By Tobey Schmidt
IF YOU GO: Havasu Falls and Mooney Falls, Havasupai Indian Reservation
Earlier this semester, I went to a place unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. For a broke college student, finding paradise in the budget is a difficult journey, but Havasu Falls is “top of the bucket list,” worthy and affordable, if you do it right.
Havasu is located within the Havasupai Indian Reservation, which is at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Yes, I said the bottom, the 10-miles-deep bottom. Not so bad — except don’t forget the way back, which of course is 10 miles uphill.
Sometimes beauty is pain, folks.
The unique characteristic of Havasu Falls, other than its location, is the color of the water in the vibrant blue waterfalls and pools. The water is that blue/green color because of the magnesium from mineralization. Though it is rearranged and pushed around by regular large flash floods, it really is as blue as the pictures.
You make reservations for the campground or the lodge in Supai Village by calling the Havasupai Indian Reservation. There are no day hikes allowed on this trail, so you must make a reservation to stay overnight. You’ll want to call at least six months in advance to get a spot. However, don’t give up if you’re set on a date and it’s only a few months out. I was lucky and made my reservations only 3 months in advance, after calling every day for a week, checking to see if anyone had cancelled.
Fees are paid once you reach the village. For each person there is a $5 environmental fee and a $35 entrance fee. If you’re camping, which I recommend, the fee is $17 per person/per night. There is also a lodge, but it is more expensive and a couple miles away from the waterfalls, while the campgrounds are next to them. Also, camping is just more fun, right? All fees have a 10 percent tribal tax.
As for the drive there, once you reach Indian Road 18 it is 60 miles until the parking lot and trailhead. Be sure you have enough gas and physical energy, because getting there can be dismal. The best way is to arrive at the parking lot at night, camp out in your car, and wake up early when it is still cool outside to begin the hike.
There is no waterspout at the parking lot and there are no waterspouts until you get to the village. You need to make sure you have enough water for the 10-mile hike. The way down is not as tough as the way up, but it is long and tiring and of course it’s very hot for much of the year.
Besides hiking, there are options, including horseback or even helicopter to the village. However, after we saw so many horses making the hike up and down the canyon with large coolers and packs strapped to their backs or people riding them, I did some research. Horses on trips like this can be mistreated, and even malnourished. Helicopters are an option, but really: Helicopters clattering into a peaceful environment? [LINK: Tripadvisor comments on horse mistreatment]
The hike down took my friends and me (a group of 12) about 5 hours, with long breaks to snack and drink water. When planning, I suggest you spend two nights down at camp. Give yourself an entire day between the hikes to rest your feet and take a break. The hike up took us about 6 hours, which also included plenty of breaks. We left before the sun came up so it would not be too hot during most of the hike.
We chose a campsite that was in the middle of the split creek, requiring us to cross a bridge to get there. Some of my friends slept in tents, but a few of us brought hammocks to crash in. I set mine up right next the flowing icy-blue water. The only problem we had at the campsite was the squirrels. While we were away they would get into our food, and even chew through bags to get it. Make sure you keep everything deep in a closed pack.
As for my time-spend at the waterfalls, I wouldn’t want to ever give that away. We went to Havasu Falls and Mooney Falls, which are both on either end of the campgrounds. The entire trip felt surreal to me. It was like a good book, one that you want to read over and over.