Tucked away in an offshoot of the Grand Canyon lies Havasupai—Arizona’s hidden paradise. The Havasu ‘Baaja, the aptly named people of the blue-green water, maintain this desert oasis. Havasupai is the ideal place for scaling waterfalls, exploring riverbed travertine (limestone) formations, and relaxing in natural pools to the soothing sound of rushing water.
Canyoneering enthusiast Anthony Dunster visited Havasupai in the summer of 2010 and was stunned by the breathtaking scenery. “It’s really unique,” he says. “I’ve never seen a place like it where the water is so clear and has continuous cascading waterfalls for miles down the river. Additionally, the river is accented by giant waterfalls that are just beautiful.”
The vibrantly colored water of the Havasu River enhances Havasupai’s features. Anthony explains that the blue-green shade of the water is caused by minerals in the river that coat the dirt, overhanging branches, and rocks with a creamy-white travertine deposit. The whitened riverbeds reflect the color of the water, providing a lovely turquoise contrast to the ruddy canyon walls.
To enjoy the rewards of this hidden oasis, visitors undertake a lengthy hike. Traveling to the remote falls of Havasupai can be strenuous. The desert trail from the parking lot to the village of Supai stretches eight miles. Visitors must hike an additional two miles from Supai to reach the camping grounds. “It’s a sheer drop-off of some thousand feet,” says Anthony about his descent into the village, “and the initial part of the hike into the village is switchbacks down a mountainside. After you
get down that initial cliff face, it’s mostly gradual downhill.”
Lisa Heninger has visited Havasupai three times and advises that campers begin their trailhead descent early: “We slept at the top of the trailhead so we could wake up bright and early, around 4:00 am, to start the hike. We didn’t want to be hiking in the heat of the day.”
Hikers can rest at Supai and purchase food, but they must continue trudging on the desert trail to reach the campsite. Anthony stresses the importance of packing light and wearing supportive footwear to manage the 10-mile hike. “You want to wear strong, sturdy hiking shoes when you’re carrying a heavy backpack on your back and you’re walking through a dry desert with lots of rocks on uneven surfaces. If you’re wearing flimsy footwear, you will have blisters galore.”
Those who wish to alleviate the intensity of the hike can send their bags to the campsite on pack-mule trains for an additional fee. Those who don’t mind spending extra money to skip the hike altogether can fly in on a helicopter. Lisa explained that hiking the 10 miles into Havasupai while carrying her equipment in her backpack left her sore for the rest of her trip. She decided to send her pack up with the mule trains on her ascent out of the canyon. “The best decision of my life,” she says. “Mules are completely worth the money. It’s the only way to go.”
After the hot, dusty hike to the campsite, visitors can relax at the falls and enjoy the reward of their labors—picturesque Havasu. At the top of the campsite, Havasu Falls spills over a cliff in a 100-foot drop into a pool of blue-green water. “There is a lot of exploring, swimming, and relaxing,” Anthony says. “Some people would spend the majority of the day next to one pool relaxing. Next to Havasu Falls there was a hammock strung across the river. You could lie in the hammock, and it was just the right height so that you were actually floating in the water.” With its stunning scenery, Havasu Falls is the perfect place to relax after a long day of hiking.
Mooney Falls roars at the end of the campsite. This 200-foot waterfall, named for a miner who fell to his death at the end of the nineteenth century, can be tricky to descend. To get to the pool at the base of the falls, visitors must climb down the cliff face. As Anthony remembers, “There is this sign that says ‘Trail This Way,’ and you go down into this etched hole in the wall, like a cave, and the tunnel comes out the other side right on the face. You could easily fall to your death, but there are chains to hang onto and metal spikes driven into the rock and rudimentary steps chipped out as you climb down that face.”
The trail snakes down the cliff face and ends with an aluminum ladder. Spray from the thundering waterfall makes this last leg of the trail slippery. Though scrambling down the trail can be nerve-racking, the thrilling descent is what Lisa most enjoys about these falls. “I love the hike down to Mooney Falls,” she says. “But it definitely could be dangerous if you weren’t smart about it. If you are scared of heights, it could definitely be a problem. If you take your time and hold on to the railings, there is no problem.”
