Havasu Falls, Arizona
Photo by Natalie McMillan
Read something else

My First Backpacking Trip to Havasu Falls

Let’s throw it back to about three years ago. My first backpacking trip. I was just a wee little caterpillar in college and had never really experienced what real “backpacking” was. But I loved to hike and I loved the outdoors, so it would be pretty easy right? HA, wrong.

Natalie McMillan       Trip Report       10/5/2018
Natalie McMillan
Trip Report
10/5/2018

Hiking to Havasu Falls in May 2015 was an experience I will never forget. My best friend invited me and our other friend to join her and her family on this glorious trip down in the Grand Canyon. Being the little adventurous sophomore I was, I was stoked. But here’s the thing, I knew NOTHING about backpacking. I just expected it to be like camping: bring as much stuff as you can shove into your car, except this time it would just be a backpack. So that’s what I did.

 

After hiking over 20 miles round trip and camping for two nights, I learned a few things from my first time backpacking. All you thru-hikers and experienced backpackers are going to laugh and say “Wow this dumb girl didn’t know anything!” And rightfully so because I had no experience. I didn’t google “Backpacking 101” or look up a backpacking starter kit of some sort. I just went for it! And here is what I learned…

Feet dangling over a waterfall wearing Chacos sandals with bandages.
My best friend and I sitting at the top of Mooney Falls with our super outdoorsy Chacos.
Photo by Natalie McMillan

WHAT NOT TO DO: Buy new shoes a few days before your hike and then wear them on your hike.

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO: Buy new shoes months before your hike and BREAK. THEM. IN.  But everybody knows that, right?? Well I didn’t.

I started preparing for my first backpacking trip like most people do – by getting new shoes. Because if you know about Havasu Falls, then you know that there’s water everywhere. And because I am always down for shopping and buying new things, that meant I could get new water shoes. I went down to my local REI and bought a new pair of Chacos sandals. “A month before your hike?” Oh no… THREE DAYS before my hike. Yes, it was a very bad idea. And yes I did wear them starting out on our ten mile hike down into the canyon. And yes I did get a million blisters. And yes I did stop halfway down, bandage my feet up, and wear my running shoes for the remainder of the hike down.

Girls hiking to Havasu Falls and resting on a rock with their backpacking backpacks.
My friends and I taking a breather, while I situated my poor, blistered feet in some more appropriate shoes.
Photo by Natalie McMillan

WHAT NOT TO DO: Rent a giant backpack because that means you can bring more stuff and fill it to the brim with crap you don’t need.

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO: Rent or buy a backpack months before your hike to test how much weight you can carry. Oh and only fill it with things YOU ACTUALLY NEED (a.k.a. plan ahead and pack early!).

Hiking to Havasupai Falls through a canyon.
Hiking in the shade >>>
Photo by Natalie McMillan
Girls hiking to Havasu Falls with backpacking backpacks.
Here you can see the top of my head peeking over my giant, overstuffed backpack.
Photo by Natalie McMillan

Two days before my backpacking trip, I went with my best friend and her family to the local outdoor gear store to rent a “backpacking backpack” because I didn’t have $200 to spare as a college student to buy a brand new one. They had a variety of sizes and colors to choose from, so naturally I went for the biggest and brightest one they had. I walked out of the store with a bright red, 65L Deuter backpack.

 

When I got home, I started to gather all of the things I needed to bring on my hike. I found my sleeping bag (definitely not lightweight), my hammock (which I planned to sleep in), a blanket (in case it got cold at night), a towel, my new (worn for two days) Chacos, my running shoes, my birkenstocks (so I had more shoes to wear around camp duh!), my swimsuit, I think probably five different outfits, all of my toiletries, headlamp, sunscreen, food, and a bunch of other random little things I can’t even remember. Once I had it all laid out, I shoved it all in my backpack. If I remember correctly, I believe it weighed between 30-40 pounds. Now keep in mind, I’m a fairly petite, five foot girl with a 65L backpack strapped to my back.

 

Hiking down to Havasu Falls on day one wasn’t that bad, but when we left camp to hike out on day three, I thought my back was going to give out. Not even an hour into our hike up and out of the canyon, we stopped, and my friend and her parents took some stuff out of my backpack to add to theirs to help lighten my load. I was so grateful for their help, but even then, I still remember getting to the switchbacks and feeling like I wasn’t going to make it out of the canyon. TIP: LEAVE EARLY OR LATE IN THE EVENING. DO NOT HIKE OUT IN THE HEAT OF THE DAY.  

Dehydrated mac n cheese while camping at Havasupai Falls.
Never again.
Photo by Natalie McMillan

WHAT NOT TO DO: Buy a bunch of dehydrated mac n’ cheese meals because you love mac n’ cheese and it probably will taste the exact same as regular mac n’ cheese that you make at home. Oh and then don’t bring a lot of other food because you are already super prepared with your four bags of dehydrated mac n’ cheese.

