So there are plenty of blog posts out there about hiking Havasu, what it’s like, how to prepare, details, etc. So I’m going to try and either speed through those things and not repeat all the usual info. Instead I’m gonna try to focus more on the November specific experience. So here we go!
For starters, we all know the usual now about the lottery system. So make sure you sign up for the newsletter for updates and details on when that’s going to go down and prices for the season. Now let’s say you get in and the only dates left are for November, understandably there would be concern about weather, conditions, will it be enjoyable/the same. I went in November and would say it was 100% worth it and doable.
Trip Date: Nov 21-23, 2018 (Thanksgiving break)
Length: 3 Days, 2 Nights (I would recommend 4 days, 3 nights if possible. We definitely wanted more time to explore but 3/2 is fine in a pinch if that’s all that’s available)
Cool during the day, perfect hiking weather in and out. But colder at night for camping. More on this later under campsite section. 1 day had a 60% chance of rain. Rained one day for half the night until mid morning. With a small shower around noon that ended quickly. Perfect weather aside from that. I was hiking in shorts and a tank top during the day most of the time. Although it did get chilly at times. I suggest layers. Especially if it starts raining. The water is a bit cold to full on swim in, especially with the cold air breezing by once you get out. So this is probably the biggest con for going in November. However, it is not too cold for a quick jump in if you want a picture. But it’s definitely not floating around lounging pool weather.
*Right before I jumped into the falls and decided a picture on a rock was warmer + a long exposure of the falls right before a noon rain shower*
The Hike Down
8 miles down to the village. 10 miles total down to the campsite. Remember that you have to check into the tourism office in the village before proceeding to the campsite. There you will get your wristbands and tent tags. Plan accordingly to get there before it closes. We were concerned about this because the website at the time had listed a different (much earlier) closing hour for the November season. But it stayed open until around 5pm.
Usually during the hotter summer season, people like to start their hikes at the crack of dawn to avoid the heat. Which is smart because there is minimal to no coverage on the entire hike. Plus you will want to get there early to nab a parking space. However, none of this is a problem if you are going in November! There was a good number of parking spots open pretty close to the start of the trail head. And the weather was perfect for the whole hike down, it never got too hot or anything. I’d argue it was a bit cold at times.
We drove in from Needles and had a pretty late start, 11am ish. And we were fine, so don’t feel pressure to start crazy early if you are driving in from somewhere a little further. I wouldn’t really recommend starting any later than 11am though, because you still want to leave time to find a campsite and set up – which gets a lot harder once the sun goes down. And the sun goes down much earlier in November! Starting earlier will give you more time to explore, so that’s a huge plus for starting early. But we were very constrained on time and had to get a later start, so no worries if you need to start a little later. Also keep in mind if there are any time zone jumps. AZ is one hour ahead of CA in the winter so make sure to account for that.
Overall it took us about 5 and a half hours from the trail head down to the campsite. (That includes the time we took to check in at the tourism office, stopping for fry bread before the campsite, breaks and pictures along the way. We got to the tourism office around 3:30pm ish and luckily they were open for us to check in (the website said they were already closed). But that did leave us racing against the sunset to find our campsite and set up in partial darkness.
November was definitely less crowded than the summer season, there were plenty of campsites open. But getting there later in the day we did have to venture a little farther into the camp. We ended up in a pretty good spot. Right next to the river. About a minute or 2 from the restrooms. A minute or so farther from the water source. P.S. If you need to stake your tent bring a small mallet, some of the earth is very hard and you WILL need one to get your stakes in depending where you set up camp.
A big concern most people have at the campsite are the little critters. Mainly the aggressive squirrels that WILL chew through your tent and bags to get to anything fragrant. However they didn’t seem to be a huge problem in November, maybe they were all hibernating. So a huge plus of November camping in Havasu was definitely the fact that there were barely any bugs out and the squirrels/mice didn’t seem very active. I saw one squirrel the whole time there and that was on the way out. Although they do tend to be more active at night. However I’d rather be safe than sorry so store your food away just in case. They have white buckets available for you to put your food in to keep critters out, but I wouldn’t rely on these as they could all be taken. Which was the case when we got there. None were available. But we came prepared with a Ratsack (for 4 people) and hung it from the tree. The Ratsack can be expensive, it can go on sale on Amazon, or wait for a REI coupon code or something. I got mine at a huge discount.
