Overview of Havasupai

Hands down, Havasupai is my favorite destination in Arizona. It is both a haven of serenity and source of boundless adventures for over 20,000 visitors each year. I have ventured into Havasu Canyon with groups as small as four and as large as one hundred and thirty (yes, 130) and have found each format equally enjoyable in its own right. However and with whomever you choose to experience the adventure of Havasupai with, this is the one-stop guide that will describe the overall logistics of getting into the canyon and the overnight accommodations associated. There are countless side adventures that can be had once settled into your hotel room in Supai Village or once you (or your guide) have setup camp at the Havasupai Campground, but below is a listing of the major destinations within Havasu Canyon (listed by distance from the campground, nearest to farthest):

Havasu Falls

Mooney Falls

West Mesa Trail

Lower Navajo Falls

Upper Navajo Falls

Beaver Falls

For your’s and the local’s sake, I would be remiss in not providing you with a disambiguation of the words Havasupai, Supai, and Havasu. Havasupai is the people group and the reservation, Supai is the village, and Havasu is the creek, canyon and waterfall. So…the Havasupai live in Supai and share Havasu Falls with many visitors! Also, you might see some signs on the way with “Hualapai” listed; it is pronounced “Wall-a-pie” not “Hoola-pie”! 😉

Logistics – Hiking Full 10 Miles

You will begin your journey at the trailhead (directions from Flagstaff, Arizona here). If flying in from out of state to do this trip, most people fly to Las Vegas and drive from there (rather than Phoenix). Be sure to observe speed limits on your way to the trailhead; roads are well patrolled and there are livestock that have been known to cross the road, especially once on the reservation’s road. If coming from the direction of Flagstaff, I will typically top off gas and take a bathroom break for the group at Saligman.

Once at the trailhead, chances are you will not find a formal parking space (peak seasons especially). If that is the case, quickly drop your group and gear off at the trailhead and then find a safe spot along the road to the trailhead parking lot and parallel park there…start walking! 🙂 Be sure not to leave any valuables in your vehicle! It does not hurt to leave some water in your vehicle for when you return (though in the late summer months it will be a bit warm, but still wet! 🙂 ).

Though not required, I would strongly recommend using a helicopter to transport the majority of your camping gear and only bringing along a small day pack for the hike. If you have something to prove or are training for another bigger hike, go ahead and haul everything down on your back. If you are going down to enjoy yourself and are interested in infusing the local economy, reserve some gear space on the chopper ahead of time…it’s well worth the small investment. It depends on how you split things up in your group, but it will be about $40 per ~20 pound backpack each way.

The steepest part of the hike is the first little segment immediately adjacent the trailhead parking lot (about 1.5 miles depending on your opinion of  where “steep” starts and stops). After that, you are essentially hiking through a wash. Stick to the trail and make sure to follow the signs towards Supai Village! Eight miles from the trailhead you will come across Supai Village and there will be a campground check-in office. Make sure to stop in here and register and get your wristbands for your reservation (reserving access ahead of time is mandatory; if you don’t reserve ahead of time, you will pay double). Standard entrance fees are $35 per person, plus a $5 per person Environmental Care Fee, plus $17 per person per night spent at the campground. If the campground is not agreeable to you, the Havasupai Tribe operates a 24-room Lodge located in Supai Village (about 2 miles from Havasu Falls). Soon after the check-in office, you will come across the Havasupai Tribal Cafe and the Havasupai Trading Post. At this point in the journey, it is customary for me to stop for an italian ice or ice cream sandwich at the Trading Post! 🙂 After Supai Village, you will have another couple miles to go to reach Havasu Falls and the entrance of the campground (you will see Upper and Lower Navajo Falls along the way!). Depending on how full the campground is, you could have up to another 0.5 miles of walking to find a vacant camp site (campsites are available on a first come, first serve basis only).

