This year I (Jamie) was lucky enough to snag 2 reservations to the Havasupai Indian Reservation. Hannah had spring break the first week of April, so that is when we made the reservation. There was a new reservation policy this year, requiring 3 nights for each reservation regardless of whether you stay for all 3 nights. The cost is $100 per person per night, or essentially $300 per person.
Hannah and I wanted to attend church in the morning, so we didn’t leave Salt Lake until 2:00PM. We made good time, however. We stopped for dinner in St. George and made it to Kingman, Arizona at 10:00PM Arizona time (11:00PM Utah time – why they are in different time zones is a mystery to me). We stayed in the budget Super 8 hotel, where we were awoken bright and early by an obnoxiously loud ice machine across the hall from our room. We ate a mediocre breakfast and hit the road by 7:30AM. We had another 2 hours to drive which included Route 66, which was not actually all it’s cracked up to be. Just past Peach Springs, which is supposedly where the movie Cars is based on, is the turn to the trailhead and Hualapai Hilltop. 60 more miles of desolate, windy road is all that is left. We were stopped by some Supai police officers about 3 miles from the trailhead. They had us fill out some paperwork with our reservation confirmation number, car license plate number, and a list of people in our party. They also checked our vehicle for firearms and alcohol, as neither is allowed on the reservation, though ironically, we could smell alcohol on their breath. We arrived at the trailhead around 9:00AM, and the parking lot was full. We had to park about half a mile down the road. After double-checking our packs and taking a picture at the top of the cliff, we hit the trail.
The first 1.5 miles or so of the 10-mile hike is all switchbacks down the side of the cliff. The Supai villagers drive mule trains on this trail, and I’m fairly certain the mules don’t stop for anyone, so it’s important to move out of their way. The next several miles go through a dried up wash bed in a small canyon.
The canyon then meets with the Havasu Creek, where you get your first glimpse of the brilliant turquoise blue water. Shortly after is the Supai village. The village is small, old, and rundown. All visitors are required to check in at the tourist office in town. Hannah and I made it to Supai in just over 3 hours. As we got closer, we could definitely start to feel the aches and pains from unused backpacking muscles. My knees really took a beating from all the downhill, and Hannah’s feet were hurting. We both also started getting blisters from our hiking shoes. We took a break in Supai and chatted with the weenies waiting to helicopter out. (Actually, we learned from these weenies that it cost only $85 to helicopter out, instead of the $200+ that I was expecting. That sounded very, very appealing to me at the time as I rubbed my sore knees and popped some ibuprofen.)
From Supai, it is only another 2 miles to the campground, but those 2 miles were slow and painful. The first of the major waterfalls are along these 2 miles. The first is Fifty Foot Falls, followed closely by Lower Navajo Falls. We only looked at these from the trail, since we were eager to get our packs off. Actually, I learned later that we probably didn’t even see Lower Navajo Falls, since it’s not quite visible from the trail. Oops. Right before the campground is Havasu Falls, which is pretty breathtaking.
The Havasupai campground is nearly a mile long with plenty of campsites. The campground may look full when you first approach, but if you keep walking you’re likely to find some good available sites. Many of the sites have picnic tables, but not all. Most people are willing to share, however. There are plenty of trees for those who like to hammock. The camp ranger station has 5-gallon buckets to protect your food from squirrels, water jugs, and propane tanks that are up for grabs, but not guaranteed to be available. There is a natural water spring where you can fill up water. Hannah and I filtered this before drinking, but most people did not without any problems. The campground is shady for most of the day, since it is between steep canyon walls. We stopped at the first available picnic table we found, because our weak legs protested against any more walking. It also offered excellent people-watching opportunities as everyone else hobbled into camp. We set up camp, changed into our swimsuits, and went back to Havasu Falls to soak our sore legs. It was nearly 4:00PM by this time, so most of the pools were in shade. The air temperature was in the low 70s, so we weren’t very inclined to swim, but it did feel nice and cool on the knees. We ate dinner and hit the sack at the responsible time of 7:30 (8:30PM Utah time).
