The hidden jewel of the Grand Canyon…Havasu Falls! Adventure of a lifetime :)

1. If you don’t go after what you want you’ll never have it.
2. If you don’t ask, the answer will always be no
3. If you don’t step forward you will always be in the same place.
Go forth & live the life you’ve imagined!

Spur of the moment time off equals spur of the moment road trip it to Havasu Falls! We booked a cute place with Airbnb (A trusted community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodations from around the world.) Packed up the car and took off for a 332 mile drive to Arizona!

About an hour away from our night stay in Lake Havasu we stopped at a gas station and realized we had turned off State Route 66!! Colloquially known as the Main Street of America or the Mother Road within the U.S. Highway System.  Route 66 was established in 1926, and served as a major path for those who migrated west.  Fun right?!?!

Our first time using Airbnb went over quite well. Cozy, comfortable and easy to find. We woke bright and early for the additional 260 mile drive to Supai Hilltop. Driving through miles and miles of dry, desert land made me really appreciate the greenery of the east coast, but it was fun to see all of the differences in landscapes.

Hualapai Hilltop can be reached at the end of Indian Road 18. Thirty miles in from the entrance of the reserve we dismissed the “No Trespassing” sign for a quick stop to the top of Thornton lookout before reaching the canyon’s south rim.

The first glimpse of the Grand Canyon was breath taking. The landscape was full of wonders colored in bands of bright red, orange and gold as we approached the rim from the surrounding plateau. Our  hiking exploration focused on a small but incredibly beautiful part of the Canyon (or as I like to call it, the hidden jewel) known as Havasupai, a magical oasis in a remote section of this magnificent national park.

The ten-mile hike into Havasu Canyon begins at Hualapai Hilltop. The local Havasupai tribe also offers guided donkey/horseback trips, luggage transfers by packhorse, and helicopter rides to the canyon floor.

“Look at that trailhead!” I think to myself while peering anxiously into the enormous canyon below. After a dozen or so switchbacks the path flattens out and follows red sandstone cliffs down to the Indian village of Supai. Eight miles from the hilltop trailhead it is the only place in the United States where mail is still delivered by Pony Express!

The path is pretty straight forward as far as navigation goes; pack horses and mules pass by several times throughout the day, so luckily there’s little chance of losing your way. The canyon floor is covered in tiny pebbles and sand from the dried out river bed, adding another level of difficulty to the hike.

A mile and a half into the canyon a family of hikers emerged greeting us with weary smiles.  Panting and out of breath their 7 year old boy says “are we there yet?” dropping his backpack onto the reddish-brown dirt.  “Don’t worry” the mom says to us, “There is a sign further up telling you only 6.5 miles to go until the village…You’re almost there! Once you get going, the trail’s pretty obvious.” With that helpful advice in mind, we trek onwards to Arizona’s most impressive (and remote) treasures.

It is important to be prepared for the heat. The Arizona sun, scorching in summer and only slightly less withering in the off-season, can zap the strength of even the most seasoned hikers. Be sure to wear plenty of sun screen, wear hats/sunglasses and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration or heatstroke. With all of our camping gear sitting back at home in North Carolina (due to the fact we didn’t plan on being at the Grand Canyon!) we had to buy multiple bottles of water and gatorade to take with us as well as 6 sandwiches, fruit by the foot, granola bars and apples. (Tip: However much water/liquids you think you need….take double!)

We passed through the Havasupai Indian reservation, which sits in the middle of the towering canyon walls, watched over by the precariously balanced Wigleeva rock formations that local legend hails as a tribal protector. Unfortunately we were not able to spend the night due to our limited time frame, but were impressed with the two overnight options for travelers en route to Havasu Falls. You have your choice between the tribal-run Havasu Lodge in the village or the campground two miles further up the trail, also run by the tribe. Supai is also home to a small grocery store, cafe, school, helicopter landing pad, and stables.

But the main reason for visiting Supai, is its proximity to the series of four turquoise falls that start just a half hour’s walk from the village outskirts. The most spectacular of these is Havasu Falls. Its presence announces itself  before coming into view by the loud roar of the river running parallel but slightly hidden alongside the hiking trail.

The falls’ luminous water cascades into a natural amphitheatre carved out of the red cliffs. Dozens of tiny pools and secondary falls spill out of the larger pool, each of them a unique greenish blue capped with sparkling white crowns of tiny waves. We were told that it had flooded a few days before and the water hadn’t completely cleared up yet. I cannot imagine how this place could be anymore beautiful than what my eyes were already seeing. After the hike through the sunny canyon, where shade can be hard to come by, the falls gave off a welcome cooling mist. The pools called our names…I was in complete euphoria as I stepped into the cooling brilliant blue-green water that added an unusual touch to an already remarkable desert palette.

