The Grand Canyon is an expansive, beautiful place with many wonders to explore, one of its best being the Havasupai Tribe’s land near the south rim. This area is home to the Native American Havasupai Tribe, the Grand Canyon’s only permanent residents, who allow tourists to hike in and visit the five spectacular waterfalls and unbelievable blue green water for which the area is famous. The six hour drive from Salt Lake, plus the five hour drive from Las Vegas, coupled with a 10-mile hike in to the campground makes this desert oasis no easy spot to reach. But if you take the time and effort to make the trip to Havasupai, you won’t be disappointed and will leave feeling enchanted and awestruck by nature’s beauty in this amazing place.
Before leaving home to visit Havasupai, call the Tribe at 928-448-2141 to make reservations at the campground. Only a limited number of people are allowed to visit Havasu Canyon at a time so reservations are necessary. Let them know what days you will be there and how many people are in your party. If you plan to come over a holiday weekend or in the summer, call far in advance as these times are booked quickly. If they don’t answer the phone, keep calling. Someone will eventually pick up.
Once you leave Las Vegas directions to the Hualapai Hilltop, where the hike in to Havasu Canyon begins, are easy. Just drive to the middle of nowhere on Route 66 past Peach Springs, turn left onto Indian Road 18. Drive 65 miles further into the middle of nowhere until you think you’re really lost. Look for the Grand Canyon (you can’t miss it) and a parking lot. Park your car and begin hiking. These directions are pretty accurate, but more specific ones can be found on the Havasupai Tribe’s website at havasupaitribe.com. The drive can be dull, but if you come in at night be especially aware of large elk and other animals that tend to hang out in the road.
After arriving in the parking lot you’ll want to suit up for the long hike in. Put on comfortable clothing, supportive hiking shoes, good socks, a hat and sunglasses. Coat every visible part of your body in sunscreen… because nobody likes having a sunburn on vacation. Make sure your pack is loaded with plenty of water and that energy bars and your camera are easily accessible. Avoid hiking mid-day, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., because the sun is hottest at this time and it’s easy to become dehydrated or develop heat exhaustion.
If a 10-mile hike through the desert isn’t your style, you can pay to charter a helicopter. The flight is only about 10 minutes and is said to be a beautiful way to see the Grand Canyon. Or you can hike in without your pack and pay to have horses carry it for you. We hiked in with our packs and the hike down was actually fairly easy, just long, as it slopes slowly downhill most of the way. If you choose to hike you’ll love the scenery as the canyon goes from wide to narrow and gradually changes from the dry desert to lush vegetation as you near Havasu Creek.
After eight miles of hiking you’ll reach the village called Supai. Here you pay your camping fees and you can stop to get a meal at the café, shop at the general store or pay to spend the night at the Lodge instead of camping. They even have a post office where you can send postcards! Continue hiking past the village and you’ll see two amazing waterfalls that were created when last summer’s flood changed the course of the creek. They’re temporarily named New Navajo Falls and Rock Falls, but the Tribe will decide official names. Unfortunately the old Navajo Falls, a favorite among visitors, is now extinct due to the flood. But the newly created Rock Falls offers ample swimming and photo opportunities. You can even jump off behind the waterfall, but don’t jump from the top of it. You’ll be fined and kicked out immediately.
Right before you reach the campground you’ll hike past an overlook of Havasu Falls, one of the world’s most photographed waterfalls. This hundred-foot fall plunges into a blue green pool of water and is perfect for swimming and picture taking. Snap a few photos of yourself and your exhausted group then keep walking to reach the campgrounds, which have spots on a first-come, first-served basis. Though the campground has changed a lot since last summer’s flood, it still offers great amenities like spring water, Port-A-Potties, picnic tables and lots of trees. Before the campsites were more separated, but because of the flood the campground is more connected and sites are much closer to each other. So make friends with campers nearby you and every night will be a party! I recommend picking a site near the spring water since you’ll use it often. Campfires are not permitted so be sure to bring your own cookware and fuel.
Once settled in at a campsite you’ll want to spend your time exploring the nearby waterfalls, Havasu and Mooney Falls. Havasu can get crowded with visitors during the day so go there first thing in the morning if you want unobstructed pictures and swimming time. Bring a waterproof disposable camera for taking photos in the water. The pools have been rebuilt since last year’s flood but aren’t as deep as they once were due to silt deposited during the flood, so be careful when jumping in! The water temperature stays at a comfortable 70 degrees year-round here and there are many picnic tables and great spots for lounging.
About a mile from Havasu Falls, Mooney Falls is just past the end of the campground and is my favorite waterfall. First because of its majestic power and beauty and second because of the adventurous trek involved in reaching it. You begin down an easy trail and see signs warning you of danger ahead. You aren’t sure why until you see that you’re actually on the edge of a rock wall and the only way to reach Mooney Falls is to climb through narrow tunnels dug into the rock. We carefully climbed through the tunnels and on the other side reached a large metal chain that is strung down the canyon wall. To get to the bottom you must cling to the chain and various handholds, hoping you don’t slip, and walk down the canyon wall. This part is definitely not for the faint of heart, but isn’t nearly as difficult as it looks. Next you reach a regular ladder leaning against the wall and once you get to the bottom, you’re standing in front of a 200 foot waterfall surrounded by blue green pools of water. It’s an impressive site and many wonder how the water gets this amazing color. It’s actually due to large amounts of calcium carbonate (lime) in the water that formed limestone that lines the creek and pools and reflects its color so strongly.
