Hiking Havasupai Falls – A Guide From the Top

Hiking Havasu Canyon is by no means a simple experience, but it is a breathtakingly rewarding one. Proper preparation will go a long way toward making sure this adventure goes as smoothly and enjoyably as possible for your party – take it from someone whose personal Havasupai trip went right in a ton of ways and wrong in several, too. If you’ve already done all your research and are feeling fully prepared to book your adventure, the Havasupai Tribe has asked that you call the Tourist office at 928-448-2121 for campground reservations, and the Havasupai Lodge directly at 928-448-2111 for reservations at the Havasupai Lodge. However, if you’d like to cozy up and learn a little bit about the BEST way to go about the experience – including when to go, what gear/clothing to pack, how much you can expect to pay per day, and even a bit about the town and people you are visiting – read on.

Getting to Know Havasupai
History
The Havasupai people – whose name, “Havasupai” translates literally to “the People of the Blue-Green Waters” – are an American Indian tribe who have lived in the Grand Canyon for at least the past 800 years. Once laying claim to an area of about 1.6 million acres (which they relied on for agriculture, hunting, and gathering as their primary means of survival), the Havasupai tribal lands were reduced to a 518-acre plot when the federal government claimed all land on the plateau of the canyon for United States’ public property in 1882. According to many reports, the Havasupai were left completely unaware of this act for several years afterward. Throughout the 20th century, the Havasupai fought through the US judicial system to have their lands returned, and in 1975 finally succeeded in regaining 185,000 acres. Another 95,300 acres were designated as “Havasupai Use Lands”, to be overseen by the National Park Service but available for traditional use by the Havasupai. Today, the tribe has used the natural beauty and bounty of their land to create a tourist destination, and the tourist ventures in turn create jobs for tribal members.
The City of Supai
Supai is the Havasupai Indian Reservation capital city located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Around 500 tribal members make their homes here. It is one of the most remote cities in the continental US, yet receives over 20,000 visitors per year. Tourism through this town is the primary source of income for the Havasupai tribe. The town has a lodge, a tourist office, a general store, a café, a school, a post office, 2 churches, and 136 houses.
The Waterfalls
1. Upper and Lower Navajo Falls
About 8.5 miles from the trailhead and about a mile past Supai village, Upper Navajo Falls is a welcome sight to weary hikers. Before flooding in 2008, Upper and Lower Navajo Falls were a larger, single set of falls, but don’t let that discourage you – both sets of falls are stunning. Upper Navajo falls about 50 feet into a rocky pool. Lower Navajo (also known as Rock Falls) is about .15 miles below Upper Navajo and falls about 30 feet into a swimming hole. The area around both waterfalls is ripe with choice swimming opportunities.
2. Havasu Falls
The third and most famous waterfall in the canyon, Havasu Falls is located about .75 miles past Navajo Falls. One main chute of water drops over a 100-foot cliff into strikingly blue-green pools below, beside which you will find picnic tables to rest on between dips in the pools. Floods have also changed the face of these falls over the years, but it’s still every bit as impressive as the pictures.
3. Mooney Falls
Mooney Falls (2.25 miles past Supai village) was my personal favorite waterfall. You’ll pass through the campsite to get there, as well as some pitch-black, steeply descending caves down through the cliff side. The last bit of the climb down is done against a sheer, slippery (thanks to spray from the falls) rock wall while holding on tightly to the thick chain driven into the rock. This sounds daunting, and it can be, but the climb down is completely doable and only takes most people about 15 minutes. Staring up at the tallest and most powerful waterfall in Havasu Canyon from the bottom is totally worth the effort!
4. Beaver Falls
Unfortunately, our party didn’t make it down the 3-mile trail past the Mooney to Beaver Falls. The trail to get there goes up and downhill, and features some gorgeous views as well as some river crossings – so bring your water shoes/sandals! About .25 miles past Mooney Falls, a small stream feeds over the side of the cliff into Havasu Creek, creating a gorgeous natural shower. Beaver Falls is a set of smaller falls set close together that fall into a series of the ubiquitous aqua pools. If you leave without making the trek to this last set of stunning falls, you will regret it – take my word.
Worth Noting: Havasupai Horses
In recent years, there has been a significant increase in news coverage regarding the horses of Supai. Tribal member wranglers are paid a fee by tourists to lead groups of horses up and down the canyon loaded with riders, their luggage, and hikers’ too-heavy-to-backpack items. Tourists came back with stories of abuse and neglect in the form of malnourishment, exhaustion, open sores, beatings, and broken bones on working animals. In July 2016, the Tribe finally responded publically to allegations of abuse, stating that they had been discussing the extremely important matter of the horses’ wellbeing internally for years, and that the Havasupai Animal Control Office (est. 2011) was overseeing the treatment of the animals. In May of 2017, the Havasupai Tribe accepted outside help on the issue in the form of Kellye Pinkleton, the Arizona State Director at the Humane Society of the United States. Kellye led a group of volunteer veterinarians to the village to assess the wellbeing of the horses, provide care, and work with the tribe to educate packers and caretakers. Kellye reported feeling encouraged by the reception and the positive feedback their group received from the tribal council, and hopes to take another group back in 2017.

