Campground dog sleeping outside or tent all night at the Havasupai Reservation

Backpacking out of Havasupai

Saying goodbye is never easy. We found the experience no different when leaving the campground at Havasupai. We rose early to pack our things and begin backpacking out of the canyon before temperatures rose. I found Kumkuat (the honorary name we had given one of the dogs who live here) sleeping outside our tent where he had apparently been all night. Not enjoying our packing he kept trying to distract me lying on top of the tent as I broken it down trying to get me to pet him. He visited everyone while they packed trying to distract them until as we were finishing up he left.

Not eager to leave but concerned about backpacking in the full heat of the sun we set out by 6:30am for the village. The two miles to the village uphill in full sunlight with the packs weighing us down was not an auspicious start to our journey, even though it was cooler this time. We stopped for a short rest on the trail and one last viewing of Havasu Falls, here we were greeted by four sleepy dogs who had chosen the path way as their bed. They took a liking to Alexis became his companions, following him as far as the village. Before we continued on a mule train passed us along the way heading down to pick up their load.

Our last sighting of the Havasupai falls and cascades along the way was a sad and it felt like a final goodbye. As we left this otherworldly place and headed on we knew more adventures were ahead of us but that what we left behind would be sorely missed.

We all struggled through the first two miles of the hike at different paces. Meeting up again at the same village area where we had checked in. A few of our group had stopped to inquire about having mules carry the bags out, but they require 24 hour notice. The general store had frozen Gatorades, other drinks, snacks, and ice cream so we all grabbed a cold treat and continued our trek.

The rest of our journey was a struggle for most of us. Carrying our heavy packs back up out of the canyon. What is easy to forget with the excitement of the journey to Havasu Falls is how the entire path there is either slightly or significantly down hill, and more often than not involved walking on sand or little stones which makes for challenging footing. Leaving as well as having to hike uphill this time had our spirits down a bit. We often split up all moving at our own paces and stopping frequently.

When we started the final ascent, 1.5 miles uphill with switch backs, at this point in midday sun, despite it all we were relieved to be able to see the finish line. We passed frequent travelers and mule trails on this part of the trail.

After our long hike out of the canyon we grabbed snacks from a woman selling chips, candy, drinks, and hot dogs at the top then began the drive to Las Vegas, NV. Vegas was just a stop in our journey to rent a hotel, shower, and eat some real food. Then we would continue on to Zion National Park in Utah.

Beaver Falls cascades on the Havasupai Reservation

A Day Hiking Mooney Falls and Beaver Falls

On our second day at the Havasupai Reservation we planned to do both Mooney Falls and Beaver Falls. We all woke up at a regular hour and ate breakfast. Some had MRE’s of eggs and bacon using a backpacking stove and pot, others had peanut butter and crackers, trail mix, etc. We were quickly joined in the morning by our new dog friend Dusty and another camp dog we decided to call Kumquat. Kumquat got his name because Josh had carried a bag of the fruit in the canyon with him. We all tried it with various reactions, most considering it a strange fruit to chose to carry choice (except I liked it).

Mooney Falls

When hiking down to the campsite from the reservation you pass Havasu Falls, the campground sites then run along Havasu Creek between Havasu and Mooney Falls. To get to Mooney Falls you follow the campground trails to the end and have your first view of the falls from above. The hike is anywhere from a few hundred feet to 3/4 of a mile depending on where you camped. (Note: there are no bathrooms outside the campground)

To get down to the bottom of the falls involves climbs through some old tunnels and down several ladders with chains to help you. It’s a bit of a challenging descent and the later in the day you go people will be traveling both directions and it takes longer to get there.

The view from below looking up the ladders shows you a bit of this descent. The old ladder on the right shows you how this climb would have been even more rickety in the past.

Mooney Falls is the tallest of the 5 major waterfalls on the Havasupai reservation at a 200 ft drop. You could spend an entire day here swimming or hanging in a hammock.

Hiking Havasu Creek to Beaver Falls

We spent a bit of time here but were eager to see Beaver Falls which is about a 3 mile hike from Mooney. The path began up to the left by where we had descended. Marking for the trails don’t exist, they are obvious paths but at times split leading to view points or other areas which can be confusing. The trail to Beaver Falls follows the Havasu Creek much of the way and crosses it 3 times, water shoes proved very useful for these parts if you had good ones.

