Havasupai: The hidden gem of the Grand Canyon

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Trudging along a dirt path in triple-digit heat with a 50-pound backpack isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time. But for travelers seeking Havasupai’s ethereal views, it’s a small sacrifice.

Some BYU students are familiar with Utah’s postcard-perfect tourist attractions, including Moab, Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park, but few have seen the beauty of Havasupai, Arizona.

Mooney Falls is the tallest waterfall in the Havasupai area at 196 feet. (Derrik Jenkins)
Mooney Falls is the tallest waterfall in the Havasupai area at 196 feet. (Derrik Jenkins)

William Taylor, 27, from Provo, refers to Havasupai as “the Caribbean of the Grand Canyon.” His description isn’t far off, as red-rock trails and towering waterfalls greet visitors who choose to make the 10-mile trek to the town of Supai and the massive falls that surround it.

While many visitors decide to hike in to enjoy the canyon views along the trail and to save money, tourists can also ride a mule or even fly in by helicopter.

Chris Bailey, a student from Alpine studying business management, decided to make the trip by foot and found himself taken aback by Havasupai’s captivating views.

“It’s a beautiful oasis in the middle of the desert,” Bailey said. “When I first saw the falls I was mesmerized.”

American Indians enjoyed the pristine waters of Havasupai long before backpackers came. Strong ties to tribal traditions and a belief in the creation legends of the Hopi and Mojave tribes are reasons for why the Havasupai tribe values its land so deeply, according to the Havasupai Falls website. A permit system is used to keep the reservation from being overrun by tourists. Permits are reserved months in advance, and visitors often pay a few hundred dollars in entrance and campground fees, even for small groups.

Visitors aren’t just paying for beautiful views, though. Havasupai is filled with activities for the adventurous and bold. Cliff jumping, hiking and swimming are some of the popular pastimes of Havasupai visitors. Three waterfalls — Havasu, Mooney and Beaver — provide nice backdrops for an afternoon picnic or a summertime swim.

“There are plenty of places to explore,” Bailey said. “You can hike downriver to Beaver Falls … if carrying a little extra weight doesn’t bug you then you can bring an inner tube and float down parts of the river.”

Havasu Falls is the first waterfall visitors see as they descend the hill leading to the campground. (Derrik Jenkins)
Havasu Falls is the first waterfall visitors see as they descend the hill leading to the campground. (Derrik Jenkins)

Megan Graves, a graduate student from San Diego, California, studying public administration, still found plenty to do at Havasupai despite being a more relaxed traveler.

“If you’re like me and not much of a cliff jumper, there are still some really short falls along the way that you can climb up and jump off of,” she said.

If the water is too chilly, Taylor recommends visiting some other intriguing spots in Havasupai.

“Make sure you make enough time to visit the old mine while you are down there; it’s quite neat. There is also a neat side canyon just down a little ways from Mooney Falls; it has a small, crystal-clear creek with frogs and tadpoles,” she said.

Even though there are enough activities and sights in Havasupai to keep visitors busy, the trail leading to it is quite barren. Because of Havasupai’s remote location — the nearest town is more than 65 miles away — it’s important to come prepared.

Eric Petersen, a BYU alumnus from Provo, said hikers need to watch out for the weather. “Be prepared to hike with gear in the heat. The trek in and out is not for the faint of heart,” Petersen said.

“Wear good hiking shoes for the way there, water shoes for hiking the river, and bring duct tape for blisters just in case,” Graves said.

“Bring plenty of water,” Bailey recommended.

A final recommendation from Taylor may be met with resistance from some in today’s social media-savvy world, but he advocates leaving cameras at home.

“I have been to Havasupai three times; the first two times I enjoyed my time behind a lens, and this last time I didn’t take any camera at all, and it was the best time I have had yet,” Taylor said.

Whether the camera comes or not, Havasupai’s beauty can be enjoyed by all willing to make the trip. Directions, reservation instructions and campground information can be found online at havasupaifalls.net.

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