Backpacking Through Havasu Creek

Havasupai is a truly sacred place. The indigenous Havasupai people have inhabited the canyon floor for centuries, living in under the massive walls long before colonizers laid eyes on the canyon, or decided to call it "Grand." Perhaps because of the native history, mystical vibes are immediately tangible as you descend the 8-mile trail to Supai, the capital city of the Havasupai Reservation.

Despite years of unsavory relations between the US government and the Havasupai people, the tribe now flourishes in part thanks to tourism, an economy we were to become a part of. Any adventurers wanting to explore the many slots, creeks, and falls of the region must pay to reserve either a room at a lodge in the village itself, or a space at the campground 2-miles outside.

We called for three weeks before getting through. The tribe starts taking reservations each year in February, so we thought we were set. Three weeks and 4,000 phone calls later, my hiking partner Hannah was finally able to get two permits for two nights each. We were in. 

I’ve never REALLY gone backpacking before. I think the furthest I’ve ever hiked with my gear and tent was somewhere close to one mile, and we forgot the whiskey, so I ran back alone. This was going to be a different story.

I did my research. After countless articles on how much my pack should weigh, and advice from countless online discussion boards, we were ready… kind of… I estimate that both of our packs weighed close to 20 lbs, and the 10-mile hike in was pretty much downhill.

Many, if not most people use horses and helicopters to carry their gear down, and do the hike without the weight. A helicopter drop off was slightly outside the budget. Our legs would do just fine.

We spent the first night camped in our cars in the Havasupai Lot with a bunch of other adventurers. The lot scene turned into something of a tailgate, but with a long day planned for the next day, we turned in early.

We woke up before the sun on Monday, and hit the trail as the sun rose. The morning light on the massive canyon walls made for an unbelievable hike as we descended into the canyon. 8 quick miles later, we arrived at the Reservation Office in the village of Supai.

2 more miles brought us to the campground where our early start paid off. We claimed a beautiful campsite next to a crystal blue creek, pre-furnished with a tree-stump table.

After setting up camp, we set out for Mooney Falls. While the falls are only a quarter mile romp from the campground, accessing the base requires all sorts of vertical fun: chains, rock tunnels, and steel rod ladders. We cooled off and took in the gorgeous cascading falls for a while, then headed back to the campsite. Passing through Supai, we stopped by this awesome fry bread stand, a sweet cap to an excellent day.

On Tuesday we hiked to Beaver Falls, which is a beautiful (albeit a little cryptic) 2-mile hike from the campground. Be prepared to lose the trail, find the trail, cross some creeks, climb a ladder or two, and trust some dubious bridges. The falls make all that worth it, however.

 

The series of crystal blue cascades offer plenty of swimming, scrambling, and picnicking opportunities to fill up the day. There’s (not really supposed to be) cliff jumping at the topmost tier (“be careful!” – your mother), and a secret “Green Room” that’s worth checking out.

On the day of our departure, we once again woke before the sun. We stopped in the village for a quick breakfast snack, and proceeded to finish the 8-mile hike out before noon. Hannah kept time, I kept pace, and also made sure we had plenty of snack breaks (all signs of an excellent hiking compadre TK LINK). Finally back at the TH, we tossed our packs in our cars and took off in separate directions for our next destinations. Indian Creek, here I come!

Go Here:

Hualapai Hilltop Trailhead: The only way to access Havasupai (without a helicopter) is from the Hualapai Hilltop Trailhead. Here's how you get there. From Flagstaff - Head West on I-40. Take exit 121 for Interstate 40 Business Loop and head North. Hop on AZ-66/Historic Rt. 66 heading West (follow signs for Peach Springs). After roughly 20 miles, you'll pass Grand Canyon Caverns Inn on your left. Past the Inn, look for Indian Road 18 on your right. Turn North onto Indian Road 18. The parking lot trailhead is a the end of the road, roughly 20 miles from the turn-off. From Las Vegas - take US-93 South into Arizona. Briefly hop on I-40 East in Kingman, then take exit 53 for Rt. 66 heading East. In 53 miles, look for Indian Road 18 on your left. Follow directions above.

Mooney Falls: From Havasupai, Havasu Creek snakes Northwest towards its confluence with the Colorado River. Following the Havasu Creek from the town and campground leads to several waterfalls. The first of which, Mooney Falls, is only a short half mile hike from the campground. The access alone makes this hike appealing, but the beauty of the falls themselves make them a must for anyone adventuring around the area.

Beaver Falls: Continuing another 1.5 miles past Mooney Falls brings you to a tiered system of cascades called Beaver Falls. All types of fun can be had here: swimming, scrambling, exploring. While reaching these falls requires a bit more creative trail-finding and a few creek-crossings, it's well worth it.

Do This:

Befriend a guide on the trail. We were lucky enough to run into a guide who shared some of his extra food with us. Free food is awesome, especially on the trail! Plus, any guide worth their salt can point you in the direction of some gem adventures you may have overlooked. Just ask nicely. (Thanks, Louie!)

Eat fry bread from the stand in Havasupai. The fry bread stand (complete with jelly, nutella, and/or chocolate to smother your chunk in) is nothing short of a miracle after a long day of hot canyon trails. Stop by, support the locals, and dig in.

Pack it out! This place really is sacred. Don't leave your trash for the tribe to take care of. Treat this place respectfully, and whatever you bring in, pack out.

Not That:

Leave your tent unzipped. All sorts of creepy crawly critters inhabit the canyon floor. We watched in absolute horror while making dinner one night as a snake slithered right past our tent door. The last thing you want is an unexpected guest in your sleeping bag when you turn in for the night.

Overpack. Tent, food, water, clothes. Weight adds up quickly when backpacking. Try to cut down your stuff to only the bare essentials. I promise, nobody cares if you wore that shirt yesterday. Your shoulders and back will thank you.

Take pictures of the local villagers, especially children. Regardless of customs, would you want people walking through your backyard taking candid photos of you? Be respectful. If you must, ask permission first.

Pack This:

RIMBY TankAs I quickly learned, the desert is HOT. Go figure. Ditch sleeves and look cute with this RIMBY Tank. Just remember to put some sunblock on those exposed shoulders.

Mountain Standard Trucker: Once you've figured out how to beat the heat, you'll want one of these truckers to keep the sun out of your eyes. 

Beth Kolakowski is a perpetually stoked field agent with a long list of adventures on her resume. To read more about her trip to Havasu, or all the other trips Beth goes on, check out her awesome blog: After 5 Adventures.

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