The trail itself is so beautiful it’s hard not to stop frequently to take photos, enjoy a quiet moment, or a bite to eat.

We stopped for a group photo when we found this small cave in the canyon walls. Here we found a picnic table and began to wonder how picnic tables had been set up along the trail when the descent from Mooney is the only place to begin. We later found out, when speaking to some tribe members, that during flooding some had been moved from their original locations and others taken down by boat.

Here I also paused to take photos of the cascades which are so numerous along the trail. As the water in Havasu Creek flows it deposits minerals with create the travertine rock formations that are so common here, these formations become visible as floods change the stream bed.

From here we crossed the creek again, but this time by pieces of wood and careful stepping instead of wading through.

At one point you enter a sea of green on the canyon floor,  you can’t even see the path from above just little heads of people on the trail.

Sometimes you are traveling directly next to the creek, sometimes above the creek, and yet other times crossing over it on wooden planks or wading through. Experiencing the changing environment from different altitudes was awe inspiring. Information about Havasu online will often feature the waterfalls but the journey between these two falls is like nothing else.

Beaver Falls

When we finally reached Beaver Falls, after climbing up rocks and all kinds of ladders we had to climb down a few more to reach the lowest tier of this cascading waterfall. You can swim in all the tiers and find other cascades and tree and plant life around it as well.

While at Beaver Falls we met a ranger from the reservation who checked group bracelets and made sure everyone left the area by 4:30, because of the 3 miles hike back to Mooney Falls where you then have to climb the ladders they want you back with plenty of time before sunset. He shared one story of an injured self proclaimed avid hiker with us:

There is a trail along the canyon wall called the Mesa trail, to get to this trail or get off this trail at Beaver Falls there is a rope to help you down. This woman, either wishing to jump in the water or tired from her hike had decided to let go of the rope. She fell and badly broke her leg. Due to poor weather the helicopter couldn’t get there and she was forced to wait by the falls with a ranger and one friend until the next day to be airlifted out. Each time they have to use the helicopter to bring someone to the hospital it costs the reservation a minimum of $10,000.

While at Beaver Falls the wile squirrels got into our bags to steal trail mix.

Heading Back to Camp

Heading back to Mooney Falls on the trail we eventually realize we must have missed a creek crossing (possibly the one I mentioned before). This doesn’t turn out to be a problem we are just following a different way back. We cross at different points in the Creek and see different parts of it which is fun. A few parts of this trail were a little more over grown but it was easy to follow. We ended up in what we came to believe was Ghost Canyon right before returning to Mooney.

The trail up from here was climbing up some sand stone which is a bit challenging. If my fitbit was correct though this way back was a bit shorter.

We didn’t stop for long once we reached Mooney Falls but quickly ascended the ladders and cave tunnels. Back at the campsite we all began to get comfortable when someone noticed a snake. Not sure what kind it was we made sure it exited our area before making dinner. Later we found out it was a common Kingsnake that will actually eat rattlesnakes.

Havasu Falls in afternoon light after our long backpacking hike to Havasupai Reservation

Backpacking into Havasupai Reservation

May 14th the real trek began, the one we had been planning so long for. I could write an entire post about our planning and preparation, and find many others online so for now I’ll just start at the beginning of our day.

We rose early, cold in our cars having gotten maybe two hours of sleep. Havasupai hilltop is a 3-3:30 hour drive from the Grand Canyon South Rim entrance and we didn’t leave until after dinner the night before. We quickly began dressing for the day and more slowly repacking our bags so they had 3 liters of water and everything else we needed.

As we got ourselves together the sun began to come up over the canyon walls, a few dogs trotted over to visit us, and a lone horse passed us by. We made a quick stop at the restrooms at hilltop, a fellow backpacker took a group photo of us with our packs on, and then we began the 10 mile journey to the Havasu Falls campground.

Left to Right standing: Myle, Rachel, Margaret (me!), Alexis (my fiance), Kevin, EJ, Logan.
Kneeling: Josh

Group photo before back packing from Havasupai Hill Top to the Havasu Falls campground

I’ll say this now, no matter how prepared you are and how much you practice, unless you are experienced at back packing your bag will likely be heavier than it should be! All our packs were definitely heavier than they should have been, Josh’s may have even been 70lbs! He decided to carry fresh produce we all found out later (I would recommend dehydrated produce only).

