By Frank Mussler
My trip started in Flagstaff at 6 am where I met my tour guide, Jon, and a couple from Boston.
We drove to Hualapai Hilltop. It pays to get an early start as there are usually a lot of cars in the parking area. We were lucky to get a space near the trailhead. Most of our luggage was carried to the campground by horse-train. I recommend using this option. Though the hike is not too strenuous for anyone in reasonably good shape, it still is 10 miles to the campground and a 700 feet elevation change. To carry only a daypack makes the hike much more fun. The trail is very steep for about 1 mile and then follows a dry creek bed.
The weather was cold and rainy when we left the hilltop at about 11 am.
After about an hour into the canyon the sun came out. We made it to the village in about 3 hours. After the steep part, the trail loses elevation more gradually. Sometimes it is a good idea to follow spur trails to the left and right of the main trail to avoid areas with loose gravel. We met several horse-trains going out and into the canyon. We also met several groups of hikers going out but not many people hiking in.
Once you reach the village, you will notice the smell of horses. For those who have hiked the Kaibab or Bright Angel Trails, that smell should be familiar.
There are a lot of horses and dogs in Supai. There was some barking when we passed the houses, but none of the dogs made any real attempt to threaten us.
When leaving the village the trail follows Havasu Creek. For the first time I encountered the blue-green water. About a mile later we came to “New Navajo Falls.”
The 2008 August flash flood changed the area dramatically as it cut a new channel for Havasu Creek. Old Navajo Falls fell dry and new falls emerged.
The trails to the falls are not yet finished and the creek’s landmark travertine pools have not yet had a chance to build up yet. The Havasupai started to help these rebuild by throwing sandbags and logs into the creek. There is still lot of work to do.
We finally arrived at Havasu Falls by about 3 pm. The final part of the trail has some remarkable views of Havasu Falls—or “new” Havasu Falls. It´s still in the same place but it looks much different than from the pictures I knew. The 2008 flood changed the flow of the falls to the right. There are a lot of pictures of Havasu Falls that show the famous double bow–others that show a wide arc of water. Be prepared since every flash flood can change the appearance of the Falls. Havasu Falls of 2010 is different from Havasu Falls of 2007; it may be that what I saw in May 2010 will be gone sometime next year. The Havasupai don’t “design” or “enhance” the falls, they just let nature do it.
Still, it’s absolutely amazing. People that know Grand Canyon from South Rim will never see nor believe what wonders are below the rim.
The gate to the campground is about a 5 minute walk from Havasu Falls along Havasu Creek between Havasu Falls and Mooney Falls. It takes about 30 minute to walk from one fall to the other. The campground has a day ranger who takes care of check-in and check-out and a night ranger who patrols the evening hours. Also there are a lot of stray dogs. But again they are curious and none of them were annoying during our stay. I hear that some people complain about the dogs. They aren’t pets; they are semi-wild animals and to me they seemed to be quite happy with that. Having the dogs around made me feel a little safer as I am sure they keep other wild animals from the campground.
There are about 5 solar composting toilets. I found them well maintained and clean. I did not notice any difference from the ones I used in Yosemite National Park in 2009. There was no bad smell at any of them. We set up our tents close to the creek. The next toilet was about 100 meters (330′) away and we never noticed any bad smell there. Maybe the experience is different when it’s really hot outside and there are more guests in the campground.
The campground was not very busy so there were a lot of empty spaces. As a result of the 2008 flood when NPS Rangers had to airlift campers from the campground, the Havasupai set up and clearly marked a “high ground” for emergencies. Also the potable water from the spring was easy to find. This spring is the only way to get treated water that can be used without further efforts. All water from the Creek should be treated.
From our site, it was about 10 minutes to Mooney Falls and about 15 minutes to Havasu Falls. Jon, our guide, said that there were really few people around. We thought that maybe the cold, rainy weather in the Grand Canyon area in early May 2010 kept many people away. Good for us, so there was enough space below Havasu Falls for swimming and sun bathing. As the outside temperatures were moderate (80s) and there was some cold wind, the swimming was quite chilly. But one can’t resist jumping into the pool. Once you realize that the travertine is not slippery at all, it is great fun to follow Havasu Creek from Havasu Falls to the campground.
Don’t forget some TEVA sandals as the travertine can really hurt when you’re barefoot. This is a wonderful alternative to the dusty trail.
We spent the rest of our first day at Havasu Falls.
The second day, Jon took us first to the “Rim Trail”, about 2 miles along the western rim above the campground. From there you have great views down on Mooney Falls. You can also see part of the North Rim that sits opposite of Havasu Canyon’s entrance into the Colorado River. You don’t actually see the Colorado; it’s about 6 more miles of very difficult trail down to the river.
Then there is this view of Havasu Falls.
Later we scrambled over the remains of “old” Navajo Falls, which is now completely dry, to get a good view of “new” Navajo Falls.
So far, there are no established trails to the Falls, so be prepared to scramble over loose travertine and some creek crossings. It is best to be prepared to get wet. The Supai were working on the trails, so maybe by 2011 there will be trails to the falls.
After that adventure we hiked the mile to Supai Village for some cold drinks and ice cream from the Supai Store.
The rest of Day 2 we again spent near Havasu Falls with swimming and sun bathing. Temperatures were higher that day so this time it was fun to jump into the water.
We got an early start on Day 3 to hike to Beaver Falls.
The first challenge is to climb down the 200 foot wall along Mooney Falls. The trail is cut into the travertine and even uses some natural caves in that wall.
This trail is not for people with a fear of heights or those afraid of narrow spaces.
Once you are down, there is this great view of Mooney Falls.
Mooney Falls survived the 2008 flood unharmed. The pool below lost some travertine steps, but the rebuilding was well ahead compared to the areas around Havasu Falls. To me it appeared that the part below Mooney did not experience that much damage as the part between Supai Village and Mooney Falls. At least the Creek had lots of its landmark blue-green pools and travertine steps.
It’s about 3 miles to Beaver Falls. The trail is sometimes difficult to find and includes several wet creek crossings.
Yet in the end you find this beautiful spot. We are still in Grand Canyon and not in Hawaii. (The palm tree is not native to Havasu Canyon; it was planted by one of the Havasu chiefs some time ago. But it seemed to me that it was doing great.)
We needed about 2 hours to get down to Beaver Falls and about 2 more to get back. It makes a nice daytrip from the campground. On the way back we walked about the last mile in the creek; for the most part the water was about 1 foot deep. Climbing over the small falls in the creek was sometimes a challenge. It is a good idea to have Ziploc bags to keep important things dry and maybe a waterproof bag for photo or video equipment.
Time in Havasu Canyon went by too fast. It is indeed a magical place. The Havsasupai Tribe does a great job in preserving this place.
Thank you to Jon Opem and Just Roughn´it for guiding me to Havasu Canyon.