Hanna Schmidtman Photography

Adventurous portrait photographer based in Arizona

Havasupai – Trip Journal

For three years, THREE years, my friends and I participated in the painstaking process of acquiring the elusive permits to Havasupai canyon. Havasupai is native American land in the Grand Canyon that is best known for its milky blue waterfalls against the stark contrast of red desert canyons. Permits limit the number of visitors to protect the environment. Before launching their online reservation system in 2017 (quietly enough that we were still blindly calling the understaffed phone lines while the year was filling up), it was notoriously difficult to get a hold of the tourism operators within the tribe. 2018 was our year! Within eight minutes of the website launch, we reserved our campground spots. The whole year was booked in about 20 minutes!

Day One: The Hike In, First Glimpses of the Falls, and Campground

Even before you hit the waterfalls, the hike through the canyon is gorgeous. We arrived to the hilltop parking area around 10p and snagged parking spots. I recommend taking a loop all the way by the trail-head before settling on the spot on the side of the road. We slept in our car because it was windy and late, and we didn’t want to set up/tear down the tent. We found most of our crew the next morning, and departed for our hike right around sunrise at 6a. Those swiggles start you off on the downhill, but remember, what goes down must also hike back up!

We had decided a long time before the hike to “be our own mules”.  The tribe offers gear-ferrying services by horses or helicopter ( after the needs of the tribe are met). In my opinion – if we’ve got good enough legs, might as well use them. I like to ‘earn’ my ‘fun’ . The hard work makes the journey all the more worth it! You can check out our packing list and top tips, for reference!

It’s an 8 mile hike from Hualapai Hilltop to the Supai Village. You’ll be stopped by a ranger to ensure you have reservation (no day hikes), and check in at the tourism office to get your permits. They ask to not take pictures in their village for privacy of the residents. We had a good sit to rest our legs while we waited for the reservation-holders to catch up. 2 more miles until the campground. This is where we started getting the first glimpses of those BLUE waterfalls!

 

The campground  is the entire distance between Havasu Falls and the cliff of Mooney Falls. There are footbridges across the river to campsites on the other side. The freshwater spring and fry bread hut are closer to Havasu, but more trees and side trails spring off towards the Mooney side. We had a group of 13 people with seven tents, so we needed a pretty big spot. There were composting bathrooms being installed and upgraded.

After the hike, we splashed around under Havasu and settled in for nap. The photo nerd in me noticed we lucked out and our reservations were during a new moon! We checked PhotoPills and found the Milky Way would be visible above the falls early in the morning.

Havasu Falls (waterfall) under the Milky Way (stars) at night. Light shines at camera creating bright spot and sends flares across the picture.

Day Two: Beaver Falls and The Confluence

On the second day, we continued further into the canyon. At the end of the campground the ground ends. The creek falls over a 200 ft cliff, and in order for our journey to continue, we followed the trail as it descended! We left camp early enough that there were few people on the trail. Already, we encountered someone who turned back during the descent. There is a trail system through the side of the cliff, however the last 75ft is a hand-over-foot climb down slippery ladders and chains. These are constantly exposed to the spray of Mooney Falls and are SLICK and WET. Please understand your physical and mental limits and be safe. There are plenty of incredible views and wonderful swimming opportunities that don’t involve this climb.

From Mooney, the next set of named falls (there are about one million unnamed ones along the way), is Beaver Falls. It is 4 miles round trip from the bottom of Mooney. This trail takes you through fields of canyon vines and follows the blue river. I stopped counting the amount of times someone exclaimed “this doesn’t look real!” or made some Jurassic Park reference.

The Havasupai rangers “recommend” that campers should not proceed to the Confluence if they do not make it to Beaver Falls by 11a. They will turn you back. So, we had the idea to meet this goal, but agreed no one was totally sold on the 16mi round trip hike from the campground to the Confluence… but as we approached Beaver Falls after a quick swim, at 1045, we decided to go for it anyways! The Confluence is where the Havasu Creek meets the Colorado River and is reknowned for the colors of the two waterways colliding. 

The trail beyond Beaver Creek is part of Grand Canyon National Park, and is much less maintained or traveled than the rest of the Havasupai trip. The trail crosses the creek several times and involves a good amount of trail finding and some non-technical rock scrambling. We lost the trail no less than three times.  (Actually we completely missed the ranger altogether!) You can barely see the trail in some areas, and there are sounds of animals in the brush near by (mostly lizards, not snakes- I reassured myself). There are several mile stretches with nearly-no shade in the late morning, so be prepared with water (filters are great for the river crossings), sun block, and snacks.

In Conclusion: Do it!

We spent three days and two nights in the canyon; hiked approximately 45 miles in 54.5 hours; and enjoyed almost every moment of it. That climb out ain’t nothing to mess with!

If you have the opportunity to go, it’s absolutely breath-taking and I highly recommend it. Please be respectful of the land, the people, and, environment while you are there so future generations may continue to appreciate it.

Photographs don’t do it justice, but I did the best that I could.

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