Havasu Canyon and The Havasupai Falls

Supai Village is the home to what many people refer to as Havasupai Falls on the Havasupai Indian Reservation in Arizona.  Nestled in the secluded Havasu Canyon that lies just outside the boundary of Grand Canyon NP, it is actually a series of 5+ waterfalls as the Havasu Creek cascades down the canyon to connect with the Colorado River.  Havasu means “blue green water” and pai means “people” and they have lived in this area for more than 800 years.  Once farmers and miners, tourism is now their main means of survival.

The reservation begins to take calls for the permits required to stay in the campground in the canyon on February 1st of the year you hope to visit.  Expect calling to be a full time job, this local is extremely popular.  Around 20,000 visitors enjoy Havasupai Falls each year.

Because the village itself is not accessible by road, your adventure starts with a hike down into the canyon from the parking lot at Hualapai Hilltop at the end of Road 18.  There are no services at the trailhead other than bathrooms, so stop in Peach Springs, Seligman or Kingman before heading up on 18 off Route 66.  A good map to Supai is available from the NPS.

You will drop 2000ft down to a wash where you will hike along the dry river bed 7.5 miles to the village.  You can either backpack in with all your necessities or use the pack service to carry your gear and just hike in with a day pack, something it appears a lot of folks do.  There are even helicopter and guided tours available from local companies.

No matter how you venture in, don’t forget your 10 essentials.  Emergency services are not readily available in the canyon.  And while we are talking about that, don’t forget to practice Leave No Trace principles.  Basically: pack it in, pack it out and leave things better than you found them. You can expect to see a few members of the tribe along your hike, either picking up trash or asking you your name to confirm once again you have permits.

Take your time during this part of your journey, the surrounding sandstone canyon walls and desert vegetation are gorgeous and due just as much attention as the anticipated waterfalls. Most of the time in the wash you will be able to choose between the wide rocky bottom or dusty side trails that run parallel, remnants of the trail that was there before severe flooding in 2012 and 2013.

Make sure you take several water bottles, sun protection and snacks, but you really don’t need a gallon of water, especially if you drink up before you begin your hike. Going early in the morning before the heat of the day helps, too (some people start as early as 3am!).  You will read that there is no water on your hike in but then see a few small streams and wonder what is up.  Well, there may be water but in no way does it appear drinkable. My guess the horses and mules spend a lot of time in that water, if you know what I mean. Yes, you will be sharing the trail with pack horses and mules, several trains of them.  Just pretend you are back in the Wild, Wild West!  You can choose to travel on the smaller side trails but when they pass, please stand off to the side and try to be lower as not to scare them (standard shared trail etiquette).

About a mile before you come to town, you will see a sign and turn left to follow a diverted creek into town.  You will first come to several ranch homes and the first of two stores where you could buy most of your food supplies for your stay in the campground, there is something for just about everyone.

After stocking up, continue straight into town.

Eventually, you will see a sign for the office where you will need to check in.  There will be several papers with information and rules about camping and hiking, you’ll show your I.D. and you sign a contract that you will follow them.

You will also receive a wristband to wear during your stay.

As you continue to walk through the small village of Supai past the helicopter pad, you will see town services, another grocery store (with fresh produce), a church, school and homes before you see a sign for the campground.

The village does have public bathrooms in the courtyard across from the helicopter pad but they aren’t always available.  There is also a 24 room lodge where folks can stay instead of camping and café that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.  When we were there, it looked like they were expanding or remodeling.

It will be about 2 more miles on a wide dusty road until you reach the campground but it takes you along the Havasu Creek that feeds into the waterfalls beginning with the lesser known ones,  New Navajo and Fifty Foot Falls.  There are multiple places to stop and take pictures as well as sit and enjoy the scenery.

Havasu Creek stems from an underground river and the limestone lining of the creek bed is what gives the water its unique turquoise color.

The first famous waterfall you come to is the 90ft drop of Havasu Falls, just before you reach the campground.

After taking some time to admire your new found paradise, continue on to the beginning of the campground.  You will see a food stand and ranger hut on your left and a corral and raised composting bathrooms (with toilet paper) on your right.  From here, the campground stretches for a mile with up to 300 sites available first come, first serve until you reach the second waterfall, Mooney.  Do not expect privacy or seclusion from any of them, this rivals the size and feel of any large drive-in campground.