It is 7.5-8 miles until you hit the beginning of the Native American Reservation, Havasupai, itself. Then another 2-2.5 miles to the actual campground and whatever amount it takes you to find your campsite. [My fitbit listed 15.75 miles for the day, 38,200 steps total. 10 miles and 24,400 steps being the journey with our packs on]

The beginning of the trail is downhill, 1.5 miles of switch backs to get to the canyon floor. At this point in the journey everyone is together, spirits high, still a bit cold but beginning to shed layers, and excited to reach our destination.

In one of the photos if you look closely on the canyon ridge on the right you can see a little rectangular shape that is at top of the hilltop parking area.

While still on the switch backs, Josh finds the lower half skeleton jaw from a large animal in the remains of an old foundation and poses with it.

Once off the switch backs, at this point mostly on flat land, we see the breath of the Canyon. Being surrounded by red rocks, short green plants, and cactus is a unique experience when my daily life usually consists of large green trees that tower over me and grey rock.

The occasional desert flower, from weeds, wild flowers, and cactus caught my eye as a bit of color in a vast sea of sandy reds and desert greens.

If you research Havasu Falls online you will find many beautiful photos of the 5 major waterfalls but not as many about the journey. I wanted to share more images of the unique landscape that is a huge part of the experience of backpacking the trail to the final destination.

I can’t quite pinpoint in photos where our group split up a bit, but around this point we finished shedding our layers as it was warm out and applying sunscreen. It was our first stop of many along the way, taken so early out of necessity for sunscreen more than rest. Sometime after this the group split up into those walking more quickly and those more leisurely. EJ and I took the lead, choosing to deal with the distance and weight on our backs with speed walking. Each time we stopped we’d wait for the entire group to catch up and then continue.

Along the way we also ran into many other travelers. Backpackers coming into and leaving the canyon, we even ran into two stragglers from one group who were tailing behind because one of them women was hiking with a broken toe! There were also many horse and mule trains carrying belongings to and from the hilltop. We had decided not to use these trains after reading some less favorable reviews about their care and to give ourselves the full backpacking experience. (If you do go on this trip and wish to use the mules you do need a reservation in advance!)

As you might see in some of these photos, the trail is often made up of walking on sand, beds of little rocks, and sand stone. It makes for difficult footing causing the backpacking trek to be even more challenging.

Despite what you may assume there is actually a decent amount of shade in the canyon but I highly recommend starting this hike early to avoid the heat of midday, especially later in the summer!

Once you start to see signs for the village you feel a bit of relief knowing you are close. A bit after the first sign you also see the unbelievably clear blue water Havasupai is famous for. Havasupai actually translates roughly to “The people of the blue-green waters.”

Continuing on through this strangely forested area after the start canyon you reach the village and see the helicopter running trips from the village to the hilltop (the helicopter is sometimes available for rides out of the canyon). You also reach the first opportunity to purchase food or some supplies from the village store. Frozen Gatorades were the most popular.

Walking through the village to the office to check in, we encountered many horses and dogs. We quickly checked in giving our parties name, all receiving bracelets listing how large our group was and the dates of our reservation. In this area there is another small general store and place to purchase food. From here we had read we had two miles left in our journey but the trail was mostly sand for that time. Expecting this challenge we took a short break before heading out again.

Our hiking groups broke up again into those eager to get a good campsite and those walking at a more leisurely pace. This part of the trail was the most challenging walking in sand that was not compact with the heat of the sun beating down on us.

Catching sight of the crystal clear blue water again, falling in tiers, then turning around to view the first two waterfalls stopped us in our tracks for a moment (These falls are New Navajo Falls and Fifty Foot Falls).

You know you are genuinely minutes from the campground when you get your first awe inspiring view of Havasu Falls from above.

We paused to soak it in and realize we had made it. But then we continued on eager to get the packs off our backs. Upon entering the campground (which is first come first serve) we ran into other campers who told us to keep going better campsites were further in.

We did drop our things at the first site we found, having a camp dog join us. We quickly named him Dusty and he hung out with me and our things while part of the group wandered to find a better campsite.

After setting up the campsite and finding the rest of our group we eventually headed back over to Havasu Falls. Here we took some photos, relaxed, eventually got in the water (cold since it was May). Returning to our campsite once we were hungry and trying our MRE’s and new equipment for the first time.