Road Trip: Havasu Falls — an oasis in the Grand Canyon
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Editor’s note: This is the first of two stories about Ross Leonhart’s recent end-of-winter road trip from Vail to San Diego and north to San Francisco, with stops all along the way.
Driving 2,500 miles through five states, you’ll notice some stuff.
After snowboarding 148 days this season, I embarked on a two-week road trip with my two best friends, and roommates, the day after Vail’s Closing Day. We loaded up the Toyota 4Runner with the Thule box on top and headed west, with stops in the Grand Canyon before hitting San Diego and heading north up the California coast.
Of all the things to think about while driving through Utah, Arizona, Nevada and California, a few things kept popping up. First was the fact that we saw more Cruise America RVs than McDonald’s restaurants. And second, I wondered what road trips 20, 30, 50 years ago were like, as well as those first pioneers that came across the American west.
The most comforting thought I had after a two-week adventure was that we here that call the Vail Valley home really do live in a place like nowhere else.
After swinging through Arches National Park, our first stop was two nights in Havasu Falls — an oasis tucked 10 miles into the Grand Canyon.
Now, you might have seen those viral Facebook videos lately of Havasu Falls, but getting there is far from the ease of clicking a play button.
Located on the Havasupai Indian Reservation within the Grand Canyon, getting permits is one of those moments where you blink and it’s booked. Luckily, we had Daniela all over it the day it opened, Feb. 1. Working the phones (unsuccessfully) and the website, she secured our two-night stay.
The Havasupai Tribe administers the land, which is not accessible by road and is about an 10-mile hike through the bowels of the Grand Canyon through the Supai village. With high canyon walls on both sides and the Arizona sun beating down through the giant crack, we lugged our 60-liter backpacks to camp as the natives used horses and mules to carry other people’s gear.
TRIP TIP: The cost for mules into the campground is $121 one-way or $242 round-trip, plus tax. The cost for hiking all of your stuff in and out is priceless (but hard). There’s also a helicopter to and from the village, which operates on a first come, first served basis with a to-be-determined price. The process it takes to wait for the helicopter seems to be the same it takes to hike out, as you have to get there hours early to wait.
HIKING INto havasu
After about 7 miles into the 8-mile hike to the Supai village (it’s another 2 miles to the campgrounds), the trail through the dry, rocky Grand Canyon begins transforming into an oasis, with perfectly clear water streaming by and creating life in the form of lush greenery.
The Supai village is a welcoming sign after the hike in. It’s hard to imagine a culture thriving in those conditions for 800 years. In 1919, the government restriced the tribe to 518 acres in a side canyon. The tribe has since had their 188,000 acres of homelands returned to them, which makes up the reservation today.
The tribe of over 600 mainly work for the tourism enterprises that come to Havasu Falls.
After checking in at the village, a 1-mile hike took us to Havasu Falls, and another 1 mile to our campgrounds, right along the flowing water and encompassed by the towering canyon walls.
The 10-hour hike takes four to seven hours. We did it in four, as we’re used to hiking mountains and were also moving on some adrenaline.
TRIP TIP: Keep lightening the load of your pack. In hindsight, I took a lot of things I didn’t need, and as a group we could have consolidated a little better. This was our first backpacking trip, so we were learning.
As a hammock camper, I set up right over the raging water. Freeze dried food prepared in a Jetboil was more like fuel for our bodies, but the lasagna was actually tasty. After the long hike in, I fell asleep before dark and awoke in my hammock to a peak of the star-filled sky with the canyon walls surrounding me.
Once at the campsite, there are five waterfalls within hiking distance. The day we got in we hung out at Havasu Falls, located just before the campgrounds, and hiked to Beaver Falls and Mooney Falls the next day. (There’s also Fifty-Foot Falls and Old Navajo Falls on the hike in.)
TRIP TIP: There are bathrooms at the campsite, drinkable water flowing naturally to refill bottles/camelbaks and if you bring cash, there’s even a small hut serving hot food.
Mooney Falls is located right on the trail past the campground. It’s massive. The 2-mile hike from the campgrounds past Mooney Falls to Beaver Lake is sketchiest right at Mooney Falls. It’s pretty much climbing down a rock face with handrails, and it’s slick from moisture from the gushing waterfall.
Once down the rock face and to the base of Mooney Falls, the hike to Beaver Falls is through lush greenery sandwiched in the Grand Canyon and crosses the creek multiple times.
TRIP TIP: If hiking to Beaver Falls, I would recommend wearing your water shoes. I went with my hiking boots because I heard the rock face was difficult, but then I got blisters on my feet from taking my boots on and off crossing the creek and getting them wet, where my roommates cruised right through in their water shoes, but struggled a bit on the rock face.
Hiking around in the Grand Canyon oasis was truly a trip of a lifetime, but we had other adventures to get to. The 10-mile hike out was brutal as we had just backpacked 10 miles one day and then hiked 4 miles the next, and the blisters. Austin dialed in his inner mountain man and crushed out the hike in under four hours, while Daniela and I got out in five hours. I had thoughts of helicopter rides out.
We camped atop the Grand Canyon that night we hiked out from Havasu Falls, knowing that while we have many more adventures to go on this two-week road trip, Havasu Falls was going to be very difficult to top.
Luckily, Vegas was up next.
Arts & Entertainment editor Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2984 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out pictures from his road trip on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.