We slept well at the Hilltop trailhead and awoke with the predawn light to prepare for hiking Havasu Falls. The early morning light lit up the canyon walls and gave us our first glimpse at the amazing landscape we had settled into the night before. This was the Grand Canyon landscape we had longed to journey into.
The initial descent on the Havasupai trail is the worst. The trail switchbacks down the canyon wall about 600’ before straightening out and continuing a steep descent all the way to the canyon floor about 1100’ below the parking area. The trail is built well. The worst part of the descent is the physiological part of knowing “I have to go back up this at the end of an 11-mile hike on the way back.”
Follow the Dry Creek Bed
Once at the floor of the canyon, the path merges with that of a dry creek bed. It is my understanding that during a flash flood this area can become dangerous. In early May there was no water in the creek and no clouds in the sky. Over the next 5-miles, the path meanders in and out of the dry creek bed as it gently descends through the canyon another 800′ deeper. If you are unsure of the path ahead stay in the creek bed and you will be fine. The actual path leaves the creek bed only long enough to cut off rounded corners of the creek. We found that the flatter ground of the creek was often preferred to climbing up and over the shoulder to cut the corners.
Through Hualapai Canyon
While the canyon starts off very wide, it narrows to about 30’ wide as it enters the Hualapai Canyon. Along the way, the yellow hues of the cliff walls turn to orange and then to deep saturated reds. Because we started early we spent almost the entire hike to and through the Hualapai Canyon covered in shade. It was also in this area that we came across our first Supai Ranger who took our names and cross-referenced it with a list of the reservations. If you aren’t on this list they will fine you and then turn you back.
Warning! Horse Trains
Hikers should stay alert until arriving at the campground as the fast-moving horse trains can appear out of nowhere and especially in the narrow parts of the Hualapai Canyon. The horse driver is usually at the back of the pack so horses seemingly unaccompanied by anyone can round a corner suddenly and catch hikers off guard. You can, however, usually hear them coming so stay alert.
The Intersection to Suapi
Shortly after the narrow Hualapai Canyon, the surrounding walls will begin to widen and the creek bed will arrive at an intersection. The creek bed flows to the right and the trail leads to the left. There is a sign here pointing out the direction to the village of Supai and Hilltop. We hung a left.
Shortly after leaving the dry creek bed the path finally picks up the amazingly rich blue-green waters of Havasu Creek. The creek is narrow and fast-moving through this section. The trail ahead follows the creek and crosses over it via a small bridge before breaking away and venturing into the town of Supai. There is lots of low-lying vegetation all the way through this section. It is somewhat shocking to go from the dry creek bed and stark rocky canyon walls to this flat mile-long section of canyon floor covered in dense trees and vegetation.
The Supai Village
We had been hiking for several hours and 8-miles with only fellow backpack-laden travelers to share the beautiful terrain with. Here in the village of Supai, we found homes with electricity, town folks riding a mixture of horses and golf carts, churches, basketball courts, and helicopters constantly ferrying people and luggage to and from the Hilltop. The town requests that no photos be taken (lots of signs posted everywhere). It is a shame since the horses surrounded by towering red cliffs were compellingly beautiful.
Checking in at Supai
Jennifer and I made our way to the village community center which has running water (flush toilets) and is the location where all campers are required to check in. This is where we received our tent tag and a colored wristband. I felt like I was at Disney World, both because of the bands and because of the large crowd waiting in line. It was a very odd feeling given the remote nature of this place.
Hiking Havasu Falls Gets Crowded
After checking in we started the 2-mile hike towards the campground. Now, the path was intermixed with backpack-laden travelers as well as villagers out for a stroll, day hikers from the town’s inn and from the campground, and those who had gotten off the helicopter with no bags. (Bag delivery can be arranged via horse to the campground.) Here we were literally in the middle of nowhere with all walks of life intermingling. We have backpacked lots of remote wilderness areas. This is the first time this has been the atmosphere so far into a hike.
Rock Falls (AKA: New Navajo Falls)
The path down to the campground is mostly flat for the first mile. When it rejoins the Havasu Creek the creek has widened and the beauty has increased as well. Before long we stood over Rock Falls (AKA: New Navajo Falls), slack-jawed staring at the beautiful blue-green water and terraces that Havasu is world-renowned for. Both of us thought this was a scene more appropriately placed on remote South Pacific Island with white sandy beaches nearby than towering red cliffs. The weight of the bags now over 9-miles was pressing us on so we continued down the path.
Shopping at Havasu Falls
Shortly after, the path rounds a big bend above the creek where a hard-to-see Navajo Falls crashes below. The path then starts a steep descent that was rough on our tired knees down to a small bridge crossing. There is a small souvenir tent located on the right just before the bridge, cash only. On the other side of the creek, we found the world-famous frybread hut which has frybread and other tasty treats for sale. Also, cash only.
Before long we arrived at the final descent before the campground. The wide path drops adjacent to a sheer cliff and the wonder of the 98’ high Havasu Falls is revealed. Once again Jennifer and I were standing there on the side of a cliff staring down into the crystal clear blue waters in utter astonishment. It was perfect with the blue water crashing over the brown cliff walls. The falls are lined with green vegetation clinging to the lifeblood of the water! Though weary we stood there taking in the sight for a long while before finally deciding to push on to find a campsite.