Havasupai is an Indian Reservation in a remote part of the Grand Canyon and its people – the People of the Blue Green Waters – are the traditional and ancient guardians of the Grand Canyon. This jewel of a place is only accessible by a 10 mile hike in through the desert, by a horse, or by a helicopter. Here, it seems, little has changed over the decades and it’s the only place in America where mules are still used to bring in and take out mail.
Best Time to Go
Both with this trip and various trips in the past to other locations in the Colorado Plateau area, we are a fan of going in the month of April, when we’ve found the weather to be near-perfect: not too hot, not too cold (average temps in the 70s/day and 40s-50s/night or late September (average temps in the 80s/day & 50s/night), and it’s not too crowded. You can also avoid the monsoon/flash-flood season which typically runs from July through August.
The water in the Havasu Creek is 70 degrees year-round. If the weather is warm, it will be wonderfully refreshing. If the weather is chilly, it will feel cold.
It had been on our bucket list forever. It took 8 days and around 1,000 calls to get our permits, months of planning, a plane trip, a road trip, and then a 10 mile hike in to find paradise down in the Grand Canyon!
The permit office opens on February 1st and without some crazy luck, you’ll need to be persistent in calling to get through. There are 4 numbers to call, a limited number of permits, and thousands of people calling from all over the world! Don’t give up! It took us 8 days of calling all 4 numbers from 3 different phones, all day long, over 1,000 calls, before we got through! And from what we read on the Facebook group, the majority of us had a similar experience!
You will not pay anything over the phone when you reserve, but you will be given a reservation number. Don’t lose that number because that’s the only confirmation you’ll receive. All fees will be paid in person at the office in Supai Village once you arrive. ***This has changed for 2017. You are now required to pay all the fees upfront, using Visa or MasterCard. No refunds allowed.
You can’t reserve for the following year. You can’t visit without a reservation. You can’t hike in just for the day. So, don’t show up without a reservation or you’ll have to pay an $88 fine and immediately be turned around and sent back to the hilltop. That won’t be a very fun 20 miles. There are signs up at the parking lot warning of this, as well as online.
Mules need to be reserved 1 week in advance by calling the same numbers you called to get a camping reservation. They will ask you for a credit card number over the phone to reserve the mule but you won’t be charged until you arrive at the check-in office down at Supai Village. There you will pay for all the fees all at once.
The Official Website of the Havasupai Tribe & where to get reservation & permit information: Link
There is a wonderful group on Facebook called “Backpacking Havasu Falls” where you can get all your questions answered and with information & links to everything you need to know about Havasupai: Link
$35 entrance fee/person
$17 camping fee/person/night
$5 environmental fee/person
10% tax on all of the above
$70 for 1 mule 1 way or $140 round-trip from the hilltop to the lodge & back
$93.50 for 1 mule 1 way or $187 round-trip from the hilltop to the campground entrance & back
A breakdown of costs for the 4 people in our group for 3 nights
$35 x 4 people = $140 (entrance fee)
$17 x 4 people x 3 nights = $204 (camping fee)
$5 x 4 people = $20 environmental fee
10% tax on all of the above = $36.40
1 mule roundtrip from the hilltop to the campground entrance & back again $187
***These were the prices in April 2016. The prices have nearly doubled in 2017.
The Hike In
Hilltop to the village 8 miles; village to the campgrounds 2 miles; total 10 miles
We flew into Las Vegas & drove out the 4 hours to the trailhead on a Sunday afternoon, part of the way on historical Route 66 which was fun.
We had heard that camping was not recommended in the parking lot area but when we arrived, we saw quite a few people with their tents set up, so we thought we’d join them. When we parked, we pulled our car out a little further than usual but not so it was sticking out in the road blocking other cars, & pitched our 2-man tent between the front of our car & the guardrail. There was plenty of room!
If you’re using a mule to carry your pack in:
At the hilltop, there’s a small office at the end of the parking lot near the trailhead where you’ll drop your pack off for the mules to pick up later. They need to be dropped off by 10AM. Your pack will need to be clearly marked with the name of the person who the reservation is under, the reservation number, & where you paid for your pack to go to, whether to the lodge or to the campground. The mules arrive in the corral at the campground entrance around 3 PM or later & that is where you’ll pick up your pack. Your packs will more than likely arrive after your arrival on your way in. The corral is also where you’ll drop off your pack, by 7:30AM, on your way out back to the hilltop & your packs will more than likely arrive at the hilltop before you do.
We were up & packed first thing Monday morning, dropping off our backpacks on the pallets at the little office, & off we set.
We didn’t quite realize it on the way in – well, minus that first 1.5 miles down where you’re definitely aware that you’ll have to climb that on the way out – but the hike’s actually a very gradual descent. The trail’s easy to follow & if you think you’re lost, just follow the river bed.
You’re hiking through a desert & it’s long & dry, with little to no shade. We had good hiking weather on our way in & out, but I imagine it would be unimaginably hot & a lot more challenging in the summer months, especially on the switchbacks on the return hike up to the trailhead parking lot which would be in full sun. Come prepared with at least 1 gallon of water for the hike each way.
