Hiking Havasupai

Havasu Falls

Everyone’s heard of Arizona’s Grand Canyon (which I dearly love), but have you heard of Havasupai?

When you need a breath of fresh air and a walk around the neighborhood just won’t cut it, consider taking a few days to immerse yourself in one of Nature’s masterpieces.

Havasu Creek travels through Cataract (Havasu) Canyon in Northwestern Arizona and enters the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, but this amazing hike and its waterfalls are on the Havasupai Reservation rather than in the US National Park.

Why hike Havasupai instead of the Grand Canyon? Well, you should actually hike them both as they each have unique and breathtaking beauty. But three of the main reasons to consider Havasupai are waterfalls, Waterfalls, and Waterfalls.

Plus, it’s much easier to get there and back.

Trip Planning

You’ll have options galore on this trip. Check out the official tribal website for specifics.

For all you hard-core hikers, you must plan ahead. Call 928-448-2180 starting February 1st to obtain a camping permits for spring, summer, and fall. These can sell out within a few days, but people do cancel, so keep trying even if your desired dates are sold out.

Spring and fall are the most popular, as July and August have monsoon storms that can bring flash floods in the canyon.

The campsites themselves are first-come, first served, and even when “full” the campground doesn’t seem crowded.

As I’m writing in 2016*, the Havasupai Tribe assesses a $5 environmental care fee and $35 entrance fee per person, plus a $17 per person per night charge for the campground. Credit cards are preferred, but cash is accepted.

No deposit is required, so there’s no penalty for cancellation. Just try to do it early so someone else can have your spot.

For Wusses OnlyIf you can’t get a permit or aren’t comfortable hiking and camping on your own, several tour companies offer full-service guided tours that include round-trip transportation from Phoenix/Scottsdale or Flagstaff. These trips typically include all permits, guides, camping gear, food, and mules to cart your stuff in and out.

If you don’t think you can get your body in and out of the canyon even without carrying your gear, you can even ride a horse or take a helicopter!

I beg you, though, please PLEASE hike if you can. You’ll be glad you did.

And if camping isn’t your jam, there’s a lodge in the canyon too. Start calling 928-448-2111 in January to reserve your room.

Getting to the Trailhead

The “Hilltop” trailhead campsite and parking lot is 4.5-5 hours northwest of Phoenix. If you’re a strong hiker and can hike 10 miles in 3-4 hours and the weather’s cool, then you can make it there with one very long day of driving and hiking.

Most of us non-superheroes either camp at the trailhead or stay in a hotel as close as possible, then get an early start on the trail.

Downtown Seligman

Downtown Seligman

We stayed in a clean, friendly motel in the thriving metropolis of Seligman (see photo of downtown on right) and only had a two-hour drive to the trailhead the next morning. There is a lodge in Peach Springs, which is 30-minutes closer but three times the price.

It’s best to bring most of your supplies from home, as no services are available after Peach Springs, and no gas is available at the hilltop.

The Hike

Starting OutIf you’ve hiked the Grand Canyon’s Bright Angel Trail with almost 4400 feet of elevation change, Havasupai’s 2200 feet will be a walk in the park.

Just kidding.

It’s still a beast, but an incredibly rewarding beast.

Nearly the entire elevation change occurs in the first 1.7 miles. After that, it’s a beautiful stroll through the riverbed and canyon.

SupaiYou’ll find the village of Supai around 7.5 miles from the trailhead. Bring cash for ice cream, groceries, or other tasty treats and cold drinks.

FYI, alcohol and illicit drugs are strictly prohibited.

Check in at the office, read the rules, pay your fees, get your wristband (which must be worn at all times), refill your water, and use the restroom.

If you’re staying in the lodge, Congratulations! You made it!

If you’re staying in the campground, continue on another 1.5 miles to the entrance by the frybread tent. Yes, I said frybread. Yum!

The Campground

Permits are issued for only 200-250 people, though this mile-long area along the creek could easily serve over a hundred more, so enjoy the space!

Most people cluster in sites near the entrance where there’s a spring with potable water, bathrooms, and during the day a stand with snacks and sodas.

