Engulfed in massive red rock cliffs dotted with cacti and the occasional bighorn sheep, lies a collection of unique waterfalls and pools flowing through a vibrant turquoise river.
This is Havasupai, and this naturally beautiful landscape is deep within the most remote Native American reservation, which is home to the Havasupai tribe. Closed to the public, this oasis in the middle of the Arizona desert is open only to a limited number of individuals each year who are lucky enough to reserve a camping pass.
After 3 long, heart-breaking years of failing to acquire a camping reservation, I finally caught my freaking break this year! Woohoo! Who would’ve thought the reservations were going to be harder to get than Coachella tickets? It took 8 of my friends with 15 of our devices to overcome the masses and server overloads to call dibs on just 2 spots. Thank goodness my OG homie, Bobby used all his luck for the year and scored our tickets. Bro of the week!
The first day of our reservation came, and we found ourselves at the start of the trail, called ‘Hilltop’ with 45+ pound backpacks strapped on each of our backs, with what we thought were the essentials for 3 days in the middle of a desert oasis. The hike into the canyon is a 10-mile descent off the grid and into the unknown, full of dust, lots of sun, and rocks and boulders as you trek down through a dry riverbed. The miles dragged on, but we made it to the campsite and pitched our tents and hammocks right on the riverbank, with nothing around us but rushing water and fiery red canyon walls that pointed up to a starlit sky.
Waking up on day 2 called for a quick reality check. I really am here, in paradise!!! Enjoyed a morning meditation in my hammock with my feet in the river, and then we packed up and took off for another hike to Beaver Falls which is 3 miles deeper into the canyon (does adding 6 more miles between two 10-mile days make us crazy?)
To get to Beaver Falls we had to climb down from the top of Mooney Falls and then do multiple river crossings over the span of 3 miles. Seems easy enough, until we began the 98 foot descent to the base of Mooney Falls, relying on rotting wooden ladders and chains and posts that are simply shoved into the wet clay walls. By chance, we met the lawyer for the tribe in Flagstaff the day before our trip, and he explained that since the falls are on sovereign tribal land, people cannot sue the tribe should they get injured during their visit. Because of this, all safety protocol and standards are basically thrown out the door (or down the river) and we saw a lot of “at your own risk” warnings.
We made it safely down to the base of Mooney, took off on the hike and found ourselves in Narnia…or Jurassic Park…or paradise! It was out of this world gorgeous down in the river canyon. We crossed back and forth through the turquoise water and trekked through surreal fields of ivy as tall as our chest. We scrambled up boulders the color of bonfire embers and ducked under flowering trees that made natural arches as they grew over the trail.
Beaver Falls is different from the other waterfalls in Havasupai because it is a collection of smaller, wider falls rather than one massive powering waterfall like Mooney or Havasu falls. The water in Havasupai REALLY IS that turquoise color you see here. I was doubtful before coming here as to whether it would really be that bright turquoise like I had seen in pictures, but it is! The water gets its unique color from the abundance of minerals like magnesium and calcium flowing through it. These minerals also build up and combine with clay, sticks, and rocks to create hundreds of lips and pools that you see throughout the canyon.
This place feels like magic. I feel as though you can only find nature this pure, this untouched, this beautiful and this real on Native American lands. Their spirit flows through here, you can just feel it. Everything is alive and humming with positive energy.
Woke up on our last morning and hopped in the cold, clear water below Havasu Falls before starting our long hike home. The first 9 miles out were at a slight uphill grade, which I was definitely feeling in my entire body. The last mile, which also felt like the longest, takes you up some 5,000 feet by steep switchbacks up the canyon wall to Hilltop, but we channeled our inner Rocky Balboa and marched to the top in record time. I was in zombie mode as my feet were moving without my mind even telling them to, I was just focusing on the images of a cold beer and pizza waiting for me at the finish line.
Havasupai’s beauty and positive energy far exceeded my expectations, and I have stories I’ll tell forever! This was the experience of a lifetime, and I can’t recommend it enough. Nor can I thank my friend Bobby enough for bringing me along! If you ever have the opportunity to adventure into Havasupai, make sure you say “yes”.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, questions or concerns about going to Havasupai. Also let me know your thoughts on this post as well! I know it was lengthy, but I had to do my best to transfer the magic into words and pictures for you.
Happy trails and happy travels!