Havasupai has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember, and this summer I finally crossed the bucket list destination off my list. Located just a few hours driving from Las Vegas and Phoenix, it's hard to believe that one of the world's prettiest waterfalls sits tucked away so close to Sin City. For years, I've traveled to remote parts of the globe chasing waterfalls, when all this time Havasupai's oasis has been just one state away. And for those of you that have not heard of Havasupai, there's good reason. The hike is strictly permitted, making access extremely difficult, and the destination itself a bit of a mystery for so many people. I did a ton of research leading up to my trip, and thought I'd do an information dump for you guys here. It's pretty much everything I learned before the hike, and then wisdoms I walked away with after the hike; I try to cover everything - permits, campsites, the helicopter, food, itineraries, those infamous squirrels ... you name it!
Pinch me! I made it to Havasu Falls, the most beautiful waterfall I've ever seen.
WHAT IS HAVASUPAI?
Havasuapi is a Native American reservation in Arizona, located along the west rim of the Grand Canyon. It's home to Supai Village where the native Havasupai people live, surrounded by some of the prettiest waterfalls in the world. The area is completely remote - only accessible by helicopter, or hiking down into the canyon - and permits are required to visit.
There are only 350 permits allotted per day to visit Havasupai, and they are HIGHLY coveted. Three-night campground permits are obtained via a lottery system that usually takes place on February 1 via the Havasupai website. Day hiking is not permitted. If you only want to stay for one night or two nights, that's fine, but purchasing a three-night permit is still required. In 2019, prices were $100 per person per weekday night, and $125 per person per weekend night (Friday through Sunday). The prices include permits, fees, access to the campground and taxes.
Alternatively, there is one other way to go about securing a permit. The Havasupai Lodge is located in Supai Village, two miles from the Campground. The property's 24 rooms are nothing fancy, but offer beds, AC and can accommodate four people each. If you're able to nab a room, a Havasuapi permit is included for each person with your stay. Currently, reservations can only be made over the phone, and most people report it being a challenge to get anyone to pick up. The ones that do get through say they called and called for two to three days straight until someone answered. More details on the tribe's official website.
Be prepared to hike through water on the journey out to Beaver Falls.
Ask anyone who has been through the Havasupai lottery system about their experience, and I'm fairly certain you'll get an earful of expletives and frustrations. All information regarding the lottery is available on the official website, but I thought I'd share a few lottery basics, tips and tricks. The lottery takes place on February 1, but it's important to log on a week or two prior to create an official account that's ready to go the morning of the lottery. Every second counts when trying to secure a permit, and you don't want to waste time that morning when you should be trying to snag dates on the Havasupai calendar.
Be warned, the Havasupai site does not handle traffic well, and can be frustrating the morning of the lottery. I know several people who have made it through 85% of the reservation process, only to have the site crash and most calendar dates disappear. Unfortunately, there's no other way, so just be patient and keep trying. This year we were on the website for a solid three hours before we finally got through, and even by then most dates were gone.
I've heard so many different strategies when it comes to securing permits, but I really do think it comes down to luck. One tip most people agree on is that chances are better with a smaller reservation size. Reservations can be made for up to 20 people, so if you're hoping to visit with a group, best that everyone tries to book their own permit for the same date set. The odds of success are better with everyone trying to secure a one or two person reservation, and not a reservation for 20 people. This past year, we kept trying to secure a reservation for eight people with no luck, but when we switched it to two people we were able to get through and secure a July date.
If your schedule is flexible and you are traveling solo or with just one other person, check the Havasupai website for cancellations. I saw several dates pop up on the website this summer, just make a point to check regularly.
To read or share lottery tips (and frustrations), as well as general Havasupai travel suggestions, there is a Facebook group with a lot of information, here.
It's an additional five miles of hiking to reach Beaver Falls, but definitely worth the trip.
