8 Tips for Hiking Arizona's Havasupai Falls
KEEN ambassador Chelsea Yamase puts her Terradora hiking shoes to the test in the rugged, multi-faceted terrain surrounding Havasupai Falls.
When KEEN told me the inspiration behind their woman-specific TrailFit line was to create the ultimate shoe for modern, adventure-loving ladies, I knew it was perfect for me. I also knew that coming up with a design that looked great, wore better, and was as at home on technical trails as it was crossing New York City would be a tough order. So when they sent me my Terradora shoes to try out, I figured they deserved something special in the way of a test run. With that in mind, my friends and I hiked ten miles in the remote Arizona desert to Havasupai and spent four days exploring its iconic canyons and waterfalls. Here’s a guide to some of some of the things I learned while there, including some travel for those of you who may want to tie on some Terradoras and see this amazing space for yourselves.
1. Go in the off season. We went mid-week in February and were out by Friday. I saw a total of five people in the first few days, and we were the only ones at every waterfall we visited. It was absolutely magical. Peak traffic is during spring break and summer (June – August especially), and reservations often sell out months in advance. This time of year is worth thinking about if you're like me and prefer solitude in nature. The biggest drawback to going in February was the lack of foliage – barren trees made for less colorful photographs.
2. Book ahead. Havasupai's online reservation system for camp permits begins on February 1. Spots go quickly, so check availability and book online at www.havasupaireservations.com. Take note: when you pick up your camping permit in Havasupai village (mile six of the trail), you’ll also pay a $50 entrance fee.
3. The road to the trailhead has lots of animal activity. If you're driving in at night, use extreme caution. Jackrabbits, deer, and cattle all came within inches of my front bumper and led to some heart-pounding, brake-stomping moments on the last 65 miles of windy road to the trailhead.
4. You’ll wish for a bear box. Oh, no one told you there were bears in the desert? Okay, there aren't. But be prepared for your camp to be assaulted day and night by… Squirrels. They’ll open zippers, chew through aluminum, and can steal things up to five-times their body weight. I didn't have enough paracord to hang our food, so the best option we found was to store it in a waterproof bag inside a closed backpack inside a zipped tent.
5. You'll want both hiking shoes and water shoes. The 10-mile hike itself is on a maintained trail, however the 2,000’ elevation change within the first mile and uneven terrain warrant proper footwear. Think lots of sand, loose rocks, and boulder hopping. My lightweight Terradora boots are my new favorite in terms of ankle support and being waterproof without being some super heavy backpacking boot. Water shoes are great for day trips to the waterfalls, especially Beaver Falls, as many of the foot bridges were washed away in a flood.
6. The toilets are surprisingly nice – use them. Thankfully, they were a departure from most of my experiences in campground pit toilets. You feel like you’re walking in to a nicely swept house rather than some smelly wet den of darkness. They use sawdust composting, you sprinkle some in when you're done, and it has zero smell. They’re so clean one of my friends strung his hammock underneath the bathroom’s deck and slept there for a night. Plus, using them helps keep the soil and river systems clean.
7. Helicoptering out. You can get into Havasupai by hiking, pack mule, or helicopter. If you plan on the helicopter, bring cash ($85 each) or they’ll charge an extra $10 credit card fee per person. AirWest is the only carrier in the winter, and runs on Fridays and Sundays with no reservation needed.
8. It's way, way prettier than you expect. I'm incredibly lucky to get to spend time in some of the most beautiful places on Earth. Even so, Havasupai shattered any expectations I had, filling me with a sense of wonder and amazement. As a writer, I struggled to find words and as a photographer I took far too many pictures. Sapphire water tumbled off warm sandstone cliffs into lush valleys of cottonwood and elm trees. Deeply textured canyon walls rise hundreds of feet to meet star-filled night skies. It feels like an oasis designed from the most wildly imagined childhood dreams. Rope swings, swimming holes, ladders bolted to cliff sides, tunnels to waterfalls… It truly was one of my favorite backpacking trips.
So how did my Terradoras do? Bottom line, they delivered, keeping up with me on the trail and, as you can see in the photos, keeping my feet looking good while they did so. Here’s to more adventures together!