Three more outhouse-style composting toilets with hand sanitizer and (usually) toilet paper are spread throughout the campground, but the only potable water is near the entrance. If you want a more spacious site but don’t want to walk to the spring to refill your water bottles, bring a handy lightweight filter like this one that we love.

"Bridges" to Our Island

“Bridges” to Our Island

If your feet haven’t fallen off yet and you can walk a little farther, you can find gems like our private island, accessible by two linked, um, bridges?

We had the place to ourselves with a picnic table and beautiful blue water on all sides. Unbelievable!

There is some petty theft in the campground, so take your valuables with you.

Or better yet, don’t bring them at all. There’s cell phone reception in Supai village but not so much in the campground and there aren’t any outlets for chargers. The whole point of the trip is to unplug and unwind, right? Right.

Friendly dogs, birds, and squirrels are also inquisitive, so consider hanging your backpacks or at least your food from a nearby tree.

The Waterfalls

You’ve waited so patiently for the best part– you got up early and hiked your booty off, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Navajo Falls

Navajo Falls

The first time you gasp with surprise and delight will be between Supai and the campground when you round a bend and stumble upon Little Navajo Falls and Old Navajo Falls.

The water is a unique light blue due to the calcium carbonate that settles in the creek and turns the creekbed white. With a water temperature close to 72 degrees year-round, it’s perfectly refreshing on hot days.

Havasu Falls

Havasu Falls

Next up is Havasu Falls. You’re only three minutes from the campground, so try to show some restraint and keep walking. Drop your backpack and gear and change into your swimsuit and water shoes, then head back and relax unencumbered in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Ladder of Doom

Ladder of Doom

Just past the campground, you must pass through a rock tunnel and climb down The Ladder to reach the other two waterfalls. Everyone you see will ask you about The Ladder.

The Ladder is not for the faint of heart.

But it does have plenty of secure handholds and footholds. It has chains that are anchored well. I am severely afraid of heights, but I made it down and you will too.

Look ONLY at your hands and feet. Do NOT look around until you have both feet planted safely on the sand at the base of Mooney Falls.

Your second trip down and up the ladder won’t seem nearly so bad and you’ll wonder what the big deal was.

Mooney Falls

Mooney Falls

Mooney Falls patiently waits at the bottom of the tunnel and the ladder.

It’s in the shade most of the day, so savor the view and the adrenaline rush but keep on hiking for a better place to swim.

Beaver Falls

Beaver Falls

Beaver Falls may not be as tall as the other waterfalls, but it is even more beautiful and is my personal favorite.

RamIt’s 2.5-3 miles past the end of the campground, past The Ladder and Mooney Falls. Past several river crossings with more balance-challenging bridges. Past gorgeous fields of lush greenery and flowers.

It’s also past these guys’ territory, so keep an eye out for their welcoming committee’s show of frisky death-defying cliff-dancing antics.

Many visitors to Havasupai never make it to Beaver Falls, so get there early and savor the peace and solitude.

Beaver Falls Rock Island

Splash around, have a snack, and pretend you’re a mermaid.

Explore the pools and find a rock island to soak up the sun. Take a ton of pictures to prove to yourself later that you weren’t imagining this paradise.

Let’s Eat!

After hiking and swimming, you’re going to be hungry– if you’re not familiar with hiker hunger, you’ll soon become well-acquainted. Your stomach will be a bottomless pit.

For you self-sufficient backpackers, dehydrating is hands down the way to go. 1.5-2 pounds per person per day of dehydrated food is more than enough, and it’s soooo much lighter and tastier than the typical granola bars and PBJ tortilla roll-ups.

Serving DishWe brought dehydrated pasta, rice, veggies, pulled pork, chicken, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, fruit leather, jerky, marinara sauce, and salsa and ate like kings. Add a little more salt than you usually use to replace what you lost on the hike.

Our MSR Windburner boiled water in a flash, but we apparently need to work on our serving dish choice, as this jar didn’t hold up well with the hot water. Next time we’ll try using Ziploc bags.

The star of the show, though, was our GORP. Snack bags of dehydrated grapes, apples, bananas, plums, cantaloupe, pears, and mixed nuts were our go-to treat when we were on the move.

If you’re on a guided trip, food is provided for you and everyone we saw seemed happy and pleasantly surprised with their vittles.

