Exploring Havasu Falls and The Havasupai Reservation

Exploring Havasu Falls and The Havasupai Reservation

By Lindsay MacNevin

It started off as a pipe dream—a place so magical and unattainable, a land that oozed deep colors of green and where towering waterfalls with bright blue turquoise waters crashed down. 

Pouring over Instagram photos for years, researching how to get there, when to go and who to go with became my obsession for two years. I longed to find out if this place was real, if the colors were really that dramatic, if people really did live there without car access and just what kind of soul searching I might do. 

No, I am not talking about a magical rainforest in South America nor a far-flung island in the middle of the ocean. This fairytale place happens to be right in Americans’ own backyard, just 10 miles from the rim of the Grand Canyon, outside the national park. 

Havasupai: The People Of The Blue-Green Waters

It’s the reservation for the Havasupai, the people of the blue-green waters. The Havasupai Reservation is the last place in the USA where mail is still carried out by mules. According to the tribe’s website, approximately 20,000 people visit the reservation’s 188,077 acres every year.

This sacred native reservation limits the number of visitors to preserve the land and keep it sacred and uncrowded. One must pack out everything brought in, and permits to visit Havasupai and Havasu Falls typically sell out within days of the start of the season in February. 

As I strapped on my backpack, tightened the laces on my hiking boots and double-checked my water bottle, I stopped for a moment at the start of the trail. Closing my eyes, I vowed to remember every detail about this place—every waterfall, every rock and every experience I was about to have. 

It’s no easy feat reaching the Havasupai campsite; it is a gruelling 10-mile hike through the red-rock walled canyon that seems to discharge heat from its very walls. Luckily a well-worn path provides direction and soon enough I find myself deep in the canyon walls, surrounded by nothing but blue skies, wild horses and a few other hikers. The landscape is stark and, aside from the red walls, lacks any other sort of color, which makes me think twice about this so-called land of blue green waters. 

Mile Number 8: The Village of Supai

It is mile number eight when everything changes. It’s the moment when you reach the village of Supai, where 400-to-500 members of the Havasupai tribe call home. Although the village is dusty and unassuming, the people greet me with kindness and cold sodas—a welcome treat after a long hike. 

Hours could be spent finding out more about the Supai people, asking questions such as why and how they have managed to keep their traditional language fluent throughout the community, what does this land mean to them, and more. With thoughts of this tribe in my mind, I head out towards the campsite and towards the promise of waterfalls. 

The dry, dusty desert landscape ends when bright green trees and bushes start emerging on the sides of the trails, and I begin to come across some of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever experienced. 

Bright red canyon walls surround lush green vegetation with blue-green waters pouring through in between. The combination of colors takes my breath away and I gasp under my breath, “welcome to Havasupai.” I learn later that the first falls I came across on day one are known as Little Navajo. 

Havasu Falls

A short walk later and the blue waters get even sharper in color—if that is even possible—and I get my first look at Havasu Falls. Havasu Falls is by far the most well-known of the waterfalls. I discover Havasu pouring water just over 100 feet into a pool of inviting water. 

Many visitors here will spend their days at Havasu Falls, jumping off the surrounding smaller waterfalls, swimming in the warm pools and simply feeling the power of the waterfall. What they miss out on is the other waterfalls and impressive hikes that await. I hadn’t come to blow up an inflatable tube and float in the rivers; I had come to explore the area. Luckily for me there were five major waterfalls and countless smaller ones to explore, with each of the falls taking you on a different path through the canyon. 

As I spent the next three days hiking through trails with greenery as tall as me, jumping off waterfalls into travertine pools, slipping into underwater caves and diving through the actual falls it began to occur to me I never wanted to leave. 

Although I managed to see all five big waterfalls (Fifty Foot Falls, Havasu Falls, Little Navajo Falls, Beaver Falls and Mooney Falls), there was so much left to discover. From ancient legends as to why this land is sacred and hidden waterfalls that led to a path of bright pink flowers to old mines with hundreds of caves within, I hadn’t even begun to scrape the surface of this incredible place. What I did find though was a place that truly seemed magical. I found a place that rocked my soul to its core, that made me remember that our world is a sacred place and that we need to protect it and take care of it. 

Havasupai reminded me that beauty exists all around us, whether it be in the deep of the canyon walls or in the eyes of a Supai child eating a blue popsicle on a hot day. And at the end of the week I very happily packed out everything I brought in, dunked my toes in the water one last time and trudged out 10 miles with my head held high, knowing I had experienced something like never before. 

Go there

The Havasupai Tribe manages the Havasu Canyon. To reach the village of Supai, visitors must hike (mules are optional help), ride horses, of fly by helicopter over the stretch of 8 miles into the canyon. The campground is another 2-mile hike from the village. 

The parking lot and entrance to the hiking trail to Supai and the campsite starts at Hualapai Hilltop. Hualapai Hilltop is 66 miles from the nearest access to gas, food and water in Peach Springs, Arizona, so arrive prepared and have your permits secured ahead of time. Once in Supai, there is a cafe and trading post  that sells food and water.

Ensure that you have paid the entry fee ($35 + 10% tax) and the environmental care fee ($5). There are no same-day in-out passes, so be prepared to either pay the camping fee ($17 + 10% tax per person per night) or reserve one of the 24 rooms at the Havasupai Lodge, which sleep up to four people and start at $140 per room. Please note that the tribe’s website says prices are subject to change. To pay for entry and camping fees, call 928-448-2121 or email httourism0@havasupai-nsn.gov. The email for the lodge is htlodge0@havasuapi-nsn.gov
For more information, visit the Havasupai tribe’s site: http://www.havasupai-nsn.gov.

Published: 8/12/2016

When Lindsay isn't jet-setting around the world or racing to hit deadlines, she can be found drinking a pint of craft beer watching the Blue Jays game. As a freelance travel, beer and wine writer she spends most of her time on the go, seeking out incredible experiences. She can often be seen losing herself in a good book, tasting delicious wines and expanding her ever-growing collection of beer growlers from around the world.