If you like swimming in rivers and diving into little crystal clear pools of water (which I do), then this place is paradise. Absolutely an amazing experience.
Swimming at the top of these waterfalls was an excitement I get from few other places.
If this is remotely appealing, and assuming you like hiking, you have to go. HAVE to. And you have to go jump in at every major waterfall. (I obviously don’t mean jump off the giant waterfall to the shallow pool below, but instead there are many 3 – 10 foot pools at the base of every waterfall).
(I feel like the video, does more justice than the photos… So you can also watch our video of the Havasupai Falls here).
Quick note about safety:
I’m going to talk about how I dove in headfirst at many points, and how I swam up the edge of one of the falls. I felt safe, but I also double checked the depths (most of the time).
And the other thing is, just because you can do something, doesn’t mean it’s safe. There are many overlooks that I’m sure would’ve had a fence in a National Park, but there were less regulations here. In a sense it’s nice. Like how I barely missed being able to walk to the top of Chichen Itza on my first visit to Mexico… Which is a bummer. It’s awesome being able to walk around ruins and cliffs (like Angkor Wat). However, they stopped letting tourists do that after someone fell to their death.
My opinion is that this area is a disaster or two away from limiting the experience. For me, it was amazing being able to jump off of things without some life guard nagging me. However, I think you need to use caution at many overlooks.
The 5 Waterfalls
There are 4 or 5 main waterfalls in the Supai area. All of them are further down from the village and lodge, and only 1 is above the campground. The campground has a big waterfall on each side, and one a 15 minute walk uphill.
However, one waterfall, (Beaver Falls) is 2 miles further down than the campground.
I’ll post the waterfalls in order of top to bottom, descending down the trail.
Navajo & Little Navajo
This is actually two waterfalls, I’ll just call upper and lower.
This is by far my favorite area, because:
- It has much fewer people than the other easy-to-reach waterfall (because it’s a little further from camp).
- The lower one has the most interesting swimming.
- The upper one has the widest sets of those giant slabs coming down from the top of the falls… which is the most iconic part.
The Lower Navajo Falls
Ironically, as we were coming in a hiker who was leaving told us that the first falls were a “skip”. It ended up being one of my favorite experiences, not because it was the biggest (it definitely wasn’t), but because it was the most fun I had swimming.
From the top of the rapids above, I jumped off each set of falls until I was at the top of the main falls. If that sentence isn’t obvious enough, I’ll explain in detail.
First, there was a still pool of water at the top of the falls. Well, the water didn’t actually go over the edge there, and therefore there was an area that I perceived to be safe (although, asses at your own risk).
As shown above, you could stand right at the edge, and look over the falls. It’s like a way less scary version of the Devil’s Pool at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe (which I have yet to visit). As mentioned, the other experience was that all the rapids leading to the top of the lower falls were incredibly swimmable. The water was still enough that you could easily swim around, yet clear and deep from the rapids. And you could walk around, or step up out of the water on the ledges dividing the pools, like little terraces. I jumped off head first into each tier. We were there at sunset, and there was literally no one else there.
The Upper Falls
These falls are somehow emptier, as I assume people don’t know that you can walk around (you simply follow alongside the river upstream from the top of the lower falls). I thought this was the most impressive looking one, and you could walk right under it. The water is very shallow, so you could walk around the entire base of the falls. The pictures hopefully speak for themselves. Also, while the area directly below the falls is shallow, there is a very deep area where you could easily jump off a little 4 or 5 foot jump, then you can climb up the rapids. There is a rock that is below the rapids, but it was incredibly visible with the crystal clear water. However, I still kept hitting it when I’d jump at the base of the rapids, where the current was strongest, and would therefore throw me into the rock. Didn’t stop me from doing it 4+ times, but I’d advise jumping in to the right of the rock… although that’s probably obvious to anyone else.
This is the most popular waterfall, and where we spent most of our time, along with everyone else. It’s a little garden of eden in the desert – a lush green area with teal water cascading into a number of falls. The face of the waterfall is a giant red wall, tucked in a canyon with even taller walls on every side. It’s almost like going to a popular swimming hole in Austin. There are people lounging in the water at the different pools, just socializing. I enjoyed it a ton. And while it was by far the most popular area, it was hardly crowded. That is what shocked me most about this place, the lack of people. Yes, there are possibly hundreds of people camping. Yet, no one place is crowded. But do note that we were NOT there on a weekend. I have no idea how different it is on a weekend, but for our Monday – Thursday, it was perfect.
Mooney Falls are the tallest and the area has a few cool highlights. Most notably, there is a rope swing off a set of ~6 foot falls, a tree in the middle of the water that it hangs from, and the river goes along the canyon wall, which makes it an interesting place to swim.
But the most defining feature, to me at least, is the climb to the bottom. It is sketchy af.
I wasn’t sure where the trail down disappeared to, until I noticed a cave opening, that when I peaked inside, I realized was a staircase down.
That part is cool, and the rest is so unsafe I refused to go back down the next day to see the last falls.
Surprising to most people, I have a fear of heights. Really it’s a fear of falling, as roller coasters, skydiving, and skyscrapers are all enjoyable to me. But if I get it in my head that something is unsafe, and that I could trip and be seriously injured, I can’t/won’t continue.
I say all that because some people didn’t have a problem with it at all. At all. Nada. But another guy at the bottom seemed to be freaked out as well, so I’m not alone.
None the less, I did it.
Not only is it super steep with no handrails, only hanging chains at one part, but the spray of the waterfall makes all the rock slippery. It was too much for me.
Watch the video:
For someone not scared of heights though, you might as well visit it, as it’s a cool area and just at the bottom of the camp.
The last set of falls is Beaver Falls, which is about 2 miles past Mooney Falls (which means you have to go down the slippery staircase of doom).
I didn’t want to go, so Google it, or here are some pics on Instagram.
In 7 years, I don’t rave about a place often.
When people ask my favorite places, the short list is one or two of: Sri Lanka; Rajasthan; Bosnia & Herzegovina and Bulgaria; any good African safari… maybe Italy.
But as someone who loves hiking and nature, this goes up on that list. It’s an experience. Hiking in, seeing the sites, and swimming.
This was a beautiful area that I’d love to go back to with friends.
When I do go back, it’s important that it be warm enough to swim. Early September is fine with me, as it’s still hot enough in the air that the cold water feels nice. But if it was not warm enough to swim it would not be the same experience.
Comparing To The Normal Grand Canyon Hike
A few years ago we did the North Kaibab trail down to Phantom Ranch, (and the Bright Angel Trail up). Of those two, the North Kaibab Trail might be my favorite, but both of them have a grand feeling.
Truly, you feel as if you’re a tiny dot walking into this enormous Canyon, only to realize that the canyon you’re hiking into is just a tiny sliver, one of many canyons that feed into the canyon that goes along the Colorado River.
The grand enormousness of the canyon was not something I felt as much hiking into the Havasupai falls.
To me, the Havasupai Falls are about the joy of a long scenic hike, with the most beautiful waterfalls I’ve ever seen at the end.
Both are different experiences, and I highly recommend both. I think I enjoyed the experience of swimming in the Havasupai Falls better, but largely because I enjoy swimming so much.
My honest opinion is that they are both worth doing. And that’s not just avoiding giving an opinion, as these are two of the best parks in the US, by far. I’ve been to a lot of National Parks and recently revisited two of my favorites, Glacier and Yellowstone. But few are experiences the way these are.
This is not about seeing a good view, this is an awesome experience.