Booking Your Trip
When to Go

Seasoned Havasupai hikers will pretty unanimously tell you that the best time to go is in the Spring or late Fall, since the mosquito population and the temperatures are a bit lower. While the warmer temperatures of Summer can be an advantage when it comes to being able to enjoy the water all day, it can mean a pretty hellacious experience when hiking in and out of the canyon. Our party went in October, and while the nights and water were both quite chilly, the daytime temperatures were overall extremely pleasant for walking and exploring.
How to Book
As mentioned earlier, the best and easiest way to book your Havasupai Falls excursion is to book through the Tribe directly by calling the Tourist office at 928-448-2121 for campground reservations, and the Havasupai Lodge directly at 928-448-2111 for reservations at the Havasupai Lodge. There have been rumors of an up-and-coming online booking system for quite some time, but the current information (via the Havasupai tribe-managed website) is that the high volume of bookings has rendered the online system unavailable until further notice.
How Much
There are 3 fees you will pay for your time visiting Havasupai. 1. Camping Fee: $25 per night, per person + tax (10%), 2. Entrance Fee: $50 per person + tax (10%) (unless you are a Native American with a valid Tribal ID, then you’re exempt from this fee!), and 3. Environmental Fee: $10 per person, + tax (10%). Expect to pay fees at the time you make your reservation, and keep in mind that only a single credit card can be used on each reservation. Reservations are nonrefundable and nontransferable.
Do I HAVE to make a reservation?
Technically, no – BUT! Campers who don’t make reservations typically get charged double the fees. What’s more, since there’s a maximum of 300 campers allowed onsite, there’s nothing even close to a guarantee that there will be a spot for a camper without a reservation after they’ve hiked 8-ish miles to reach the village of Supai, and there is no day-hiking from Hualapai Hilltop allowed. So, make a reservation or risk a completely unnecessary headache.

When You Go
First and Foremost, Stay Hydrated
Your party will need to bring at least 2 liters of clean water per person for the hike down the canyon, since there is no clean water available until you reach the village of Supai. Once you reach the campsites you will find a water spigot with clean drinking water that is tested for sanitation monthly. Very rarely, the spigot will not pass its required monthly test and you will be asked to filter the water you pull from it, so make sure to bring a filtration system of some kind (see “What to Pack”).
The Hike
Approximately 10 miles from Hualapai Hilltop to campground, the hike itself is classified as moderately difficult. Wildlife to watch out for includes rattlesnakes, as well as the mules and horses that the Havasupai tribesmen use to carry campers and hikers’ luggage up and down the canyon. There’s very little shelter from the sun for the majority of this hike, and it gets very dry and very hot – once you start seeing Havasu Creek you know you’re getting close! When you reach Supai, make sure to check in at the tourist office and obtain your permits.
About the Campground
After hitting the town of Supai, you’ll hike another 2 miles or so (past the first 3 waterfalls) to your overnight accommodations. The campground occupies an area about a mile long between Havasu Falls and Mooney Falls, with individual campsites scattered throughout. Many of the sites are settled right on Havasu Creek, which runs through the entire area, and comes complete with frequent footbridges for easy crossings. Campfires are NOT allowed at any time during the year.
When Nature Calls
There are composting outhouses available for use in several places the campsites, which I personally found to be quite clean and non-smelly. I recommend locating these early on and finding yourself a campsite with a somewhat unencumbered path, since the solo nighttime treks you may need to take there can get complicated.  Toilet paper is supposed to be available, but ran out several times during our visit – bring a roll or two of your own.
What to Pack
Sturdy camping backpack: you will be hiking in and hiking out everything that you will use during your time in Havasu canyon – and a busted backpack is a quick way to make the hike a really miserable one.
Smaller pack: for daytrips around the campground, exploring the caves and falls
Swimsuit: it shouldn’t need to be said, but I’ve forgotten stranger things
Hiking shoes/hiking socks/water shoes/comfortable walking shoes: make sure your shoes fit well and are broken in, and invest in good-quality socks to avoid blisters. Try to find a pair of lighter walking shoes (or better yet, water shoes) with a good grip that you’re comfortable walking, cave exploring, and crossing water with. I ended up forgetting a lighter pair of shoes and choosing to go on day hikes/cave climbs wearing my  lime green Chuck Taylors over the heavy hiking boots I had worn on the hike in. Neither option was a good one – trust me.
Flashlight/head lamp/LED lantern: It’s super dark at night, and you’re going to need light to navigate the campsites. If you (like me), believe in the power of always having backup, pack two small forms of illumination.
Waterproof camera: not mandatory for a great time, but some may be glad they brought it.
Lightweight tent: the lighter, the better. Unfortunately, “lighter” can usually be read as, “pricier” in terms of tents, but you may appreciate the several pounds that those extra dollars can save you.
Food/Utensils: MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), top ramen, jerky, trail mix – think nonperishable, hearty, high-energy foods. Don’t forget to bring any cookware/utensils necessary to prepare your meals!
Turbo-boiler: for heating said MREs and/or top ramen
Sleeping bag: it gets cold at night and you’re going to want your sleep, so plan accordingly.
Water skin/bottle, filtration system: we discussed the filtered water spigot at the start of the campground, but very rarely the Camping Office will recommend that you filter the water. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to have some water purification tabs or a lightweight filtration system in your pack.
Sunscreen and insect spray
First Aid Kit: Items like Band Aids, disinfecting wipes, an ace bandage, and blister bandages are very sound items to have on hand.
Towel: recommend something small and lightweight that takes up little room in your pack
-Toiletries: I’m not fussy, but I like to bring a few items with me to freshen up throughout a trip. Camp soap, a tooth brush, toothpaste, and a travel pack of facial cleansing wipes and I’m a very happy camper (get it?). Just remember to bring any and all trash home with you!

