Guide to Havasupai
Havasu Falls is one of those places that you need to see to believe. I had been trying to get there since I first heard of it back in 2011. That’s right, eight years ago! For one reason or another I never made it there until this year. I finally got to experience the turquoise water for myself. When you look at photos of this place and think “that's not real”, you are not alone. I thought the same thing prior to going there. In this guide I will lay out my recommendations so it will not take you eight years to get there, and hopefully you wont be as confused as I was once you arrive. I will discuss the following:
The remote village of Supai, Arizona, located eight miles hike below the rim of the Grand Canyon, is home to the Havasupai Tribe, the “People of the Blue Green Waters”. The reservation is at the end of Route 18 off historic Route 66. It abuts the western edge of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and consists of just under 190,000 acres of canyon land and broken plateaus.
There are five waterfalls that are mapped out on this journey: Navajo Falls, Fifty Foot Falls, Havasu Falls, Mooney Falls, and Beaver Falls. Havasu Falls is the most famous waterfall in this desert oasis. It is known for the stark contrast between the arid desert landscape of Havasu Canyon and the lush vegetation near the water, not to mention that turquoise water that must be seen to be believed.
In order to maintain the pristine beauty of this isolated desert paradise, the Havasupai tribe limits the amount of visitors allowed to visit the reservation per day. There is no day hiking permitted, reservations and entrance fees must be paid in advance, and you will have to show your permits at multiple checkpoints throughout your visit.
Permits are obtained online. OPENING DAY is FEBRUARY 1st at 8:00 AM Arizona time.
Permits are usually sold out completely within the first few hours of opening day. As of today there are a few cancellations for this month (June), but the rest of the year is completely booked.
For your best chances to get a permit I have a few recommendations:
Due to the increasing popularity, prices have increased each year. This year permits were:
The closest airport is Las Vegas with a 3.5 hour drive. Take Rt 93 South to Historic Route 66 towards Peach Springs. It will take about 2.5 hours to reach Peach Springs. About 7 miles after reaching Peach Springs you will come to Route 18 (or Indian Rd 18) on the left. Take this for about an hour until the end of the road when you will reach Havasupai Hilltop. If you are using Google maps or a GPS it will likely add an extra hour. This is to account for the road not being paved a few years ago. It is paved now and any vehicle can take this road. The last major town along your route is Kingman. There are no services along Route 18 so make sure you fill up before leaving Kingman. Route 18 is free range for cattle so make sure to stay alert for animals crossing the road.
Phoenix is the next closest airport at 4.5 hours. From Phoenix follow directions to Seligman. This will be the last major town before reaching your destination so make sure to fill up on gas before leaving. From there follow the directions to Peach Springs. Just before reaching Peach Springs take a right onto Route 18 (or Indian Rd 18). Take this for about an hour until the end of the road when you will reach Havasupai Hilltop. If you are using Google maps or a GPS it will likely add an extra hour. This is to account for the road not being paved a few years ago. It is paved now and any vehicle can take this road. Route 18 is free range for cattle so make sure to stay alert for animals crossing the road.
Route 18 is the only way in and the only way out from Havasupai Hilltop. There will most likely be a checkpoint about a mile before reaching the hilltop. Your vehicle and bags will be subject to search if you wish to make it through the checkpoint. If contraband is found in your vehicle they will turn you around and deny entrance. This is the first place that you will be required to show your permit and ID.
Weather and When to Visit
Quite frankly the best time to visit is whenever you can get a permit. Water temperatures in the canyon are pretty consistently between 60 and 70 degrees F for a majority of the year.
If I could choose an ideal time of year to visit it would be during the spring or fall. Hiking temperatures are not outrageous and the water temperatures aren’t too cold. Flash floods are definitely something to consider when making a reservation. Monsoon season is in July and August and flash floods are a real possibility; one occurred as recently as 2018. If you do end up booking a trip during this time period make sure to check the weather before starting your journey. No hike is worth your life.
