Hiking to Havasu Falls with the #OmniTen and #Omnifriends: The Grand Canyon's Hidden Paradise

It was 4:45am when the all-too-familiar sound of the alarm on my Blackberry roused me from a restful, dreamless slumber in Sedona. The previous day's mountain biking adventures and activities had me thoroughly exhausted. After hours of travel, one incredible surprise after another, and two days of learning about and testing Columbia Sportswear gear with an eclectic group of editors, writers and journalists, it was time to begin the second part of the journey. Two dozen of us piled into busses for the two hour drive to Seligman where we'd meet our guides from Arizona Outback Adventures (AOA). Our final destination? Havasu Falls, the Grand Canyon's hidden paradise.

The ten mile trek to Havasu Falls begins at Hualupai Hilltop, a long parking lot at the end of seemingly endless Indian Route 18. To get there from Seligman, we traveled across part of the Hualupai Reservation, the neighboring territory of the Havasupai Reservation that is home to Havasu Falls. While en route, our guides informed us that "Havasupai" means "people of the blue-green water," as if to give us a preview of what was to come. The Havasupai reservation was established in 1880, then expanded in 1975 and now includes nearly 200,000 acres of land in and around the canyon.

Making our way down the canyon while horses are on their way up.
The first mile of the trail drops over 1,000' down into the canyon via dusty, winding switchbacks. Packs of horses and mules carrying supplies for tourists, among other things, share the trail with hikers and always have the right of way. The remaining seven miles wind straight down the canyon another 1,300' with intermittent signs letting you know that you're almost there, even if you're not.

Our mid-morning start meant making most of the journey during the hottest part of the day. Luckily, Columbia outfitted us all with Omni-Freeze ZERO apparel and our guides required us to carry a minimum of four liters of water each. Needless to say, it was a beautiful, but hot and exhausting hike in. Coming from the humid east coast, the desert air, dust and scorching sun took a lot out of me, but boy was it worth it.

After nearly eight miles of walking, we stopped next to a beautiful creek for lunch and caught our first glimpse of the blue-green water. The creek is lined with travertine, a form of limestone, and the presence of minerals in the water makes it undrinkable. The eighth mile brought us to the village of Supai, nestled between towering red rock canyon walls and the Wigleeva formation, a sacred pair of sandstone tribal protectors. The buzz of a helicopter overhead was a stark reminder that the flying machine, a horse and my own two feet were the only ways in or out of Supai. Despite the number of people we saw and the 450 or so villagers in the area, it was an incredibly isolating and invigorating feeling.

A Havasupai home being watched over by the Wigleeva formation just outside "downtown" Supai.

From Supai, it was another two miles to our campground. On the way, we'd pass what I thought was the most spectacular of the waterfalls - New Navajo/New 50' Falls. Shortly after that, we arrived at the top of Havasu Falls. I've never been happier to see a body of water in my life. Most of us practically ran down the last hill, threw off our packs and jumped in. After four hours of walking in the Arizona desert, it felt like heaven. Then, it was on to our home base for the next two days - the campground.

Our little tent city and dining area in camp.
AOA maintains a permanent camp in the campground, including an impressive kitchen area and dining (picnic) tables. The term "glamping" was thrown around camp the first night after our guides brought out our first snack - fruit and cheese plates. Then, it was on to giant steaks, grilled veggies and a cake. The second night's feast was a shrimp and vegetable stir fry after appetizers of potstickers and steamed edamame. Eating freeze dried meals, even the delicious kind, is going to be a challenge on my next backpacking trip!

Between the tents and Columbia's Reactor 35 sleeping bag, I was on the verge of being too hot to sleep both nights. Most visitors come during the summer months, but for a return trip, I'd choose the fall or spring. Though we went as a guided group sponsored by Columbia, for hikers venturing in on their own, a stay can get quite pricey. Current rates, according to the tribe's tourism website, amount to $57 per person, including an entrance fee and campground fee. Call and reserve space in advance; if you don't, the rates double. Camping is primitive, but the campground has some of the nicest pit toilets I've ever seen and a freshwater spring as a water source. If you prefer more "civilized" accommodations, there's always the Havasu Lodge, but it's a trek to the waterfalls from there.

