Planning Your Trip to Havasu Falls and The Havasupai Reservation
Havasu Falls and the surrounding Havasupai reservation is undoubtedly one of the most breathtaking places on the planet. Marked by incredibly clear turquoise water and brilliant red rock faces, Havasupai is the land that time forgot. You can almost expect to see prehistoric creatures roaming through the trees. Part of the beauty of this land is that it’s sheltered, remote, undeveloped and untouched by modern technology – – and should stay that way! There are 5 amazing waterfalls at Havasupai that you can read more about here.
I think it’s most valuable to read this guide from top to bottom, but if you’re looking for something specific, jump to:
- Where Is Havasupai Located?
- Directions To The Hualapai Hilltop Trailhead
- The Best Time To Go To Havasu Falls
- How To Get A Permit
- Permit and Camping Costs
- The Havasupai Lodge
- How To Get To The Campground
- Horses and Pack Mules
- Helicoptering In and Out
- How Long Does It Take To Hike In and Out?
- The Hike Through Havasu Canyon
- What To Expect At The Campground
- What Gear To Bring
Where Is Havasupai Located?
Located in the Northwest corner of Arizona, the Havasupai Indian Reservation is surrounded by the Grand Canyon and is approximately 30miles from the North Rim of the canyon.
Given that Havasu falls and the campground are located on the Havasupai Reservation, there aren’t things like stairs or paved roads or railings. The Havasupai reservation is it’s own world with it’s own rules and doesn’t feel like you’re still in America, which is part of what makes this area so special.
Directions To The Hualapai Hilltop Trailhead
The Hualapai Hilltop parking lot is at the end of 60mi Indian Road 18 off of Route 66. Be careful driving along this road at night as there are many suicidal animals. We nearly decapitated 3 jackrabbits, 2 mice, a toad, and a giant steer.
Kingman and Seligman (depending on where you’re coming from) will be your last cities, so it’s a good idea to get any last minute supplies here since you might not find them later on.
The parking lot is surprisingly large and has two sections – one for local parking only and the rest for everyone else. There were lots of cars parked along the side of the road and not in designated spaces. There are street lights and a bathroom at the parking lot.
The trailhead is marked by a blinking yellow street light at the end of the lot next to the load area for the mules (useful if hiking at night).
Here is the Google Maps location of the trailhead so that you can get directions from your location:
What Is The Closest Airport to Havasupai?
There are several nearby airports, some international and some domestic. If you are close enough to drive here, make a road trip out of it! If not, you can rent any sort of vehicle from the airport and make the drive.
- Las Vegas (LAS): McCarran International Airport – 219 miles
- Phoeniz AZ (PHX): Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport – 269 miles
- Grand Canyon, AZ (GCN): Grand Canyon National Park- 55 miles
- Peach Springs, AZ (GCW): Grand Canyon West – 65 miles
- Saint George, UT (SGU): St. George Municipal – 72 miles
- Kingman, AZ (IGM): Kingman Airport – 111 miles
When Is The Best Time To Go To Havasu Falls?
Given the difficulty of getting a permit, whenever you can!
The water remains around 69 degrees year round.
- Spring: Highs are in the low 80s and lows are in the low 50s. Not many bugs and less people.
- Summer: Highs are in the high 90s/100s and lows are in the high 70s. This is also monsoon season, which means possible flash floods, but the warmer weather is conducive for more swimming.
- Fall: Highs are in the high 80s and lows are in the 50s. Again less bugs and less people.
- Winter: Highs are in the 50s and lows are in the 30s. I’m not even sure if the campground is open during the winter.
How Do I Get A Hiking or Camping Permit For Havasupai?
The hardest part about this trip is getting the permit. Permits are required and are strictly enforced. During our hike to Supai Village, on two separate occasions we met a somewhat intimidating pack mule driver along the trail who asked us our names and checked to make sure that we were on the list that they were carrying with them before allowing us to pass. Who knows if they would have let us continue if we hadn’t been on that list.
To get a permit, you have to call the Havasupai tourism office at: (928) 448-2121.
Supposedly online reservations are available on the tribe’s new website here, however every time I visit this website, the online reservations aren’t working.
Once you check in at the tourist center in Supai (which opens at 8am), you’ll receive a plastic yellow wristband that you must wear at all times and a tag to attach to your tent showing that you are permitted.
Costs & Fees
Costs as of 2017
- Camping permit: $25 + 10% tax ($2.50) = $27.50 per person, per night
- Environment fee: $10 + 10% tax ($1) = $11 per person
- Entrance fee: $50 + 10% tax ($5) = $55 per person
The Havasupai Lodge is in Supai Village and can range from $70-$100 per night. The lodge has no TV or wifi and is 2mi away from the falls. If you have a reservation at the lodge, you still need a permit to be allowed to trespass on the Havasupai reservation. More on the Havasupai Lodge here »
How Do You Get To The Havasu Falls Campground?
