Holy beautiful places! Havasupai has been on my bucket list for a long time, and it was 100% worth the wait! I’m sure you’ve seen the stunning pictures of giant waterfalls and blue waters. Believe me, it’s as beautiful as it looks in the photos. It’s almost like it’s more beautiful because you have to work so hard to get to it. I mean, I’d call a 10 mile hike backpacking all of your gear hard. Making the trip to Havasupai is something everyone should do. It definitely requires some planning and preparation. Here’s my tips for visiting:
What is Havasupai?
Supai, Arizona, is a small village located 8 miles below the rim of the Grand Canyon. It is an Indian Reservation and has been home to what is now known as the Havasupai tribe for over 1,000 years. As a sovereign territory, the village of Supai, the campground, the falls and all of the land is run by the Havasupai Tribe. Havasu creek and the stunning waterfalls flow into the Colorado river.
You may have heard that it’s really hard to get reservations to Havasupai, and that’s because it is. Until last year, the only way to make reservations was to make them while you’re in Supai (or have someone you know who is visiting make them for you), or to call the Tourist office. The tourist office is small, and wait times on the phone are quite long because there are so many people trying to call. They now have a new online reservation system which you can make the reservations online.
Since Havasupai has gained so much popularity, you have to be on top of it to get permits/reservations. Reservations for the whole season opens on February 1st. When our friend was making our reservation, she said that it was almost completely booked for the year in the first few hours. Even between having to click back and change something, many more dates were booked. So set your alarm for February 1st at 8am if you want to get reservations.
When you book online you’ll get a confirmation email. Print that out to have with you, because they check for it when you arrive and multiple times randomly on the hike in. There isn’t really any follow up from the Havasupai tribe before your reservation. So don’t forget! (Not like you would). If the reservation is made in the Tourist Office, take a photo of it to have for your records.
Visiting Havasupai is not cheap. With the influx of tourism over the past several years, the Havasupai tribe has increased the reservation fee. You can find all of the pricing, but to give you an idea, a 3 day, 2 night stay at the campground costs $170 per person. This may sound like a lot, but the Havasupai economy runs primarily on tourism. Plus, it’s so gorgeous there that it’s totally worth it.
From the top of the trail, the city of Supai is an 8 mile hike, from there it is 2 more miles to the campgrounds and the falls. You have two options for lodging: you can stay at the lodge in the village, or you can camp in the campgrounds, which are open camping. Both are great options, depending on what you are looking for. Camping was so much fun because we became friends with a lot of people around us and had a great time with them during our stay. However, camping requires packing in more gear, food, etc. It just depends on the type of experience you are wanting. I don’t think there’s much difference in price.
There is no day hiking allowed in Havasupai. Although, I don’t know who would want to hike 10 miles in and then 10 miles out on the same day anyways. There’s no way around this, as they randomly check for reservation confirmation on your hike in. You can be fined if you don’t have a reservation. Other rules include no diving or cliff jumping, no drugs or alcohol, no drones or campfires. You could potentially be fined up to $1,000 for breaking any of these rules. I wanted to bring margaritas for our first night to celebrate making it down, but was nervous with the ominous warning’s I’d read. After my experience there, I wish I had, and I feel like it’d be fine. No one is going to search your bags, but there is a tribe member who walks around the camp grounds checking on everyone. I’m no exactly sure what he’s looking for, but if you decide to break the rules at all, just be smart and quiet about.
There is also a lot of warning about flash flooding and preventing dehydration on the Havasupai Tribe’s website. Always ALWAYS ALWAYYYS have enough water and be prepared. It gets hot, and dehydration is nothing to mess around with, especially when there isn’t medical assistance near-by. I carried 3 liters of water on the 10 mile hike and that was the perfect amount. There is a little store when you get to the Supai village. They are only open during the day (I think starting at 7am), but they have gatorade, ice cream, water and snacks available.
As far as flooding, the tribe knows what they’re doing. When we were there, it was going to rain one night and they had to evacuate all of the campers from the low-ground areas and have them move to the high ground areas. They have protocols in place and seemed to be on top of it. Just be respectful of nature and the tribe and you’ll be fine. And if you decide to camp, choose a campsite that seems to be on high ground if you don’t want to risk having to move.
