Hotter than that? Most definitely.
Hiking in the Grand Canyon in late June may not sound very appealing to some, maybe less so while the West was experiencing some dangerously high heat and slew of deadly wildfires over the summer.
But your destination —
My hiking-enthused daughter Chaya, along with our small group of four intrepid trekkers and our excellent,super-duper-enthused guide began our experience at the Hualapai Hilltop trailhead, at an elevation of some 7,000 feet, just west of Grand Canyon National Park. The trailhead appears at the end of Indian Highway 18 — literally, there’s no more road. And getting there can be an adventure in itself as you’ll travel part of historic Route 66 through Seligman if you’re coming from Flagstaff.
The only way to get into the canyon is by hiking, helicopter (but there is still a 2-mile hike to the falls) or horse. There are no roads. And keep in mind there are no clean water sources at the trailhead until you reach the village 6 miles away, so make sure you bring at least three liters of water and snacks for the journey down. Plan on hiking about 4 to 7 hours each way, on average, to and from the falls. During the summer months temperatures can reach up to 115 degrees. We kind of lucked out — temperatures only got to about 96 (in the shade).
The trek is not the easiest. If you’ve hiked the Grand Canyon, either rim-to-rim, the Bright Angel or one of the other trails, you’ll know to expect some dust here, some rocks there, and some demanding elevation changes. If you’re a newbie, expect a very doable challenge, especially the first 1½ miles, where the trail descends about 2,400 feet. Just don’t forget to enjoy the views while you’re at it. Preparing yourself for the hike, no matter the time of year, will go a long way toward your enjoying the experience much more.
Following that descent, the walking gets easier as the trail traverses a gently rolling, mostly sandy and gravely arroyo — a dry river bed — where millions of years of canyon evolution and history are revealed through towering walls of one-of-a-kind rock formations and some vegetation. Stopping for a break at times you’re awed by the vast quietness.
Just before you hit the outskirts of the village, Havasu Creek is a welcome sight. The rushing water, which flows out from a hidden limestone aquifer deep within the canyon’s walls just above the village, is a great place to dip a dusty hat, bandana or shirt to cool off. Also just before the main village, be sure to stop at Sinyella’s, a small convenience store, nicely stocked with cold drinks, ice cream, snacks, and good cheer.
About 8 miles into your hike, you’ll come to the Supai Village, home to the Havasupai Tribe, which lays claim to about 188,077 acres of canyon land and broken plateaus abutting the western edge of the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. The tribe has lived in the Grand Canyon for about 800 years, but in the 1880s was forced to abandon most of its ancestral land for the development of the Santa Fe Railroad and a silver rush. And the inception of the Grand Canyon as a national park in 1919 pushed the Havasupai to the brink. Throughout the 20th century, however, the tribe was able make some legal headway in an effort to regain some of its land, to where finally its reservation was substantially broadened with the passage of the Grand Canyon National Park Enlargement Act in 1975.
The tribe — its name means “people of the blue green water” — controls the ins and outs of the fragile Havasu Canyon, accepting reservation requests for hiking and campground accommodations at the falls. (Its online reservations system has been overrun with requests and is currently not operating, but you can call the tribe’s tourist office to check on availability for the rest of this year and into 2018.)
The tribe and the lands are not part of the national park system, so visitors have to play by their rules and are asked to respect tribal rights and privacy.
After the village, the last 2 miles of the hike, your legs will be starting to talk to you a bit as you’ll be tracking mostly sandy areas along the creek, taking in some beautiful water features, and crossing a couple of bridges before you finally arrive at the top of Havasu Falls.
A pretty amazing sight to see, and more amazing is the fact that the 100-foot natural wonder is just one piece of a vast network of waterfalls and creeks traversing the canyon where they ultimately meet up with the Colorado River another 9 miles downstream.
The water’s blue-green hue owes itself to a high concentration of lime which is deposited on the creek bed where it builds terraces. Sticks and leaves trapped in the deposited travertine help this process.
Just beyond Havasu, the campgrounds, which can accommodate up to 300 travelers, are mostly shaded, right along the creek, with fresh drinking water nearby from an ever-flowing natural spring.
Just a short half mile down trail from our campground is Mooney Falls, which boasts a dramatic 200-foot drop and features a unique chain/ladder system cut into the rock if you want to venture to the bottom and take a dip or pictures. A sign warns visitors to “Descend At Your Own Risk.”
Day hikes into the canyon are not allowed, so you’ll have to get a campsite. Going on your own, expect to pay at least about $85 plus tax, which includes an entrance fee, an environmental fee, and the camping permit of $25 per night, so it can add up. Hiring a pack mule and/or riding a horse will cost you about $121 one way, $242 round trip.
With campsites usually booked months in advance, hooking up with a guided tour company like the one we used, Wildland Trekking or Four Seasons Guides, both based in Flagstaff, may not be a bad idea. You may have to pay a little more but you’ll get their expertise and help and many guides know much of the area’s history.
And going with a small group of like-minded folks who love late June heat in Arizona is a surefire way to make some new friends and have some fun along the way.
Jesse M. Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.