General Words of Warning and Wisdom:

  • The Havasupai Reservation is the only remaining place in the United States that receives its mail via a mule train. The mail and a variety of other gear (perhaps your own!) gets transported down the primary trail to Supai and beyond to the Havasu Canyon Campground. Give the mules priority on the trail and do NOT assume they are going to stop or yield for you. There have been multiple people who have been injured or killed over the years due to mule and horse related interactions (though not many). Use common sense, err on the side of caution, and take personal responsibility for you and your group.
  • It will get dusty when the mule train passes you on the trail. If you have breathing difficulties in dusty environments, be sure to bring some sort of mask or other filtration device.
  • If you are not hauling all your own gear down on your back, but are using other means, be sure to bring an industrial strength garbage bag along to put your bag(s) in that will be traveling down. This will prove as a barrier to dust, etc. during handling and while they are sitting awaiting your arrival. If you are going with a group and pooling together to have your heavy gear transported, it can be worth the investment to buy a duffel bag to bundle all the smaller loose items together in.
  • If you look at a Google Satellite view of the path from the trailhead to Havasu Falls, you will notice many bends and curves along the canyon. For the vast majority of the trail, you will begin to notice ‘shortcuts’ that straight line it through the bends and curves. Don’t make any new trails, but I would recommend using existing shortcut trails; they will save you time, energy, and may even help you avoid some of the mule trains.
  • Throughout Havasu Canyon, you will notice a variety of mine shaft openings in the side of the canyon walls from previous mining operations. There are a couple mine shafts located mid-way through the campground on the south-ish canyon wall (on your left if you are heading from Havasu Falls to Mooney Falls). Neither of them go back too far, but can be a fun place to explore! Each time I have been in these two relatively easily accessible mine shafts, I have never encountered any hazards that would be worthy of note. However, sometimes people camp right below the entrance to the shafts and you need to get friendly with them to get up!
  • There are designated fresh water locations as well as composting toilets in the campground. How close you setup your camp to each of these amenities is largely up to you. If you are too close to the drinking water locations, you will hear people filling up their water bottles and bladders early in the morning prior to their departures from Havasu Canyon. While being close to the bathrooms might be convenient in a sense, if you are too close you will hear doors slamming in the middle of the night and you might pick up a small whiff of something not-so-lovely. I usually find that camping near Havasu Creek helps provide “white noise” for the variety of sounds that can be heard in the campground.

If you are going to the effort of visiting this gem in the southwest, I would recommend a minimum of three days (hike in early Day 1, hangout and/or explore Day 2, hike out Day 3). I have had friends complete a one day out-and-back journey to Havasu Falls, but I would not advise it (and the Havasupai Tribe technically does not allow day hiking to Havasu Falls!). If you have the time to spend, make it a four day trip, which will allow for two full days of relaxing and/or exploring the wonders of Havasu Canyon.

I have seen people of all fitness levels complete the full hike in and out of Havasu Canyon. Obviously, the better shape you are in, the more you will enjoy the journey and the more you will be able to explore once you are down there. If you have worries about whether you are in good enough shape to tackle Havasu Canyon, there are a number of “equivalent” hikes you could do in Phoenix and other areas around the state. My opinion is that Thompson Peak is the best qualifier. If you can tackle Thompson Peak in the McDowell Mountains, you should not have a problem with Havasu Canyon in the slightest.

Logistics – Helicopter to Supai Village and Hike the Remaining 2 Miles to Havasu Falls

While this is certainly the expedient method and provides accessibility to many who would not otherwise be able to see Havasu Falls, I would recommend hiking if you can. It’s a completely different experience! Even if you fly in by helicopter, there is still a two mile hike from Supai Village to the beginning of the Havasu Canyon Campground. The only time I have heard of someone having a bad experience with the helicopter is when either A) they sleep in at the camp and don’t get their name on the “fly out” list early enough in the morning or B) they get their gear on a mule and are flown out in a timely manner, but the mules don’t arrive with the gear until multiple hours have passed since being flown out. Moral of the story…get up early to make sure you are on the top of the “fly out” list and if you are flying out, make sure you pack light so you can bring your day pack on board the chopper; daypack-sized backpacks are TYPICALLY allowed on board. Reservations for the chopper flights can be made with Papillon Helicopters. The helipad is at the trailhead, so parking is the same for taking the chopper as it is for hiking (see above section).

