Went to Havasu Canyon, Arizona for 4 nights with my mother, father, and Liz. Hiked about 50 miles. Saw pretty waterfalls and canyon goodness. Took a ridiculous amount of pictures thanks to GeoTom, who parted with a spare digital camera after mine died a sad, watery death. Wrote a really long TR. If you don't feel like reading, scroll through for hopefully interesting photos of a truly stunning place.
Really long version of TR:
My father and I have been wanting to backpack in the Grand Canyon for a couple of years, but it's been really hard to get permits for the places we want to go. This year was failure #3, so we decided to make a trip down Havasu Canyon, which is not in the national park and getting spots in the campground proved easier.
Unfortunately, the only way to get reservations for the Havasu Campground is to call them. They only have two phone lines, and once they start taking reservations, everyone starts calling. Much calling and listening to busy signals ensued.
If you are looking for pristine wilderness and solitude, do not go to Havasu. I usually don't like to go places that are crowded and where you can get gear or yourself packed in and out by horse/mule/helicopter. A fragile desert such as this really cannot sustain such large-scale visitation, but thankfully the Havasupai tribe has refused to be swayed by outside influences to build a road to the village, which still makes this a hiking destination and not a drive.
This area is such a bizarre and beautiful canyon experience that I think it was worth it to put up with the crowds and the trash.
The fun began on the drive to Kingman, AZ, where we spent the night before our hike. I had forgotten how special California could be, and was amused by the vending machines in the gas station restrooms:
The weather forecast called for highs in the low 80s for pretty much the entire week, so I didn't think we needed too early of a start. We drove to the trailhead and were descending at around 8:30 in the morning. The trail starts on one of the lower canyon rims and descends relatively steeply for about a mile and a half into Hualapai Canyon:
The walking is easy, though the sun tends to bake one silly, despite the "cool" temperatures. It became evident pretty quickly that even though the forecasted temperatures weren't insanely high, there was a strong feeling of being in a convection oven as heat reflected and radiated from the canyon walls and the sand. Combined with the intensely arid conditions, it results in lethargy and the desire to just lie down for a looong time.
Hualapai Canyon is dry (when it's not raining) like most side canyons in the area. Still, it appears that there are a number of small underwater sources because it's a little greener than your typical canyon.
Our main destination, Cataract aka Havasu Canyon sports a surprisingly large spring-fed stream year-round. We reached this after about 6.5 miles from the trailhead. It was getting really hot now, and the trail became sandy and thus more tiring. Havasu Creek is a bizarre light blue color that one might expect in glacier-fed lakes such as Blanca. It's also full of fascinating and aesthetically pleasing travertine structures (they would also come in really handy for creek crossings later).
After about a mile along Havasu Creek, the trail enters Supai Village, which is home to pretty much the entire Havasupai tribe. All visitors have to stop at the tourist office and obtain permit tags. This was blissfully quick in our case, and we were free to proceed. I was getting a little worried because I wanted to find a good campsite. To add to this anxiety, I had just had a chat with the friendly employees at the tourist office, who cheerfully informed me that they had had a group of NINETY TWO boy scouts stay at the campground, and that enormous groups of all varieties were pretty common. Oy.
The trail takes a maddeningly circuitous route through the village and finally continues down Havasu Creek. The nature of the canyon changes after you leave the village, and the waterfalls begin. First is Navajo Falls, which is pretty unassuming and well-hidden from the main path by vegetation, but is easily reached if one wants a better look:
Shortly after Navajo Falls, the trail crosses the creek (on bridges) and a few minutes later you can hear the roar of Havasu Falls. The canyon narrows dramatically here, and the trail is carved out of the vertical wall next to the 100+ foot waterfall. The entire creek is funneled through a pretty small area, providing a dramatic view.
The campground (10 miles from the trailhead), which stretches along Havasu Creek for nearly a mile, starts just below the foot of Havasu Falls. Most people seem to congregate in the upper reaches, which are close to the water source (Fern Spring) and have a larger amount of Port-a-Potties. I was frightened by the density and number of tents. Very frightened. I'd read somewhere that the campground holds about 300 people. The view of the upper campsites was making me think that it can and does hold more. I began doubting my sanity for booking 4 nights in this place as nightmare scenarios of densely-packed tents and obnoxious neighbors floated through my sun-baked brain.
Even more anxious now, I left the rest of my flagging, tired party to rest while I went downstream looking for a habitable campsite. My first priority was to cross to the other side of the creek, because I figured it would be less populated. There was a handy "bridge" (plank) about halfway into the campground. Much to my relief, I found a lovely site right next to the creek.
View from campsite (note the bridge washed downstream.. there were many such objects, some of which had traveled a long way):
This was good as the roar of the water completely drowned out all noise. Still, I stared anxiously at the large site across the creek, which housed a huge group of boy scouts (one of about three troops there at the time).
Had I gone a little further at this point, I would have discovered an absolutely sublime and isolated camp spot. It's probably fortunate that I did not, as half of my party of four would probably have killed me for making them walk about 20 minutes to get to the Port-a-Potties.
