A travelogue of my photography trip to Havasupai Falls in the southwestern area of the Grand Canyon, Arizona.
I’ve wanted to travel to Havasupai in the Grand Canyon and photograph the beautiful turquoise water there for many years, but never seemed to actually accomplish that objective. It was because I didn’t really relish the idea of hiking over ten miles into and out of the canyon carrying my rather heavy camera gear in addition to all the essentials required for about three days of camping.
Recently, my friend Dan, with his daughter and her friend, invited me to go with them on a camping trip to Havasupai Falls, with the promise that we’d helicopter out of the canyon. That made the prospect of carrying all my camping and camera gear only one direction a bit more tolerable. So off we went.
After driving about 7 hours from San Diego to the trail head parking area at Hualapai Hilltop, located in the southwestern part of the Grand Canyon, we began our decent into the canyon. After approximately six captivating miles we come to an intersection with another tributary canyon where we first see that peculiar turquoise water flowing. The color is derived from the high concentrations of lime which liberally coats the stream bed and surrounding pools producing that unique blue green hue. From here the path generally follows the stream leading about two more miles to the village of Supai.
After checking in at the tribal tourist office and grabbing a quick lunch at the little diner, we hike another two miles to reach the campground and then another half mile before finding a camp site we like along Havasu Creek under cool shade trees.
Once settled in and bereft of our packs, we head off to Mooney Falls for an evening swim and some photography. However, halfway down we discover a rather unnerving near vertical climb down to the bottom which requires the use of both hands and feet. Since our legs were still ailing from our long hike, and I was lugging a tripod and full frame camera, we postponed our decent for the following evening.
The next day, our legs were still sore but much recovered. Having a friend place my tripod in his daypack for the climb down, I was then able to use both hands to hold onto the chains anchored into the rock for last fifty feet or so to the bottom. (Climbing back up wasn’t nearly as unnerving as the climb down. Be sure to watch Dan’s video of the climb back up and out, attached here.) Once at the bottom, we were treated to a surreal view of the area.
There are four major waterfalls in the Havasupai area. In order of distance from the village, they are: Navajo Falls (and New Navajo Falls a short distance away), Havasupai Falls, Mooney Falls and finally Beaver Falls a few miles further downstream. We didn’t make it to Beaver Falls.
Havasupai and Mooney Falls are best photographed in late afternoon or evening when in full shade, or during cloud cover to minimize the high contrast light of mid-day. Navajo Falls is in full shade early morning. A polarizing filter is extremely helpful to reduce glare and enhance color. If high contrast light is present as it was when I shot Navajo Falls, HDR photography is a useful way to rescue the situation.
Our final day we hiked back to the village stopping at the creek and falls along the way to cool off and replenish drinking water. We grabbed dinner at the diner and spent our last night at the lodge so we can get an early start the next day.
Despite pre-registering for our helicopter flight weeks before, and being among the first in line at 7:30am (sign in starts at 8:00am and first flight just after 9:00am), we didn’t get our flight out until about 1:00pm. That’s primarily because the Supai tribe members get first preference despite registration or when they arrive at the helo pad. What took nearly 5 hours to hike in only took about 5 minutes to fly out.
I’m glad I took the opportunity to visit this part of the Grand Canyon. If you think you’d like to make the trip, I’d suggest brining at least 2 or 3 liters of water for the trip down. After that , its easy to replenish water by treating or filtering. You’ll want warm weather if you plan on swimming but you’ll probably want to avoid the hottest months and monsoon season. You should also be in decent physical shape for the hike. Even if you plan on staying the whole time at the lodge and therefore won’t need a heavy pack, you’ll have to make a 2 mile hike each way to the falls everyday.
If you found this travelog helpful, please drop me a line and let me know. As always, remember to keep shooting!