of the sketchiest things I have done), the next day we struggled to hike the 2 miles back to the village with our 30lb packs on our back. One of the coolest things for me was that, while you're at the campsite, the roaring sound of the waterfalls drowns out all else, so much so that it felt eerie when we hiked out and could no longer hear the sound of rushing water. The utter silence in between the falls and the village was almost unshakeable.
Although we waited a good 5 hours to board our flight - watching helicopters arrive with nothing but firewood for the town and disappear again over the walls of the canyon time and time again was disheartening to say the least - we finally made it back to the trailhead and began our long drive home.