Havasu Falls – Part 2: Waterfalls, Hiking, and Camping

How to do it like we did:

If you did not catch “Havasu Falls Part 1” click here to get up to speed before diving in to this post. Alright, here we go!

We have now checked in with the permit office, confirmed our campsite for one extra night, and are ready to see some gorgeous waterfalls! Since eight miles of hiking was definitely not enough exercise, we have to go two more miles to get to the campsite. Along this stretch the river begins to widen and waterfalls start popping up here and there.

About a mile from the village of Supai is Fifty Foot Falls. The offshooting trails that take you to this waterfall are visible from the main trail if you are looking. This is a beautiful swimming spot! Since it is a mile from the campground and the most famous falls not many people use it. Plan extra swimming time into your trip so that you can spend an afternoon at this spot.

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Fifty Foot Falls from above

Just below Fifty Foot Falls is Navajo Falls. Once you are on the side trail from the main trail, follow it along the river less than a quarter of a mile until you see Navajo Falls.  It is a little difficult to get to so you will have to employ some route finding tactics.

The actual campground begins at Havasu Falls. There is a sign at the top of the cliff announcing your arrival. The campsites stretch for this many miles along the river and ends at Mooney Falls. There are clean pit toilets spaced out along the campground. About a quarter of a mile into the campground is safe spring water for filling water jugs.

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Havasu Falls from below

If you think, as the Facebook videos suggest, that you will be alone in this lush paradise you will be sorely disappointed. True, because of the incredibly strict permit regulations, this place will be much less crowded than most vacation destinations. If you do the math, though, 300 possible permits a day along only 5 miles of river adds up to a sizable crowd. Find out more about permits here.

We went the second week in April, before the rush of the main season. This was much less crowded! We were also there in the middle of the week instead of a weekend, which helped. The trade off to visiting in April? It does get hot in the middle of the day but the water is still cooler and the temperature drops fast at night. All this shortens overall swimming hours. If you go during the busy season, Beaver Falls and Fifty Foot Falls are spots where the crowd thins out a little.

Havasu Falls:
As the name suggests, this is the most iconic of all the falls. It is approached first from above as hikers make their way to the campground. It can also be approached from below, where a small beach opens out for a day of picnicking and swimming. Once in the canyon, it is easily accessible.

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Havasu Falls from above

Mooney Falls:
An entire day can be filled chilling at Mooney Falls. The descent to Mooney marks the end of the campground. There is a cliff drop-off from which you can view the top of Mooney down into the water. Follow the signs to begin descending a set of natural stairs into a short rock tunnel. This downward climb becomes increasingly sketchy as the stairs become steeper and slick from the spray from the falls. It ends in a slick, wooden ladder. It seems scary but I watched a 60+ year-young woman do it.

Once you conquer the ladder there are plenty of swimming and photo opportunities. On the far side of the falls there is a rope swing to plunge thrill-seekers into the pool below. Our group had a blast taking turns swinging off of it.

There is a small picnic area on dry land in between the pools below the falls. If you bring enough food, you can honestly spend all day hanging out at this one spot. Mooney is the tallest of all the Havasupai waterfalls and arguably the most impressive.

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Mooney Falls from the staircase- photo by Calvin Peterson

Beaver Falls Hike:
This is the hike to use as an escape from the crowds. Beaver Falls is 3 miles from the base of Mooney Falls, which makes this hike six miles round trip. There are a lot of shallow, easy water crossings throughout the hike. There are also less-used swimming holes along the way. You can claim one for just your group for awhile. Our group spent an entire day making this hike, starting just after sun-up and returning to our campsite at sun-down. We stopped to swim once on the way down, swam for hours at Beaver, and stopped once more on the way up. You enter Beaver Falls by crossing the river once more and shimmying down the ladder in the top middle of the picture below.

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Beaver Falls is a wondrous series of waterfalls and swimming pools – photo by Calvin Peterson

Upon reaching the Falls there is a ton of swimming areas, picnic spots, and cliff jumping opportunities. If you continue on the trail past the sitting area featured in the picture and take another ladder up the cliff you will be on the Colorado River trail. This trail takes you to another awesome swimming spot with a sweet cliff jump (see picture below). To find it, follow the Colorado River trail for about thirty feet. You will notice the canyon below you narrow, the river turns into a short waterfall, and then the canyon opens up again. You have to do a short downclimb using a rope another hiker set up to get into the actual pool. Please, please use caution if you are planning on downclimbing OR cliff jumping. Always do your research, check depth, and ask other jumpers before trying a new cliff. If you want to learn more about cliff jumping follow this link.