I dragged the rest of my party over to the campsite and decided to relax by walking downstream to check out Mooney Falls – 200 feet of free-falling water. I was on the "wrong" side of the creek (the official trail is on the other side), and I didn't get a good view of the falls. I did, however, get an excellent view of the descent down to the base. Mooney Falls was named after a prospector who wanted to explore lower Havasu Canyon but on his attempted descent of the overhanging cliffs failed to take a long enough rope and fell to his death. One of his fellow prospectors carved out a steep passage a few years later, which is how the "trail" accomplishes the descent.
I had read about this and seen pictures, but I was still surprised at how steep it was. On an evening stroll with my father later in the day, we explored the upper, easy portion of the descent. This part here is where it gets serious:
This is a great place to hang out around 9-10 in the morning, because at this point is when the hordes begin arriving for their descent to Mooney. I was continually amazed at how surprised people were. "This is the trail," they asked in disbelief. I find it odd that people can plan to go somewhere for several days and not bother to look up any information. If you do a search on the Internet, every single trip report on hiking in Havasu discusses the descent to the base of Mooney Falls (many in great detail with lots of photos).
Taking good photographs in the canyon proved to be very difficult, as either the objects of interest were too brightly lit by the sun, or parts were in deep shadow, and parts were in the sun. All of the waterfalls were particularly difficult to photograph from the base because they generated a large amount of spray that obscured the view and made everything wet.
I think I got a few decent ones, but they really don't convey the true beauty of the place.
This day was pretty mellow as we wanted to recover from our hike in for our adventure on Day 3 (hiking to the Colorado River and back). We took a lazy swim in the pools below Havasu Falls, which is a popular destination due to its easy access. Though this was adventure enough for my mother, the rest of us decided to cross the creek and explore Carbonate Canyon. There's a pretty extensive mine only a few hundred yards up this canyon. Past this, the canyon narrows considerably
and is easy walking for about a mile, where it cliffs out. I think some scrambling might deposit one up onto the mesa, but we opted to return the way we came. I decided to do a little bit of bouldering here. I'd hauled a pair of rock shoes down, so I figured I might as well use them. I found some fun overhanging traverses, though the dirt made it hard to hang on. Still, just in that short stretch of canyon, I found variable types of rock to try:
Though this was an intentionally lazy day, I felt restless and wanted to explore some more. My dad, who is convinced that I will keel over and die while hiking the minute he's not there decided to join me. We explored a couple more canyons which quickly dead-ended, and finally found a fun trail on the plateau above Carbon Canyon. There was no one on this trail and for a while we could pretend that we weren't sharing the area with hundreds of other people.
Alas, evening set in and it was time to rejoin the hordes.
I have been psyched about hiking down to the Colorado River ever since my dad and I planned this trip many months ago. The only problem is that it's a 16 mile round trip. I somehow convinced my father that he actually wanted to do this with me. Liz, who is much more prudent than either of us, decided to join us for a smaller portion of the hike.
Meanwhile, my mother, who is afraid of heights and would not touch the descent with a ten foot pole, perched near the lip of Mooney Falls and watched the throngs make the steep descent. This area gets really busy during the late morning/early afternoon. She apparently watched some poor woman stalled in fear (on her way UP, of all things) and wouldn't budge for a full 20 minutes, creating massive back-ups in both directions.
As we had left around 7 a.m., we luckily missed this spectacle. Most people you talk to might tell you that the trail to the Colorado River is difficult. I guess by some standards it is. I would say that 90% of it is really nice to walk on (dirt or a small layer of sand with very few obstructions). It stretches for 8 miles and loses about 1200 of elevation, a trivial amount by most standards. The other 10% of the trail can be pretty memorable, however:
Okay, okay, just kidding… however, these are actual photos of the trail:
Some routefinding (or, I should say "trailfinding") skills are required on this trail, particularly in the first mile past Mooney Falls where there are paths all over the place, and they are not created equal. However, getting really lost is unlikely as you are in a narrow canyon.
Most dayhikers stop on a bluff overlooking Beaver Falls:
where Havasu and Beaver Canyons meet (3 miles from the campground). We parted ways with Liz here and continued on. There were only four other small parties heading to the Colorado River (a small number giving the insane numbers of people at the campground). For some reason, several people expressed concern about us in a way that suggested that we weren't going to make it, or that we wouldn't make it back. I guess my dad and I don't look like seasoned hikers.
Beaver Canyon looked like an awesome place to explore, and probably is not visited very often. The fun on the hike to the Colorado really starts after Beaver Falls. I had promised GeoTom that I wouldn't give this camera a bath for at least a couple of months. I was going to a desert, so I wasn't terribly worried. However, the route crosses Havasu Creek repeatedly (we'd already crossed three times just from Mooney to Beaver Falls).
I lost count, but there were at least 10 crossings (not counting the return trip). They weren't difficult, and the water was refreshing in the heat of the day, but I was worried about getting the camera wet. At first, I would stow it in the top of my pack for safekeeping and concentrate on not taking an unintentional swim. Bizarrely, most of the good photo ops were in the middle of these creek crossings, so I switched to clutching it in my hand and attaching it to a pack strap. I've had it about 10 days and am happy to report that it's still dry!