WHEN TO GO
February, March , April, October & November
Cooler weather this time of the year makes for comfortable daytime temperatures, and hikers can trek in and out at normal hours of the day. The only bummer is the waterfalls will probably be too cold for swimming. (average highs range from 55 degrees to 70 degrees)
June, July & August
The summer months bring about monsoon season, so be prepared for toasty daytime temperatures (perfect for swimming in the waterfalls) followed by the occasional thunderstorm. With daytime highs in the 90s, most hikers make the trek in and out of Havasupai very early in the morning (we're talking a 4 AM start) to avoid the heat. (average highs range from 90 degrees 95 degrees)
May & September
Perfectly warm temps put May and September in high demand, as it's ideal weather for both hiking and swimming in the waterfalls. (average highs range from 80 degrees to 85 degrees)
An epic viewpoint above Havasu Falls.
HOW TO GET THERE
Easiest way to get to Havasuapai is to fly into Las Vegas or Phoenix, rent a car and then drive to the trailhead. We opted for Vegas, and it was a four hour drive (Phoenix is five hours). On the drive in, you will be stopped at a Ranger Station a few miles from the trailhead parking lot. Rangers will check reservation documents, as well as search the vehicle for contraband (alcohol, drones, coolers and floaties are not permitted in Havasupai). From the trailhead parking lot, it's a six mile hike to Supai Village, and then another two mile hike to the Campground and Havasu Falls. Alternatively, there is a helicopter that visitors can take to/from Havasuapi. It's $85 per person, and the flight take approximately five minutes. However, the helicopter is first come first serve with priority given to the local Supai people.
Havasupai is an out-and-back trail with a 2,500 ft. decent, and then a 2,500 ft gain. You will hike 25 miles roundtrip over the course of three days, if you make it out to Beaver Falls. Most of the trail is inside a canyon without shade, so it's important for summer visitors to plan their hikes around the cooler morning and evening temperatures. The trail is very straightforward, but it might be helpful to download the route map from Google before losing cell reception. Below is the route with distances and landmarks you will hit along the way.
Hilltop Parking Lot / Trailhead - The trailhead is located next to the Hilltop Parking Lot. Most hikers camp out here overnight (we slept in our car) and then head out very early in the morning. We started our hike in at 4 AM. (Hilltop Parking Lot / Trailhead to Supai Village is 6 miles)
Supai Village - The first stop on the hike is tiny Supai Village. Our 4 AM start was perfect - we arrived at the village before the sun was high enough to shine on us, so it was a relatively cool morning hike. The village is a good place to stop for a well deserved break - enjoy the shade, stock up at the local market and feast on homemade Indian tacos from the little food tent, located in the center of town. Before continuing onto the Campground, hikers are required to check-in at the Tourist Office in Supai Village. A photo ID, printed reservation confirmation and vehicle license number are required to obtain a three-day wrist band and tent tag. (Supai Village to Navajo Falls is 1.5 miles)
Navajo Falls - Located halfway between Supai Village and the campground, Navajo Falls is the first waterfall hikers will see on their trek into Havasuapi. Make note of it's location - with 30 lbs. of gear on your back, you're gonna want to head straight to the campground to unload. Save Navajo Falls for another day when you can relax. (Navajo Falls to the Havasu Falls is .5 miles)
Havasu Falls - The most popular waterfall, and my personal favorite. The 100-ft falls spill into a pool of intense turquoise water where people swim, float and sunbathe. All around good vibes, and a great place to spend the day. Because of Havasu Falls' close proximity to the campground, it's the busiest waterfall, but with the 350 per day permit cap, and people scattered throughout the canyon, it never feels overly crowded. (Havasu Falls marks the start of the Campground)
Campground - The start of the campground is literally next door to Havasu Falls. There's a half mile of camp sites along the creek, most spots equipped with a picnic table, trees for hammocks and creek access. Take your time scoping out the options, some sites are better than others. Fresh water and the bathrooms are no more than a few minutes walking from all the camp sites. (Campground to Mooney Falls is .5 miles)
Mooney Falls - A 200-ft drop makes Mooney Falls the tallest waterfall in Havasupai. It's a short walk from the last campsite on the Campground, and if you have plans to visit Beaver Falls, you'll pass this guy along the way. It's a series of chutes and ladders to climb down to the base of Mooney Falls, so best to go early to avoid a line of people waiting to go down. (Mooney Falls to Beaver Falls is 3 miles)
Beaver Falls - Beaver Falls is a breathtaking oasis, and, of course, the furthest waterfall from the Campground. To reach the tiered waterfalls, it's a six mile roundtrip hike that takes hikers through lush grapevine canyons andshallow rivers. Summer visitors should start early, as some stretches are unshaded and the sun is pretty intense after 9 AM. The payoff is incredible, Beaver Falls is a dream setting, a great place to swim, sunbathe, picnic and relax. (Beaver Falls back to the Campground is 3 miles)
Surrounded by mist at Beaver Falls.