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Quiet swimming spot just past Beaver Falls

The Beaver Falls hike can also be turned into a full day excursion that ends at the Colorado River. This adds 4 miles round trip to the hike. We did not plan enough time to complete this leg. We stayed two nights – hiked in on morning one, spent the entire day and night, had one whole day and another night, and hiked out mid-morning of the third day. We wish we would have planned for one more night so we could have added the Colorado River hike.

Tips:

1. Plan for squirrel attacks. Seriously! The first day we were away from our campsite for less than three hours. A squirrel chewed through my husband’s pack, scratched into a ziplock bag, stole two entire bags of trailmix and ate half a freeze-dried mac and cheese meal. After that, we got smart and strategically hung our food from hard to reach, delicate tree limbs. There was only one food item that I did not put on the tree: I had a handful of tea bags sealed in a ziplock bag, that bag stored in a sealed hard-plastic container, that container placed in another bag, and the whole thing sitting in my tent. A squirrel chewed through our tent, tried to open the plastic container, gave up, and chewed out the other side. Be very aware of animal/food safety.

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Our campsite

2. Fry Bread! This lovely young couple runs a little fry bread stand at the start of the campground. This is the only food stand at the campground; they also serve soda and gatorade. Maybe it is the fact that you are ten miles deep in the canyon. Maybe it is the beauty of the waterfalls filling you up and giving you all the feels. Maybe these really are just that good. Whatever the cause, this will be one of the top ten eating experiences you ever have.

3. I mentioned that there are bathrooms at the campground. These are clean, elevated pit toilets. There is not running water so do not count on washing your hands or taking a shower. The river that runs along the campground provides an endless supply of water for dishes and other washing needs. There is also a clean spring water faucet in the campground.

4. Remember that you also have to hike back out at some point. The hike in is relatively easy. It is a gentle downslope on forgiving terrain. That gentle downslope turns into relentless incline on the way out. All day long you are walking uphill in the hot desert sun. There are no water sources along the way so make sure to pack plenty (plus extra) with you. When you are exhausted to your limits you have to hike up steep switchbacks for the last mile and a half. Pack wisely. We saw people hiking in with a backpack on their back, a Jansport on their front, a sleeping bag in one hand, and a full-size tent in the other. I cannot imagine taking all of that weight back up the canyon with me!

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It looks mellow but hiking up for hours is a leg-burner

Gear of the Trip:

Chacos. Hiking in and out of water. Playing in swimming holes with rocky bottoms. Descending slick ladders to get to waterfalls. The Vibram sole on these babies kept us safe and comfortable. The nature of the sandal kept us from wet-sock induced blisters. Chacos are an all-around win for this kind of trip.

Kenon found a great deal on his on Amazon:

Biggest Take-a-way:

I have a tendency to be a controlling, anxious person. I like the security of my routine. When the unexpected happens my anxiety increases dramatically. Really, though, I should be saying these things in past tense because my time spent in the outdoors has soothed this personality trait. Backpacking, especially, allows me to be controlling and somehow at the same time calm.

At our hotel the night before our hike to Havasu Falls we all made sure our bags were packed correctly. We went through all the checklists to make sure we were not leaving anything behind. When we woke up in the morning we verbally checked our lists again. At the trailhead we went through our bags before setting up for bed. And when I woke up in the morning I went through my checklist one more time so I would not leave anything in the car.

When my foot hit the trail I was suddenly free. I had planned diligently and I knew I had everything I would need. Every step we walked away from the car meant that if anything was forgotten nothing could be done about it now.

The best cure for an anxious mind is to get outdoors. Everything you could possibly need fits into a tidy checklist. Then after that nothing else can be done. I cannot worry about anything because everything is so far outside of my control as soon as I am deep enough into the trail. I am free to simply enjoy.

These moments of serenity have translated into the other areas of my life. It is easier for me to leave work at work because I know I have done all that is possible for the day. I now have checklists for everything I do which gives me perspective on priorities and helps keep my schedule organized. I know how to shut off my worries and enjoy the moments that I get. And there are so many more to enjoy than I ever realized.

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One last glimpse of paradise
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