My First Backpacking Trip to Havasu Falls

Natalie McMillan       Trip Report       10/5/2018

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.

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…

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. 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.

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 in the shade >>>
Photo by Natalie McMillan
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.

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.


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:

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