The first 1.5 miles/2000 ft descent from the hilltop parking lot is a series of steep switchbacks before reaching a dry river bed which you’ll be following as it winds its way through the Hualapai canyon for the next 6.5 miles to its junction with Havasu Canyon . Here you’ll catch your first glimpse of the crystal clear blue Havasu Creek & be greeted with the lovely shade of tamarisks, cottonwoods, & willows. From here it’s a short distance to Supai Village.
Throughout the hike, mule packs will be passing you. As soon as you hear them coming, step to the side because they have the right of way.
Once you reach Supai, you’ll check in, pay the fees, get your wristbands & tent tags. You’ll need to keep your wristbands on for the duration of your trip. Rangers walk through the campground every day checking your tent tags & periodically throughout your visit, your wristbands will get checked, whether in the village or campground or on some trail. In the village, there’s a small restaurant & grocery store, restrooms & places to refill your water as well as free Wi-Fi.
From the village, you’ll walk the last 2 miles to the campground down a well-marked, sandy trail through the rest of the village, past tribe members’ homes, 50 Ft Falls, New Navajo Falls & finally arriving at the top of the spectacular main attraction of Havasu Falls. You’ll follow the falls down around the left-side, passing a fry bread stand, before coming to the corral & the campground entrance.
Plan for a 4 – 7 hour hike each way.
The campgrounds are situated along a 1 mile stretch between Havasu Falls and Mooney Falls, on either side of Havasu Creek as it flows downstream & there are many lovely places to set up camp, alongside the creek, in amongst beautiful trees perfect for hammocks, or nestled back further away from the creek & closer to the canyon walls. Each campsite has a picnic table. There are several foot bridges that make for an easy crossing from one side to the other.
There are toilets situated at the beginning, middle on either side, & at the end of the campgrounds. We found the facilities to be clean & there was always toilet paper.
There’s a natural spring to get clean, fresh water right out of the canyon wall towards the top end of the campground, Havasu Falls side (as opposed to Mooney Falls which is situated downstream at the end of the campgrounds). We also used a water filter to get our cooking & drinking water right out of the creek next to our campsite.
No campfires are allowed.
Bring some extra cash to buy fry bread, Indian tacos, or cold drinks sometime during your visit.
Having had a challenging time initially trying to get through to get our reservations & then hearing shortly afterwards that the rest of the year was already fully booked & having read about all the people that go there, we imagined it was going to be crowded. We didn’t find that to be the case at all! We felt like we had the space & privacy we needed for our campsite without being on top of someone else & several times, we had falls all to ourselves. The people we saw on the trails were few & far between making us feel like we were the only people on the trail.
When the sky turns into water, you get Havasu
“We are all naturally seekers of wonders. We travel far to see the majesty of old ruins, the venerable forms of the hoary mountains, great waterfalls, and galleries of art. And yet the world’s wonder is all around us; the wonder of setting suns, and evening stars, of the magic spring-time, the blossoming of the trees, the strange transformations of the moth.” – Albert Pike
It was a surreal experience being greeted with fields of green, jungles of vegetation, pools of turquoise water and some of the world’s most famous waterfalls after 10 miles hiking through a desert that can make you forget any comfort you ever knew. It was worth every step.
Hualapai Hilltop to Campgrounds
Hualapai Hilltop to Supai Village
Supai Village to Campgrounds
Supai Village to 50 Ft Falls/New Navajo Falls
Havasu Falls to Mooney Falls
Campgrounds to Mooney Falls
Mooney Falls to Beaver Falls
Mooney Falls to Colorado River
Our favorite falls were Mooney Falls both because of its sheer beauty and for the fun (but scary for those afraid of heights) climb down. Our favorite hike was the 4 mile roundtrip from Mooney Falls to Beaver Falls downriver.
The 200 ft/descend at your own risk climb to Mooney Falls takes you through a couple of tunnels & a series of footholds, ladders, and chains which get somewhat wet and slippery the closer you get to the bottom because of the spray from the falls.
I’m afraid of heights but I didn’t want to miss out on seeing what we had heard and came to find out for ourselves was the prettiest stretch of river below these falls. For me, it helped a lot to have someone below me on the climb who wasn’t afraid of heights guiding me on where to put my hands and feet, to have shoes with a good, solid grip, to face forward with my face & chest toward the cliff, and to not look down.
Once you’re down at the falls, it’s just gorgeous with heavenly places to swim & play!
The trail from Mooney to Beaver is about 2 miles from this point. Soon after leaving Mooney Falls behind, you’ll have the surreal experience of being greeted with fields of lush green, jungle-like vegetation with big shady trees and 6ft high wild grape fields creeping from the river’s edge up to the canyon walls. There are multiple waterfalls and crystal clear pools of all shades of Havasu blue. Periodically, the trail criss-crosses the beautiful river either through the water or over logs or ladders. As you near Beaver Falls, you’ll see a big ol’ palm tree & soon you’ll find there’ll be more ladders to climb up and down to reach the falls.
We used Keens and Chacos as our river shoes & had no issues.
Thank you to the Havasupai tribe for the opportunity & privilege of allowing us to visit their beautiful home of waterfalls & turquoise blue, an oasis paradise in the desert!