by Alison Givand
My husband and I became interested in Grand Canyon National Park after a brief trip to the South Rim while in Arizona. Most people don’t venture below the rim, but we wanted to hike to the bottom. We came back a year later and did just that.
A few years later, we decided that we really wanted our children (ages 7, 9 and 11 at the time) to experience the beauty of the Grand Canyon, so we planned a family adventure. We chose to hike in from the west side and camp near Havasu Falls.
Havasu Falls is located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon on land owned by the Havasupai people. The only way to reach Havasupai Campground is by hiking 10 miles down, riding a pack animal or taking a helicopter.
The name Havasupai means “people of the blue green waters.” As you trek along Havasu Creek and see the waterfalls, the reason for the name becomes obvious. The aquamarine water is stunning and beckons you to come closer.
Preparing for the trip
We took our trip over Spring Break in March 2013 after months of planning. Camping in Havasupai requires a permit, which can be a little tricky to get. Sites fill quickly after reservations open up at the beginning of each year. At that time, permits and campsites could only be reserved by phone.
Also, it’s a bit pricey. They charge an overnight fee, entrance fee and environmental fee per person. For five of us camping three nights we had to pay around $600 dollars. That’s definitely not your usual camping cost!
We also had the expense of renting a mule for our heaviest packs holding our tents, food and other necessities. We packed as light as possible, but the packs still get very heavy.
Our trip began when we flew to Las Vegas from Minneapolis and drove four hours to the west side of Grand Canyon. We stayed in a little motel in Peach Springs in the Hualapai Reservation on Route 66.
We woke up early and drove to the trailhead parking lot. We brought our gear packs over to the mule train to be loaded, leaving us with only individual hydration packs to carry. The top of of the trail was quite chilly and we had our layers, hats and gloves on as we began to descend. Walking down was easy and we were excited to get going.
The long hike down
The kids all had great attitudes as we started out. Every so often, we stopped to take pictures, look around or have a snack. The temperature got warmer as we went and we started to shed layers.
A few hours into the hike, our 9 year old complained that his legs were hurting. We checked it out and discovered that his new hiking pants (cheap ones from a discount store) were chafing his inner thighs as he walked. His other change of clothes were in the packs with the mules.
So, we did the unthinkable and told him to take off his pants and hike in his underwear! He was in enough pain, he did just that, wrapping his jacket around his waist to cover up a bit. He handled the teasing from his siblings fairly well.
We reached the bottom of the canyon and the village of Supai (8 miles down) around lunch time. We waited in line at the tribal office to pick up our permit and pay the fees. Then we ate at the village cafe since the rest of our trip’s food would consist of crackers, tuna, trail mix and dehydrated meals.
Two more miles of hiking and we made it to the campground! Havasupai Campground is long, with a trail running through it. It can hold up to 300 people and is situated along Havasu Creek. There’s a natural spring with fresh water for drinking and cooking. The toilets are compost toilets and all trash needs to be packed out. There are no showers and no campfires are allowed.
We found a nice camping spot (it’s first come, first serve for spots) and settled in. We were fairly close to the spring for water supply and the bathrooms. Havasu Creek was on one side and a towering rock wall was on the other. Besides cottonwood trees and a few bushes, there really wasn’t much vegetation.
Many campers brought a camp hammock and so did we. The kids really liked that and our 12 year old used it a lot to lay around and read. In March, the temperature was in the 60’s and 70’s during the day and in the 40’s at night. The water temperature of the creek and waterfalls is always around 70 degrees.
Not a child in sight!
The first morning we got up started out a little bumpy. The kids started playing around the campground while Jake and I got breakfast going. There were a lot of rocky areas and foot bridges over the creek to make exploring fun. There was also a horse wandering around that let you walk up and pet it.
Once breakfast was ready, we looked around and called for the kids. They were nowhere to be seen. We started down the trail thinking they must have just ventured a bit further than we thought. Still, they weren’t around. I started to get panicky after about ten minutes of searching. Jake and I split up and he went one direction and I went the other.
Not a child in sight!
Finally after about a half hour they came down the trail. Our seven year old had hiked a half-mile down, discovered a two-hundred foot waterfall called Mooney Falls (which we were planning to visit later in the day). When he came back he told the other kids to come see and they went down to it again.
Needless to say, they got a big talking-to about going off on their own!
The long hike back up
After three days of relaxation and playing in the creek and waterfalls, it was time to head back. We were all a little nervous about the trip back up. I was afraid the kids would have meltdowns when the climbing got tough.
We got up very early and packed up our camping gear in the dark. We started out, eating cold Pop Tarts for a quick breakfast we could have while still moving. It was an arduous climb, but we did it in five hours. The worst was the last couple miles at the end to the steep top.
Our youngest had a tough time, but then his competitive nature took over and he didn’t want his brother to beat him to the top. We made it, huffing and puffing and were grateful to see men sitting around selling cold soda in coolers.
We all agreed this camping trip was worth the cost, effort and work to get there. Our kids still say they want to go back again someday…and maybe we will.
Alison lives in Blaine, Minnesota with her husband Jake and their four children. The Givands love going on adventurous outdoor expeditions together. Alison also enjoys reading, spending time with friends and family, traveling, cooking and a good cup of tea.
(PHOTOS: All photos courtesy of Alison Givand © 2017 )