Backpacking in Havasupai, Grand Canyon

August 21, 2020


Havasupai Falls probably tops the list of most beautiful places I’ve been to. It is located in the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. The Havasupai Indian Reservation is a Native American Reservation that is considered to be one of the most remote Indian reservations in the United States. It truly feels like you’re in a different world there and I am so excited to bring this blog to you! 

So, a crazy thing happened last Thanksgiving. I was fortunate enough to have a friend who was able to score the backpacking permits online. They go so fast that the website crashed numerous times the day tickets opened for sale! The moment my friend had let me know that she was able to get the permits, I sent over the money for mine. 

Then she proceeded to tell me that the dates we had received permits for were Thanksgiving weekend, which fell on November 27th. Now, if you hadn’t noticed, that’s just days away from the beginning of winter. Sure enough, the weather report forecasted heavy rains along with snowfall at the trailhead midway through the trip. Certainly not what we had in mind, but we were excited to take the challenge and we were off! 

Day one was clear and beautiful, albeit extremely windy. It took about 4.5-5 hours to hike in, and camp was set up within another hour. We found a secluded spot on some high ground across the main river that flowed through camp. That night, we all feasted on some Backcountry dehydrated pad Thai that I kid you not was…really..really good. Come nightfall, stargazing is a must. There are no city lights pollution, no campfires allowed, and absolutely nothing to hinder your view of seeing every single star in the sky.

Day two started the way day one ended; with clear skies. However, clouds rolled in just before lunch and they brought a light drizzle into camp. Regardless, the plan for the day was to do the Beaver Falls hike which is the most epic hike I’ve ever been on. It starts with the Mooney Falls descent, which is about 100ft of free-hanging on some chains and makeshift steps in a vertical rock wall. Yeah, that was scarier than skydiving for me. Especially considering the drizzle makes the rock and chain slippery. It took a good 20 minutes to get down the rock wall to start going deeper into the Grand Canyon. After the descent, you hike through 2.5 miles of stunning scenery. The drizzle actually seemed to have enhanced the atmosphere. When we arrived at Beaver Falls, the drizzle had started to pick up a bit so we didn’t stay too long before starting to head back. By the time we ascended Mooney Falls, it was dark and our drizzle had turned heavy. Things stayed the same until 10 pm that night when it escalated to a full rainstorm. Our camp setup was holding nicely, save for the tarp covers which constantly pooled up water. This proved to be a huge problem during the night. My boyfriend ended up having to poke around 15 throughout the tarp covers at 3 am in the morning.

When we woke up for day three the next morning, we were immediately greeted by a Supai villager who walked by to tell us our side of the camp had to be evacuated as most of the bridges had collapsed during the night.  Everyone on our side was told to pack up camp ASAP and follow the village workers to a makeshift bridge that crossed the rushing river. While all this chaos was happening, we found out that the entire camp was hit with a mini flash flood. A group of 18 camper groups who were in the middle of the campgrounds had been flooded in during the night. An off duty firefighter who was camping with his family was the first to realize what was going on when we woke up in 6” of water. He told us he woke his family up and had them salvage what they could while he went uphill to warn everyone else nearby. If I’m not mistaken, his family, as well as a few other groups, got their gear washed away in the flood, and because of this, he worked all night with the villager workers to help trapped campers. Our Facebook group was able to locate this hero and that’s how we found out he was an off duty firefighter captain. Duty called and he answered right away. 

Once the rain died down, we were greeted with sun and clear skies for the rest of our trip. Various campers had gear hanging to dry all over camp, with about half of the campers needing to relocate. Some were forced to stay in the village as they were scheduled to leave but couldn’t due to icy road conditions at the trailhead. Those campers had to stay an extra day or two so everyone in camp united together in sharing food to various campers who needed it. Such an awesome thing to see. That night, the Supai villagers and rangers allowed all of us to set up campfires to dry gear and clothes, something usually not allowed due to serious wildfire risk.

On day four, our final day, it was clear but cold and the hike back up was a breeze until we reached the switchbacks going back up. That’s where we realized snowfall had hit pretty hard. The untouched snow was about knee high and the trail itself became slushy and icy. What took about 30 minutes total to hike down, took more than triple the time going back up under these conditions. But we finally made it back up to the top to complete this epic journey. This backpacking trip was truly an experience I will never forget and I am so excited for all of the future ones to come! 

I also want to give a shout out to my couples thinking of eloping or getting married in a National Park or a location where we may need to hike in and out of. I am the photographer for you! I am experienced in backpacking, travel planning, and safely navigating the best spots for photos. If the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, or any other area is calling your name, reach out to me through my contact page and I’d love to help you plan your elopement! 


Hilary Kao


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Backpacking in Havasupai, Grand Canyon by Hilary Kao Photo. Including hiking photos, couples session inspiration, nature photography and outdoor photography inspiration. Book your Los Angeles wedding and browse the blog for more inspiration #photography #weddingplanning #weddingtips #weddingphotography #LosAngelesphotographer

Backpacking in Havasupai, Grand Canyon by Hilary Kao Photo. Including hiking photos, couples session inspiration, nature photography and outdoor photography inspiration. Book your Los Angeles wedding and browse the blog for more inspiration #photography #weddingplanning #weddingtips #weddingphotography #LosAngelesphotographer

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