You’ve got a permit – congratulations!! So, now what?
There are three ways to get to Havasupai.
For this Havasu Falls guide, we will be focusing on backpacking and camping and HIGHLY SUGGEST that you take this route. The trek isn’t that difficult and it’s well worth it not only for the bragging rights, but for the views along the way. Unless you have a physical limitation, this is absolutely the way to go. This was my first backpacking trip ever and I am very happy that we chose to do it this way.
Not only that, but there is a marked difference in the types of people who chose to backpack in vs. fly in. Yes, I will get on my high judgemental horse here: The smiles on the faces of the backpackers when they reached Supai Village were worth far more than the selfies taken by the passengers when getting out of the helicopter and looking for the lodge with their roll-aboard suitcases and “#Squad” bedazzled hats.
Horses and Pack Mules at Havasupai
You can ride up/down on a horse or pack mule or use them to send your gear rather than backpacking. Again, I STRONGLY RECOMMEND doing this yourself with your own two feet instead! I didn’t see one tourist on a horse or mule during our trip here.
If staying at the lodge, they can arrange the mule for you, and if staying at the campground, the tourism office will arrange it for you. Again, reservations are required.
- Round trip from Hilltop to camp is $187, one way is $95.
- Round trip from Hilltop to the lodge is $120, one way is $70.
- Day trip from the lodge to the falls is $70.
Those using the pack mules or helicopter in either direction will spend a lot of time waiting around for their stuff since it won’t necessarily arrive the same time you do.
Fun fact: You can bring your own horse! You must also bring your own feed and pay a fee at the tourism office if doing this.
Helicoptering Out of Havasupai
A helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon has been on our bucket list for a while, so we did take the helicopter out. The helicopter goes from the locals only parking lot at Hilltop to the Supai Village and back. The helicopter is there to serve the village and tourists are not a priority. It’s first come, first serve (no reservations). So depending on how many supplies need to be brought in/out and how many locals need to go in/out, they may or may not get to everyone.
- March 15 through Oct 15th: the helicopter does NOT fly on Wednesdays or Saturdays.
- Oct 16th through March 14th, the helicopter flies ONLY on Sundays and Fridays.
“Air West” helicopter rides are $85 per person one way, and start at 9am and go until dark.
The line for the helicopter, however, starts around 5am since there is no guarantee to getting a ride out. Shortly before the rides start, one of the locals will come out with a clipboard for everyone who is waiting to put their names down. Be prepared to wait 4-5 hours for a ride, which is as long or longer than it takes to hike it. Also, your equipment may not be on the same flight with you, so you’ll have to wait until they get around to bringing your stuff to you.
How Long Does It Take to Hike In and Out of Havasupai?
It’s approximately 10 miles from Hilltop to the Havasupai campground. However, after talking with a ranger at the reservation, we found that all of the mileage calculations provided are based off of Google Maps and are therefore, not necessarily 100% accurate as the measurements are more “as the crow flies” than following the trails. The day we hiked in, my Fitbit told me that we hiked 12.25 miles, which also included a small amount of exploring the campground, just to give you an idea.
- It take around 4 hours to hike from Hilltop to the Supai Village
- It takes around 6 hours to hike from the Supai Village to Hilltop
We were moving at a pretty good pace and passed several other backpackers along the way and only stopped once during the hike down. We made it to Supai Village in about 3.5 hours.
The friendly ranger we spoke to says that a “true Supai” can do the hike (without equipment) in under 2 hours.
The Trail Through Havasu Canyon
I would recommend sleeping in your car at the Hilltop the night before and leaving around 4am or 5am in order to get to the campground before it starts to get hot. Throw a few blankets and pillows in the car and leave them there when you head out. This way, after a little nap at the campground, you still have an entire day ahead of you. Also seeing the sunrise while inside the Grand Canyon is pretty amazing.
Pro Tip: Have water and snacks waiting for you in your car for when you get back, especially if hiking out!
Hualapai Hilltop has an elevation of around 5,200 ft.
The campground near Havasu Falls is around 2,800 ft.
Making the elevation difference around 2,400 ft with an average grade of 18%, which makes this an easy to moderate hike, especially by Grand Canyon standards.
The majority of the decent happens right at the beginning of the trail. You immediately decent about 1,000 feet through a series of switchbacks lasting for about a mile before getting to the canyon floor.
You’ll then follow a dry riverbed for approximately 7 miles, slowly going down another 1,000ft-ish. It’s not a hard hike, it’s just long and there is very little shade in the canyon.