The summer months can get very hot, temperatures of 115 degrees F (46 degrees C) or more are possible. Note that they will close the trail if the temperature reaches 115 or higher. There is no guarantee in this circumstance that you will be able to reschedule or get a refund. If you do get a permit for this time period plan on getting a VERY EARLY start on the trail and get to the campground or the hilltop before the day starts heating up.
The Night Before Your Hike
I met a lot of people on the trail that slept in their cars the night before. We were there the first week in May and the nights were still pretty cold. They all expressed that it wasn’t worth it. They all froze their butts off in the cars all night and got very little sleep. If it is the warmer time of the year then maybe it could be worth it for you.
They do not allow camping at the hilltop or anywhere along Route 18. If you are determined to stay at the trail head the night before, it will have to be in your car. Make sure not to park on the side of the road that is directly adjacent to the canyon wall; staff advised us that rocks have been falling and have been causing damage to many vehicles. If it means parking another quarter mile or more away from the trail head it is worth it. Heed any parking signs or your car may be towed. RV parking is very tight.
We opted for a good nights sleep before beginning our hike. We stayed at an AirBnB in Kingman, woke up very early, and drove two hours to the hilltop. There are many inexpensive AirBnB options in Kingman and Seligman. Even though we still had a two hour drive we went to bed early and I can guarantee we got a lot more sleep than those people who “slept” in their cars.
The Hike In
Havasupai Hilltop is a total of 10 miles from the campground (elevation 5,200 feet). There is no water along the trail to the campground so make sure to pack enough water for the entire 10 miles. During the hike in you descend 2,500 feet into the canyon. Alternatively, that means that you will hike up 2,500 feet on the way out. The first 1.5 miles of this trail contains of a series of switchbacks as you descend 1,000 feet into the dried creek bed below. From here on the elevation change is very gradual. The trail is very sandy and gravely. Some people suggest not wearing hiking boots due to them filling up with sand. I would disagree, the trail is covered in rocks that are the perfect size for rolling ankles (speaking form experience). I would suggest light hiking boots with ankle support.
A reminder of some trail etiquette:
After walking the first 8 miles from the Havasupai Hilltop you will arrive at the Supai Village. Once you reach the village sign and see your first glimpse of water it is just another two miles to the tourism office in the middle of the village. You will have to go to the tourism office here to check in using your permit and ID. You will receive a wrist band for each person in your group and a tag for your tent. There will be staff members along the trails and at the waterfalls checking for wrist bands.
There is a small convenience store and restaurant in the village if you need to get any last minute food or drink items.
From the tourism office it is just another 2 miles (or 45 minutes depending on your hiking speed) to the campground. There are several smaller side trails but these are not for tourists. After leaving the village stay on what looks like an ATV trail. There are a couple of places where the trail looks like it breaks off and you don’t know which way to go but don’t worry because they go to the same place. There is one spot that you will see a boulder on the left side of the trail with a word spray painted that vaguely looks like the word “falls.” If you have the energy this diversion will give you a much better view of Navajo Falls than you would see from the trail. Continue on towards the campground and you will pass the Fifty Foot Falls and just prior to the campground you will reach the beautiful 115 foot tall Havasu Falls.
I recommend getting an early start and completing the hike before the heat of the day begins. Afterwards you will have the rest of the day to set up camp and enjoy Havasu Falls. The tourism office is usually open from 6AM to 6PM from May through October and 9AM to 5PM during the rest of the year. Make sure to arrive within that time frame to get your wristbands and tent tag. The hike in took my husband and I four hours and I would consider us fairly fast hikers. If you consider yourself anything besides fast, adjust that time to your skill level. If you decide to start your hike in the dark make sure that you have extra batteries for headlamps.
Even though it will be quite tempting to stop and play for a while at Havasu, I would suggest continuing on to the campground so you can pick out your site. Set up camp and then head back to the falls. You will have the rest of the day to spend there before letting the sound of the creek lull you to sleep.