How to get your pack (and yourself) in/out
While many opt to pack in and pack out, that isn’t the only option. There are mules that carry bags up and down, and there’s also helicopters that can carry bags and people. These options range from $25-40 ish per bag and have to be arranges ahead of time. If you get a mule, you have to pay for the full mule (4 bags), which costs around $140. There are also options of riding a mule in or out, or taking the helicopter. The helicopter is $80 a person, but is first come first serve, and you may end up waiting hours and are not guaranteed a ride. Riding a mule is more expensive than that, but also an option. All of these options are best carried out if you plan ahead. If you choose to do any of these options, you have to reserve them at the Tourist office (in Supai, 2 miles from the campground), so keep it in mind when you check in so you don’t have to walk from camp to the village just to reserve a mule for your bags.
We ended up making friends with our neighbors and we split the cost of the mule and two of the members of our group sent their bags up on the mule. The rest of us put our heaviest items (like our tent, stove, etc.) in their bags to lighten our packs a little bit.
What to bring
Before our trip we took a free Grand Canyon preparation course at REI (would recommend), and she talked about some things to bring. One thing that stood out was to wear cotton clothes. I was looking for some quick-dry clothes for the hike, thinking that would be the best, but wearing cotton is actually great because when you sweat it gets the shirt wet and gives an evaporative cooling effect.
There’s a lot of resources out there on what to pack for Havasupai or a 2-3 day backpacking trip, so I’ll just talk about the essentials, or the biggest things you might forget.
- cash-the power is unreliable in Supai, so bring cash just in case you want to purchase anything or to have a back-up plan of getting out of the canyon
- headlamp-definitely would recommend for walking around at night, especially if you will be hiking in/out any portion in the dark
- duct tape-for your feet (will discuss later)
- large water container if camping-we brought a collapsible 3 gallon container so that we could have water at camp without having to go get water from the beginning of the campground as often
- hand sanitizer or small soap-there is hand sanitizer dispensers at the bathrooms, but they were never restocked, so if you ever want clean hands, bring your own
- water-for the hike in/out make sure you have enough water
- first aid kit
- trekking poles-not 100% required, but they were so helpful to give support on the way down and to help you get a leg up on the way out
- waterproof shoes-Tevas, Keens, Chacos, Walmart brand water shoes, whatever you have, you want to be able to explore without worrying about cutting your foot on a rock
Where to stay the night before
You’ll want to get as early of a start as possible to hike in to avoid hiking during the hottest part of the day. You can stay at a hotel nearby and leave bright and early, or you can camp out in the parking lot at the top. We stayed at the Stagecoach Motel on Route 66. It was actually quite adorable and fun to stay at. Our hotel was about an hour and 45 minutes away from the trail head, so we had to plan for that. There are a few options for lodging, but they are all at least an hour away from the trail head. It’s all good, just plan for it in your timeline. Also know that there is only the one road you can take to get to the trail head and that animals frequently hang out on it, so be cautious if you’re driving it at night. We saw a giant elk and a few groups of cows. We actually had to stop on the road and wait for the cows to do their thing and cross.
The hike itself isn’t bad. It’s just long. It’s 8 miles to the village and another 2 miles to the campground and falls. I’ll be honest, I was able to do the hike without any training. I am in fairly good shape, as I do yoga and spin classes regularly. But, if I were to do it again, or give advice to you as a friend, I’d recommend doing a little training. 10 miles of hiking is just a long way carrying a heavy pack. My feet and every muscle was so sore! Our first morning I went to climb out of the tent and my leg just wouldn’t lift me up! I had to collect myself and use my other leg to get up. :’D
I’d recommend doing some hiking with weight in a backpack in the months/weeks leading up to the trip to get your muscles and feet conditioned and used to that kind of activity.
The good thing is that when you get to the last mile or two on the way to the campground, you start to see the water from the river. Normally that would be a motivation for the last stretch, since the water is gorgeous, crystal clear and blue. We had the misfortune of getting to the falls the day after it rained, making the water muddy brown. I’m talking Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory brown. I’m not gonna lie, I was a little bit disappointed at first. But the second day it cleared up to become more blue, as you can see in the photos.
Another tip: whenever you have the chance to walk on the red path, take it. The main path in many parts has a deep layer of gravel and it’s almost like walking through giant sand. There are several areas where you can opt to take a side path and those are generally easier walking. And it all goes the same direction.
If you’re ever not sure if you’re going the right way, follow the mule poop. Seriously. The mules go from Havasupai to the top of the canyon and back, so seeing poop is a good sign. Speaking of mules, if you hear them coming, get out of the way. The mules always have the right of way and they won’t stop for you.
