If you want to skip the best part, you can scroll to the end and check out what I learned from this trip, things I wish I did/will do differently, and some tips. Otherwise…
If you asked me if I was down to leave the comfort of my home at 2am to drive four hours out to Arizona to start a 10-mile hike at 7am while carrying 60lbs in the November cold, I’d say, “What’s stopping us from leaving right this moment?” That’s exactly what I did. Havasupai Falls – home to the people of the blue-green waters. The waterfall you always come across on your explore page in the travel and nature section. The extremely-difficult-to-reserve- by-phone-like-why-is-it-so-hard-to-lock-this-destination-in-lord-it-just-sold-out-thirty-minutes-after-dropping. You know? That one.
I was blessed enough to go because my elder nephew (by family tree) Cyrus was gifted by the Havasupai gods six spots for November 29-30. Initially, I turned down the offer, but Cyrus has a way of being totally convincing. We had a day and a half to do the damn thing and I was ready for it. As for the roll call, it was Aimee, Alexa, Chris, Cyrus; who are all from New Jersey and lastly myself reppin LA/LV.
Cyrus and I met in Vegas and ran some last minute errands for the trip. We picked up the rest of the crew at McCarran International Airport at around 11 p.m. It was already off to a ridiculous start: coming straight off the plane, a quick meal at In-N-Out, a stop to double check all our gear, and on the road by 2 a.m. We drove through the night until the sunrise burned the morning sky revealing the dark road we’ve been on for 4 1/2 hours. We got to the parking lot trailhead at around 7 a.m. hopped out of our rental into the cold and began unloading our gear making sure we were ready for the trek ahead of us. It did take a while to make sure we took advantage of the bathrooms before we started. You know, considering we just had In-N-Out.
All of us were hyped and energized with our hearts pumping like we’d already finished. I also downed 2 canned coffees so that’s what had me going. At 07:48 we were en route to Havasupai Falls greeted with downhill zig-zags and a view of the vast canyon ahead of us. Every step through the trail felt so picturesque. Eventually, canyon walls towering over us. I got to say, this was one of the most scenic hikes I’ve ever done. The terrain was constantly changing, leaving me amazed in all its grandeur.
By mile 7, the hike was taking its toll on all of us. Our knees weak, arms were heavy. We took frequent breaks to catch our breath and rest our legs. But finally – finally we found hope in the sounds of running water, trees, and a soft path to walk on. We knew we were close and a second wind pushed us forward. Fences began appearing, mules were grazing, and dogs started walking alongside us. We arrived. The humble Supai Village I’ve only read about up until this point was filled with travelers making their way in and out of Havasupai.
Cyrus checked us in at the main office and we received our tag and wristbands to stay in the campgrounds. And like that, we were off again trying to make good time on the last two miles of the hike. Now, this is where I personally started to feel my strength whither. Walking downhill with 60lbs on my back was starting to kill my knees (you’re only supposed to carry 20% of your body weight and I was well over that).
As kind as everyone we passed was, their sense of distance – ours included was totally off. We were told we were a half mile away from the campgrounds for 2 miles. The longest half mile of my life. It felt infinite – and my aches grew intensely. At our painfully slow pace, we saw groups of people stopping on a steep downhill stretch. We got closer and closer, a droning roar gradually grew louder and there it was, Havasupai Falls. The destination I’ve only admired through a tiny iPhone screen right in front of me. My bag suddenly didn’t feel all that heavy anymore. We did it. We spent some time at the overlook taking it all in. We then made our way down to the campgrounds and set up home base.
Shortly after we put on our water shoes and headed to the base of Havasupai Falls. It was about 4pm at the point and despite it being chilly, I didn’t come all this way to not jump in, so I ran and dove in. Trey Songz would’ve been proud. I was immersed, my mind clear, body relaxed and my soul rejuvenated. All was well in the moment.
The daylight began to disappear so we made our way back to camp. We enjoyed a buffet of instant meals lit with headlamps and lanterns in the midst of gusty of winds. The beef stroganoff was the clear winner, so we recommend that for your next outdoorsy instant meal. At the first sign of rain, we retreated to our tents. The downpour came and nature had us out like a light. We slept for twelve hours. Much needed rest considering most of us only had three to four hours prior and just came off a plane.
We woke up with one thing in mind – Mooney Falls. It was our last day and we knew we could only go as for as Mooney so we could secure a helicopter ride back to the trailhead. Chris and Maria decided to head to Supai Village (smart & safe) while Aimee, Alexa, Cyrus and I grabbed our daypacks and headed towards Mooney (kinda smart & kinda safe but worth it). It wasn’t long before we made it to the drop-off and this force of nature stole our gaze. And what do you know, it started raining before we made our descent down to the bottom. It definitely made the climb down more exciting.
Aimee, Alexa, and Cyrus went before me into the dark tunnel. I entered and walked down the carved steps to find the falls teasing me at the end. I looked down and I could see the three of them climbing down ladders, hanging on to ropes and chains minding their steps. Everything was so slick and muddy. On top of that, I was climbing down with one hand and had my camera in the other. Thankfully, I made it down without breaking a bone in my body or tearing my ACL. And now it was just us and Mooney falls. Definitely one of the most exhilarating parts of our trip.
