Away From The Bay: A Weekend in Havasu Falls, Arizona + Travel Tips

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It didn’t take much for me to be convinced that Havasu Falls (“Havasu”: blue greenish water) was a trip that I definitely needed to take to satisfy my craving for an exhilarating exploration. A simple yet mesmerizing photo of a distinctive immensely blue waterfall captured my attention and desire to go.

After Googling photos and more information about the place, I realized that this wasn’t going to be the typical hiking or camping trip I was normally used to. With over 20,000 visitors annually, Supai, AZ is one of the most remote community in the lower 48 states of the U.S with a surprising low population of only 208.

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The only way in or out is through their Havasupai Trail. There are also no cars in this community, only mules. With that being said, I had to pack enough to be able to survive the backpacking trip for the weekend, which meant signified for more weight that I had to carry. I also had to be aware that it would take a little over 10 miles to hike from the parking lot and into the canyon towards the campsite. I had to keep in mind that I had to keep my bag as light as possible while bringing the proper essentials.

The Essentials:

-Legit hiking backpack large enough to carry everything you need
-Lightweight tent
-Sleeping bag
-At least 2 liters of hydration pack/water bottle.
-Flashlight/LED lantern
-MRE(Meals Ready-to-Eat) ie. Top Ramen
-Lightweight cookware
-Lightweight stove w/ propane
-First aid kit (important)
-Hiking shoes (Not sneakers or running shoes ok)
-Aqua shoes (you’ll thank me, it’s for the falls and water hikes)
-Lots of sunscreen

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Prep:

To start my trip, I flew to Burbank, CA where a good friend of mine picked me up. We met up with 22 other individuals whom I have never met before, which made it an even more exciting trip for me because I have never traveled with this many companions, let alone strangers that were up for an adventure like me. From Palmdale, CA it took a little over 8 hours to drive to Supai, AZ, which was connected to the world known Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. We got to the top of the Havasu Parking lot at 7 am and started our hike at sunrise. The entire hike took 10 miles and a little more than 5 hours to complete, including many rest stops and photo ops in between. If you’re not a fan of this part of the initial brutal journey, don’t be alarmed, there are other options! You can reserve a mule for $70-$80 that carries up to 150lb of gear while you hike free of any unnecessary weight dragging you down. Still not enough? There is a helicopter option that takes up to 5 people per trip to the village (you will still need to hike an extra 2 miles to campsite from the drop-off point) for $85/person cash or $95/person card. This definitely saves you a whole bunch of time and sweat, but of course, it’s up to you.

Oh and this is an important tip, by the way, bring cash!

You will thank yourself later for this. Of course, came for the full experience, so we hiked with all of our gear on our backs for the full trip. We all had to conserve as much water as possible because there were no water stations during those 10 miles. The first 3 miles into the canyon offers little to no shade from the sun, so keep your sunscreen on deck.

Arrival:

We reached our first official rest stop at the Supai Village, 8 miles into the hike. This is where they keep and maintain their mules for the travelers. If you were smart and brought cash, you could indulge yourself in their super delicious fry bread with honey and powder sugar. Trust me after 5-7 hours of hiking a quick sugar boost is a must. If you were fortunate enough to meet a generous and kind local like us, named Cleave that helps run the small market, ask him to share the story of the backpacker and the lion. He will then point to the nearby rocks to show you. With a little imagination, they really do look like a backpacker and lion. A story meant to inspire and make us wonder why we sought out to Havasu.

We continued our journey towards campground where we encountered our first sight of a bright blue flowing river. The sound of water flowing has never felt so magical. We have officially reached the 8.5-mile mark, where a remaining 1.5 miles is still waiting ahead. But just the sound of water flowing and seeing how blue it is was such a relief and astounding view. Pushing forward as we come near a momentous milestone, we hear the sound of a powerful waterfall. The stunning view of a large amount of blue water plunges 100 ft down into a turquoise pool was a view to take in. The view that everyone has been longing and enduring through the dusty hot hike to see. Even from a top we felt the cool mist touching our skin as if we have been deprived of water for days. Witnessing this first fall was more than enough hype to get everyone’s energy back up to finish the last .5 miles to campground.

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Play:

At the end of the day, we headed towards the deeper end of the campgrounds towards Mooney Falls. Then we decided to split the group up partially since there was no campsite that was large enough to accommodate everyone. It would be best to probably get there a bit earlier than we did so that your group will be able to secure an adequate campsite. After setting up our campsite, we quickly changed into our water gear and headed back towards Havasu Fall. We spent the remainder of our first day playing in the pool and capturing one another’s Kodak moments. The little moments like these were a simple yet natural way of bonding. Being the photographer, I got enough requests for portraits that kept me busy and entertained throughout the afternoon, and I managed to film and take snaps of the fall. We welcomed the night with various tales of the good old’ ghost stories and our personal life experiences. We shared stories you wouldn’t just tell to any stranger, but to new friends you have shared an incredible experience with. An experience you would continue to tell others years from now.

