One of the Southwest’s most spectacular locations, Havasu Falls, is also one of the most difficult places to get to. This desert oasis, known for its spectacular bright blue waterfalls, sits deep in the Grand Canyon on the Havasupai Indian Reservation which is one of the most remote Indian Reservations in the US. It is 8 miles from the nearest road and 65 miles from the nearest gas station. There are no roads to the campground; the only way to get there is to hike 10 miles one way into the canyon. Though the hike is not for the faint of heart, the hardest part in getting there may not be the hike itself, but rather obtaining the elusive permit. Each year thousands of people attempt to get Havasu Falls permits, but only a few succeed.
Havasu Falls had been on our bucket list for several years, but due to the limited number of permits and difficulty getting them, we had been unsuccessful obtaining them up to this point. After two years of calling to obtain a permit, we thought we were ready for opening day of the 2018 reservations. Max had marked our calendars for February 1stwith the phone number(s) to call and asked me to call since he had all day meetings at work.
I am usually really good at executing plans like this (dialing with multiple phones, calling back again and again) but for some reason on this day…I totally forgot! Yep, just completely spaced out on this one. I have no good excuse other than it was a whirlwind of a week having just said goodbye to my job, moved out of our townhome (we rented it out) and was still packing up our truck and trailer with everything we needed for 14 months on the road. But yeah, when Max got home from work he wasn’t too happy to hear I forgot to call and I felt terrible.
So the next day, February 2nd, I called and called and called and called until finally someone answered. Upon answering the guy informed me they had already sold out all permits for 2018. “Every single day for the whole year?” I asked. He said with the new online permit system the entire year sold out in roughly two hours on February 1st. I said, “Wait, you have an online reservation system!? When did that change?” He stated that over the last year they implemented a new online reservation system so you can now book online or call.
At this point, as much as I felt bad for not calling on February 1st, in a weird way I felt better because neither Max nor I had knowledge of the online reservation system so we likely would not have gotten a permit anyhow. Sensing my disappointment, the guy said you can always try calling back in a few weeks to see if we receive any cancellations. I thought…right, how often does that happen?
We left on our 14 month road trip on February 6thand every week I’d call to see if there were any cancellations. Several weeks went by with no success – half the time I couldn’t get a hold of anyone and the other half was told there was no availability. Roughly two weeks prior to us being in Arizona I stepped up my game. I called every day, multiple times per day, calling all numbers associated with the Havasupai Reservation office. Day 1 – no answer. Day 2 – no answer. Day 3 – finally someone answered, but said they were full. Day 4 – no answer. Day 5 – someone answered. When I asked if there were any cancellations for April she said “When do you want to come and how many nights would you like?” I could not believe what I was hearing!
I quickly picked dates for the second week in April since my sister Kalie was visiting with us the week prior. “Alright that will be $400 for three nights” she said. My pure joy immediately turned to shock. “Excuse me, how much?!” I asked. I mean after all we are talking tent camping here! The lady must have heard the shock in my voice as she explained that they recently hired new management who raised prices given the increasing demand. Not knowing what to do since we had been trying to get permits for so long, I reduced the reservation to two nights in an attempt to save a little bit of money. It wasn’t until after I hung up that I realized the new pricing structure was tiered so the longer you stay the cheaper it was per night. In hindsight, I should have stuck with the original three nights, but oh well – at least we finally got the permits we had been after!!
In addition to planning everything we needed to pack, we also needed to figure out where to park our truck and trailer. There is a parking lot at the Hualapai Hilltop trailhead, but we weren’t sure if it was large enough for an RV. One of the tools we use to see if a parking lot has enough room for our RV is the satellite view on Google Maps. This lets us visualize how big the space is, if there is enough room to turn around and if other RVs are shown parked there. When looking at the satellite image for Hualapai Hilltop, we saw multiple RVs parked along the roadside, so we decided to take a chance on it.
After a long day of driving, we arrived to Hualapai Hilltop after dark and saw that the parking lot was 75% full. The lot itself was too small to fit our rig, but we found one spot on the side of the road that was just large enough for us. To make sure we wouldn’t be boxed in, we unhooked our truck from our trailer and placed large rocks in between so nothing could park there. We then went to sleep in anticipation of our big hike the next day.
We started our hike at sunrise to beat the midday heat and still have time to enjoy the afternoon at Havasu Falls. Before we left, we ate a big breakfast to make sure we would have enough fuel for the long haul. The first leg of the hike was the steepest, dropping 1,000 feet into the canyon in roughly a mile. From there the hike winds for several miles through a dry, rocky and dusty canyon bed. It’s not until 8 miles in that you begin to see signs of a water. Just before reaching the campground at the 10 mile mark the arid desert turns to a blue water oasis showcasing the main attraction – Havasu Falls. From this 100 foot waterfall gushes turquoise blue water that seems to appear out of nowhere. Below the falls, the turquoise water continues with beautiful cascading pools beckoning you to come take a dip.
