Braving the Crowds and Permit Process to Finally Visit Havasupai
Wednesday – Sunday, October 23-27, 2019
I typically try to avoid crowded and very popular locations when I head out into the backcountry, but Havasu Canyon is one area that I felt I needed to make an exception for. I guess I should have tried to go over a decade ago when I first learned about this place, but who knew then how popular it was going to become thanks to Instagram and other social media platforms? This year I decided it was finally time to try to obtain permits, and although the process was very frustrating when they became available at the beginning of February, I was lucky and able to secure permits for the exact dates that I wanted at the end of October! Instead of spending our annual backpacking trip to the Grand Canyon exploring the Esplanade of the North Rim, this year we would be spending that time in Havasu Canyon.
Now, let me begin by saying that I have mixed feelings about this trip. On one hand I’m happy that I was able to see this amazing canyon in person since it is a very beautiful place, but on the other hand it was not a very enjoyable experience for me. There were just too many people in the campground and my anxiety was pretty high while we were down there. To make matters worse, it was a huge disappointment for me that I was not able to climb down the steep route at Mooney Falls so I could escape the crowds on a long hike to the Colorado River. I’m not going to get into all the details of the hike to Havasu Canyon since there are more than enough articles and hiking guides on the internet already about Havasupai, so I’ll just share some of the photos I took while we were there.
We left home on Wednesday morning and drove all the way across the Colorado Plateau so we could hike down into Havasu Canyon on Thursday. Along the way we stopped to stretch our legs at Wupatki National Monument in Arizona which we had visited back in April for the first time. At that time the Citadel Pueblo was closed so we decided this would be a good time to return to check it out since it wasn’t far off our route.
Following the short trail past the Nalakiha Pueblo to the Citadel Pueblo.
The view from the ruins on top.
I liked how this wall was built on the volcanic rock below.
After leaving Wupatki we stopped in Flagstaff for lunch and then finished up our drive to Seligman along Historic Route 66 where we spent the night in a motel. On Thursday morning we were up bright and early to finish the rest of the drive to the Hualapai Hilltop Trailhead and managed to snag a parking spot in the main parking lot. We made sure we had all the gear we would need for the next couple of days and started hiking just as the sun was coming up.
The beginning of our descent into Hualapai Canyon on Thursday morning at sunrise.
There were a lot of switchbacks on this section of the trail, but once it reached the bottom of the canyon the trail pretty much followed the wash the rest of the way.
Mount Sinyella was visible for a short time in the distance.
Diane hikes ahead of me in Hualapai Canyon. This part of the hike reminded me of hiking through the esplanade in Hack Canyon and Kanab Creek Canyon on the other side of the Colorado River.
The hike to Havasu Canyon was very pleasant and more beautiful than I was expecting it to be.
This tree in the narrows of Hualapai Canyon caught my attention as we hiked by.
Same Tree Different Side
Nearing the end of Hualapai Canyon as we reached the confluence with Havasu Canyon.
Following the sign to Supai where we stopped to check in and get our wristbands.
This was our very first view of the famous Havasu Falls as we made our way down to the campground area.
We found a nice site with a picnic table next to Havasu Creek shortly before Mooney Falls.
A photo of Fern Spring while no one was around. This is the main source of water in the camping area.
I spent the first evening photographing Havasu Falls at sunset after we had dinner in camp.
An evening view up Carbonate Canyon to Mulgullo Point.
Friday was the day of the trip that I was really looking forward to. I was planning to hike to the confluence of Havasu Canyon with the Colorado River while Diane was going to wait for me at Beaver Falls. We woke up early and started hiking shortly before sunrise since it would be a long hike for me. Unfortunately, we did not make it very far. After starting down the steep descent at Mooney Falls and climbing down through the two tunnels, I was stopped by a steep and slippery section with chains to hold onto that freaked me out pretty good. I tried twice to climb down this section, but I started shaking and just could not do it. I was very disappointed in myself and never even reached the section with ladders below. It really ruined the day for me. I guess if I ever visit the confluence or Beaver Falls, it’s going to have to be coming up from the Colorado River.
After failing to climb down the steep route, we stuck around Mooney Falls for a little while so I could take some photos. This shot was taken from just outside the second tunnel which was about as far as I was able to descend.
Mooney Falls Overlook
This was a nice little rest stop near the top of Mooney Falls.
Descend At Own Risk
After sitting at the top of Mooney Falls for a while, we returned to camp and had a little breakfast while we decided what to do now that we weren’t hiking to the confluence.
This was one of the bridges that we needed to cross to get to our campsite. Diane was not a fan.
Next we headed back up to Havasu Falls so we could get a little swimming in, and of course, take more photos!
We hung out at Havasu Falls for a while and then decided to head over to Fiftyfoot Falls. This actually turned out to be our favorite waterfall of the trip.
I took a bunch of photos from this area since it was such a cool spot to explore!
After leaving Fiftyfoot Falls we finished hiking into the little village of Supai and stopped at the grocery store some drinks and snacks before heading back toward camp. We stopped to visit Navajo Falls on the way back and tried to climb down to the bottom, but it was very muddy and slippery and we turned back after I slipped and fell and scraped up my leg pretty good.
Ghosts of Navajo Falls
The turquoise water of Havasu Creek.
On our way back to the campground we could smell that the fry bread stand at the top of Havasu Falls was open so we stopped there for some fresh fry bread and it was delicious! Then we spent a little more time at Havasu Falls before returning to our campsite for the night.
Since I was unable to hike to the confluence and we had done everything we planned to do on Saturday today instead, we decided that we would hike out a day early on Saturday and take our time driving home instead of hiking out and driving home all on Sunday, which would have made for a really long day.
Diane hikes ahead of me in Hualapai Canyon on our way back up to the trailhead early on Saturday morning.
We were in the shade for most of the hike except for the very last section of the trail before it started switchbacking up and out of the canyon.
A final shot of the trail as we climbed back up to the Hualapai Hilltop. The hike out was actually much easier than I was anticipating since the last climb out of the canyon was at a nice grade and not too steep.
Glad you had the opportunity to experience Havasu One of the best hikes I have ever done. For me, it was almost a 3 day spiritual experience. I did this hike 10 years ago. Called on the phone and made the reservation. The campground was only half full. Isn’t it a shame and a loss that there are places like Havasu and the Wave, and others that because of their natural beauty they have become so popular that many deserving people will not have the opportunity to experience and appreciate them.
I’d argue that The Wave is still a nice experience since only 20 people a day are allowed in Coyote Buttes North…it’s just harder to get the permit initially. Every time that I have gone I’ve rarely seen other people. Now if they up the quota, that will certainly change things. I think I’d put Havasupai in the same category as Antelope Canyon.
Fantastic photos of a beautiful place. Good for you! Thanks for posting!
Thank you Dianne!
Hi Randy, I’ve followed your blog for years, just don’t comment very often. This was a great post for me, as I have long wanted to visit Havasu Falls, but I’m intimidated by the hiking required. I’m now 77 and have bad knees (for many years), so I keep thinking about the helicopter option. Anyway, I always admire your ability to go so many great places, and I actually respect your awareness of your own limitation by not climbing down the falls. We all have limits and it’s wise to know them and honor them, knowing when to stop pushing. Your photos are always outstanding, these even more special for the place you took them. Best always.
Despite some disappointing parts, this still looks like a fun trip. You might have needed to work a little harder than usual to get pics without people though.
Why did you call the trip report “Thousand Below”?
I named it Thousand Below after a band I like, and since the hike is down a couple thousand feet into the Grand Canyon.
That makes sense!