Mooney Falls, Havasu Falls and More: A Waterfall Tour in the Middle of the Grand Canyon and Arizona Desert

The bottom half of Mooney Falls with Amy, Adam and Chris.
Over the years, I've learned that sometimes, it's about the journey, not the destination. After all, some of our most incredible experiences, lessons and memories can be formed en route to our objectives on adventures. But in some cases, it's about both.

On my hike to from Hualapai Hilltop at the south rim of the Grand Canyon to the village of Supai with the #OmniTen and Columbia Sportswear, the journey was half the fun. The other half? Arriving at and exploring our destination - a true paradise in the middle of the Arizona desert. After settling in at camp, we spend the evening recovering and preparing for our second day of activities. Lucky for us, our guides from Arizona Outback Adventures (AOA) had an extraordinary waterfall tour planned. If a visit to Supai and Havasu Falls is on your list of must-do trips, which it should be, be sure to hit all of these amazing wonders of nature while you're there. 

Mooney Falls
The stunning 210-foot Mooney Falls was our first stop on the tour and sits less than a mile downstream from the campground. It's the tallest of the waterfalls in the Havasupai tribe's domain and getting to it is not for the faint of heart. Hikers make a steep descent from the top of the falls through narrow, winding tunnels cut into the travertine by miners in the early 1900's. The tunnels drop all 210 feet quickly and hand-over-hand climbing is required for the descent. Thick iron spikes, chains, rickety ladders and your sense of adventure are all you've got to help you down.

One of our guides regaled us with tales of the death of the falls' namesake, who tumbled over the drop-off when his rappel rope was sliced by the sharp travertine. Down climbing is a challenge in and of itself, not to mention dealing with polished foot holds and a steady stream of people. The stories of men falling to their deaths resulted in a nervous sense of anticipation. But with steady hands and a ton of encouragement, I made it to the bottom without panicking. After a seven-month hiatus from rock climbing, it was almost fun to scare myself like that again. And once you've made it through the tunnels, the view is other-worldly.

Ash Springs Canyon and the Natural Showers
After an extended stop at Mooney Falls, including swimming and exploring, we moved on to Ash Springs Canyon another mile down the trail. Edward Abbey pays tribute to the entire area, according to our guides, in a book that I've been told should be required reading for anyone with the ability to read - Desert Solitaire. We spent time running up and down the shallow creek bed, taking showers under waterfalls and riding currents downstream. It truly felt like a natural water park.

Our first view of Havasu Falls on the hike in.
Havasu Falls
In 2008, a major flash floor ripped through the canyon and caused significant erosion and changes to the landscape. Prior to the flood, Havasu Falls featured two separate streams of water cascading over the red rock, but now, there's only one. The series of pools, drainages, and smaller runoffs at the base of the falls make for a perfect set of swimming spots. If you go, plan to stay a while; ample shade from the cottonwoods, picnic tables and beach space make it almost impossible to leave.

Though we didn't stop at Havasu Falls on our tour, we spent over an hour splashing in the pools at the cascade's base after arriving in Supai on our hike in. It's the most photographed and most famous of all Supai-area waterfalls.

"Hidden Falls" or "Avatar Falls"
Heading back up out of Ash Springs Canyon, ascending the network of tunnels and ladders up Mooney Falls, then past Havasu Falls, our guides promised a stop at a place they'd never taken an organized group before. The Hidden Falls area is named as such not because it's a challenge to get to, or because it's a secret, but because it can't be seen from the main trails. Passersby will miss it if they don't know it's there. Lead guide Brian called it Avatar Falls after the recent movie release with similar computer-generated scenery. It would also be the first of three cliff jumping destinations on our journey. 

We walked upstream through the creek, dropped our gear and jumped in.The water was impossibly blue, cool and refreshing. Five minutes out of the pools and we'd all regret leaving. The more daring members of the crew climbed to the top of the falls and did back flips into the deep pool below. (In case there was any doubt, I was not one of those people, though I do regret it a bit. I let the fear rule me that day, but won't forever! It also gave me a chance to take some awesome GoPro video, coming soon!)