Havasu Canyon is very interesting and has lots of little twists and turns that are always providing something different to look at. About 3 miles away from the Colorado River, the high canyon walls could no longer keep the sun out. I don't think I can adequately describe the energy-sucking effect it had. All I could think was that people who come here to hike in July or August must be completely insane.
The last mile and a half to the river seemed to take forever, partly because of the heat, partly because some hikers from a boat trip coming upstream told us it was less than half a mile away. The very last bit of Havasu Canyon narrows dramatically into an interesting looking chasm.
The mouth of Havasu Creek was full of boats, and for our viewing pleasure some of them departed while we were taking a break by the river.
Sadly, we couldn't spend too much time relaxing as we still had a long hike back and an exhaustible amount of daylight. Luckily, due to the nature of the canyon, the majority of our trip back was in the shade and we avoided falling into the creek or falling off cliffs and only got mildly confused by the way trails near the end of our journey. We saw some people filtering water from Havasu Creek, which seems like a profoundly bad idea seeing as it passes through Supai Village, and most of the tourists seem to bathe in it (even saw some washing hair with shampoo and conditioner).
Later that night, I dragged my parents for a moonlit (full moon) hike to look at Havasu Falls, which was lovely in the moonlight.
Pretty mellow day. Liz and I descended down to the base of Mooney Falls again (she claimed she wanted to explore, but I think she just enjoyed the descent):
Explored a cute little canyon just downstream of Mooney Falls
and barely snuck in between large groups of people through the cliffy ascent on the way back.
As soon as we topped out, we met a pretty LONG line of people (at least 40). Had we been a few minutes later, we would have had a long wait trying to get back up.
Later in the afternoon, my parents and I tried to find a way up to the plateau above Havasu Canyon. I found a place that was a pretty easy scramble by my standards but out of the question for my parents. We wandered around the easily accessible plateau on the other side instead and took advantage of the evening light for some more photography:
We got up at oh-dark-thirty (4 am) in the hopes of hiking in the shade and beating the mule/horse trains up the trail. I set a fairly quick pace which everyone was able to keep until the final 1.5 miles where the trail steepened considerably. Being the evil child that I am, I went ahead with Liz and left my parents to fend for themselves (I was definitely suffering from "horse headed for the barn" feeling at this point – didn't even stop for photos). It was getting pretty hot and I just wanted to be done.
Once I was back at the trailhead and I could put my pack down, guilt set in so I bought some cold soda and wandered back down the trail to offer my parents some refreshment. In short order, everyone was back at the car in one piece. I try so hard to do my parents in on these hiking schemes of mine, but they're pretty hardy.
When I initially made reservations to camp for four nights, I was afraid we would be bored with nothing to do. However, there's so much to do and explore in and around Havasu Canyon that four nights didn't seem nearly enough.
-------------- PLAY SAFE! SKI ONLY IN CLOCKWISE DIRECTION! LET'S ALL HAVE FUN TOGETHER!
When I tried to call for permits I didn't have a problem with busy signals, I had a problem with no one answering the phone for several days (both lines)...it just kept ringing and ringing, it was very frustrating.
The funny thing is I tried to get us permits for one particular night and they said they were full so I had to pick a differnt date. So when we arrived at the camping office out of curiosity I asked how many spots there were and they said 250! My jaw hit the counter! I had no idea it was going to be overrun with so many people!
We too walked passed the hordes at the beginning of the campground and found a much quieter spot farther down. It was worth it though, that place was magnificent!
-------------- Warning! Posts may contain traces of sarcasm.
Nice TR....I went during early September last year for 6 days, and I'm still trying to plan a return trip this summer. One of the most beautiful and amazing places I've ever been, for sure. It's funny, so many of the pics you posted are very similar to ones I took while I was there. And yeah, that last 1.5 miles on the hike out sure is fun, huh?
Now, who cares if it's Spring time when it should be vacation time.
-------------- It's pretty safe to say that if we take all of man kinds accumulated knowledge, we still don't know everything. So, I hope you understand why I don't believe you know everything. But then again, maybe you do.
One of the most beautiful and amazing places I've ever been, for sure. It's funny, so many of the pics you posted are very similar to ones I took while I was there.
I found it pretty amusing that I actually took photos of the exact same places on the hike out as in. There are just spots that scream to me (and you, obviously) "take photo NOW!!!"... this turned out not to be as pointless as it sounds as the light conditions were very different.
GeoTom - where did you go on the north side? I've only been in the main are of the north rim (down the North Kaibab).
We just missed each other by 2 days!!! Isnt that place magical!!!
Yeah, I knew you were going to be there, but wasn't sure when. It is pretty magical. It's one thing to hear about it/see photos and another entirely to experience it for yourself. The mix of cool, blue water and the harshness of the desert is just unreal.
Karen - that's weird about the phone lines. When did you call? And how many nights did y'all end up staying?
-------------- PLAY SAFE! SKI ONLY IN CLOCKWISE DIRECTION! LET'S ALL HAVE FUN TOGETHER!
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