Among the cottonwoods, hiking out.
Jon and Will are likely quoting
"The Princess Bride" or singing showtunes.
After spending a wonderful night in camp and a full day exploring the area's waterfalls (separate post coming soon!), we had to prepare for our hike out on the third day. We departed in shifts beginning at 6am, knowing the last thing any of us wanted was to tackle 1,300' of elevation gain in a mile under the scorching afternoon sun. My group of four only stopped once on the hike out for a snack and made it to the rim of the canyon in three and a half hours. Two bottles of Gatorade  at the end of any hike have never tasted so good.  Outside of water, the four most essential items I packed on the entire trip (separate gear post coming soon!) were Neutrogena Sport Face 70+ Sunscreen, the Freezer Zero Neck Gaiter, the Trail Dryer Hat and my Powerdrains.

Nearly a week later, I'm sitting here still digesting what it felt like to spend three days in one of the most beautiful places in the country with two dozen strangers I'm hoping will be lifelong friends. Even after two washings, I can't seem to get all of the red dust and dirt out of any of my clothes, but to be honest, that's perfectly fine with me.

Huge thank you to Columbia for sponsoring the trip, to the #OmniTen for being who you are, and for all of our new #OmniFriends for making the trip such a blast! Have you been to Havasu Falls? What was your experience like? Leave a comment!


Katie BouĂ© said…
Lady, you ain't 'hoping' you'll have lifelong friends - you're stuck with us FOREVER! :) Great post, I love reading everyone's thoughts and memories on the trip, it's a great way to relive the glory.
Katie Levy said…
 FOREVER! Awesome :) I think it's great reading everyone's recaps too...we've all got different perspectives and it's so much fun to relive the whole thing through others' eyes.
rockgrrl said…
Yay, thanks for the write up, reading it I got to relive some of my trip :) Though I didn't get to see the new falls. I did jump into the pools at Havasu Falls though, don't know why folks were staring! To me it was a natural to do, right? :)

The red dust doesn't come out I've still got it in my liner socks.

Also, did you guys hike down to Mooney Falls? (I think it's about 2 or 3 miles from camp?) and/or the Colorado River (it's 7 miles from the camp, I did it and stayed over night before going back to camp).
Katie Levy said…
I can't imagine not jumping in the pools! It was so hot, that was definitely the highlight of the day. We did hike down to Mooney, but not all the way to the Colorad... I have one more trip report-related post coming about the 5-6 separate areas we went to. It was tough to fit it all in one!
Daniel Beach said…
those are some sweet pictures, looks like an awesome place to visit. 
Wow... an appealing post, you’ll have chosen
an ideal location for hiking.
k8tlevy said…
 Thanks, Daniel! It just stunning. The falls and creek appear out of nowhere after what seems like the longest hike ever! You've definitely got to plan a trip :)
Camping Gear said…
Your so lucky with your gorgeous lanscapes, all we manage to get in the UK Camping is muddy, unkept fields.....nevermind :-((
Katie Levy said…
Thanks Jessica! Agreed, it was an ideal location for hiking, despite the heat.
Katie Levy said…
I've never been camping in the UK, but would love to do some real backpacking there! I think rain and mud are all part of the fun. where's the best place to go backpacking in the UK?
KEEN_Recess_Team said…
What a great summary of your hike! The photos are awesome and the hike itself sounds like a lot of fun.
The KEEN Recess Team is inspired by people like you who make getting outdoors a priority. We love hearing about people being able to find a recess outdoors. We love your whole blog, thanks for your input and expertise!

KEEN Recess Team
k8tlevy said…
 Thank you so much for such positive feedback! It means the world, coming from the super-awesome Recess Team. Getting outside is definitely a priority, especially when it's to places like Havasu Falls!
KEEN_Recess_Team said…
Of course! Your pictures and description of the activities you did were great to read. We will have to check out Havasu Falls soon.

KEEN Recess Team