Mooney Falls is a fabulous swimming spot, and because silt filled its pools during last year’s flood the water is now shallow enough to wade almost all the way to the waterfall. Standing close to the waterfall is a rush as the water pounds and pushes you from behind. If you continue walking down the creek you’ll find many more beautiful sites, swimming areas and even a rope swing. As my group members found out from experience, the water isn’t as deep as it used to be. So use extreme caution on the swing! You can continue hiking to Beaver Falls and the Colorado River, but I’ve never personally had the time to go there.
After seeing all the waterfalls and spending a few days playing, you’ll be ready to head home. By then you’re tired of food in a bag and your feet probably hurt. My group hiked out in the late afternoon on our third day and stopped at Rock Falls to swim until the temperature cooled off. Then we began our hike out—stopping at the village for ice cream. The hike out is more strenuous than the hike in, partly because you already hiked 10 miles in, you played and walked for days and because the hike out slopes gently upward. You may not have noticed the downward slope coming in, but you’ll definitely feel the uphill slope going out! If you’re quiet, and lucky, you may see some wildlife while hiking. We saw a small fox and a few creepy crawlers. Be sure to bring a headlamp if you plan to hike at night. The canyon gets very dark and you can easily lose the trail if you can’t see well or aren’t paying attention.
The last mile and a half of the hike is uphill switchbacks all the way to the top of the canyon. Expect to spend extra time on this portion because you’ll be tired. The only reason we that kept going at this point was the promise of visiting In-N-Out Burger when we got back to civilization and the thought of taking a wet wipe bath upon reaching the car. So if you’re exhausted by the last day of your trip, or not in the best shape of your life, you may want to opt for the helicopter ride out. However, the sense of accomplishment and happiness you’ll feel after hiking out on your own is definitely a treat. And after walking ten miles my In-N-Out Burger, shake and fries tasted delicious, and I didn’t even think about the calories! For more information on visiting Havasupai, check out the Tribe’s website: havasupaitribe.com.
Bridgedale X-Hale Multisport Socks
The importance of good socks when backpacking cannot be stressed enough. I wore these socks for 20 miles of hiking in three days and left the Grand Canyon with no blisters like on previous trips. These slim socks have mesh for air circulation and WoolFusion® that keeps moisture and odors at bay, even on long hikes. There’s also light padding in shock zones like under the heel, ball and toes to soften impact and prevent hot spots. For long hikes, these socks are worth every penny. $14.95 bridgedale.com
Ech2o Filtered Water Bottle
When running amuck in the great outdoors, you can’t always guarantee you’ll find a safe source of drinking water. For these occasions get EcoUsable’s new Ech2o Filtered Water Bottle, which is made from food-grade stainless steel and contains a filter that cleans water as you sip. Fill it up in lakes, rivers or even puddles, you’ll be able to safely drink any water you find, except salt water. The exclusive bottle top with attached filter removes up to 99.99% of pollutants for up to 100 gallons (about a year’s worth) of delicious filtered water. Replacement filters are available online. Twenty-five ounce bottle with filter $39.99. ecousable.com
Julbos Bivouak Sunglasses
While hiking in the desert or playing in the water, you’ll want performance sunglasses like Julbo’s Bivouaks to protect your eyes. These glasses are the world’s first with removable magnetic protective shields that offer increased protection against enhanced light reflection, like on water, but can be removed for regular use. These polarized glasses work even better with the photochromic Camel lens that adjusts rapidly to changing lighting conditions. $190 julbousa.com
We ladies might not like talking about it, but all too often nature calls at the most inconvenient times and places. Like on a desert trail while backpacking or in a very dirty Port-A-Potty. For times like these, try the GoGirl. This unique device allows women to pee standing up so you can go anywhere, even when conditions are undesirable or downright scary. GoGirl is packaged in a discreet tube and a bag is also enclosed for storing it until you can wash it. You could throw the GoGirl away after one use, but that’s just wasteful. Wash it and use it again whenever the urge strikes! $6.99 go-girl.com
GoMotion Sternum Light Kit
Stay out of the sun by hiking in and out in the early morning or evening. For these lowlight situations you’d normally wear a headlamp, but after using GoMotion’s Sternum Kit, it’s all you’ll want for backpacking. This light attaches to your backpack’s straps and features a high-output 3-Watt Luxeon LED that mounts at chest level with two Velcro straps. With this light you can move your head without the light changing positions and the beam is so bright and wide that it can light the path for your entire group. $89.95 gomotiongear.com
LUNA Sport Moons
Clif Shot Bloks are a quick way to refuel on a long hike, but if you’re a woman, these bloks can be a bit big for a single bite. That’s why Clif Bar invented LUNA Sport Moons, which replenish electrolytes and energy but are designed to better fit a woman’s mouth. They contain 95% organic ingredients and each packet is only 100 calories. $1.29 lunabar.com