FYI — Hike Video now posted as well.
I’d never done the Havasu Falls Hike in the Grand Canyon because it always seemed like a bit of a circus in my humble opinion: there’s a crazy permit system, exorbitant fees, over-crowded camping, and hoards of obnoxious people all fighting to get the same posed shots for Instagram #Adventure #Blessed. 🙂
But… when I got “lucky” this year and pulled a late-February permit, I decided to do it and be able to finally judge the hike first-hand to see if my presumed criticism was correct.
Having just returned… I gotta admit, I was wrong. Well mostly.
Granted my experience might not be typical as late February is FAR from the high-demand period, but I was pleasantly surprised on all accounts. This was definitely NOT a wilderness experience. But, the campground was nowhere near overflowing and I actually found myself ALONE at each of the falls for short periods during the day. But, the more common experience was to be around quite a few people, but I was pleasantly surprised… they were mostly pretty awesome. There was a sense of community and bonding over this special place and it made for a unique experience. And the place is definitely special — the water is as blue as the pictures show and the waterfalls are breathtaking. OK… now for the actual report:
After my buddy from LA couldn’t go on the trip, I sync’d up with “LarryBoy” who I’d known from various online hiking correspondence. It was cool to meet him in person and hike together after following his adventures online for several years. We meet at the Hilltop TH which was still partially covered in snow from the recent storm.
The first 1.5 miles is down the steep switchbacks and alluvial plain to get to the major side canyon which quickly walls up.
After about 8 miles of walking we arrived at the Supai Village where visitors need to check in and get a wrist-band — just like some exclusive club. The village was bigger than I expected complete with two small stores, a community center, a school, a church, and of course a bunch of homes. This is just the outskirts before the “No Photos in Village” sign:
About a mile after the village one gets the first glimpse of the beautiful terraced stream while passing Little Navajo and Fifty-foot Falls. In about another mile one drops down beside namesake Havasu Falls and, even in the fading evening light, it was amazing.
After enjoying the view for a bit we continued on to the campground and found an awesome site on the far side of the creek:
The forecast said the first night would be are coldest with temps possibly near freezing. I had dreaded this part of the trip and ended up packing SO much extra stuff hoping to stay warm on the long February nights. Turns out… it wasn’t needed. I don’t think it got down anywhere near freezing and my +20 bag was more than enough to keep me warm sans all the extra layers that I packed.
We got up at a fairly leisurely start (I’m not a morning person) and headed down canyon with a plan of seeing the lower falls and going to the confluence of the Colorado. Just below the campground area is the highest of the waterfalls — Mooney Falls. It was an amazing sight in the morning glow. But… to get to the bottom of the falls one has to climb down through a series of tunnels and then descend footholds with chain supports and multiple ladders. The stories I’ve heard about this part of the hike varied from “Death Defying Descent” to “No Big Deal”. The truth is probably somewhere in between. Actually… it was a bit more sketchy than I’d imagined. The fact that the lower portion is drenched in mist from the falls definitely heightens the fear factor due to potential slippage.
From Mooney we headed downstream toward Beaver Falls. It’s a pleasant hike for the next two miles usually on the high banks above the terraced stream. Occasionally the trail drops down where there are a few mandatory stream crossings of about knee-deep water. Just before getting there one has to climb high again via another series of ladders before dropping back down via more ladders to get to the falls.
At this point I decided to bail on the plan to get to the Colorado. I’d caught a bit of bug a few days before the trip and I was hoping to “mind over matter” the situation, but in reality I was feeling pretty awful/depleted. So… as LarryBoy continued on, I stayed at Beaver Falls to soak in the awesomeness.
We were lucky to see the falls bathed in full sunglight when we arrived, but within about 20 minutes the sun had gone over canyon’s rim and the inner canyon was in shade the rest of the day. That did make it easier to get long-exposures though.
I made my way back up to Mooney and then on to Havasu and more or less enjoyed a fairly low-energy day taking photos/video.
Woke up feeling a bit better, but still far from 100%. But… the plan for today was a fairly leisurely day of exploring the upper falls. It’s funny — even on this “down day” I still managed to hike about 8 miles! It was a good day soaking in more waterfall fun. We stopped at Havasu Falls for the first part of the day before continuing back up canyon to get better looks at Little Navajo and Fifty-foot Falls.
After that it was back to Havasu Falls where I finally took the plunge. Literally.
Despite it being February — the water was awesome! I found it hard to believe when LarryBoy and others told me that the water was warmer than the air temp, but they were correct. I got a good swim in under the falls before getting out with enough sunlight left to fully dry out.
Spent the rest of the day lounging around and taking more photos. Including taking photos of those people taking their IG photos.
Got back to camp to find that the creatures of the day had obliterated our food stash! The day before I’d left some food in a bag in my tent and the guys had gotten to it and made a small mess. Having learned my lesson, I was more careful the next day and we made sure everything was hung or in a hard-sided container. Turns out — this just made the critters more determined and they chewed through the line to drop our bags and then devoured nearly everything inside of them! Luckily it was the last night and I still had plenty of untouched food to share in the hard-sided container.
LarryBoy headed out early in the morning as I took a more leisurely approach to the final day. I spent most of the morning again at Havasu Falls.
I left the falls around noon to begin the long hike back out of the canyon. This approach would be ill-advised later in the season, but for this moderate day in Feb it was fine. I was surprised to not see one other hiker hiking out all day. I think this is because most got an early start or opted to take the helicopter ride (yeah — one can do that!) I was not entirely surprised though to see that most of the snow from 3 days prior was gone by the time I got back to the switchbacks and then climbed up to the rim.
After that… it was just a LONG drive back to LA.
All-in-all it was a very good trip and I’m really glad that I did it. I’m not sure my experience is a “typical” one, but I had a great time and am glad that my negative preconceptions were not realized. Besides some members of the “Bluetooth Generation” with their amplified speakers while hiking/camping, the people I met were great and… OMG it WAS soooo beautiful! #BucklistCheck 🙂