Also bring some paracord too!!!! It’s super useful not only for hanging your food, but also for water filtration systems or drying out your clothes after fording through rivers. There is a water source (spring water I believe) at the campsite for drinking water or for cooking. I would recommend some kind of water filtration system still just to be on the safe side. Also we saw a lot of people making clothes drying lines with their paracord and trees to dry out their shoes and clothes. We copied them and did the same.
As for night time conditions, it does get cold. But a beanie, a buff, some gloves and a down jacket kept me pretty warm while hanging outside and eating. Sleep wise I 100% recommend bringing a sleeping pad. The floor gets ridiculously cold and you need something between your sleeping bag and that cold floor. I had a 3 season down sleeping bag and a relatively cheap blow up sleeping pad and I slept comfortably.
Not going to go into too much details here, there are plenty of sources out there that already cover this. But a quick run down. There are 2 smaller falls (50 foot & Navajo) before Havasu Falls. Then there is the glorious famous waterfall that we all hiked down to see about a quarter mile before the campsite. Then there are 2 more falls after the campsite (Mooney and Beaver). Then there is the confluence, about a 12 mile round trip hike. This is where Havasu Creek and the Colorado River meet. Quite a site from what I’ve heard. If you have the time and energy I’d give it a shot.
Look into these if you want to explore any of these in more detail. We hit all of them except Beaver & the confluence and they are all amazing and worth it. There are even some other hidden gems out there. We had 1 sick person in our group and 2 bum knees so didn’t end up going down to Beaver. Next time for sure though! It did start raining right after we got back to camp so it was probably for the best. It would have been a bit slick getting back up those ladders.
One small note: there is only one way down to Beaver Falls. You must descend the rocks/ladders right after the “Descend at your own risk” sign. Even if you don’t go down to Beaver, there are plenty of cool rivers to ford and things to explore. So don’t be too disappointed if you can’t make it down.
*View of Mooney Falls from the top of the ladder, the sign where you start the descent, and a look at the ladders themselves*
We started out earlier to hike out because we all had a long drive back. It was definitely cold starting out. So I suggest layers. A lot of people stopped in the village to grab breakfast. You can also grab snacks or hot pockets and eat as you go at their convenience store. The hike out is pretty easy but long. The hardest part will be the last mile of switch backs out. The rest of the hike is actually pretty flat or very minimal elevation change for the whole thing from the village. It took us about 4.5-5 hours to get out from the village (8 miles). We didn’t start our tracking from the campsite since we ended up stopping for a bit in the village.
You can inquire/reserve/pay for these at the tourism office. I believe a mule 1 way is $132 per mule and that covers 4 people. They will give you details on where to put your stuff, what time to get it there by, etc etc when you pay for it. Try to decide if you want this option when you are initially checking in, or you will have to hike the 2 miles back up to do it. There is a bit of elevation to get back up to the village. Not as bad as the beginning mile at the hill top, but I certainly did not want to tack on an extra 2 miles after all the adventuring we already did. Helicopters are also an option, there is a variable schedule so check with them. Also be aware that Thanksgiving is a holiday still so things are closed.
TRY THE FRY BREAD!!! In November there was only 1 fry bread stand open. Right at the top of the hill near Havasu Falls. About 1/2-3/4 miles from the campsite. In the busier season, there are more stands open, but in November there is only one and they close a little earlier. Also keep in mind they close very early or are not open at all on Thanksgiving day. So don’t rely on this for your meals for that day. *They also sell other things too. Water, gatorade, Indian taco, fry bread dog, many other things. But at minimum try the fry bread!