There you have it – my guide to making your hike through Havasu Canyon the best and most manageable experience possible. The amount of effort and preparation required can make a trip like this seem challenging, but the reward it provides is so much more than you can imagine. If you’ve done it right, you’ll hardly remember the hard parts when it’s over. A diverse landscape of epic proportions, Havasupai leaves its mark on everyone that goes.

7 Reasons Why Everyone (Yes, Everyone) Should Practice Yoga

When you think of yoga, what comes to mind? A serene monk in the Himalayas chanting mantras on one toe, having given up all of his worldly possessions? An impossibly slender Instagram model clad in a bikini contorting herself into a hazardous-looking pretzel on a Bahamian beach? Or a healthier, more peaceful, better version of yourself? Yoga can mean each of these things. By now you’ve probably heard from at least once person that you should try practicing yoga, and I’m here to emphatically back up that advice with the why behind it.

 

 1. It’s good for your mental health

Though many early studies regarding the impact of yoga on mental health were poorly managed and small, many more recent studies have centered around randomized controlled trials, which is considered to be the “most rigorous standard for proving efficacy”. The results of these studies are finally leading science to back up what yogis have known for centuries – that those who practice yoga experience a reduction in depression, anxiety, and a multitude of other mental health issues. One likely reason behind this is that yoga has a profound effect on the endocrine system via the reduction of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, as well as the increase of “feel-good” hormones like serotonin and melatonin. A group of Vietnam veterans experiencing PTSD in Australia were subjected to a randomized controlled study regarding the effects of a yoga and breathing program. The veterans were all on at least one antidepressant and were all daily drinkers. One group practiced yoga, breathing techniques, and meditation each day for six weeks, while the control group lived their lives as usual. After six weeks, the group that had been practicing yoga and breathing dropped their CAPS (Clinician Administered PTSD Scale) scores from an average of 57 (moderate to severe symptoms) to 42 (mild to moderate) – and these results persisted at a 6-month follow-up. The control group showed no improvement. Considering the recent estimate that 20% of veterans come home from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan experiencing symptoms of PTSD, these results and the idea that there could be assistance outside of (and in addition to) medication is incredibly heartening.