The next morning, I got woken up to oatmeal and pop tarts. Everyone was exceptionally kind to me, and they were all constantly feeding me since I was “the photographer”. Being able to capture these simple moments and to go on this trip has made me enormously grateful to have my camera by my side. It truly is the passport to my life’s adventure. The people I meet, the places I go, the stories I share and come across, and of course, the images that I capture and create are my biggest motivating factors to continue pursuing photography.

After breakfast, we geared up lightly and headed towards Mooney Falls. The hike was not long but it requires you to enter a small narrow tunnel, followed by chains, ladders, and metal handles. The lines were long and the wait time to descend was dragged out due to the elaborate setup it took to get down. My advice, start the day early and avoid the lines. In front of me was a couple that brought their German Shepard, who looked pretty well-trained. But as I looked down towards the edge, I couldn’t help but wonder how this dog would make it down. As we got closer to the tunnel, a man in front of the couple looked concerned for the dog and voiced his opinion. He mentioned there was going to be a ladder and chains you would eventually have to use to descend down. The owner of the dog didn’t look concerned at all and even mentioned that the dog went through some tough ladder training. The couple entered the tunnel and as they got closer into the dark the tunnel got more narrow, the dog starts to whimper and whine. It got much worse once they reached the ladder. The dog refused to climb and the dog weighs too much for the owner to carry and descend such a dangerous route. In the end, they had to return back to the campsite. These trails are not dog-friendly in case you wanted to bring your own on this trip, especially a trip down Mooney Falls. We spent the next hour swimming, diving off of small cliffs and of course, epic selfies. I noticed a foreign group of friends taking an Instagram moment of a Poland and an American flag, so I approached them. I offered them some cool images of Mooney Falls behind the flag. I showed them the back of my digital camera and they went crazy for the photos and we went on to exchange Instagram accounts.

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After a quick snack break, our group continued our journey towards Beaver Falls. This was easily the most scenic 3-mile hike of the whole trip in my opinion. Using our water shoes, we followed a washed out trail, that often times became complete water trails. It was definitely exciting hiking through streams of water that led to waste high to cross over to other trails. Once we headed towards higher grounds, the overlooking view of the river was a remarkable sight. The sound of people laughing and water crashing indicated that we were close. We were greeted by a local checking our campsite wristband, making sure we were supposed to be on their land (so make sure you always keep your bands close by). We enjoyed the rest of our day soaking in what was left of the sun.

Later that night, we all gathered around the table and logs we used as chairs and small tables. Unfortunately, there was a no campfire rule. Heating up and filtering the water we gathered from the community water area, we all feasted on our MRE’s. It may not sound like much, but after a long exhausting day, even plain oatmeal tasted wholesome. We continued our night with playing Uno and other card games to celebrate our last night at Havasu.

The next morning, we woke up at 4am to hike the 2 hours back to the village in order to get in line for a helicopter ride back to the parking lot. The trip was astounding and the 10-mile hike in was one heck of an experience, but we decided to take the 7-minute helicopter ride back. We got to the village around 7am and to our surprise there was a good amount of people waiting in line for the helicopter. It was a “first come first serve basis” so the earlier you arrive, the better. Luckily, we had a few friends that woke up at 1am to wait; we had a first in line reservation ready. The first ride wasn’t taking off until 9:30am so we waited for the restaurant to open to have a good meal before we take off for our 8-hour drive back to Burbank, CA.

Return:

Although I wasn’t exactly ready to hop back into reality, the reality was waiting for me back in San Francisco that Monday morning. I definitely could have done another night and it would have been an utmost satisfying trip. Overall, I was glad I made it out for this trip, meeting new friends, sharing new experiences and seeing a “heaven on earth” kind of paradise was an astonishing experience that rejuvenated my mind and soul. For most of us working 40+ hours a week, taking trips like this will not only help give your mind a restart but also give clarity to your life. If you’re able to take some time off and take a trip such as this, do it! Do it for yourself and experience these once in a lifetime experiences, you will thank yourself for it in the long run.

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Travel Tips:

// Remember this trip takes proper planning and to call at least 4-6 months in advance to book the desired date. Do not try and book a month before because I can guarantee you nothing will be available. Camping fees are $17 a person, per night, plus a $35 entry fee per person and a $5 environmental fee.For those seeking lodges rather than traditional camping, there are 24 rooms available for reservation starting at $145 per night. You can email them at lodge@havasupai-nsn-gov. Helicopter services are provided by the private company Airwest Helicopters. Call 623-516-2790.Call 928-448-2121, www.Havasupai-nsn.gov for booking and further information.


Story and Photographs by Minh Nguyen, Minh is a world image-maker and storyteller. relive the experience on our social — while you’re at it, say hello!

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