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO: Try dehydrated meals at home BEFORE you prepare them out in the depths of the Grand Canyon. But more importantly, pack other food that you know you will actually enjoy eating.

We stayed at the Havasu Falls campground for two nights, which meant I needed to pack lunch and dinner for two days. My two best friends and I headed to our local REI where we decided to buy some dehydrated meals to cook with the fancy Jet Boil my bff’s family was bringing along. Being the picky eater that I am, I perused the aisle looking for a meal I knew I really liked. BINGO – mac n’ cheese it was. I decided to buy four bags because I loved mac n’ cheese so so sooooo much that I wouldn’t mind eating it for four meals in a row. HA, wrong again!

 

It was my first attempt at cooking dehydrated food. I followed the directions on the bag, poured the water from the Jet Boil in, and waited for my noodles to cook. Except guess what? They never fully cooked and I was forced to eat hard noodles covered in an interesting cheese sauce that did not taste like Kraft, let me tell you. But that’s not even the best part… I was supposed to eat the same thing for the NEXT THREE MEALS. Let’s just say my stomach was not very happy with me and I think I gave up after the second attempt. I was relieved to find my friends’ dehydrated meals tasted much better than mine and was even more grateful that they were kind enough to share with me. I don’t think I ate mac n’ cheese for the next 7 months following my hike.

IN THE END…

I learned a lot from my first backpacking experience. Most things were what I should NOT do on my next backpacking trip, but that’s what a “backpacking for dummies” book is all about! After all the things I dealt with, I’d still say my hike to Havasu Falls was totally worth it. I MEAN JUST LOOK AT ALL THAT TURQUOISE WATER. It is the perfect getaway for the relaxed – I just want to float around in magical water and soak up the sunshine – hiker, and the adventuresome – I want to jump off of all the waterfalls – hiker. Although I had a bit of a rough start, I would still recommend this trip for beginning backpackers. As long as you do your research beforehand and don’t do what I did, you will have so much fun exploring one of the most beautiful wonders that Arizona has to offer!

 

Here are some of my favorite photos from my trip:

A beautiful view from the top of Havasupai Falls.
WOW look at the view!  – Havasu Falls
Photo by Natalie McMillan
Navajo Falls in Havasu Canyon.
When you get a sneak preview before the real Havasu Falls – Navajo Falls
Photo by Natalie McMillan
HIking along the stream from Havasupai Falls to Beaver Falls.
Casually just hiking through magical waters on your way from Mooney Falls to Beaver Falls.
Photo by Natalie McMillan
Hiking from Mooney Falls to Beaver Falls in Havasu Canyon.
Crossing magic bridges on your way from Mooney Falls to Beaver Falls.
Photo by Natalie McMillan
View of Mooney Falls from the top in Havasu Canyon.
Mooney Falls just showing off.
Photo by Natalie McMillan
Beaver Falls in Havasupai Falls Canyon.
OH OK Beaver Falls, I SEE YOU.
Photo by Natalie McMillan
Beaver Falls in Havasupai Falls Canyon.
Can you believe this hidden water oasis exists in some crevice of the Grand Canyon??? – Beaver Falls
Photo by Natalie McMillan
The view from the top of Beaver Falls in Havasupai Falls Canyon.
I could have stayed there all day – Beaver Falls
Photo by Natalie McMillan

Read more!

Check out some of our other blog posts.

Get our hiking guide for this area!

Arizona Trail

The Arizona Trail stretches 800 scenic miles (1280 km) across the state of Arizona from Mexico to Utah. It passes through some of the most diverse and beautiful landscapes in the state, including multiple National Forests, Saguaro National Park, and Grand Canyon National Park. Our hiking guide is the official app of the Arizona Trail Association.

800 miles       $9.99 full guide       Official App
Explore the Trail
Grand Canyon, Arizona Trail
Photo courtesy of the Arizona Trail Association
A view from the Arizona Trail on the rim of the Grand Canyon shows a variety of red rock colors and spring foliage.
Grand Canyon, Arizona Trail
Photo courtesy of the Arizona Trail Association
Get our hiking guide for this area!

Arizona Trail

The Arizona Trail stretches 800 scenic miles (1280 km) across the state of Arizona from Mexico to Utah. It passes through some of the most diverse and beautiful landscapes in the state, including multiple National Forests, Saguaro National Park, and Grand Canyon National Park. Our hiking guide is the official app of the Arizona Trail Association.

800 miles
$9.99 full guide
Official App
Explore the Trail
About the Author
A woman wearing a baseball cap and American flag tank top stands in front of a beautiful view.

Natalie McMillan

Natalie grew up hiking in Arizona where she fell in love with the outdoors. Her favorite hikes are to Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon and Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, UT. She loves taking pictures of people and places and nature, which might explain why she has almost 23,000 photos currently residing on her phone. She takes care of all things social media/marketing-related and might be seen frolicking around Flagstaff taking photos of the Arizona Trail.