Hiking to Havasu Falls…
Leading up to hiking Havasu Falls I made a trip to my local REI store to ensure I was adequately geared up. I’m typically pretty relaxed when it comes to hiking; hat, cotton tank top and a bottle of water will usually do for anything between one and ten miles. But given that I was going to be in the desert and hiking for several days it seemed like the responsible thing to get a new pair of socks and splurge on an anti-stink, breathable t-shirt.
Shirt and socks in hand my sister and I ambled into the shoe section where a well intended sales person overheard that we were going to be hiking to Havasu Falls and immediately began unloading an endless stream of advice and horror stories upon us. We listened and giggled nervously to his insights, most of which seemed to revolve around food and proper care of your nether regions while backpacking. The big takeaways I got from our impromptu informal Havasu Falls hiking gear lesson was:
- Wear expensive underwear. Cotton underwear just won’t do
- Don’t wear really tight pants because you need to be able to easily get them off when nature calls
- Bring plenty of wipes for when nature calls
- Leave all the energy bars, nuts, and dried fruit in the car. “Bring anything that ends in ‘o’, Cheetos, Fritos, Doritos, Oreos”.
- You don’t need fancy hiking boots. Just shoes that are one size larger and have traction.
Needless to say I was rattled. I had visions of hobbling along with chafing in all sorts of uncomfortable places and left the store with two large bags of gear, including a couple of pairs of innocuous looking underwear that cost me what I make in an hour as a teacher.
Having gone through the financial and mental trauma of my afternoon at REI, I wrote this guide so that future hikers can have a realistic idea of what to expect when hiking to Havasu Falls.
Your Planning Guide for Hiking to Havasu Falls
- What to Wear: We did the hike in October with daytime temps in the low 70’s and nighttime temps that dipped into the low 30’s. If you are hiking in the summer months you will need to modify this packing list for hotter weather.
- Breathable, quick drying T-shirt
- Tank top
- Leggings for warmth at night/sleep/layering under pants in the evening
- Hiking pants (ones with pockets are nice for easy access for taking pics with smartphone)
- Rain pants (Just in case it rains/ wearing over leggings on cold evenings)
- Light weight Rain coat/Poncho
- medium weight base layer top
- Fleece shirt
- Jacket (easily compatible synthetic down gives warmth without bulk)
- Breathable long sleeve SPF shirt if you are sun sensitive
- Beanie for cold mornings/nights
- 2 Pairs of hiking socks (I like the crew length ones by”Darn Tough”)
- A Buff ( It can act as a scarf/hat/mouth cover if it’s dusty/smells like mule poo)
- A few pairs of underwear (whatever is currently in your drawer will probably do)
- Sturdy water sandals (crucial for hiking to Beaver Falls and camp comfort)
- Hiking sneakers or boot
2. Start Your Hike Early: This is especially important when hiking out of the canyon because ideally you don’t want to be hiking uphill, tired from several glorious days at Havasu Falls, in midday heat. We woke up at 4:30am and left the campground by 5:30am on our final day. Hiking under the stars turned out to be one of my favorite experiences of the entire trip! (Make sure you have a headlamp)
3. Timing Is Everything With Mooney Falls: The chains/ladder system leading down to Mooney Falls can get crowded, and it’s definitely not fun dangling on the edge of a cliff waiting for a long line of people to inch their way down. Get an early start (no later than 9am) to get ahead of most people. On the way up it’s safest to wait until nobody is coming down before ascending. (by noonish most hikers will have made it down so this is a good time to plan on heading back to camp)
4. No Water At The Trailhead: Fill up your bottles before you get to the trailhead. The next spot to get water is 8 miles down in Supai Village.
5. Campsites Are First Come First Serve: The campground is a mile long and the sites are informal, meaning no campsite numbers. Most of the spaces have picnic tables and a tree or two for shade.
6. Pick Your Campsite Wisely: There is a multitude of beautiful, serene, campsites in the campground and several different outhouses. But there is only one water source, a spring that pours drinkable water out of a cliff. So depending on how much walking you want to do to get water you might want to base your campsite choice on proximity to water and not what’s the most insta worthy creek side site.
7. No Campfires: Campfires are prohibited and since the campground is at the bottom of a narrow canyon it gets shaded and chilly early in the evening. Make sure to pack plenty of layers and a deck of cards.
8. Don’t Plan On Keeping Warm With a Stiff Drink: Alcohol is illegal in the campground and the village. Be respectful and make it a sober few days in nature.
9. Watch Out For Mules: Mules carry goods for the village/camper gear up and down the canyon don’t always have the best spacial awareness. It’s best to give them a wide berth.
10. Send Mail By Mule: You can buy a postcard at either the lodge or visitor office in Supai Village. Jot a few sentences, drop it off at the Supai post office and a mule will take it up to Hualapai Hilltop where it will continue on its postal journey. It’s not every day that you get to send a letter to someone via mule!
11. Exploring The Other Waterfalls: Beaver Falls is about 3 miles downstream from Mooney Falls. The trail isn’t clearly marked and crosses the river several times. If you’re planning on hiking to Beaver Falls make sure you bring or wear sturdy sandals for crossing the river. An easier option is to spend an afternoon lounging and swimming at Fifty Foot Falls which is between the village and the campground, making it about a two mile round trip hike from the campground. These falls get tons of warm afternoon sun and are the perfect spot for basking in the sun and a relaxing float.
12. Food: We tested the “anything that ends in o” theory and while chocolate cookies after a day of hiking did taste sublime, munching on dried mango with my feet dangling over the turquoise water was also divine. The store in the village is a good place to reload on snacks or any food items that you might have forgotten. And there’s also a restaurant and several “fry bread” stands that will fill your belly.
13. Checking The Weather: Get an idea for what the weather is going to be like by searching “Supai” on your weather app or weather.com. The weather predictions seem to change daily so recheck the day before your trip just in case there’s been a big shift in the forecast.
14. No Cell Service: Don’t plan on working remotely while you’re exploring Havasu Falls because there isn’t cell service. In the village of Supai you might be able to get a signal but otherwise you’re off the grid when you’re in the canyon
15. Havasu Falls or Havasupai Falls?: The waterfall is called Havasu Falls. The people living in the village are the Havasupai tribe. The village is known as Supai.
16. Can’t get permits? Consider a guided hike: Permits are ridiculously difficult to get, especially during peak months such September, October, April and May. If you book a guided hike with an outfitter they take care of the permit process. Read my article on taking a guided hike to Havasu Falls to learn more.