Havasu Falls in Grand Canyon – “Is that a path?” I asked skeptically as I peered into the huge white clouds that engulfed the abyss below me. We prepared to hike to Havasu Falls. But right now the absence of a clear trace made me doubt the direction on the map.
Soon a passerby came out of the fog and greeted me with a tired smile. Dropping his heavy backpack on the reddish-brown ground on Hualapai Hilltop. “Once you leave, the trail is pretty clear,” he said. Then, almost as an afterthought, he added, “But watch your step on the switchbacks or you’ll fall off a cliff.”
With that helpful suggestion in mind, I strapped on my backpack, fastened my hiking boots, and began my own descent into one of Arizona’s most remote treasures: the legendary blue-green waters of Havasu Falls in Grand Canyon.
Walking Distance to Havasu Falls
The 10-mile hike to the Havasu Cliffs starting at Hualapai Hilltop is by far the cheapest way for budget travelers to reach the falls (there is only a small entrance fee, free for children seven and under). But that’s not the only possibility. The local Havasupai tribe also offers guided horse trips. Also luggage transfer by horse, and helicopter ride down the cliff.
After a dozen turns, the road flattens and follows red sandstone cliffs to the Indian village of Supai. It is eight miles from the Hualapai Hilltop trail. The climb down is not too difficult. Horses and mules pass through several times each day, so there is less chance of getting lost.
However, it is important to be prepared for the heat. The Arizona sun, scorching in the summer and only slightly less wilting in the off-season. This can be a drain on even the most experienced climbers. It’s important to drink plenty of water or you’ll risk dehydration and heatstroke.
The village of Supai, framed on three sides by towering cliff walls and overseen by the perfectly balanced Wigleeva rock formations hailed by local legend as the patron of the tribe, is one of two overnight options for travelers en route to Havasu Falls in Grand Canyon. We chose to spend the night at the tribal run Havasu Lodge in the village (another option is a campsite two miles further up the trail, also run by the tribe). Supai is also home to a small grocery store, cafe, school, helipad, and stables.
Walking Distance to Havasu Falls and Mooney Falls
The famous first waterfall of Supai is only a half-hour walk from the outskirts of the village. Most spectacularly, Havasu Falls makes a loud roar long before you see it.
At Havasu Falls, glowing blue-green water flows into a natural amphitheater carved from the red cliffs. Dozens of small ponds and secondary waterfalls spilled from the larger pool. Each is covered by a crown of sparkling little white waves. After a hike on the sunny cliffs, where shade can be hard to come by, the falls provide a cooling mist and on hot summer days, the pools are often filled with swimmers escaping the scorching heat.
Another mile up the trail is Mooney Falls. The falls are named after a drunk cowboy who fell to his death there, and is punctuated with warning signs that say things like “use with extreme caution.” Beneath Mooney Falls, you must navigate a bewildering lair, narrow caves, wet rocks, slippery stairs, iron handrails, and rusty chains. All were carved in and out of a 200-foot high sandstone cliff. It’s like a natural version of the American Ninja Warrior obstacle course.
Mooney Falls can be safely viewed and enjoyed from above, where the trail turns and offers photographers an ideal vantage point. But caves and stairs are the only way for those who wish to continue following a deeper abyss. Especially brave adventurers might try to navigate the many dead ends and false paths from here. But there are returns to consider as well. Depending on the day, you may want to save energy for the hike back to the lodge or campsite.
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When is the Best Time to Visit Havasu Falls in Grand Canyon
The best time to visit Havasu Falls in Grand Canyon is early spring or late fall when the crowds are less, the views are beautiful, and the heat is manageable.
While the majority of travelers visit in the summer months, temperatures can rise to over 100 degrees inside the cliffs. The condition can quickly become dangerous for those who are not prepared for it. Havasu Falls is accessible year-round, and each season provides a different backdrop for your experience.
If you’re traveling from outside the Southwest, look for flights to Phoenix or Las Vegas. A rental car is also a must from any airport. You will drive at least four hours to reach the trailhead. You could start your trek early into the cliffs to escape the afternoon heat, which may mean spending the night at Hualapai Lodge near the (very loud) railroad tracks in Peach Springs, or past the (cheaper) Grand Canyon Caverns Inn on Route 66. Both are about one an hour’s drive from Hualapai Hilltop, but only the Caverns Inn has a giant replica of the T-Rex in its forecourt.
Planning a Trip to Havasu Falls in Grand Canyon
Visiting Havasu Falls can be done in several ways. For the budget-conscious and physically fit, the most cost-effective route is to hike into the canyon and take all your gear with you. Once you arrive in Supai, you can enjoy the wonders of indoor plumbing at the 24-room Havasupai Lodge or pitch your tent at a campsite two miles further.
Three to four-hour guided horseback trips to the cliffs depart from Hualapai Hilltop between 10:00 am and noon. If you choose to hike but don’t enjoy your return journey on foot, a one-way hike from the cliffs can be arranged at least the day before your departure from the lodge or campsite.
Havasu Canyon is also served by Airwest Helicopters of Arizona, which arranges flights in and out of Supai twice per week during the low season and up to four days per week during busy months such as April to October.
From Supai, it’s an easy hike to Havasu Falls and back. Guided horseback riding tours are also available for inn guests (reservations must be made at least one day in advance). However, if you’re climbing the cliffs, you don’t need a day trip to the falls. You can handle the waterfall hike yourself.
Images of Havasu Falls in Grand Canyon appear everywhere in Grand Canyon National Park. From postcards to travel books to wall calendars. Incredibly, however, only a minority of park visitors have ever seen the emerald green waters in person. But with the right planning, almost anyone can do it. Regardless of fitness level or budget.