Each one has a picnic table and ranges in size from quite large and to rather small, with some sites along the river and some closer to the canyon walls.

The water spigot to the Fern Spring sits close to this end, so the further you walk to Mooney, the further you are from the only drinkable water source.

The river also splits the campground, so you will see several footbridges across to sites on the other side of the river.  There is another set of bathrooms closer to Mooney Falls and from what I can tell, it is either serviced more or used less than the ones when you enter the campground.  They are not lit, so make sure to bring a light source with you because the installed skylights rely on the moon during the night.

After choosing and setting your camp, you can either wander back up to Havasu Falls for a swim or walk half a mile down to the 190ft Mooney Falls.  Before leaving your camp, be aware that it can get fairly windy during the afternoon and animals will be waiting for you to leave food unattended.

Unlike the wide relatively flat trail to Havasu, in order to do more than admire Mooney from above, you will have to be comfortable with walking down a trail built on uneven rock that clings to the side of the canyon, maneuver through carved tunnels and lower yourself down on chains and wet ladders to the ground below.

 

You will definitely need BOTH hands. If this isn’t your cup of tea, there are picnic tables and viewing points to have lunch at and practice your photography skills above the falls.

If you are brave enough to venture down to the bottom, you can enjoy those watery pools you see on Instagram or continue on to Beaver Falls or even the Colorado River.  The trail from Mooney is mostly shaded and even overgrown in some places. Expect more scrambling on rock, crossing foot bridges and climbing up a few short ladders.

There are several places it crosses the creek and then back over and you have a few options for the trail you want to take to do this because there are no trail markers.  These water  crossings also mean either wearing shoes you can wade in or taking off your shoes.  Don’t worry, the water is tame so no risk of being pulled down the creek.

You will see folks trying to carve out their own private spaces and lots of hammocks.  Lots of hammocks.  There will be inner tubes, portable speakers and bikinis, making you feel more like you are at the water park than a backcountry experience.  That wristband you have on won’t help either.

Beaver Falls is another 3 miles from Mooney and the Colorado River is 6.5 out, a long day’s hike.  However, the further you go, the less people you will see so it is worth it to give yourself time to explore.  There are no real side trails (particularly because you are in a canyon) and the contract you sign limits you to established trails, so if you came to hike this is your route.

Once back at your camp site, don’t forget that there is a food stand where you can eat instead of making dinner.  Not only is this convenient, you help support the local economy. No, the food is not particularly healthy or cheap, but you are on vacation, right?  Even I, an admitted picky eater, opted to enjoy a “freshly” prepared meal (chili dog sans bun and Dr. Pepper).  My friend had the traditional Indian taco. It also gave us a chance to chat with the owners of the stand and a few other campers.  Totally worth it.

 

There is no day hiking into this beautiful place so you will be there at least one night.  Because you could be sharing the campground with up to 300 other people, ear plugs are a great idea.  Expect folks could be smoking, playing games and listening to music until 10pm.

In planning how many days to stay, think about what kind of things you like to do while camping, there is only so much actual hiking unless you plan to hike all the way to the Colorado River.  If you leave from Hilltop early in the morning and arrive to camp by lunch, you will have plenty of time to explore all 3 main waterfall areas the rest of the day.  What time you leave on your day out is up to you, but remember there will be a long climb out of the canyon better done early on.  Those using the pack service have to have their items ready to go before 8am and can then walk out at their leisure.  If you came to relax around camp or swim repeatedly in the amazing blue water, you’ll want a few more days in paradise.

Reservations for the campground are only available by calling the tribal office directly.  They attempted an online reservation system in 2017 but the overwhelming demand crashed the small village’s website so they are back to taking reservations old school.  Expect with the more this beautiful place is shared on social media for reservations to get harder and harder to find. The reservations for the lodge are available more than a year out and are even more popular.

The most up-to-date information can be found at the National Park Service website.   As of this writing, the official Havasupai Tribe website is still down.  If it comes back up the link should be good but I’ll try and update it in the future if that changes.  Your best bet is to call for reservations at 928-334-2121 between 9am and 3pm M-F.  The campground is open year round and there are no campfires.  Expect to see full size camping stoves, kitchen set ups and coolers.  Right now fees come to about $90 a night per person.

The office hours:

May-October 6am-6pm

November-April 8am-5pm

You can read more about my visit to Havasupai Falls in my post Spring Break Road Trip Day 4: Down To Supai.

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