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Perhaps I am a glutton for punishment. But the thing that first caught my eye about Havasupai Falls was not the constant stream of Instagram photos. Instead, it was that you’d have to backpack 10 miles in, with an elevation drop of 2000 feet, to reach these mesmerizing waterfalls — and then, of course, hike it all up and out.
I’ll touch on the less physically-punishing options as well, but this guide to Havasupai Falls is geared toward those willing to 100% DIY it.
Must-know basics about Havasupai Falls
1. The Havasupai Nation is a sovereign nation with its own laws and rules. Respect them like you’d like others to respect your own backyard.
2. You can only visit if you have a permit. We’ll get to how to get a Havasupai permit in a minute. There is no day hiking allowed.
3. Havasu means “blue-green water” and pai means “people.”
4. Please, please, please pack out everything you bring in. Yes, that includes your trash. If you don’t, the tribe has to use mules and helicopters to pack out your trash. Do your part and keep Havasupai Falls beautiful.
5. There is a small store down in Supai, but for the most part, you’ll need to bring in everything. Make sure to check out this comprehensive packing list to ensure you have all the equipment, clothes, and food you need.
6. In case you’re wondering, it is Havasu Canyon, Havasu Creek, and Havasu Falls. But it is the Havasupai Nation and there are multiple waterfalls, hence Havasupai Falls.
Okay, let’s get started and tackle everything you need to know about backpacking Havasupai Falls.
When to go to Havasupai Falls
Havasupai Falls is open to visitors from February through November each year.
Generally, the best times are late spring/early summer and late summer/early fall. Of course, part of when you end up going to Havasupai Falls depends on when you can get a permit.
If you visit at the beginning or end of the season, it’s not uncommon to have snow on the ground. And if you go during the middle of summer, temperatures can exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit (with trails closing if it’s 115 degrees or hotter). But no matter when you go, make sure to take a look at the weather forecast very, very carefully.
We visited at the end of May and woke up to icicles on our Jeep. We shivered and sniffled as we geared up to go, hitting the trail at a frosty 38 degrees. In contrast, the next afternoon was a balmy 81 degrees in the canyon.
In other words — pack layers!
How to get a Havasupai permit
Reservations open up Feb. 1 at 8 a.m. Arizona time — first come, first serve.
As of 2019, you must book 3 nights, 4 days. You can stay for a shorter period of time if you’d like, but why waste this opportunity to go off the grid in such a beautiful place? You’re also welcome to stay longer if you’re lucky enough to get consecutive permits.
To have the best chance of getting permits, sign up for your account ahead of time. Then have multiple people online when reservations open up. I couldn’t get past the second screen of the reservation process while my friend was somehow able to get us a five-person permit for Memorial Day Weekend.
Total cost for the permit varies. If your reservation is for Monday through Thursday (aka weekday nights), it’s $100 per person per night. If it includes Friday, Saturday, or Sunday (aka weekend nights), it’s $125 per person for each of those nights.
The person who ultimately snags the reservation must be the one to pick up your permits at the tourist check-in office. If for some reason the person holding the reservation can’t make the trip anymore, make sure to transfer the permit online using the official transfers system.
As of 2020, everyone in your group must have their own account on HavasupaiReservations.com. You must also have a screenshot or printout of your account, your permit, and your photo ID at all times when visiting.
Couldn’t snag a permit on Feb. 1? Keep your eye on the official Facebook group. The tribe will often post updates on permits that are available for transfer.
What to pack for Havasupai Falls
I’ve got an entire post on this. Check out this equipment, food, and clothes packing list!
Where to stay before you hike in
Some people choose to sleep in their car the night before so they can hit the trail bright and early. But I’d only do this during the hot summer months when you’re sure it’ll be warm. You wouldn’t want to sleep in your car if you had freezing temps overnight like we did in late May!
For all other times, consider a spot in Seligman or Peach Springs, the closest towns to the trailhead. (The closest lodging option is probably Grand Canyon Caverns, which offers a cool cavern experience as its name states.)
We originally booked two rooms at Supai Motel in Seligman but were moved to the Deluxe Inn down the street instead. Nothing fancy, but it did the job. You’ll likely want to wake up around 4:30 a.m. to get to the trailhead by 7ish anyhow, so you really just need a safe place to rest your head.
Whatever you choose to do, make sure you’re equipped the day before with everything you need for the trip. Most importantly, make sure to have snacks and at least 1 gallon of water per person for your hike in. There is no water source on the trail.
