Hiking to the Bottom of the Grand Canyon
By Sharon Miller
The most beautiful part of the Grand Canyon is not in the Grand Canyon National Park. You can’t see it from the North Rim or from the more popular South Rim.
It’s actually on the Havasupai Indian Reservation, which is just south of the national park, which is a ten-mile hike. However, it’s not as bad as it sounds, except for the first half mile during which we cover about 85% of the 2000 foot drop in elevation; the hike is just a long downward slope.
The trailhead starts at Hualapai Hilltop, only a four-hour drive from Flagstaff, Arizona, and offers only a couple of port-a-potties and a large parking area.
A 4 a.m. Start
It was still pitch black in the canyon as Walter and I prepared ourselves for the hike. At 4 a.m., it may seem early to begin, but we knew that temperatures within the canyon can rise above 110ºF, and we wanted to be at the campgrounds before the heat set in.
We had arranged ahead of time for our large packs and food to be carried down to the campsites by pack mules, and despite the exorbitant cost of $150, it is recommendable for it makes our hike more relaxing and enjoyable.
By the time we finally set off, the sun was just beginning to color the sky with a pinkish hue, so we still had to use our headlights to navigate the switchbacks.
First Trip Down
Due to our early start, we had plenty of time, and it is our first trip down, Walter and I hung back to take pictures and enjoy the scenery. Two hours later, we were getting close, because the dry, dusty, red rock started to give way to the lush greens of a jungle.
We heard the water of Havasu Creek ambling past, although we couldn’t see it. At 9 a.m., we meandered into Supai, a small Indian village about two miles from the campsite. We stopped at the general store, which is the first thing you encounter entering the village, and picked up a couple of Snickers bars.
After checking in at the camping office, we continued through the village and started the final two miles of the hike towards the campgrounds.
Beautiful Waterfalls and First Campsite
As we neared the campgrounds, we saw three falls. The first was the smallest, Navajo Falls, falling only 75 feet into a swimming hole. After about another half mile, we can hear the roar of Havasu Falls, a breathtaking view.
We found ourselves standing on top of the falls looking down 100 feet into a crystal-clear swimming hole that leads into the creek that flows through the campgrounds.
We had three full days to explore the canyon and all its trails. We survived on canned tuna-fish, ramen noodles, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, trail mix, granola bars, and instant oatmeal. We hung up our food bags in the trees to avoid critters creeping into our site at night.
Rustic Havasupai Campsites
Everywhere we went, we had to take everything we had brought with us, including garbage and scraps at the Havasu campgrounds. The campgrounds are rustic with no running water or electricity.
There is a small spring for drinking water but boiling it was advisable, and there was drinkable water from the chlorinated tap. Most of the campsites also offer a picnic table and port-a-potties at the campgrounds’ entrance, but we provided our own toilet paper.
Our daily showers consisted of jumping into the creek for a swim, and although you can bring biodegradable soap, we chose to let nature take its course and be dirty for five days.
Mooney Falls: 200 Feet
Our days were spent hiking, swimming or just relaxing in the sun. One hike that must be made was Mooney Falls, the most majestic of the three waterfalls, located a mile from the camp’s entrance.
Mooney Falls plunges 200 feet, and only accessible by climbing down a very steep and slippery trail. At one point, we actually had to lower ourselves down the ropes.
With extra time or energy, another great hike would be Beaver Falls, which is about a six-mile hike, round-trip, or even all the way to the Colorado River, which is about a ten-mile round-trip. I would only recommend these hikes if you are able to leave extremely early in the morning and are in good physical condition.
Both hikes require being in the extreme mid-day heat, crossing the creek several times (often through deep water) and climbing up steep cliffs with ropes. Make sure to bring plenty of water if you decide to tackle these adventures, as well as water shoes to change into when crossing the river.
A 5 a.m. Start
On the fifth day, we set out about 5 a.m., hoping to beat the mid-day heat again. The hike wasn’t too bad even though it was an upward slope. Nevertheless, the last half mile was brutal, except for our way down.
Hiking almost straight up on the switchbacks, at the end of the ten-mile hike when the sun is already high in the sky, there were moments when I thought I wasn’t going to make it.
However, after frequent rest stops and plenty of water, we did make it and as we loaded up the car, I looked out over the canyon and found it hard to imagine that the Eden of the Havasupai really did exist somewhere down there amongst all of that glowing red rock.
National Park Service Grand Canyon website
Havasu Tribe website
Phone: (928) 448-2237
Fees: $35 entry fee per person
$17 per person per night, $5 Environmental fee per person. The minimum stay is 3 nights if you’re camping
$150 round-trip (rent pack mule/ride horse down)
Make campground reservations at least 3 months in advance online only.
What to Bring:
Bathing Suit, Shorts, T-shirts, Underwear, Fleece, Hat, Sunglasses, Socks, Hiking Shoes, Water Shoes, Sun Block, Bug Repellent, Sleeping Bag, Tent, Camera, Film, Flashlight, Tuna Fish, Ramen Noodles, Instant Oatmeal, Granola, Trail Mix
Heading West on Route 66 from Flagstaff, turn north on Road 18, in between Seligman & Peach Springs. Bring plenty of water and fill up with gas.
If you do not want to camp, there is a lodge in the village, two miles from Havasu Falls. All rooms have two double beds, private bath, and air conditioning. For reservations call (928) 448-2111. Cost: $440 for four people plus a $110 fee per person.
Sharon Miller has her own personal newsletter called Live Life that has a small circulation in Central Texas.
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