Hiking Havasu Canyon is by no means a simple experience, but it is a breathtakingly rewarding one. Proper preparation will go a long way toward making sure this adventure goes as smoothly and enjoyably as possible for your party – take it from someone whose personal Havasupai trip went right in a ton of ways and wrong in several, too. If you’ve already done all your research and are feeling fully prepared to book your adventure, the Havasupai Tribe has asked that you call the Tourist office at 928-448-2121 for campground reservations, and the Havasupai Lodge directly at 928-448-2111 for reservations at the Havasupai Lodge. However, if you’d like to cozy up and learn a little bit about the BEST way to go about the experience – including when to go, what gear/clothing to pack, how much you can expect to pay per day, and even a bit about the town and people you are visiting – read on.
Getting to Know Havasupai
The Havasupai people – whose name, “Havasupai” translates literally to “the People of the Blue-Green Waters” – are an American Indian tribe who have lived in the Grand Canyon for at least the past 800 years. Once laying claim to an area of about 1.6 million acres (which they relied on for agriculture, hunting, and gathering as their primary means of survival), the Havasupai tribal lands were reduced to a 518-acre plot when the federal government claimed all land on the plateau of the canyon for United States’ public property in 1882. According to many reports, the Havasupai were left completely unaware of this act for several years afterward. Throughout the 20th century, the Havasupai fought through the US judicial system to have their lands returned, and in 1975 finally succeeded in regaining 185,000 acres. Another 95,300 acres were designated as “Havasupai Use Lands”, to be overseen by the National Park Service but available for traditional use by the Havasupai. Today, the tribe has used the natural beauty and bounty of their land to create a tourist destination, and the tourist ventures in turn create jobs for tribal members.
The City of Supai
Supai is the Havasupai Indian Reservation capital city located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Around 500 tribal members make their homes here. It is one of the most remote cities in the continental US, yet receives over 20,000 visitors per year. Tourism through this town is the primary source of income for the Havasupai tribe. The town has a lodge, a tourist office, a general store, a café, a school, a post office, 2 churches, and 136 houses.
1. Upper and Lower Navajo Falls
About 8.5 miles from the trailhead and about a mile past Supai village, Upper Navajo Falls is a welcome sight to weary hikers. Before flooding in 2008, Upper and Lower Navajo Falls were a larger, single set of falls, but don’t let that discourage you – both sets of falls are stunning. Upper Navajo falls about 50 feet into a rocky pool. Lower Navajo (also known as Rock Falls) is about .15 miles below Upper Navajo and falls about 30 feet into a swimming hole. The area around both waterfalls is ripe with choice swimming opportunities.
2. Havasu Falls
The third and most famous waterfall in the canyon, Havasu Falls is located about .75 miles past Navajo Falls. One main chute of water drops over a 100-foot cliff into strikingly blue-green pools below, beside which you will find picnic tables to rest on between dips in the pools. Floods have also changed the face of these falls over the years, but it’s still every bit as impressive as the pictures.
3. Mooney Falls
Mooney Falls (2.25 miles past Supai village) was my personal favorite waterfall. You’ll pass through the campsite to get there, as well as some pitch-black, steeply descending caves down through the cliff side. The last bit of the climb down is done against a sheer, slippery (thanks to spray from the falls) rock wall while holding on tightly to the thick chain driven into the rock. This sounds daunting, and it can be, but the climb down is completely doable and only takes most people about 15 minutes. Staring up at the tallest and most powerful waterfall in Havasu Canyon from the bottom is totally worth the effort!
4. Beaver Falls
Unfortunately, our party didn’t make it down the 3-mile trail past the Mooney to Beaver Falls. The trail to get there goes up and downhill, and features some gorgeous views as well as some river crossings – so bring your water shoes/sandals! About .25 miles past Mooney Falls, a small stream feeds over the side of the cliff into Havasu Creek, creating a gorgeous natural shower. Beaver Falls is a set of smaller falls set close together that fall into a series of the ubiquitous aqua pools. If you leave without making the trek to this last set of stunning falls, you will regret it – take my word.
Worth Noting: Havasupai Horses
In recent years, there has been a significant increase in news coverage regarding the horses of Supai. Tribal member wranglers are paid a fee by tourists to lead groups of horses up and down the canyon loaded with riders, their luggage, and hikers’ too-heavy-to-backpack items. Tourists came back with stories of abuse and neglect in the form of malnourishment, exhaustion, open sores, beatings, and broken bones on working animals. In July 2016, the Tribe finally responded publically to allegations of abuse, stating that they had been discussing the extremely important matter of the horses’ wellbeing internally for years, and that the Havasupai Animal Control Office (est. 2011) was overseeing the treatment of the animals. In May of 2017, the Havasupai Tribe accepted outside help on the issue in the form of Kellye Pinkleton, the Arizona State Director at the Humane Society of the United States. Kellye led a group of volunteer veterinarians to the village to assess the wellbeing of the horses, provide care, and work with the tribe to educate packers and caretakers. Kellye reported feeling encouraged by the reception and the positive feedback their group received from the tribal council, and hopes to take another group back in 2017.
Booking Your Trip
When to Go
Seasoned Havasupai hikers will pretty unanimously tell you that the best time to go is in the Spring or late Fall, since the mosquito population and the temperatures are a bit lower. While the warmer temperatures of Summer can be an advantage when it comes to being able to enjoy the water all day, it can mean a pretty hellacious experience when hiking in and out of the canyon. Our party went in October, and while the nights and water were both quite chilly, the daytime temperatures were overall extremely pleasant for walking and exploring.