Hiking down to Havasupai Falls
Like I mentioned, the 20-mile roundtrip backpacking trip was the first thing that piqued my interest in Havasupai Falls. Of course, the falls themselves are gorgeous as well!
(An aside: I don’t want to romanticize this trek though. The Havasupai people were driven to this land by the policies of the United States. We took the rest of their land and restricted them to the canyons that can be so brutal in the summer and winter months. Keep this in mind as you experience the beauty of the land.)
The hike starts at the Hualapai Hilltop parking lot. If you go during the high season (May-September), it’s most likely that you’ll have to park along the road to the lot and walk over to the trailhead.
There, you’ll get your first glimpse of the majestic beauty you’re about to encounter inside Havasu Canyon.
Before you head down, make sure to stop by one of the compost bathrooms or porta-potties as there will be no other facilities until you get to Supai town.
Then it’s time to hit the switchbacks that dominate the beginning of the trail. For those of us with hip and knee issues, these steep switchbacks down into the canyon are perhaps the hardest part of the trek.
Once you pass the switchbacks, the rest of the trail isn’t all too bad. Sure, there are some hills and some declines, and some parts of the trail are rockier than others. But generally, the rest of the trail is nothing that five (current and former) San Francisco dwellers can’t take.
At times, you may encounter horses and mules on the trail. They have the right of way, so keep your eyes on the trail and move to the side when necessary. Also — absolutely no photos of the horses and the Havasu people are allowed! They will stop you and ask you to delete photos if you disregard the rules and take pictures.
How to choose the best campsite
Woo! You made it! 8 miles through the canyons to the town of Supai, the center of the Havasupai Indian Reservation.
Well, okay, you’re not quite there yet. But every visitor must stop in Supai first.
Whoever got the permit should head to the tourist office to check in and get your group’s permit wristbands and tent/hammock tags.
Everyone else? Rest your legs, use the bathrooms behind the recreational area, and maybe stop by the town store if you want a snack.
If you’ve been starved of Internet access and need to connect, Supai is also your last chance to do so. You’ll likely have lost signal as you drove closer to the trailhead, and you certainly won’t have any signal as you hike deeper toward the campground and the waterfalls.
Then, it’s time to hike the last two miles from Supai to the start of the campground, which runs for more than a mile along Havasu Creek. (On your way, you’ll also see Navajo Falls and Havasu Falls. But we’ll get back to those later.)
So, which campsite(s) to choose? I’d suggest three major considerations: bathrooms, drinking water, and weather-dependent factors.
There are three bathroom stations dotting the campground. The largest one has four stalls and is at the entrance by the campground ranger station. Then there are two sets (of two stalls each) that are fairly close to each other at the other end of the campground.
Your best bet is to be close enough to a bathroom that you can easily go without having to make a 10-minute trek — but also be far enough away that you don’t get any downwind smells from it.
2. Drinking water
While you’ll need to bring drinking water for your hike, you’re not going to be able to carry enough water for your entire trip.
Good news: there’s a fresh spring with drinkable water. Fern Spring, as it’s named, is located roughly 1/4 mile from the campground entrance.
We loved our spot that was just past the watering hole. It made it easy for us to get water and was still within a quick walk to the bathrooms.
That said, the far side of the campgrounds have their benefits, too. You can camp much closer to the water if you go farther up the trail, even on little “islands” in the midst of streams. Going to sleep with the calming sound of the running creek? That sounds lovely, too.
If you think that’s more up your alley, make sure to pack one of these collapsible water jugs so you don’t have to make as many water trips to Fern Springs.
3. Weather-dependent factors
Lastly, consider the weather during your visit.
If you’re visiting in the heat of summer, you may want to pick a spot that has more trees offering shade.
If you’re visiting when rain is forecasted, you’ll want to look for a spot that’s on higher ground. Havasu Creek is prone to flash floods that can quickly overtake the campgrounds. (It happened as recently as Thanksgiving 2019.)
Hiking to various falls
Between Supai and the campground, you’ll pass by Navajo Falls and the famous Havasu Falls. These will be the most accessible options, with the latter being more friendly to hanging out and relaxing. We spent an entire day just chilling out and picnicking at the base of Havasu Falls.
The other two mesmerizing beauties, Mooney Falls and Beaver Falls, require a little more stamina and effort. But I promise they’re worth the effort.
Experiencing Mooney Falls
The starting point to get to Mooney Falls is just beyond the campground. First, I’d suggest stopping by a viewpoint to see the falls from above. As with all places during this trip, make sure you stay away from the edge of the cliffs and are on solid footing.