We spent a good hour at Mooney Falls and made our way back to camp. The rain stopped, the clouds cleared, and we could finally feel the warmth of the sun. We packed our belongings and left for Supai Village. These last two miles back would determine whether or not we would be able to catch a helicopter back to the trailhead. If you weren’t aware, us going to Mooney Falls was a risky move on our part. A lot of people line up for helicopter rides as early as 6 a.m. just to secure a spot. And here we are trying to make it by noon. The uphill hike was rigorous, the fresh mud weighed down our steps and we sure as hell did not want to do eight more miles of this.
We trudged onward and reached the village. We approached the line where everyone was waiting to board the helicopter and signed our names onto the list. We were on the top of page four for the day. They gave us an estimate of four hours until we can have a ride back, so on that note, we went to the village cafe. If you’d like to know we ordered: chicken tenders, three curly fries, two Havasupai tacos, one burger, and two frybreads amongst ourselves. It was a well deserved and satisfying meal.
Four hours pass and we’ve received word that we might not make the helicopter ride cut because the sun was setting and the wind was picking up, which meant we would have to walk eight miles back to the trailhead in the dark. At the sound of that, I was hoping for the best but preparing myself for the worse. It wasn’t ideal, but I had to be ready for it. Anxiously, we waited and finally heard our names called. We were relieved, up until we walked over and the man in charge told us he could only take three out of the four of us because the spots were filled by the natives who have priority. I died a little inside but was ready to do the damn thing. I volunteered as tribute so Aimee, Alexa, and Cyrus could take the chopper back and I was okay with it.
But you know, the good lord wasn’t going to let me walk eight miles by myself in the dark. It was right down to the wire, but I was able to take the last chopper of the day. What took us five and a half hours to hike was a fifteen-minute helicopter ride. I was able to appreciate the views above as the sun set as I did below when it rose.
Things I Learned / Tips
- Book more than a day. From experience, you’ll need more than that. I say three days would be perfect to enjoy the reservation without feeling rushed at each fall. Like I said, I like to take my time when I travel to such beautiful locations. Sometimes I’ll stay at a spot for 2 hours just sitting and eating a sandwich. It be like that.
- Start early. I like to take my time on hikes so I can really observe and take all the photos and videos I need without it interfering with the time it takes to get to my destination. If that means starting at 3 a.m. to have an ample amount of time to maximize daylight and to enjoy the trail that’s what I’m going to do. Also during the Spring and Summer months, it’s best to avoid the hottest times of the day, so it’s suggested you start early to avoid the hot climates. Safety first guys.
- Pack smart. Be mindful of what you take with you. On long treks like this, every ounce counts. The 30lbs may not feel like anything at the start, but when you’re hitting the eighth mile going uphill you’ll just want to throw your bag off a cliff. I was talking to some other first timers and they told me they regretted packing so many extra items like clothes they didn’t even touch. So if you got a bunch of extra outfits you might flex – just might, leave it. Your body will thank you later, says the guy who carried 60lbs smh.
- If you want to carry this item, I would say it’s worth bringing a small massage ball. I was anticipating how sore I was going to be after the hike, so I brought mine with me and it came in so clutch for my shoulders and my legs. Being able to roll out my sore muscles helped me out a great deal, but isn’t totally necessary.
- One thing I learned from my research I found useful was to carry an empty gallon or two with you when you hike. At Supai Village and the campgrounds, you have access to clean drinking water. Carrying an empty gallon gave our camp water not only to drink but to have for our MRE’s (Meal Ready-to-Eat) and coffee in the morning. Convenience is the key here. Plus it would’ve sucked to walk through the rainy night to get water several times. Make it easier on yourself.
- Something I didn’t do was bring a clothesline, especially if you’re gonna jump in the water. You’ve got towels, swimming trunks, socks, etc. This might be a common one for regular outdoor lovers, but if this is your first time, you’ll want to bring one so you can hang your clothes and other items to dry.
- Last bonus pro-tip I picked up. No need to show up to reserve a spot for a helicopter ride so early should you choose to fly back. While we were waiting to board for our helicopter ride back to the trailhead we got to talking with one of the regulars who has lived in the area and raised his family around Havasupai. He told us people waste their time trying to line up for the helicopter ride as early as 6 a.m. and don’t get to leave until 2pm – 3pm. They spend all their time sitting in the village when they could’ve been exploring. Take your time and enjoy the falls. Ideally, you’ll want to get your name down on the list by noon. Just be smart and cautious about it and keep a good gauge on your time. It’ll be worth it, I promise. You’ll be happy you spent your time in Havasupai’s beauty opposed to sitting waiting for your ride back the entire day. You should be able to fly out of there by 4pm if this is the case. They don’t stop flying until the sun sets so this is even better during Spring and Summer when the sun doesn’t set until later. Ol’ dude told us we made the right call on our part.
Havasupai Indian Reservations is wonderfully breathtaking. All the photos you see on the internet don’t do it justice. So I urge you, I implore you to try and make it out here with your favorite people. You’ll love every second of it. I for one didn’t make it all the way to the end of Havasupai, so I’ll definitely be back to see to some unfinished business.
Thanks for reading. Until next time, safe travels.
* Additional photos from Aimee, Alexa, Chris, Cyrus, & Maria.