Guide Brian was the first one into the pool below "Hidden Falls." Cliff jumping options ranged from 8' to 30'!
New Navajo or New 50' Falls
The 2008 flood permanently changed the existing Navajo Falls, which is now dry. In its wake, a new series of waterfalls, were formed. With flash floods occurring regularly and the force the water exerts on the landscape, major changes are normal. We got a group "tour" of the area, which meant dropping packs, cameras and anything that couldn't take a pounding from water dropping down 50 feet directly on to our heads.

We traversed our way under each of the falls, including heading straight through what our guides called a "hurricane." Getting through the hurricane meant traversing a rock wall while being pounded with spray and strong winds from the cascading water. With my wet hair plastered to my head, I dropped out of the hurricane and into the final pool with a gigantic smile on my face. I've never experienced anything quite like it. We swam from pool to pool, from island to island, and I'd imagine an onlooker might mistake our party for a pack of 10 year-olds. The clear blue water seemed to bring out the kid in all of us.

The other-worldly beauty of New Navajo/New 50' Falls, and our group enjoying the beautiful, cool water!
Rock Falls
In addition to destroying Navajo Falls, the 2008 flood washed away pieces of the creek beds and caused serious erosion. But in its wake, Rock Falls formed just downstream from New Navajo Falls. It was our last stop on the "tour" and arguably the best spot for cliff jumping...if you're not afraid of heights. At 30 feet tall and nearly 100 feet wide, it's both a stunning display of Mother Nature's power and how quickly things can change. Several brave members of our party (intentionally) threw themselves over the falls and into the deep hole below. If you're jumping off falls this high, be sure to wear shoes.

If these photos weren't enough for you, I've got more posted here. Friends Heidi Henry, Katie Boué and Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd have some amazing shots up, too! Were you in the area before 2008? What did it look like before? Been there since 2008? Planning a trip and need more information? Mesmerized by the scenery? Leave a comment!


Heidi Henry said…
I love reliving our experiences through all of our blog posts and am so grateful to have met you.  Absolutely can't wait for our future adventures! 
Russ Beebe said…
Superb write-up, Katie. I appreciate your including some of the falls' history, nicely captured from your guides. And I'm especially intrigued by your mention of Edward Abbey, whose writings I discovered in college, and who was instrumental in my discovery of the Southwest. Abbey's Desert Solitaire is definitely required reading! I've been giving that book away as gifts to friends for years.
Katie Levy said…
 Thanks so much, Russ! Our guides had so much knowledge to pass on about the falls; I just couldn't keep track of all of it. I wrote down what stuck, but wish there was more! With both you and @whitneyio mentioning the book in the past 24 hours, I'm going to to get it right now :)
Katie Levy said…
I think that's part of why I split the trip into three posts - I want to relive the trip over and over!!
Lee said…
I go to this place every year and i have never seen this hidden falls. Can you please tell me exactly how to get there? My email address is I would really appreciate it
Katie said…
You're so lucky to go there every year! I have to be honest, I don't think I could get to Hidden Falls without the help of our guides. I'm sorry!
Trailmaster said…
Nice write up. I've been going since I was 2 years old & now I'm 56! I've been the past 7 years in a row, so I know what it looked like before & after the flood. But I'm interested in finding out where the hidden falls are? Are they up from Havasu Falls? Also, if you've never been to Beaver Falls it's worth the hike.
Katie L said…
Oh man, I can't imagine what it looked like before the floods! So neat that you've been able to see the area change. I honestly have no idea how to direct anyone to the hidden falls. Our guides did all the leading, and it was so long ago...but if I ever go back, I'll be sure to look for them! And I'll be sure to visit Beaver Falls too!
Grant Durtschi said…
Any indication of which section to look in? Is it between Beaver and Mooney? Maybe before Avatar? That might help others find it. I am looking on Google earth and see a few spots it might be.