Photo tip: Depending on the time of year, the entire falls will be lit up by the sun around 1PM. Perfect time for photos with a filter. If you are looking for long exposure shots without a filter, the sun will be out of the canyon by 4PM. With the sun gone, the people will also begin to disappear.
The campground stretches for a mile on both sides of the Havasu Creek to the start of the Mooney Falls trail. There is one spring coming out of the side of the cliff near the beginning of the campground which you can collect water from. They say you do not need to filter this water but I still would filter it before drinking it and would boil it at a minimum for cooking. The campsites are first come first served which is another reason to get an early start. There are four composting toilet sites throughout the camp and I think the better campsites are near the end of the campground (near the top of Mooney Falls). Most campsites have shade and a picnic table. The campsites on the other side of the creek require crossing some sketchy wooden bridges that may or may not get your feet wet (keep your electronics out of your pockets until you feel comfortable crossing).
Most campsites are fairly level with plenty of trees for hammock options. If you do opt for a hammock to save on weight make sure you have a rain fly and still prepare to get wet. There was a group leaving as we were coming in who experienced a miserable night in their hammocks during a downpour that seemed to come from every angle. Also hammocks will not shelter you from any bugs.
Most campsites will have a bucket with a top. This is where you will want to store any and all food you brought and put a large rock on top which will keep it safe from the squirrels. They have been known to chew through tents and backpacks to get to food. There were some sites that did not have buckets as they had run out. You could take a chance and hope to get a bucket or you could bring a rat sack with you just in case which we did, and it worked very well.
Day One: Hike the 10 miles from Havasupai Hilltop to Havasupai Campground. Set up camp and spend the rest of the day at Havasu Falls.
Day Two: Wake up early and explore Mooney and Beaver Falls. From the beginning of the Campground it is 1 mile to Mooney Falls. Depending on how far down your campsite is in the campground will dictate how far it will be to get to Mooney Falls. Our campsite was near the end of the Campground so it only took us about 3 minutes to walk to the overlook. From the base of Mooney falls it is another 2 miles to Beaver falls.
Day Three: Rest day. Or for the more ambitious hikers you could take the Confluence Trail to the Colorado River. This trail extends about four miles past Beaver Falls.
Note* day two and day three are interchangeable
Day Four: wake up at an ungodly hour, pack up camp, and hike the ten miles back to the hilltop. Remember that the last 1.5 miles will be the most difficult and strenuous so you want to be at or near the top before it gets super hot out.
Mooney Falls and Beaver Falls
If you are at all afraid of heights the Mooney overlook may be the end of the road for you. I had read multiple things about these “ladders” leading down to the base of the falls before our trip. I figured that I had climbed Angel’s landing and other trails which have a bad reputation but they turned out not to be so bad in actuality. This was not the case here. There are some gloves with grips lying around but if you really think you want a pair of gloves with a good grip it’s worth bringing you own. We took it slow and tested the chains and foot holds on each step prior to moving on. If you have any doubts or want to prepare yourself for what is to come check out some videos online like this one.
After passing a sign that says “descend at your own risk” it is approximately 200 feet down a series of caves, chains and ladders to the waterfall below. If that doesn’t sound bad enough, the bottom half of the climb is slick as it is constantly in the mist from the waterfall. Wear sturdy shoes to help grip the wet rocks and ladders. Make sure to face uphill for better balance and grip even when climbing down. Don’t let anyone rush you; slow and steady wins the race. The climb can become quite congested at certain times throughout the day. We didn’t have any problems with anyone during the climb as the general consensus was that everyone just wanted to get to the bottom in one piece.