How to Book
As mentioned earlier, the best and easiest way to book your Havasupai Falls excursion is to book through the Tribe directly by calling the Tourist office at 928-448-2121 for campground reservations, and the Havasupai Lodge directly at 928-448-2111 for reservations at the Havasupai Lodge. There have been rumors of an up-and-coming online booking system for quite some time, but the current information (via the Havasupai tribe-managed website) is that the high volume of bookings has rendered the online system unavailable until further notice.
There are 3 fees you will pay for your time visiting Havasupai. 1. Camping Fee: $25 per night, per person + tax (10%), 2. Entrance Fee: $50 per person + tax (10%) (unless you are a Native American with a valid Tribal ID, then you’re exempt from this fee!), and 3. Environmental Fee: $10 per person, + tax (10%). Expect to pay fees at the time you make your reservation, and keep in mind that only a single credit card can be used on each reservation. Reservations are nonrefundable and nontransferable.
Do I HAVE to make a reservation?
Technically, no – BUT! Campers who don’t make reservations typically get charged double the fees. What’s more, since there’s a maximum of 300 campers allowed onsite, there’s nothing even close to a guarantee that there will be a spot for a camper without a reservation after they’ve hiked 8-ish miles to reach the village of Supai, and there is no day-hiking from Hualapai Hilltop allowed. So, make a reservation or risk a completely unnecessary headache.
When You Go
First and Foremost, Stay Hydrated
Your party will need to bring at least 2 liters of clean water per person for the hike down the canyon, since there is no clean water available until you reach the village of Supai. Once you reach the campsites you will find a water spigot with clean drinking water that is tested for sanitation monthly. Very rarely, the spigot will not pass its required monthly test and you will be asked to filter the water you pull from it, so make sure to bring a filtration system of some kind (see “What to Pack”).
Approximately 10 miles from Hualapai Hilltop to campground, the hike itself is classified as moderately difficult. Wildlife to watch out for includes rattlesnakes, as well as the mules and horses that the Havasupai tribesmen use to carry campers and hikers’ luggage up and down the canyon. There’s very little shelter from the sun for the majority of this hike, and it gets very dry and very hot – once you start seeing Havasu Creek you know you’re getting close! When you reach Supai, make sure to check in at the tourist office and obtain your permits.
About the Campground
After hitting the town of Supai, you’ll hike another 2 miles or so (past the first 3 waterfalls) to your overnight accommodations. The campground occupies an area about a mile long between Havasu Falls and Mooney Falls, with individual campsites scattered throughout. Many of the sites are settled right on Havasu Creek, which runs through the entire area, and comes complete with frequent footbridges for easy crossings. Campfires are NOT allowed at any time during the year.
When Nature Calls
There are composting outhouses available for use in several places the campsites, which I personally found to be quite clean and non-smelly. I recommend locating these early on and finding yourself a campsite with a somewhat unencumbered path, since the solo nighttime treks you may need to take there can get complicated. Toilet paper is supposed to be available, but ran out several times during our visit – bring a roll or two of your own.
What to Pack
–Sturdy camping backpack: you will be hiking in and hiking out everything that you will use during your time in Havasu canyon – and a busted backpack is a quick way to make the hike a really miserable one.
–Smaller pack: for daytrips around the campground, exploring the caves and falls
–Swimsuit: it shouldn’t need to be said, but I’ve forgotten stranger things
–Hiking shoes/hiking socks/water shoes/comfortable walking shoes: make sure your shoes fit well and are broken in, and invest in good-quality socks to avoid blisters. Try to find a pair of lighter walking shoes (or better yet, water shoes) with a good grip that you’re comfortable walking, cave exploring, and crossing water with. I ended up forgetting a lighter pair of shoes and choosing to go on day hikes/cave climbs wearing my lime green Chuck Taylors over the heavy hiking boots I had worn on the hike in. Neither option was a good one – trust me.
–Flashlight/head lamp/LED lantern: It’s super dark at night, and you’re going to need light to navigate the campsites. If you (like me), believe in the power of always having backup, pack two small forms of illumination.
–Waterproof camera: not mandatory for a great time, but some may be glad they brought it.
–Lightweight tent: the lighter, the better. Unfortunately, “lighter” can usually be read as, “pricier” in terms of tents, but you may appreciate the several pounds that those extra dollars can save you.
–Food/Utensils: MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), top ramen, jerky, trail mix – think nonperishable, hearty, high-energy foods. Don’t forget to bring any cookware/utensils necessary to prepare your meals!
–Turbo-boiler: for heating said MREs and/or top ramen
–Sleeping bag: it gets cold at night and you’re going to want your sleep, so plan accordingly.
–Water skin/bottle, filtration system: we discussed the filtered water spigot at the start of the campground, but very rarely the Camping Office will recommend that you filter the water. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to have some water purification tabs or a lightweight filtration system in your pack.
–Sunscreen and insect spray
–First Aid Kit: Items like Band Aids, disinfecting wipes, an ace bandage, and blister bandages are very sound items to have on hand.
–Towel: recommend something small and lightweight that takes up little room in your pack
-Toiletries: I’m not fussy, but I like to bring a few items with me to freshen up throughout a trip. Camp soap, a tooth brush, toothpaste, and a travel pack of facial cleansing wipes and I’m a very happy camper (get it?). Just remember to bring any and all trash home with you!
There you have it – my guide to making your hike through Havasu Canyon the best and most manageable experience possible. The amount of effort and preparation required can make a trip like this seem challenging, but the reward it provides is so much more than you can imagine. If you’ve done it right, you’ll hardly remember the hard parts when it’s over. A diverse landscape of epic proportions, Havasupai leaves its mark on everyone that goes.