We were not able to visit the other falls, but for future reference another mile down the trail sits Mooney Falls, named after a drunken cowboy who fell to his death. We were told it’s a bewildering hive of narrow caves, wet rocks, slippery ladders, iron handholds, and rusted chains, all carved into and out of the 200-foot high sandstone cliffs, punctuated by signs warning hikers to “use extreme caution” and “proceed at your own risk.” It calls out to your inner Indiana Jones, and apparently as far as obstacle courses go, it’s unmatched!

I found myself daydreaming of a lift back to the top on the return trip…but unfortunately the helicopter rides were closed for the day and I probably would’ve kicked myself for not conquering this adventure of a lifetime. An hour and a half before sunset we packed back up and started making our way out of the canyon. The critters started appearing as night fall came. Frogs and scorpions scurried beneath our feet and the howls of coyotes echoed in the distance.
The hike at night felt like it went on FOREVER!! but we marched on until we reached the top. After a 652 mile drive to Supai Hilltop from San Clemente, a 20 mile hike total in/out of the Grand canyon, we arrived at Havasu Falls astounded by its magnificence. Out of all of the years reading and hearing about the Grand canyon I had never heard of the Supai village living inside of the canyon near the falls. Absolutely incredible! Definitely going to go back sometime and camp for several days. This journey was amazing! Our legs are about to fall off, but it was totally worth it. This place leaves you with a feeling of enchantment and awestruck from nature’s beauty.

Some helpful tips in case you’re planning to visit

The best time to visit Havasu Falls is early spring or late fall when the crowds are thinner, the scenery is splendid, and the heat is manageable. While the majority of travelers visit in the summer months, temperatures can rise to well over 100 degrees inside the canyon, and conditions can quickly become dangerous for the unprepared. Havasu Falls is accessible year-round, and each season provides a different backdrop for your experience.

If you’re traveling from outside the Southwest, look for flights into either Phoenix or Las Vegas. A rental car is also a must from either airport. Expect to drive at least four hours to reach the trailhead. You’ll want to get an early start on your journey into the canyon to avoid the afternoon heat, which likely means spending the night at either the Hualapai Lodge near the (very loud) train tracks in Peach Springs, or the kitschy (and cheaper) Grand Canyon Caverns Inn on Route 66. Both are about an hour’s drive from Hualapai Hilltop, but only the Caverns Inn features a gigantic replica T-Rex on its front lawn.

Visiting Havasu Falls can be done in several ways. For the budget-conscious and physically fit, the most cost-effective route is to hike into the canyon and carry all of your gear with you. Once you arrive in Supai, you can either indulge in the wonders of indoor plumbing at the 24-room Havasupai Lodge ($75 a night for a single traveler, $80 for two, $40 room deposit required), or set up your tent at the campground two miles further along ($10 a person). To make arrangements at the lodge, e-mail or call 928-448-2111. For camping reservations, e-mail or call 928-448-2120.

The three- to four-hour guided horseback ride into the canyon departs from Hualapai Hilltop between 10:00 a.m. and noon. A round-trip ride to the lodge costs $120, or $150 to the campground. If you choose to hike in but don’t relish the prospect of the return trip on foot, one-way rides out of the canyon can be arranged as late as a day in advance of your departure ($70 from the lodge, $75 from the campground).

Havasu Canyon is also serviced by Airwest Helicopters of Arizona (623-516-2790), which arranges flights into and out of Supai twice per week during the off-season and up to four days per week during the busier months of April through October.

From Supai, it’s an easy hike to Havasu Falls and back. Guided horseback tours are also available for lodge guests at $60 a person, and must be made at least one day in advance. If you hiked into the canyon, however, there’s little need to take the guided daytrip to the falls. You can handle the waterfall hike.

Images of Havasu Falls appear everywhere in Grand Canyon National Park, from postcards to tour books to wall calendars. And yet, remarkably, only a tiny percentage of park visitors ever see the emerald green waters in person. But with proper planning almost anyone can do it—regardless of fitness level or budget.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Pixel Safari
    Jul 24, 2012 @ 15:34:36

    Oh how wonderful to be young and hike 20 miles! It’s great that you have the opportunity to travel now. We just got back from traveling the high southwest New Mexico, Colorado and southern Utah. After reading your blog, I’ll be back next year to photogragh the falls. Of course, I’ll have to take the horse down. LOL!!!!


  2. Trackback: Arizona | Everything About Hiking

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