Most people hike in with enough food for the trip, but there is a tiny market in Supai Village that sells basic food items (cereal, bread, fruit, snacks, condiments, etc.). There are also a couple of food stands that sell Indian tacos, chili dogs, ice water and ice Gatorade - one is located in town near the market, and another at the top of Havasu Falls. Hours are not exact, but if you show up between 11:30AM and 3 PM, chances are it will be open.
Clean spring water is available at the camp site. They stay it's fresh, but it's still recommended to use your filter to treat the water.
Campers should be weary of the squirrel situation on the campgrounds. Squirrels are everywhere, and they are ruthless when it comes to food! All food should be sealed and then hung from ropes at your camp site. There are also several communal buckets scattered throughout the campgrounds - grab one and use it for food storage. If you leave anything out (big or small), I can almost guarantee it will disappear.
There are bathrooms located at each end of the campground, fully stocked with toilet paper. There are no sinks, mirrors or plugs.
Cell Service & Wifi
No wifi is available on the Campground, or in Supai Village. If you're lucky, you may have faint cell reception at some spots in the village, and possibly at the top of Havasu Falls.
Camp fires are not permitted, but you can use a backpacking stove to cook.
There are no garbage cans on the Campground - everything you bring in, you must carry out.
There are several ways to go about planning a trip to Havasupai, and a lot of it has to do with the time of the year you visit. Below is the itinerary we used for our July trip. Note that July is the hottest month of the year to visit, so we mapped out a plan that would have us in the water during the day, and hiking at night. Might not work for an October visit.
8 AM - Land in Las Vegas; rent a car; hearty breakfast in Las Vegas; stock up on groceries and supplies
1 PM - Depart for Havasupai Trailhead / Hilltop Parking Lot
4 PM - Stop in Peach Springs and order take out for dinner
5 PM - Arrive at Hilltop Parking Lot; eat dinner, prepare our packs; and sleep
(Overnight Havasupai Trailhead / Hilltop Parking Lot)
3 AM - Wake up and prepare for the hike down
4 AM - Hike to Supai Village
8:30 AM - Arrive in Supai Village; market run; early lunch; Tourist Office check-in
10:30 AM - Depart for Campground
12 PM - Arrive at Campground; set up campsite
2:30 PM - Afternoon at Havasu Falls
6 PM - Dinner
(Overnight Havasupai Campground)
6:30AM - Breakfast
8 AM - Hike to Mooney Falls
8:30 AM - Hike to Beaver Falls
11 AM - Arrive at Beaver Falls; set up hammock; eat lunch; swim; rest
4 PM - Hike back to Campground
7 PM - Dinner
(Overnight Havasupai Campground)
7:30AM - Breakfast
9 AM - Havasu Falls
11:30 AM - Lunch at Taco Stand
12:30 PM - Navajo Falls
4 PM - Pack
7 PM - Hike to Hilltop Parking Lot
1:30 AM - Arrive Hilltop Parking Lot
(Overnight Havasupai Trailhead / Hilltop Parking Lot)
A complete packing list of everything that went into my backpack is available here.
WORDS OF WISDOM
Blisters were the one thing I wish I'd been more prepared for at Havasupai. I hike a lot, and I'm very comfortable wearing hiking shoes. But I'm not used to hiking with 30 lbs. on my back, and the added weight caused blistering on the back of my ankles on the hike in. My blisters had formed by mile four, with 21 miles of hiking to go. Even with blister pads and mole skin, the blisters went from bad to worse. I actually had to hike the six mile trail to Beaver Falls in flip flops because the back of my ankles couldn't handle the pressure of a hiking shoe. And the final hike out was beyond painful - the blisters took a full month to heal, they were so deep. So, be prepared with mole skin, rocket tape, blister pads, anti-blister socks and the proper hiking shoes.