Bright turquoise waters stream through red sandstone cliffs and pour over grand cascades at the Waterfalls of Havasupai, one of the best-kept secrets of the Grand Canyon. Originally only three falls existed here, but in 2008 a flash flood redirected the flow of water and, from the chaos, two new waterfalls formed. There are now a total of five dramatic waterfalls to explore, including the Upper Navajo Falls, Lower Navajo Falls, Havasu Falls, Mooney Falls, and Beaver Falls.
The waterfalls are home to the Havasupai Indians whom the falls are named after. “Havasupai” actually means “people of the blue-green water,” and they’ve lived in the Grand Canyon for well over eight hundred years. Known for being the only permanent (and continuous) inhabitants of the Grand Canyon, they communicate using a rare Upland Yuman language that is understood by fewer than five hundred inhabitants of the reservation. Since settlers came across the area in the late 1800s, there have been extensive battles over the land that the Havasupai originally called home. Today many acres of land have been returned to the Havasupai, and they remain one of the few tribes in North America who still inhabit their original homeland.
There are a few ways to travel to get to these waterfalls. Your first option is to simply hike the trail. The terrain of the trail isn’t terribly difficult to hike, but it is pretty long at a distance of ten miles. Thankfully towering canyon walls allow for some shade along the way in the hot summer season, but be aware that you’ll still be in the sun for at least a few miles during the first portion of the trail. If you’re heading out in the summer, it’s recommended you bring at least two liters of water and that you embark on your hike as early as possible, preferably around 5 a.m. or so. Once you get to the campground, you’ll be able to venture out to the different waterfalls that are anywhere from .5 to 4 miles from the immediate campground area.
So after hiking ten miles to get to this spot, you might be wondering about the best way to get back. Well, there are several options. You can camp at one of the campgrounds or stay at a lodge near the campground overnight and then hike back the next morning. You can also book a helicopter flight to return to where you started. It’s not too expensive at $85, and it will have you at your starting point in about five minutes. Also I’ve been told that you can have your backpacking gear delivered by the helicopters (or even mules), thus making your hikes a little more bearable. In any event, as exhausting as some of these options may sound for getting to and from the Waterfalls of Havasupai, once you take dip in the cool blue waters and relax under the pouring waterfalls, fatigue will more than likely be the last thing on your mind.
Of course if you’re not up for the hike to get there in the first place, you can always book helicopter trips to get you to the falls and back, but, just remember, helicopters aren’t impervious to weather, so they may not always be available. Also don’t assume that the helicopter trips are designed as scenic flights that take you over the waterfalls, the Grand Canyon, and that sort of thing. If you’re planning on seeing the spectacular aerial scenes of the Grand Canyon, look into booking a separate trip.
Finally another option is to consider guided horse or mule rides that will take you to your destination and back. For a round-trip mule ride, it is likely to cost you anywhere from $120 to $250. There’s some talk about the horses not being treated as well as many believe they should, and I’ve been told that several of the animals have even looked a little sickly at times. I haven’t personally experienced that, but if you are sensitive to animals’ needs, then you may not enjoy the horseback ride and may want to consider other options, just to be on the safe side.
- After rainstorms, the beautiful turquoise water of the falls turns muddy brown, so think about ways to schedule alternate dates for your trip to the falls in case of bad weather.
- If you are planning on camping, then make reservations ahead of time. Not only do the reservations fill up quickly, but if you just show up without any reservations you will be charged twice the rate: $117 per person/per night!
- Consider traveling with a group to receive a group discount on camping costs.