Other options include the frybread stand at the campground entrance (bring cash) and the grocery store, cafe, and snack shop in Supai, about a 20-30-minute walk. Prices are high ($12 each for frybread or a box of cereal), but keep in mind that there’s no interstate to bring supplies to this wonderland.

When you hike back out to the Hilltop, you might be lucky enough to find vendors with sodas, sliced watermelon, and tamales.

What to Bring

No travel post would be complete without a packing list, but remember that less is more. The only one putting on a fashion show here is Nature.

BackpackThe rest of us will be using the creek as our shower and washing machine and the trees and the sun as our dryer. With no mirrors, you’ll always look smashing in your own mind!

When possible, repackage items into smaller portions– you won’t need an entire family-size tube of toothpaste or an entire bottle of naproxen.

The two of us saved some weight by sharing a tent and cooking gear, and our packs each weighed 18 lbs without water. Here’s what we brought:

  • Lightweight backpack for all your gear, does double-duty as a day pack.
  • Tent, sleeping bag and Thermarest. I slept like a baby on this pad and couldn’t feel a single rock.
  • Camp stove and food if you’re not on a guided trip.
  • Hiking Poles with quick-lock adjustment and cork handles. I was very reluctant to carry poles because I like having my hands free, but they were quite lovely on the steep part of the hike out. People who didn’t have them were kicking themselves. Hard.
  • Camera
  • Headlamp.
  • Notepad and pen, book, or a deck of cards.
  • Water Bottles to carry two to four liters, depending on your hiking speed and weather. We like 1L Smart Water bottles because they’re much lighter than Nalgenes and pretty durable.
  • First aid kit with naproxen, alcohol wipes or antibacterial gel, bacitracin, band-aids, moleskin, antihistamine tablets, and hydrocortisone cream.
  • Repair kit with safety pins or sewing kit, string or fishing line, and duct tape.
  • Glasses or an extra pair of extended-wear contacts.
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste. Dried toothpaste dots are a great option, just chew for a few seconds and brush.
  • Toilet paper/tissues. The bathrooms normally have paper, but better safe than sorry.
  • Hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, and lip balm with SPF.
  • Comb and hair ties.
  • Quick-dry towel.
  • Bug spray. We didn’t have any issues with flying bugs, but later in the summer you might. DEET can melt plastic or nylon gear, so try this instead.
  • 1 short-sleeved and 1 long-sleeved quick-dry synthetic shirt.
  • 1 lightweight fleece or sweater and 1 Ghost Whisperer down jacket if you visit in shoulder season or are ridiculously temperature-sensitive like me.
  • 1 pair of quick-dry synthetic shorts and 1 pair of quick-dry synthetic pants.
  • 2 quick-dry synthetic sports bras and 2 pairs of ExOfficio quick-dry underwear. These are amazing and really do dry in no time.
  • 2 pairs of Darn Tough socks. These are life-changing and just as comfortable wet as dry. They’re like a hug for your feet.
  • 1 pair of hiking shoes. Think trail runners, not heavy boots.
  • 1 pair of water shoes. Bonus points if you save weight and space and just wear your lightweight trail shoes for the river crossings and swimming too. Flip-flops are not sufficient.
  • 1 swimsuit. Although a sports bra and shorts are more comfortable and just as good.

That’s it! I know it sounds like a lot, but it truly is manageable and you’ll have the time of your life.

Call a tour group now to book your spot for this year, or put the phone number on your calendar for next February 1 to reserve your permit. I can’t wait to hear about your adventures!

*2017 Update: Payment is now required to make a reservation and the price and number of permits both increased.

There were a few reports several years ago about harassment and even assault of women traveling alone. I did not experience any issues but was with my husband. Bring a buddy if you can.

Please comment below and let me know your hiking and backpacking tips and favorite places to hit the trails. 

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Comments 5

  1. I did this trip this last August and will admit, I was not as prepared as a should have been. I was overpacked, out of shape, and didn’t have the proper directions to the trial head. It was still an amazing trip but it a little more planning would have been worth a lot less grief.

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      Wow, Justin, August would have been toasty. I’m glad you made it safe and sound.
      You’re absolutely right that a little planning can make a world of difference. We’ve been on our own hikes that didn’t turn out quite like we imagined 🙂

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