 

2. It’s an excellent way to keep physically fit

Look, it’s completely understandable that some are skeptical of yoga as a viable means of building muscle and shedding fat. Many are trained to believe that unless a workout leaves us red-faced and struggling for breath, it must not be effective. But the secret is getting out – yoga’s benefits as a workout are on par with (and in some cases greater than) what immediately comes to mind for many of us when we think of a “good workout”. A study from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found that, over the course of four years, a group of middle-aged adults who practiced yoga at least once a week gained three fewer pounds than a group who practiced other forms of exercise. The same study found that overweight adults who began practicing yoga lost five pounds, while a group who did not practice gained thirteen pounds; those results remained true even when accounting for differences in eating habits. Though most forms of yoga aren’t going to give you the most efficient calorie-burning workout of all time, it’s difficult to find another form of exercise that is so effective at working so many different muscle groups at once, while also normalizing the hormone levels that are responsible for how our body retains and carries weight.

 

3You’ll sleep better

A study by researchers at Harvard Medical School found that after 8 weeks of a regular yoga practice, sufferers of both primary and secondary insomnia experienced marked improvements to sleep efficiency, total sleep time, total wake time, sleep onset latency, and wake time after sleep onset. Another study of 410 cancer survivors found a link between a regular yoga practice and reduced fatigue, reduced use of sleep medication, and an overall sense of increased quality of life. So the research makes it clear that yoga helps you sleep better, but how is that possible? For reason number one, let’s circle back to this blog’s reason number one – it reduces stress and anxiety. Number two, many yoga poses also work directly with the nervous system to help it decrease its activity at crucial times. And number three, since yoga in the most basic sense is breathing, a regular practice over time can train your body’s breathing to decrease snoring/hitched breathing and increase oxygen levels, contributing to a much more peaceful night of sleep overall.

 

4. You’ll be less at risk for heart disease

Though the American Heart Association does not count yoga towards the 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity per week that they recommend for optimum heart health, they do acknowledge it as a means of helping prevent or even reversing existing heart disease. By lowering blood pressure, decreasing cholesterol levels, and decreasing stress, yoga helps keep your cardiovascular system in tip-top working order.

 

5It increases balance and reduces fear of falling

For younger readers, it may or may not have crossed your mind that balance and a fear of falling is a very real issue for many of our population, especially seniors. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have determined that 11 different studies show a regular yoga practice increases balance and reduces fear of falling. Combined with its relatively low-impact nature and its ability to be adjusted to fit the practitioners’ needs, the benefits of yoga to seniors can hardly be overstated.

 

6. It can help prevent and heal injuries

It stands to reason that having better balance and flexibility would help prevent many common injuries such as sprains, pulls, and broken bones. What may be more surprising is that trials seem to indicate that yoga can even be used to accelerate healing for injuries, wounds, and even after major operations. One randomized control trial looked at two groups of 15 patients with relatively simple “long bone” fractures. Both groups received standard medical treatment for their fractures, but one group practiced yoga and visualization during two 30 minute sessions per day, while the control group did not. After 21 days, doctors compared the two groups’ healing based on an assessment of pain, swelling, and bone density – in every case, the group that had practiced yoga daily fared dramatically better. Another randomized control trial focused on a group of women with stage II and stage III operable breast cancer pre- and post-operatively. One group practiced yoga with regulated nostril breathing and relaxation techniques, while the control group received social support counseling sessions and rehabilitative shoulder exercises. Respective treatments were given at the hospital beginning post-op and continuing for 30 minutes per day for 3 weeks after the women were discharged. When doctors looked at factors like duration of hospital stay post-op, time to drain removal, time to suture removal, and post-op systemic inflammation, it was clear that the yoga group had fared much better, sometimes reaching these milestones in half the time it took the control group.

 

7. You’ll probably get sick less

Feel like you’re getting sick all the time? Yep, there’s yoga for that! If you look back at the past few times you caught a bug, there’s a good chance that they occurred when you were burning the candle at both ends. More and more, science seems to support the idea that the fatigue, hormonal imbalance, and poor sleep caused by high stress levels can compromise the immune system; asana practice provides a manageable, natural way to support it daily. It helps lower stress hormones that can trigger illness, conditions the lungs and respiratory tract, stimulates the lymphatic system to eliminate toxins, and brings a better flow of oxygenated blood to each organ, ensuring their peak performance. Certain poses can even be used to target the systems that need help the most, with poses that specifically support the thyroid, thymus, sinuses, and many other areas.

 

Yoga can mean absolutely anything you need it to mean. It can be a fast and vigorous hatha, it can be a slow, deep stretch, it can be deep breaths while lying comfortably on your back. After any amount of time away, your mat is always waiting. It will never judge you for any time away or physical limitation. You can devote as much or as little time to it as you have, but I promise*, after just a few weeks of learning how incredible you can feel, you will catch yourself finding more and more time.
*This claim is unsubstantiated-ish and can be proven only through the experiment of Life