What to Expect Hiking Havasu
|By: Michael Pavelek | Jul 11 2006 | 1240 words | 291 hits|
Although Havasu is a popular hiking destination and pictures of the falls can be found everywhere, there is surprisingly little information available about how to plan a hiking trip. Perhaps this is because the people who have grown up around Havasu take for granted the basic questions that hikers unfamiliar with the area would have; such as …how difficult is the hike, where can drinking water be found, and are toilets available?¯ This article provides answers to these questions and more.
Reservations are required in order to hike to the falls. Making reservations is easy and information can be found on the Havasu web site at http://www.havasupaitribe.com. This web site also provides information about current rates for camp sites, horse rental, and helicopter rides as well as directions to get to the trail head. Don't expect to make reservations at the last minute because the lines at the tourist office are often busy.
2. Hotels near Havasu
Since the Havasu village is eight miles down the trail and the temperature can be quite hot, many people like to spend the night in a hotel and then get an early morning start. Inexpensive hotels can be found in Seligman, and along Route 66. There will be about two hours of driving time from the hotel to the trail head; so plan to leave the hotel before sunrise if you are trying to avoid hiking in the heat.
3. Trail Head and Parking
The trail head has a paved parking area which is fairly large. During busy times such as holiday weekends, cars are also parked along the road for at least a half mile past the paved parking area. Parking is done on a first come first served basis. Sometimes parking spots near the trail head are available even though cars are stretched back down the road as people are regularly
leaving and arriving. Driving to the trail head to look for a closer spot before settling on a parking spot near the back can be worth while.
There is not a source of drinking water at the trail head, so make sure to bring enough to make the eight mile trek to the village.
There are some old pit toilets at the trail head which are now full of trash and fortunately have been replaced by porta-johns. These are the last toilets prior to entering the actual camp site which is about ten miles away; so plan accordingly.
If you are sending your gear down by horseback, there is a shed near the trail head where the gear can be checked; but make sure you make reservations for a horse in advance if you plan on using one.
4. Trail Difficulty and Awareness
Switchbacks going down from the trail head make this trail look like a real challenge, but after the initial switchbacks, the trail becomes a gradual slope down what appears to be an old river bed. The trail continues in a gradual downward slope the whole way to the village. The trail surface starts off as hard packed dust interspersed with rocks and for the largest part of the hike
becomes a fairly smooth lightly covered gravel surface. It is very easy surface to walk on until just prior to the village where the trail turns into a deep soft sand and remains sandy for the two miles into the camp ground. The outside edges are often packed harder and provide easier walking.
Listen for horses moving up the trail and move to the side early. Unlike the mule trains at the Grand Canyon National Park, these horses are often driven up the valley at a good clip and could be dangerous for people not expecting them.
5. Check-in at the Village
Check-in at the tourist office in the village to pay the balance of your reservation. Fortunately, they do take VISA, but I prefer to take cash just in case. The tourist office is on the left hand side as you come into the main part of town and is clearly marked. Upon check-in, you will receive tags to display on your camping equipment and a map with directions to the camp ground.
There is a store on the square that sells cold drinks and groceries with benches outside that make this a great place to take a break. US mail is available to send letters or post cards, but I don't recall seeing a public pay phone in the village.
Be careful heading through town to the camp site. The sign to make a right near the school is somewhat hidden in a tree and many hikers seem to have missed it as we saw them being turned around and redirected by the local Indians.
6. The Falls
The walk from the village to the falls is approximately two miles. The trail approaches the falls from the top and the campground starts immediately past the falls. The Indians often have stands set up selling hot dogs and drinks near the campground which are reasonably priced considering the location. A fatty hot dog can also be a welcome alternative to freeze dried
Although I prefer to only carry what is absolutely necessary when it comes to hiking, sandals or water shoes are worth taking to Havasu falls. Sandals make walking through the pools of water below the falls much easier as the rocks are somewhat jagged.
Camping spots are first come, first serve and the campground runs on both sides of the stream for quite some distance. The only bridge to cross to the far side of the campground is near the entrance. This results in many people walking through the stream and other people's camp sites to come back and visit Mooney falls; which is just past the back side of the campground. The
camp sites were generally large enough for at least two tents and the soft sandy soil made it easy to drive in tent pegs and was a dream to sleep on.
Porta-johns are at both ends of the campground, but only on the side of the stream with the main trail. Keep this in mind when selecting a site. Depending on where you are camped, it may be faster to go to the porta-johns on the back side of the campground than to walk back out to the front. The Porta-johns are rigged with harnesses to be raised out by helicopter which must be an impressive operation. If anyone has pictures of this process, I would love to see them!
Drinking water is available at the campground from a spring which is marked by a hand painted sign. The spring is located on the left hand side just past the campground entrance.
8. Hiking Out
There are signs posted requesting that people do not hike at night, but many people pack up before first light and head out with their headlamps in order to avoid the midday heat. Once you are through the sandy trail sections near the village, the upward sloping trail is so gradual that the uphill slope is hardly noticeable. The switchbacks at the end are a bit of a challenge, but they are not very long and a slow pace, frequent breaks, and good hiking staff can make them pass by without difficulty.
With a good idea of what to expect, hiking Havasu should be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. The water falls at Havasu are some of the most beautiful hiking destinations around.
Please remember to be respectful and throw away all trash so that Havasu will continue to be open to future generations.
Michael Pavelek is the President of Laurel Mountain Sports, Inc. and has been enjoying hiking for over twenty years. Visit Laurel Mountain Sports, Inc.
for more information.