Location: Havasupai Indian Reservation, AZ
Time on Trail: 11 hours (moving time)
Distance: 24.65 miles (plus side trips)
Elevation: +/- 2650 ft
From the I-40 between Kingman and Flagstaff, take the Seligman exit and head north towards Peach Springs. Be sure to fuel up in Seligman. Proceed 37 to the Indian Road 18 and turn right, continuing 64 miles to the trailhead parking lot.
Absolutely, the best hiking experience I have ever had! Waterfalls, steep canyons, caves, mules, did I say waterfalls!
The Havasupai Indian Reservation is not part of the Grand Canyon National Park, but you cannot tell that from the scenery. From your very first step at the trailhead parking lot until your return at the end of your trip, you will be swiveling your head side to side to take it all in.
The water is a turquoise blue/green and the perfect way to refresh the tired legs and back after the 12 mile trek down to the campground. If you are as lucky as we were, you’ll get a break from the summer heat. The temps were about 20 degrees below normal the weekend we made this trip.
The parking lot at the trailhead is stunning to say the least. It is perched more than 1000 feet above the valley floor and provides one of the best vistas of the trip.
The trail starts with a steep descent down the face of the box canyon to the valley floor by way of a series of switchbacks. If you have bum knees like I do from years of basketball, you will feel this descent! Be on the lookout for the approaching mules. They have the right-of-way, and won’t stop to wait for you to move to the side.
Once you reach the valley floor, the trail bends to the north and follows the wash for 8 miles into the Indian town of Supai. Along the way, the canyon walls draw closer and the surroundings become more grand. You get a sense for the true size of the canyon walls when then tower hundreds of feet straight up as you make your way down the canyon.
There is more shade in this narrow section of trail. The sun doesn’t have the angle to penetrate the canyon and it helps to keep temperatures down. In this slot section ( which starts at about mile 7), you really need to watch for the mule packs. As they approach, move to the canyon wall side and not the cliff side. The wrong move could be disastrous as these animals move through.
At the end of the slot section, it opens and the Havasu Creek comes in from the right side. As you cross the open expanse, following the trail as it curves to the left, you will hear the water for the first time. It comes into view as you enter the heavier vegetation. The town of Supai is close. You will follow the irrigation channel into Supai.
Don’t expect Supai to look like a town. There isn’t much, but the views are really cool. The sandstone spires off to your left, above the small ranch properties will tell you that you have arrived. The trail at this point is actually the roads that connect the ranches. Make your way to the heli-pad and the town square. There is a restaurant on the left and the general store is on the right.
Stop by the general store to buy a post card to send home. It has to be mailed at the post office which is closed on the weekends. If you plan to leave before Monday, find a trusting local and pay them to mail it for you. That’s what we had to do. The Supai Post Office is the only one is the country that still moves the mail by mule. It’s the only way to get in or out of Supai with the exception of hiking it or going by helicopter.
Follow the trail through town as it leads past a few more ranch properties and begins the descent along the creek to the new falls (yet to be named). The new falls are just above the old Navajo Falls that were destroyed two years ago by the flood. The pool below the falls is deep enough for the crazies in each group to make the jump from the falls.
The water is pretty deep here, but there is a clear danger zone if you jump too close to the falls or too far to one side or the other. There is also a large flat area on the creek side to hang out and take in the scene.
Continue down the trail. About a 1/4 mile from the new falls is Havasu Falls. Don’t worry, you can’t miss it! You will hear the roar of the water as you approach and the falls will come into sight on your right side. The trail will lead you along the left side above the falls and descends to a shelf above the pristine pool. Make a right and follow the short trail down to the pool or continue on the main trail another 1/8 mile to the campground.
The campground is long and relatively narrow and fills the flat area between the two canyon walls guarded by the Havasu Creek which splits as you enter the campground. There are tons of great spots, some for a single tent and other areas for a small group of tents. It’s first come, first serve so try to get there early.
The Fern Spring is on the left as you make our way through the campground. The water is cold and refreshing and can be consumed without filtering. I filtered it the first day but took it straight from the pump the rest of the trip.
The campground also has port-o-potties at both ends but they are closed some times. I’m not sure what the schedule is, not sure if anyone does! It was closed on Friday but open the rest of the weekend.
As you reach far end of the campground, the trees thin out and the lower canyon comes into view. It’s just a short walk to the first view of Mooney Falls which are 196 feet tall and nearly twice as high as Niagara Falls. The falls are massive and you can hear the water as it plummets over the falls, crashing into the pool below.
Getting down to the falls can be a bit treacherous. The descent starts with a short section through a cave, then out the other side to the cliff side. There are chains that allow for an easier down climb and most of the way is a series of steps. It can be slippery when wet. The last 10 feet of the descent is down a ladder which had a broken step when we were there. But once you’re down the reward is breathtaking. Mooney Falls towers above the pool and sprays mist in all directions for hundreds of feet. You can walk out towards the falls quite a way and the water stays about knee deep.
Heading downstream from Mooney Falls includes a series of small cascade falls and some deeper pools. Be sure to look back upstream, there are some great pictures to take!
About 300 yards down from the Mooney Falls pool is a very cool cave on the left filled with ferns and water pouring down over the top. This is a great place to stop for a few pics and to cool off.
Continue the trek downstream, looking for the trail as it exits the creek on the right. Take the trail and follow it to the section of creek with the old rope swing which still hangs from one of the trees along the creek. It’s no longer safe to swing here as the flood has deposited too much fill in the pool to make jumping safe. Cross the creek and follow the trail through the heavier ground cover. A few hundred yards past this point and you will enter the area described as the “jungle”. The ground is covered in heavy grapevine-like plants that make travel anywhere but the travel very difficult.
We turned around at this point. One of the members of our group said that the trail is covered like this for a good stretch as you continue to make your way down to Beaver Falls. If you are following our GPX track, you will turn around here and make your way back up to camp.
This is a must do trip for anyone that likes the outdoors, likes to hike or backpack, or just wants to see some of the most breathtaking views you’ll find anywhere.
The hike down wasn’t really that bad, though I was sick when we started which made for a long day. The hike out wasn’t as bad as I thought either. The last section is brutal. It’s a straight forward march up the side of the mountain! Mules are the danger on this trip. You have to look behind you often and listen for the sounds of their approach. One of the guys in our group saw a hiker get leveled by a mule from behind. As the mule passed, the cooler strapped to his side clipped the hiker at the head level and knocked him out! He was listening to his iPod and didn’t hear the mule coming. You also have to be sure to move to the uphill side of the trail as they come through. Moving to the cliff side could be a recipe for disaster.
One last note: the Supai Post Office is the only one in the US that still moves the mail by mule. Stop at the general store and mail yourself one. I paid someone that was staying until Tuesday to mail my postcard for me on Monday. I got it in Las Vegas on Wednesday! It has a really cool meter stamp on it which makes for a great keepsake.