The hike into the canyon was moderately difficult, not because of elevation gain (its all downhill), but rather that it is hot, dusty and long. Since we ate a full breakfast before we left, I didn’t feel particularly hungry on the trail, so ate only one granola bar as a snack. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to keep my energy level up for the duration of the hike and I completely crashed when we arrived to the campground. After taking a much needed nap and eating some lunch, I felt alive again.
Now I was finally ready to explore Havasu Falls and swim in the bright blue pools. We unpacked our bags to grab our swimsuits and towels. I had trouble finding my swimsuit, but knew for sure I had set it out in my pile of items to pack. Twenty minutes later, after checking every single pocket on my entire bag, I realized it was nowhere to be found. It may sound like a silly problem, but I was so upset in that moment that I started crying. I mean what girl doesn’t want a cute photo or two in her swimsuit at Havasu Falls? I certainly hadn’t come all the way there to swim in my clothes! Max tried to make me feel better by saying no one would know if I wore my underwear as a swimsuit, but let’s be real – everyone would know. So I made do with my sports bra and shorts, but every time I saw a girl wearing a cute bikini I had instant fomo of all the pictures I was missing out on. We spent the rest of that day hanging out around the falls and swimming in the pools.
The next day we headed out on a 10 mile roundtrip hike to Mooney and Beaver Falls. The most challenging part of this day’s hike occurs at the beginning on the decent toward Mooney Falls. In order to hike to Mooney or beyond, you have to scramble down a narrow tunnel carved into the side of the canyon using fixed ropes and metal rungs. It’s not so much physically challenging as it is mentally challenging for those that are claustrophobic or have a fear of heights. Being that I am very claustrophobic, there was one section of the tunnel where I almost had a panic attack because of the way people were crammed in front and behind me like sardines. As soon as I was able to move to an area that had a little more space, I let a whole group of people pass and waited until there was a lull in the flow. Ten minutes later we were on the ground in the mist of magical Mooney Falls.
At 200 feet, Mooney Falls is the tallest of the waterfalls in Havasu Creek. We stopped to take some photos at Mooney and then continued on our way towards Beaver Falls. This section of the hike was my absolute favorite as you hike both in and out of the water, over logs, over little bridges and there are plenty of pools and cascades to stop and swim in along the way. There is really no way to hike this section without getting your feet wet, so make sure to bring comfortable shoes you don’t mind getting soaked.
After stopping for photos at almost every turn on the trail, we finally made it to Beaver Falls! At this point, we were starving so we took out our favorite Pad Thai from Backpackers Pantry, boiled water on our camp stove and served up some lunch. It’s definitely a half day hike to Beaver and back, so make sure to pack a lunch and plenty of water when you go. We spent the rest of the day swimming in Beaver’s cascading pools until it was time to head back to camp. From Beaver Falls, you can continue on to the confluence of the Colorado River which is another 4 miles. We didn’t have time to continue on, but the next time we make it to Havasu we definitely want hike all the way to the Colorado River.
Our time at Havasu Falls felt like a whirlwind and before we knew it the last day had come. Many people start the hike out of Havasu Falls before sunrise to beat the heat, but we chose to linger a little longer. With all our stuff packed up and ready to go, we spent the morning swimming one last time at Havasu Falls as well as exploring Upper and Lower Navajo Falls.
The best thing we did before setting off on our hike out of the canyon was to get our clothes completely soaked with water. This kept us fairly cool for the first few miles under the midday heat. By the end of the hike, we were really glad we had filled our large capacity camelback bladders (2-3 liters each) as we drank almost all of the water in them. We also learned from previous experience and stopped for snack breaks every few miles to keep our energy levels up.
If the hike in was rated moderately difficult, I’d say the hike out was difficult, especially carrying large backpacking packs. The hardest part came at the very end when we had to hike up 1,000 vertical feet in a mile. It was all about just putting one foot in front of the other and keep it moving until we reached the hilltop.
Upon reaching the hilltop, we were exhausted and so happy to get back to our trailer. Our trailer was safe and sound and no one had tried to park between our truck and trailer. Max did noticed huge clumps of horse hair on the greasy part of the hitch so we may have had some horse visitors. After being gone 3 days our trailer battery was dead, so we pulled the generator out, recharged it and were able to take some very welcome showers. We had a 5 hour drive to our next destination, so being clean felt AMAZING!
So, was Havasu Falls worth the price of admission and effort of hiking the 20 miles? Yes, for sure! However, if we were to do it again we would spend three nights instead of two. Oh and I’d triple check that I actually did pack my swimsuit (which I found on the bedroom floor when I got back)!