Thanksgiving Weekend in Havasupai
Havasupai has been on my "must-visit" list for a couple of years now. In 2016 I missed out on the very short window of reserving permits so the hike was, unfortunately, out of the running for that year. However, I was determined to make it to Havasupai in 2017 so on February 1, the date when permits are available for reservation each year, I was on the phone and dialing the office. Up until this year the only way to secure a permit was to relentlessly call the Havasupai office and pray to the hiking gods you were one of the lucky ones who were able to get through and reserve a permit. I spent all of 2/1 calling the office hundreds of time yet all I heard on the other end was a busy signal. On 2/2 I began the process again but then a friend alerted me that this year they launched a website where they would sell all of their permits. I immediately logged on and began plugging in my information. I hoped to visit in April or May but, much to my dismay and disappointment, almost the entire year was already booked. The weekend that was still available? Thanksgiving. Not wanting to miss out on visiting Havasupai a second year in a row I booked our permit! And then the waiting game began...
Havasupai was the last leg of Alex's and my ten day trip through Arizona and despite having logged two backpacking hikes already we were both ecstatic to get to Havasupai since it was so long-awaited.
We started the hike from the Hualapai Hilltop at 7am. When visitors hike this trail in the summer months it is crucial that they start the hike in the early morning hours so they can complete most of it in the dark, when it is cool. Since we were hiking this trail at the end of November and the highs were only reaching into the 80s we weren't as worried about overheating.
The hike to the Havasupai campground is ten miles, with 2,000' of loss, half of which occurs in the first mile or so of trail. This felt very similar to our Grand Canyon hike that we completed two days prior so we were already getting accustomed to canyon hikes. Once we tackled that first portion of trail the hiking was easy - it was level, the trail was wide and maintained and Alex and I clocked some of the fastest miles we've ever hiked, or perhaps we were just that excited to finally see Havasu Falls.
After eight miles of hiking we reached the village of Supai where we checked into the visitor office and picked up our permit and wristbands. While it's physically possible to complete this as a day-trip, day-hiking is not allowed (and would most likely be miserable anyway).
Havasu means "blue-green water" and pai means "people" so Havasupai means "blue-green water people." The tribe has lived in the Grand Canyon for at least 800 years. This has been their home for centuries so it is important for all visitors to remember that when they visit Havasupai they are guests on tribal land and they are to be respectful. This means not trying to sneak in and day-hike, not camping on top of Mooney Falls (something that social media has encouraged), and abiding by other posted regulations. This is an incredibly beautiful place and worthy of our respect.
Finally getting to see Havasu Falls was a remarkable experience. I have seen thousands of photos of this waterfall so part of it felt very familiar but getting to experience it in real life was a novelty - hearing the thundering falls and watching it tumble into the creek was so much more beautiful than I ever could have imagined. After stopping to appreciate the scene for a few minutes we made our way to camp to find a spot to spend the next two nights.
Since we didn't have too much daylight left and we had just spent the entire morning hiking we stayed around Havasu Falls for the afternoon. The falls were in the shadows and the water was chilly but Alex and I couldn't resist a quick swim before heading back to camp to make dinner.
The second day of our trip Alex and I decided to head to Mooney and Beaver Falls. Mooney Falls can be seen from the edge of the campground but requires some slippery and precarious moves to get to its base. The trail descends past the campground and then abruptly seems to end, but upon closer inspection you can see the trail proceeds through a hole in the rock. This tunnel is surprisingly the easiest part of the treacherous descent, the next part of the trail continues down the nearly vertical face of slick rock via chains and ladders as mist from the nearby 200' Mooney Falls soaks hikers. Eventually we made it and, heart-pumping, I rejoiced at the fact my two feet were on solid ground once again. We spent a few minutes enjoying the falls before we continued on towards our final destination of the day: Beaver Falls.
The hike to Beaver Falls ended up being my favorite part of the trip. The four mile trail from Mooney Falls to Beaver Falls follows the brilliantly blue-green Havasu Creek, crosses it several times, and offers endless opportunities to view the creek tumbling over travertine pools and sinuously flowing through the forest. The hike also required scrambling up and down a few more ladders, but none of them were nearly as perilous as the initial hike down to Mooney Falls.
We eventually made it to Beaver Falls and despite the numerous stops we made, we were the first group to arrive. We enjoyed only a few minutes of solitude before more groups began showing up. We must have been one of the first groups to leave camp in the morning and now I wish we had left even earlier! Once too many groups showed up Alex and I continued down the trail a little further. The trail eventually ends at the confluence of Havasu Creek and the Colorado River and if we had more daylight it would have been a no-brainer to continue to the end (next time!), but since we were so short on daylight we decided it was best to stay near to Beaver Falls.
After eating lunch with the a beautiful view of Havasu Creek we started to head back to camp. The remainder of our day was relaxed. We made an early dinner, played cards on the picnic table (a perk of established campsites), read, and napped. After a restful afternoon Alex and I decided to shoot some night photos at Havasu Falls. We're used to be very alone when we take night photography, but the fall's proximity to the campground meant that even in the dark Havasu Falls was busy! Fellow photographers lined up on the shore to take photos while their companions hung out at the picnic table and enjoyed the sparkling night sky and illuminated canyon walls.
Too soon our trip was over and we began the ten mile hike back up to Hualapai Hilltop. The first portion of the trail ascended at a relatively gradual rate and we were still in the shadow of the canyon, well shaded from the sun and cool. By the time we reached the final mile we were left completely exposed and, as we started the steep hike up, we finally felt that notorious desert heat. It was hot and there was no reprieve until we finally reached the parking lot. We un-shouldered our packs, changed our clothes, blasted the A.C. and then headed to Las Vegas. Our trip through Arizona may have ended but we were left with countless new memories that we can look back on time and time again!
If you are interested in backpacking to Havasupai, check out my Adventure Guide HERE!