The next day we put on our Chacos because we couldn’t stand our hiking shoes, hobbled around to warm up our legs, ate breakfast, and hiked down to Mooney Falls and Beaver Falls. Mooney Falls is just at the other end of the campground. To get to the base of the falls, you need to descend into a hole in the cliff and climb down some sketchy, slippery stairs. There are chains drilled into the cliff to hold on to. There were several pairs of gloves at the top and bottom of this part, which I recommend wearing because the mist from the waterfall makes the rock and chains muddy and slippery. Although it’s a little nerve-racking, the climb is also pretty cool.
When you get to the bottom, the trail continues downriver for about 2 more miles to Beaver Falls. This was my favorite part of the trail. There were several times when you had to cross the stream (another reason why Chacos were a good idea). Some sections had wooden bridges spanning the water channels; others were shallow enough to wade through. All parts had ladders to climb up or down the cliffs on the side of the stream. There are several forks in the trail, but they all generally lead to the same place. We had to back track a few times when we lost the real trail. This part of the canyon was so green and lush. The greens contrasting with the turquoise of the water and the reds of the rocks were stunning.
Beaver Falls had several tiers, with nice swimming or wading pools on each tier. It was overcast this day, so we decided not to swim, but there were others there at the same time that swam and shivered noticeably as they got out.
We had a snack at Beaver Falls, and hiked back to camp. We got back to camp around 1:30. Towards the end of the hike we started getting blisters from our Chacos (oh no!), though they were less severe than the hiking boot blisters. It took us about 2 hours to hike in each direction. I enjoyed going early in the morning because there were fewer people. It was still overcast when we got back to camp, but I decided I needed to swim. So I took a quick bath at Havasu Falls right as the sun came out to warm me up. We relaxed the rest of the afternoon and again went to sleep early.
We knew that a lot of people recommended waking up insanely early to beat the heat while hiking out. We decided that it hadn’t been too hot, so we chose to get a few hours of extra sleep. We woke up at 6:00AM (7:00AM Utah time), ate breakfast, and packed up camp. Miraculously, my knees were not hurting at all. That was an answer to some sincere prayers from the previous two days. We tried on both hiking shoes and Chacos, and found the Chacos to be much more tolerable for our blisters. So we bandaged our blisters, wrapped our feet in tape to keep the bandages clean and in place, and hit the trail. It took us about an hour to get to Supai. As we passed through, we overheard some poor hikers who were waiting for the helicopter get told the helicopter may or may not come, so they decided to start walking. It’s weird to me how there is no actual schedule for the helicopter.
The rest of the hike went pretty well. We were in shade throughout the canyon. The sun finally came out as we approached the switchbacks, but we were also lucky enough to get some cloud cover for part of that. We started hiking more and more slowly as we went, because our muscles were getting fatigued. But by taking them one switchback at a time, we made it to the top. We got to Hualapai Hilltop at 12:30, making it a 5-hour hike. The heat was not terrible. So I don’t recommend waking up at 4:00AM to beat the heat in early April. Our Chacos saved our lives. I am so pleased with them I might go buy another pair.
We decided to drive all the way home rather than spending the night in St. George. I got back to Salt Lake at about 11:45PM. Aside from some traffic in Las Vegas, the drive wasn’t too bad. We even drove past the Hoover Dam, but we didn’t want to pay for parking so we didn’t really get out of the car. Overall, this was a great trip. I’m glad I was able to experience Havasupai; it’s been on my bucket list for years. This was my first true backpacking experience. I’ve learned that it is very similar to river rafting, in that it allows you to see beautiful, remote regions of the world. However, unlike river rafting, you get blisters on your feet instead of your hands, and you don’t eat as well. It was a great experience, but I think I prefer river rafting.