Take care of your feet
Sore feet and blisters are no joke. I have a friend who did the hike with new hiking shoes and got such bad blisters that they had to helicopter out because it was so painful. 10 miles is a long way to walk, especially if you’re not used to it. Wear good shoes and break them in. Our instructor from the REI class talked about how waterproof hiking shoes are not necessary. You actually want your feet to be able to breath since they’ll be sweaty. Wearing wool socks will help this as well.
Something she recommended, which was also validated by one of the tribe members in passing is to use duct tape to prevent blisters. Genius! We were planning on getting mole-skin and bandaids, but just good ‘ole fashioned duct tape will do the trick. The trick to preventing blisters is to put duct tape in spots BEFORE your start getting a blister. If you have a blister forming, you’re already too late. Anywhere your shoe rubs duct tape. As you’re walking, if you start to feel a warm spot, put duct tape before it turns into a blister.
The camp grounds are really nice! The entire camp ground is about 1 mile long and is open camping. We were so exhausted when we arrives, that we just picked a campsite near the front because it was close to the drinking water and restrooms. Little did we know, there are additional restrooms as you go further and it’s less crowded and you can get closer to the river the further back you go. There is only one site for drinking water at the beginning, but if you don’t mind walking to and from, or if you bring a larger water container you can get a premium camp site by walking a little further back.
Visiting the falls
Finally, let’s talk about those water falls! Let me just say, they are even more beautiful than you could imagine. Maybe I’m just a sucker for waterfalls, but Havasupai really is a magical place because of the waterfalls. At one point I found a cool little pool to swim in near Havasu falls and I looked around and there was the giant Havasu falls and I counted 8 other small waterfalls around me. It’s just amazing. When we visited Mooney Falls, I hung my hammock up over one of the smaller waterfalls. I would recommend this because it was so peaceful, but be cautious of dropping anything and watching it float down the river (that didn’t actually happen, but it almost did!)
There are 3 major waterfalls at Havasupai:
1. Havasu Falls
Havasu falls is the first major waterfall you will see. This is the one you see coming around the corner on your hike in. It’s the one that makes it all worth it. We found ourselves here around 1pm on our full day in Havasupai, and that was the best time! I think because anyone arriving was setting up camp, anyone leaving was already gone, and anyone spending a full day there was down at Mooney falls or Beaver falls. At 1pm there was only one other person there! And even they left so we had the place to ourselves. After about 2 hours, the place was crawling with people, so if it works out for you to be there at 1pm, do it.
2. Mooney falls
Mooney is magic! This is one of the biggest waterfalls I’ve seen in the US. Mooney is the waterfall you usually see in the iconic Havasupai photos. It looks to be about twice as tall as Havasu falls. The most exciting part of this waterfall is getting there. In order to get to Mooney, you essentially have to scale the side of a cliff. There’s somewhat sketchy chains and ladders you can use, but tons of people do it every day, so it’s completely doable. Even our friend who was terrified made it down (and back up). My tips for climbing: face the cliff, take your time, and always maintain 3 points of contact, and you’ll be fine!
You can spend a whole day at Mooney, it’s so wonderful. There’s a pool towards the back of the canyon with a rope swing and little cave under a waterfall. I’d recommend bringing lunch and having a picnic there. I hung my hammock up over a miniature waterfall near Mooney and ate lunch, relaxed and read a book. It was perfection.
3. Beaver falls
I’m sad to say that I didn’t make it to Beaver Falls. It’s supposed to be stunning. You can google pictures of it, but it’s a peaceful tiered group of waterfalls. It’s less busy because it’s another 3 miles away from the campground. Getting here also requires scaling down the side of the cliff past Mooney. I didn’t train enough, so my feet and muscles strongly protested walking another 6 miles. One person in our group ventured over there with some friends we met in camp and he said it was amazing. It’s on my list for next time!
LEAVE EARLY! If there’s one thing you should take away from this, is that if you don’t want to hike the last 1.5 miles out of the canyon in the blazing sun, leave early. We were walking out of camp at 5:15am, and if I were to do it again, I would leave an hour early. It’s actually quite a pleasant hike, in the shade. When it’s 90 degrees with the sun blazing down on you, it sucks. Leaving at 5:15 am (this was in September, by the way), we had some shade coverage almost the whole time, except for the end. Whatever time you’re capable of getting up to leave, just do it. You’ll have a much more pleasant hike the longer you can hike in the dark or shade before the sun reaches its peak in the sky.
Have so much fun on your trip! It truly is a magical place and I hope you have an amazing time (and I hope you don’t get any blisters!)