Gear and Gadgets

Assuming you utilize the local mule service to carry down you camping gear (that is my recommendation!), all you will need is a standard day pack. Check out my Day Trip Gear Guide. Although this will be somewhat redundant to what is listed in the guide, be sure to bring plenty of water along as there is not a refill opportunity until mile 8 at Supai Village (I usually go through 2-3 liters the entire 10 mile hike in early Summer) and wear a great pair of trail running shoes or hiking boots, whichever fits your fancy. Although I have had friends complete the hiking journey in flip flops before, they were absolutely miserable during the hike and were in pain for about a week following the hike. Just say “No!” to sandals and other ill-suited footwear!

How much camping gear and food you need to bring with you depends on how long you plan on staying and whether you plan on camping or “glamping” (glamorous camping). I have been camping with a small group of four and had a great time. I have also gone multiple times with a group of about 130 people where we went glamping, including massage therapists, yoga instructor, and a smorgasbord of fine foods including tri-tip, lobster, lamb, salmon, and a variety of other fare. However you decide to go, be sure to plan ahead. Keep in mind that it is a “pack it in, pack it out” campground. You’ll need to either pay for the mules to haul your trash to Supai Village or you will need to pack it all out yourself. To help reduce garbage, think about purchasing these re-usable and collapsible bowls and plates. Getting a light weight titanium spork will help the cause as well!

Be sure to bring along a great camera to capture your adventure and all those idyllic waterfalls! If you need a recommendation on a camera, check out my guide on Photography Gear & Gadgets. Also, keep in mind that the waterfalls in Havasu Canyon are unique to most waterfalls in the world due to the extreme amount of calcium carbonate and magnesium in the water (helps give the color you see as well as build up the layers of travertine in the creek bed). When getting close to the waterfalls, you will most likely get spray on your camera lens. To help protect your lens, bring along a UV filter to screw on prior to getting near the waterfalls; this will provide a barrier between your lens and the minerals (size of filter will vary by your specific lens, but here is a sample). For those who don’t have a camera that allows for attachment of a lens filter, plan on bringing multiple microfiber cloths to clean off your lens while it is still wet…you don’t want the mist to dry on your lens with the calcium carbonate and magnesium deposits! To minimize chances of scratching your lens, use a manufacturer-approved lens cleaner.

Further Reading

Day Trip Gear Guide

Photography Gear & Gadgets

Leave No Trace Principles

Outdoor and Wilderness First Aid

Beaver Falls

Havasu Falls

Mooney Falls

Lower Navajo Falls

Upper Navajo Falls

West Mesa Trail

Havasupai Reservation Trail Map to Havasu Falls

Trail Map of the Area – NOT TO SCALE!

About The Author

Jeremy Meek is a native Arizonan with a passion for adventure and discovery of unique experiences. Whether exploring Arizona or setting out on an adventure abroad, Jeremy is constantly scouting truly great adventures and experiences.

2 Responses

  1. Jim

    I have camped below Mooney Falls multiple times in the 80’s. I was wondering if someone could direct me to the official rules of the Nat Park Service if camping below Mooney Falls is prohibited or just strongly discouraged. If prohibited is camping prohibited all the way to Colorado River? I have looked, however no specifics have been found. Also, any advise / comment on hiking the trail head at Night? We also did this multiple times, at full moon, and was curious of others advise or experiences. Thank you, Jim R

    Reply
    • Jeremy Meek

      Hi Jim,
      Camping at and below Mooney Falls is frowned upon by the tribe (though I would imagine people do it anyways). The tribe has “rangers” that patrol the area checking people’s wristbands to make sure everyone is permitted; they would enforce the camping bit as well.
      For the portion of the creek beyond the tribal lands that is technically in the National Park, you would need to apply for a Back Country Permit from the National Park Service: http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/backcountry-permit.htm.
      Happy Adventuring!
      Jeremy

      Reply

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