Chasing Waterfalls: Havasupai
Updated: Mar 15, 2018
The American Indians believed that before there were any people on earth there were two gods, Tochapa of goodness, and Hokomata of evil. Tochapa had a daughter named Pu-keh-eh, whom he hoped would become the mother of all living. Hokomata the evil was determined that no such thing should take place, and he covered the world with a great flood. Tochopa took down a great tree and hollowed out the trunk. He placed Pu-keh-eh in the hollowed trunk and when the water rose and flooded the earth she was secure in her boat. The flood waters eventually fell, mountains emerged, and rivers created; with one of them cutting a great fissure into the earth which became the Grand Canyon. Pu-keh-eh, in her log, stepped forth and came to rest on the new and empty earth. When the land dried, a great golden sun rose in the east and warmed the earth and caused her to conceive. In time, she gave birth to a male child and then a waterfall caused her to conceive a girl. From the union of these two mortal children came all the people on the earth.
The first were the Havasupai, and the voice of Tochopa spoke to them and told them to “live forever in peace in their canyon of good earth and pure water where there would always be plenty for all.”
Our journey began at Hualapai Hilltop at 6am, early March. Temperatures were about 40°F with a light breeze at the starting point. From the top of the hill, we descended switchbacks for 1.5 miles, and then hiked flat terrain for the next 10 miles. Although most sites will say that it is 10 miles to the campgrounds, our group tracked the distance in and out of the campground to be closer to 11.5 to 12 miles depending on how far back you decide to camp. Most of the trail through the canyon was through silt and gravel with plenty of opportunities for rest spots and great photos. By 9am, the trails became busy with people and horses carrying gear.
Fifty Foot, Little Navajo, and Old Navajo Falls
Upon arrival to Supai Village, we had to stop to check in. They required a license plate number from at least one vehicle in our party (we weren’t informed this and because we rented a car, this made it a bit challenging). From the village, it was about a 2.5 mile hike to the campgrounds with a gradual uphill. Halfway to the campgrounds, the first set of waterfalls stopped us in our tracks and took our breath away, 50 foot falls, Little Navajo and Old Navajo Falls.
We continued onward to the campsite, and were constantly told “5 more minutes and you’re there!” We weren’t sure of what that meant until we crossed over our last hill to witness Havasu Falls to our right. Cue dramatic themed music, there are no words that could describe the beauty of this luscious green and turquoise filled canyon.
Once you pass the wooden posts after Havasu Falls, the first set of restrooms are on the right which mark the entrance to the campgrounds. Don’t settle for the large sites here if you have a small group. Keep going downstream to get better spots that have more privacy. There is one drinking water source available, ran out of a PVC pipe from the canyon wall. We chose a camping area about halfway through the campgrounds that had plenty of trees for hammocks, and allowed us to be next to the river. Be sure to hang your tags on the tent, as they check daily.
From camp, we hiked down about a half mile to get to a series of tunnels, rusty chains, and ladders to assist us in climbing down the face of the cliff. But it was worth it. This descent brought us to the tallest waterfall in Supai, Mooney Falls, cascading over 150 feet. Be careful during the down climb, it is not meant for those afraid of heights or are uncertain of their footing. The rocks get very slippery from the mist and you cannot completely rely on holding some of those chains while down climbing. Once you’re down, cross the river to get a centered view of the falls. Keep going past it, and there is a smaller area where you can go for a swim and use the swing to jump into the water. Because we went early in the season, the water was really cold, so be sure to have warm layers to change into after your swim.
To get to the last set of waterfalls in Supai, continue hiking down the canyon for another 4 miles, despite the map saying it is only 2 miles away. This hike was my favorite. The trail was dynamic and involved hills, river crossings, tree bridges, and ladders. This trail had a lot of places where it appeared to split off, but all of them merge back so it is difficult to get lost as long as you’re following a trail. Your first river crossing involves walking across a down tree to continue onto the trail. The second and third river crossings may not seem as obvious until you arrive and realize you have to walk through the water. The water is relatively shallow and was never higher than knee height for us, which may be different depending on the season. The last section of this hike involved climbing up and down a series of ladders to reach your destination.
Our entire trip was 4 days and 3 nights. I felt like this was the perfect amount of time to relax and truly absorb everything that Supai had to offer. Oftentimes, we hiked back to the same waterfalls at different times of day.
• Hike out early to avoid the sun. The final incline is the most strenuous, you don’t want to do this in the heat.
• Pack an electrolyte source, tablets or packets you can mix with water are the best.
• Pack layers. The canyon temperatures can drop quickly at night.
• Bring a good camera if you want good photos.
• Bring cash. I know it sounds weird, but they have this fry bread stand that you have to try!