When we climbed down, at approximately 8AM, Mooney Falls was completely in the shade. We continued the next two miles and arrived at Beaver Falls. There isn’t one real clear path to get there. We came across several different trails and didn’t know what one to take. We later found out that they all go to the same place. As long as you are following the creek, you will get there eventually. The path we ended up on had about four river crossings. If you have brought water shoes, the first crossing would be the perfect spot to change into them and then leave them on for the duration of the hike. Although the trail is confusing, there is no real elevation change, just a couple of ladders near the end which are much drier and less scary than the ones at Mooney Falls.
We arrived at Beaver Falls just before 10AM (after some backtracking and thinking that we were on the wrong trail). There was no one else there. I didn’t have to wait long for the falls to be bathed in warm sunlight. By 11AM the falls were completely in the light but it was gone by 2PM. The time and duration of sunlight will depend on the time of year you are able to visit (we were there during the first week of May).
Photo tip: The best spot for photos is on the plateau with the picnic table at the edge before you descend down the last two ladders to the base of the falls. If you get there early enough there will be no one in the photos and you will not need a filter for long exposure shots. After the sun comes up you will need a filter and should anticipate on removing people from the photos. The people start clearing out after the sun goes down again.
If you get to Beaver Falls early enough then you should try to get back to Mooney Falls before the light leaves this part of the canyon. The canyon will be in the sunlight between 12PM and 3PM (time of year dependent).
Regardless of where you spend your time, you will want to head back up the ladders at Mooney Falls before it starts to get dark and or cold. You will be climbing in the cold mist of the falls for the bottom half of the climb.
Depending on what you read, the hike to the Colorado River confluence is an additional 6-8 miles from Mooney Falls (from everything I have read I think it is closer to 6 one way). The confluence is where the clear blue water of the Havasu Creek meets the brown water of the Colorado River and mixes together. We only stayed at the campground for 2 nights (although we had to pay for the three) due to a scheduling conflict so we were unable to hike this trail. From what we heard it is a difficult trail to follow and has over 15 river crossings in each direction. Some new friends who we met at the campground made the hike and said it was absolutely amazing. Few people travel this far, so expect to have the trail mostly to yourself. We often overheard from other campers that if you do not arrive at the Confluence by 1PM then you need to turn around because you will not make it back before it gets to be too late in the day. There were rangers stationed near Beaver Falls who were turning people around if they did not get an early enough start.
Pack Animals and Helicopters
If you are not capable of carrying your gear on the 10 mile hike in or out from the campground there is an option to hire pack animals to carry it for you. You have the option of hiring them for one direction (just out) or both (in and out). If you can avoid doing this, I would recommend that you do. These animals are not cared for the way they should be and we as tourists should try and reduce some of their burden. If you do choose to use them remember to add your name to the waiting list after securing your reservation. Prices are subject to change but right now one direction is $95 and round-trip is $187.
Airwest Helicopters provide transportation from the Havasupai Hilltop to Supai Village and vice versa. They only run certain times during the week and certain times during the year. You can check the schedule here. They start running at 10AM and run until everyone is accommodated or when it becomes dark out, whichever comes first. They run on a first come first serve basis giving the locals priority. It is important to get in line early if you plan to use this service. Prices are subject to change but are currently $85 per person per direction. They accept Visa, Mastercard, and Discover for an additional $15 fee; cash is preferred.
*Note* It is still a two mile hike from the Havasu Falls campground to the helipad (which is near the tourism office) or vice versa.
I spoke with someone at the hilltop who was just beginning their hike down as I was waiting for the bathroom after hiking out. She told me that she does this hike every year and always hikes in and takes the helicopter out. She told me that last year she was in line for the helicopter by 5AM and did not make it to the top until 5PM. 12 HOURS! We hiked from our campsite near the top of Mooney Falls completely out of the canyon and a short distance to our car in approximately 4 hours and 15 minutes, which was way better than waiting 12 hours for a helicopter in my opinion!
I wish you all luck through the permit process. Hopefully soon you’ll be able to make the trip and see for yourself what people on social media have been raving about! Go make your own memories!
Safe Travels and Happy Adventuring
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