I HADN’T heard of Havasu Falls until I stumbled across a photo of it on Instagram a few years ago. I was amazed by the terraces filled with aqua water, the vivid rock, and the rushing falls. I wondered if such a magical place really existed?

In February, a friend was lucky to snag four Havasupai permits — due to high demand, they’re very difficult to get (at the time of publication reservations are not being accepted until further notice). We immediately started brainstorming how to make this the most epic girls’ trip ever. Here are some of the highlights—and what we want to remember for the next time we go.

On packing

Packing checklist:

  • sunscreen
  • hiking poles
  • baby wipes
  • clothing layers
  • drybags
  • water filter
  • trash bags
  • day pack
  • shoes that have grip while wet

There is no phone service, so don’t bother bringing a portable power pack for your phone. Dry bags are important, and it’s good to tuck a light daypack in your backpacking bag. There are plenty of water sources, and we found that a gravity water filter kit was the best option for our group. There aren’t showers, so don’t even bother with most of your toiletries, but you’ll be packing your trash out, so save space for that.

Make sure you have water in your car, because you’ll definitely want it upon your return to the parking lot. As far as other beverages, alcohol isn’t allowed, so please be respectful of the rules set by the Havasupai tribe. This is their land, and we felt hugely fortunate to be allowed to camp there for three nights.

Hikes and distances

Distances (all one way):

  • Trailhead to campground: 10 miles
  • Trailhead to village: 8 miles
  • Campground to Mooney Falls: 0.5 miles
  • Campground to Beaver Falls: 4 miles
  • Campground to Colorado River: 8 miles

Most people pitch a tent or sleep in their cars at the Hualapai Hilltop parking lot the night before hiking into Havasu canyon. It’s 10 miles from the trailhead to the campground in Supai, and you’ll drop about 2500 feet, so keep that in mind for your return hike. When you hit mile 8, you’ll arrive at the village, which is where the ranger station is located. From the campground, the hike to Mooney Falls is .5 miles (more on that below), Beaver Falls is 4 miles, and the Colorado River is 8.

Options to hiking

We carried our own bags (mine was 50+ pounds, thanks to 18 pounds of camera gear), but if you don’t want to do that, you can pay for mules and horses to carry it for you. But I think that this is cheating, and due to the number of people who do it, much of the trail is littered with manure, which really detracts from the beauty of the place.

You can also take a helicopter in and out, but it’s only available a few days a week. While I’m grateful options like these exist for those who physically cannot hike in, if you truly want the most real Havasupai experience and you’re physically able, tough it out. It’s a backpacking trip, not glamping.

On weather

Photo: All photos by Elisabeth Brentano

In early April, the overnight lows were still in the 30s, so be sure to check the weather before you go. The water may look like the swimming hole of your dreams, but it’s cold. It’s well worth it, and there’s even a rope swing at the bottom of Mooney Falls, which I suggest you try at least once.

A note about wildlife

Do:

  • Store your food in heavy-duty bear bag/canister
  • Use ziplock bags for opened food packages (stored in bear bag/canister)

Don’t:

  • Feed wild animals!

The squirrels in Havasupai are aggressive, quick, smart, and massive. They actually look like they have biceps. They have been known to chew through tents to get to food, and they are strong enough to take a large stuff-sack of treats and carry it 200 feet from your campsite. I know because that happened to us. Either keep your food on you at all times, or use a heavy duty bear bag (or canister) and bury that in your tent. To be extra safe, use a ziplock bag inside the bear bag for previously opened bags and fruit.

Mooney Falls

I’ve done some pretty wild things over the years and I’m in great physical shape, but the ladders down to Mooney Falls (and Beaver Falls, which is part of the same hike) threw even me for a loop. It’s only a .5 mile “hike,” but it’s down a wet, slippery rock wall with nothing but wobbly chains and soaked wooden beams beneath your feet for the last half. It’s doable, but just make sure you have proper (grippy) footwear and know what you’re getting yourself into. And remember that all the natural features here are sacred to the Havasupai.

Try the fry bread

If the squirrels steal all of your MREs and Clif bars, you’ll be happy to know that fry bread is available at the village — and sometimes at a stand near the campground entry. Fry bread is dangerously addictive deep-fried bread dough. You can get it wrapped around a burger, or you can slather Nutella and powdered sugar all over it. Perfect carbs after one of the hikes and it might save space in your pack to plan meals out for a few days.

On valuables

As in any tourist destination, it’s wise to keep your valuables locked up or on your body. Grand Canyon, Zion, Lake Powell: Play it safe.

Don’t forget to put the camera down

Pictures and videos are fine, but here, in this magical place, put away your phones and cameras and be fully present. You might only get to do this once in your life, and if you’re spending the entire time trying to document it with your electronics, you won’t be using your five senses to make memories. From the mist on your face to the sounds of the rushing creek, take a step back from technology and allow yourself to connect deeply with the landscape around you.

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