Once visitors make the descent down Mooney Falls, they can hike an additional four miles downstream to a series of cascading waterfalls called Beaver Falls. These falls formed where Beaver Canyon and Havasu Canyon meet. “We hiked for a couple of hours to get there, so it’s quite the trek,” says Anthony. “At some places, you have to pull yourself up a cliff with a rope, or there is a log leaning against a wall that you try to climb up.” Beaver Falls showcases a series of 15- to 20-foot waterfalls with small pools ideal for cliff jumping. Exploring these falls is one of Lisa’s favorite memories from her last trip. “The best part was jumping off all the falls and swimming down the river.” Though these falls require more effort to reach, the adventure of clambering over waterfalls is well worth the journey.
Heavy rain and flash floods can divert the river and create
new waterfalls in Havasupai. After flooding in 2008, Navajo Falls disappeared. Lisa remembers the now extinct Navajo Falls: “You could hike up to the top, and there were hundreds of falls. It was the most beautiful place ever. There were also the perfect rocks to jump off of. It was the first time I jumped off something taller than 10 feet.”
Though Navajo Falls dried up, the flooding created two new falls yet to be named by the Havasupai tribe. Anthony encountered one of the new falls and recollects, “Not only was the location beautiful, but it was exhilarating to jump off a 30-foot waterfall. Once you jump down, you can swim around to the side of it and walk behind the water. There is a shelf behind it that could fit 10 people. It’s a really fun area to just play in and explore.” Because Havasupai changes with the river flow, it is a place worth visiting multiple times to explore the new features it has to offer.
Booking Your Trip
Recent flooding caused the park to be closed to visitors, and reservations were not accepted until February 2011. Camping spots are limited to protect the grounds, so reservations should be made a few months in advance.
Havasupai is not only a breathtaking vista: it is also an adventure! Traverse rocky pools. Discover what is behind the waterfall. Drink in the cliffs, the blue-green waters, and the peace that comes from exploring nature. Don’t forget to take lots of pictures, because your trip to Havasupai will be an experience to remember.
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—Photography by Anthony Dunster
5 Tips for Eating on the Trail
Planning meals for a backpacking trip can be daunting, but it’s not impossible. A little basic knowledge can not only make the process a lot easier but can also help you get the nutrition you need without adding more weight to your pack.
1. Remember basic nutrition
During a hiking trip, your body needs an average of 3,000 to 4,000 calories per day. This generally equals about a pound and a half to two pounds of food per day and can easily take up a fourth or even half of your pack, depending on the length of the trip.
You’ll need short-term energy sources, such as carbohydrates, starches, and sugars—as well as long-term energy sources, such as proteins and fats.
2. Plan simple breakfasts
You’ll want breakfast to be a quick nutrition-filled meal that will start your day off right. Try some of these ideas:
3. Keep lunch easy
A variety of snacks packaged for easy access can be your best bet.
4. Focus on dinner
Dinner will probably be your biggest meal of the day and require more preparation. Here are some simple dinner ideas:
Hamburger Helper meals (brown, then bake to dehydrate)
Dehydrated soup mixes
Ramen noodles (great with fish)
potatoes and gravy
5. Drink plenty of water and other liquids
Staying hydrated is essential and requires camping close to a lake or river.
Purify your water by using a water filter or iodine tablets—or by boiling it.
Make sure you have enough water bottles and
other containers on hand to fill with water. Since purified water often tastes strange and hikers can easily get tired of drinking it, try using powdered drinks to help mask the flavor, such as hot chocolate, cider, Crystal Lite, lemonade, Propel, and Gatorade.
I’ve always wanted to go to Havasupai but the hike seems too intimidating. It definitely looks like it would be worth it though–what amazing photos!
I heard that you can do cliff jumping there. Is that true?
>Stephanie. Check out Youtube and type in Havasupai cliff jumping.
I’d heard about Havasupai, but I had no idea it was so pretty!! I love the photography!
I love backpacking and hiking. What a beautiful place to do it with all of the waterfalls and rock. I need to visit! Good tips for hiking nutrition too.