Destination Run: Havasu Falls, Arizona
Also known as Havasupai, Havasu Falls in Arizona is – no kidding – one of the most uniquely beautiful trails in the world. Havasu Creek begins as a trickle of melted snow before it winds its way down to Havasu Canyon over 50 miles away. Fabulously, the water temperature somehow remains a perfect 70F year round before splashing down the 100ft waterfall’s turquoise pool. Framed by cottonwood trees, it’s truly an oasis and feels like heaven in the desert. It’s almost a sin to visit the Southwest and not include this incredible destination run in your itinerary. It’s hot, it’s dusty, it’s not easy. But it’s totally worth it.
Considered a wonder of nature, Havasu Falls is just next door to the Grand Canyon and located on the tribal lands of the Havasupai people. ‘Havasupai’ translates as ‘people of the blue-green waters’ in the native language (‘havasu’ means ‘blue-green water’ and ‘pai’ means ‘people’). A high concentration of calcium carbonate is what causes the water here to appear a tropical lagoon-like aqua color. You will pass through one of the most remote villages in the contiguous United States, just before reaching the famous 100ft waterfall at the end of the trail.
You’re definitely going to want to wear those proper trail running shoes. The trail starts out around 5,200ft elevation and is mostly rocky and sandy, with a steep grade of switchbacks for about a mile and a half from the trailhead (up on the way in, down on the way out). This first part of the trail is mostly winding along a ‘wash’ – a dry, exposed riverbed. With no protection from the sun, rest assured this part of your hike will be toasty. This is why you want to leave as early as possible in the morning. After this section, you will enter the canyon, where it’s mostly a mild grade (down on the way in, up on the way out) and the canyon walls offer a little bit of blessed shade. It’s roughly ten miles from the trailhead down to the village.
On the last section, you’ll pass through Supai Village (population is about 200), where there is a restaurant, a cafe, and a lodge. Here you will find restrooms, wifi, and food and water to purchase, but be advised that prices are high. Just remember, the village isn’t the destination – – be respectful, and keep in mind that you’re a visitor on tribal lands. From here, it’s about 1.5 miles to the waterfall, where you can soak your feet in the cool waters! From the trailhead to the falls, you will drop about 2,800ft in elevation.
Keep in mind, the trailhead is about 100 miles away from civilization, so make sure you have everything you need (water, snacks, sunscreen, permit to visit the Havasupai Reservation) before arriving. You’ll need to park your car at the Hualapai Hilltop before checking in with the front desk close to the trailhead. Don’t forget, you have to have a camping reservation to visit Havasu Falls.
As is ever true near sources of water in the desert, you should always be aware of the dangers of flash flooding. Flash flooding occurs when a low lying area (most often a dry creek or riverbed) is rapidly flooded, usually caused by heavy rainfall somewhere nearby or higher in elevation. Flash floods can happen anywhere near a mountain or steep hill (as the water rushes down it gains speed); where the soil is dense or full of clay (the water is poorly absorbed and rises quickly); in a canyon (where rainfall is forced downwards and squeezed through tight spaces, causing it to rise quickly) or in the desert where the ground has been baked dry and absorbs water poorly, causing the water to rise quickly.
If you notice water levels rising, changing to a muddy color or carrying debris, or hear distant thunder (even if it’s sunny where you are), move immediately away from the water source and to higher ground. Flash floods occur most often in the desert from early July to late September during the monsoon season.
Important Tips to Remember
- DO get a permit. Day hiking is not permitted. You are required to purchase a $140 one night camping reservation whether you plan to camp or not. The price is steep, but keep in mind that your tourism is the main income for the Havasupai tribe. Permits are available on www.havasupaireservations.com.
- DO bring plenty of water. Bring at least 2.5L per person, as there is none available until you reach the village. Daytime temperatures in this area often soar to 105F during the summer months (roughly from May to September, but can include April and October).
- DO wear good shoes and plenty of sunscreen/sun protective clothing.
- DO watch out for pack mules on the trail.
- DON’T start this hike later than 10 am. Ideally, you would leave before or by 7 am.
- DON’T forget to bring your ID and credit card. You’ll need them when checking in to the Havasupai Tourist office in Supai village.
- DON’T forget to wear your breathable sports clothing! You’ll be sweating quite a bit on this trail, especially during the long desert summer.