The trail is pretty easy to follow and all of the little “side trails” always join back up with the main trail shortly. It’s mostly packed dirt or gravel in some places. There are some boulders and vegetation throughout and the rock formations through the canyon are really beautiful.
When you reach Supai Village, (shortly past the initial Indian Fried Bread and cold beverage stand and several horse pastures) check in at the Tourism Office, which is clearly marked. Just past the Tourism Office is a field with the helipad, a cafe, and a grocery/market. If you really wanted to, you could get all of your food here if you don’t care about paying a hefty price mark up. There are lots of dogs running around in the village, most of which are friendly, and also lots of horses and mules (watch out for the droppings!).
From the village, is approximately another 2mi to the campground. I found this to be the hardest part of the hike because we’re already tired and those 2mi feel a lot longer than 2 mi. Here the trail is more sand-like, which makes hiking harder. There are also some ups and downs in the trail which I think make this part more “moderate” than “easy”.
During the last portion of the trail, you’ll pass the Fifty Foot Falls and Navajo Falls on your left and then the Havasu Falls on your right shortly thereafter. The entrance to the campground is just past the Havasu Falls.
In hiking out, regardless of how you’re getting out (hiking or helicopter), you’ll need to hike this last sandy/ hilly portion to get back to the Supai Village. If hiking all the way to Hilltop, the majority of the trail will be flat with a very graduate grade until you get to the switchbacks just below Hilltop. This will be more difficult since it’s the last part of the hike and you’ll be tired by the time you reach them.
The Supai Village
Since my visit to Havasupai, I became interested in the reservation and their history and have read many articles that talk about the challenges that this community has faced, including everything from poverty to trouble youths to finding their own identity in a white-dominated world. I want to briefly touch on (since none of the other guides I read before coming mentioned this) that I was surprised at the economic state of the village. In many ways, it feels like walking through a third world country that is not part of America. Personally, I found this appealing as part of the point of coming here is to “get away from it all” and being in this remote community removed from the world does exactly that.
The majority of the negative articles that I’ve read since my visit that talk about the terrible state of the campground or safety concerns in the village were written over 10 years ago. It’s very clear that a lot has changed in those ten years as many of the concerns raised in those articles don’t exist anymore (and the campground is impeccably clean). As when traveling anywhere, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings, which I would recommend doing here as with anywhere, but I also want to be very clear that at no point during this trip did I ever feel unsafe being here.
The Havasupai Campground
The campground is located along Havasu Creek between Havasu Falls and Mooney Falls. There’s lots of shade and lots of great camping spots. The river forks through the campground with great camping spots along both sides of the river and on the island in the middle.
Pro Tip: Stop at the ranger station at the beginning of the campground and get an orange bucket to put your food in so that the marmots can’t get to it, because they will! They’ll rip through tents and bags just to have a tasty snack and we even saw them inside bags that were hanging from trees.
Campfires are not permitted.
There are bathrooms with compost toilets at the beginning, middle, and end of the campground. These are serviced daily and are stocked with toilet paper.
There’s a freshwater spring approximately a quarter way into the campground that is supposedly safe to drink. We brought filtration tablets just in case to be safe.
Pro Tip: Bring an empty 5 gallon water jug with you so that you can fill up with the fresh water once at the campground so that you don’t need to constantly go back and forth whenever you need water.
There are no trash cans at the campground, so be prepared to carry out your own trash.
What Gear Should You Bring In Your Backpack?
Like I said, this was my first backpacking trip ever, so when putting together a pack, we placed a lot of focus on being as minimal as possible with lightweight items.
In addition to this, I would also recommend:
Hammock: Odoland Lightweight Camping Hammock
There are lots of trees to hang a hammock from. After the 10mile hike to the campground, relaxing in a hammock feels amazing. I was really happy with this hammock as the pouch that it comes in becomes a pocket once the hammock is set up.
Water shoes: Rubber Sole Mesh Water Shoes
You’re gonna be playing in the water around the falls and want to protect your feet. The bottom in most places isn’t bad but there is some muck in a few places. These shoes were even more comfortable than my hiking boots and are pretty cute!
The water stays around 69 year round. Even if it’s cold at first you’ll quickly adjust. My boyfriend didn’t bring a suit since he thought it would be too cold to swim and regretted it.
Quick dry towel: REI Ultra Lightweight towel
To go with the swimsuit. This one can absorb up to 8x its weight in water and yet wring out almost completely dry.
Empty 5 Gallon water jug.
Fill up at the fresh water spring once and keep it at your camp.
We doubled our hydration bladders for this and just stuck some snacks into the packs.
Havasupai Travel Vlog
Remember to Leave No Trace and have a great trip!
Let me know how it went and if you think there is anything that I should add update to this guide in the comments!