Then make your way to the Mooney Falls ladder.
For those with a fear of heights, please prepare yourself mentally. It is indeed a steep way down, but it is the only way to see both Mooney and Beaver Falls. (And yes, you do have to come up the same way.)
But know that you can do it and others are there to help you. Some of the most heartwarming moments of our trip were when strangers encouraged and helped out those struggling with the descent and ascent at Mooney Falls.
For those without a fear of heights, still make sure you have solid footwear as the rocks and ladders can get quite slippery thanks to mist from the waterfall. And please come with patience and empathy towards fellow visitors who may be terrified.
If you’re in a mixed group, I’d suggest putting those with the least fear of heights in the front, middle, and back so they can support those who need a hand.
Once you’ve landed at the base of Mooney Falls, bask in its glory, relax in the streams, and maybe even jump into the water from one of the rope swings.
Trekking to Beaver Falls
The most difficult waterfall to get to is Beaver Falls, which is ~3 miles away from the base of Mooney Falls. That means you should give yourself enough time to hike the 3 miles there, enjoy Beaver Falls, and then trek back to your campsite — all before it gets dark.
We were a little slow-moving the morning we visited Mooney Falls and probably left for Beaver Falls a little late in the day. We only stayed at Beaver Falls for 10-15 minutes, but it was still worth the trek.
The land between Mooney Falls and Beaver Falls has some serious greenery and made me feel like I was in Jurassic Park!
Hiking back out
When it’s time for you to pack it up and head out, make sure to really pack it all out.
One core rule of visiting Havasupai (and of all backpacking trips) is to leave no trace. You’re responsible for all the trash you produce, so bring extra trash bags and haul it back out until you find a dumpster elsewhere in Arizona.
Okay, quick storytime: One day we woke up to a strange trash bag at our campsite. We didn’t think much of it, all thinking it was just a friend’s stuff (we were using trash bags as rain covers). We left to go explore the falls and came back to an open bag and trash that had been strewn around by animals that had gotten into it.
Yep, someone had dumped their trash at our campsite. Smuckers jars (wtf, who backpacks with glass jars?!?), used wet wipes, and all.
It was so incredibly nasty (and yours truly had to clean it up.)
Don’t be that person. Pack yourself out.
Give yourself 30 minutes to an hour to get ready and pack up everything in the morning. And then try to hit the road earlier rather than later.
This helps ensure you don’t hit the steep hills of the switchback at the hottest part of the day. It also helps you make sure you can get back to Seligman, Peach Springs, or another town before it’s too late. (We chose to go straight to Scottsdale and spent the night at Hyatt Place.)
When you arrive back at the top, there are usually folks selling frybread and other snacks. Always nice to get a snack before hitting the road!
Help! I don’t want to do all that hiking and camping
While I’m a huge proponent of backpacking Havasupai Falls without any help, I also understand that this is not an option for everyone.
There are two other options if you do not want to backpack:
- Do the hike yourself but have horses and mules take your stuff.
- Take the helicopter.
Using pack animals
There’s limited capacity each day, so if you’ll need pack animals to help you with your stuff, make sure to book this when you get your permit.
2019 fees were $400 round-trip for each pack mule, which can carry up to 4 bags that weigh no more than 32 pounds each. There are size limitations to the bags as well.
I won’t get into the ethics of using pack animals here, though I know there have been concerns about how these horses and mules have been treated in the past. When we went, we were in close proximity to many of these animals and did not see any visible signs of abuse.
Taking the helicopter route
The helicopter is especially popular on the way out. Folks realize after a few days of hiking that they don’t feel like hiking out, so they’ll shell out $85 for a lift.
If you choose this route, make sure to do your research and arrive at the helipads early. The helicopters are first-come, first-serve and do not fly every day. The price includes one bag, so you may have to pay extra or hire a pack mule if you have more stuff.
Just keep in mind that visiting the various waterfalls can be physically challenging as well, so if you’re choosing the helicopter option due to health issues, you should consider if you can handle the physical demands once you’ve arrived.
Staying at Havasupai Lodge
Lastly, I want to address the non-camping option for those who can’t be caught dead in a tent.
The town of Supai does have one lodge. Rooms are $440 per night and can fit four people. You’ll also have to pay a $110 entrance & environmental fee per person.
Unlike the campground, Havasupai Lodge is open year-round. 2020 reservations opened up on June 1, 2019 — you can try to snatch up any dates that are still available by calling 928-448-2111 or 928-448-2201.
And that’s it! Pin this to save it for later, and let me know if you have any questions!