Many people will tell you Havasupai is the most beautiful place in Arizona, and I’d be hard pressed to disagree. Also known as the Grand Canyon’s Garden of Eden, the blue-green waters of Havasu Creek flow from the red rocks of the canyon down to the Colorado River, creating a spectacular canyon full of life and awesome waterfalls. The Havasupai (people of the blue-green waters) still make the canyon and the village of Supai their home, and only let a certain number of people enter per day (day hiking is not permitted, nor practical). Posted above is the “Vlog” style video from our recent three day trip to the campground at Havasu Falls. If you’re ready to go, make your reservations here!
This post will refer to Havasupai as a whole place, encompassing the Village of Supai, the Havasuapi People, and Havasu Creek and it’s beautiful waterfalls.
It’s been awhile since I’ve had the time to update TentTalk, but in the meantime I haven’t stopped camping. It made me think: there’s over 30 campgrounds that I’ve visited in 2014 that I could write about, which should I post first as I start to get caught up? I was thinking Doheny or San Mateo in California (who can argue with the beach, even if it’s slightly cooler this time of year – or, at least supposed to be), or maybe some spots around Metro Phoenix. I was going to dig through my Colorado notes, but then I remembered I’m the only one crazy enough to tent camp in the snow – that might be better left to this spring/summer. Same thing goes for all the sites I camped at in the Wasatch Range in Utah. So I came back to Havasupai.
Don’t get me wrong – winter is a fine time to visit, but not the best. Fall isn’t ideal (think Arizona monsoons coupled with slot canyons), and summer is as hot as you’d expect (except maybe early June). The ideal time to go is anywhere during the peak season from March to May, where it is usually warm enough to enjoy the water yet not scorching enough to make the hike miserable. Make your reservation months in advance, especially for weekends and the peak season. June and July are also popular times, but if heat isn’t your thing beware – the average heat in Supai in July is 99.8, while in April it’s a much more enjoyable 76.2. All reservations/permits need to be made through the Havasupai Tribal Office, not the National Park Service.
There are three big individual waterfalls: Navajo (now referred to as Little Navajo and Rock Falls after the 2008 flood – more on that later), Havasu, and Mooney (listed in order of closest proximity to the trailhead). The village is called Supai, and everything is within the Havasupai Indian Reservation, not Grand Canyon National Park. Getting to the Halaupai Hiltop trailhead is a drive, but it’s not terribly complicated. Exit I-40 on historic 66 at Seligman, and then proceed to Indian 18 (check out the gallery of signs below to see what you’ll be looking for). Once you’re on Indian Route 18, it’s at least another hour to the trailhead (your last services are at Peach Springs or Seligman – it’s not a terrible idea to top of your tank before heading out to the trailhead). The trip is approximately 2 hours from Flagstaff, and 191 miles from Grand Canyon Village proper. Plan accordingly if you’re aiming to hit the trail early to avoid the heat. Some people actually will opt to sleep in their cars at the trailhead, or even pitch tents in the parking lot at Halaupai Hilltop (there is no established camping there).
Havasupai is well-known for the pack-mule trains, which supply the village with supplies, carry mail, and also help carry down the occasional tourist and their supplies (according to the NPS Website, it is $75 one-way or $150 for round trip plus a 10% tax).
As with evertything else, reservations need to be made far in advance (if you don’t believe me, check out what happened to the OrdinaryTraveler). You will be going directly through the Havasupai Tribal Office for your reservations. Be careful that you call the number(s) listed on their official site, not ones listed on the National Park Service site (they will kindly re-direct you). There used to be a site called havasupaitribe.com, a tourism site not related to the tribe that offered questionable information and contacts, but it appears to be offline as of March 2015. There is also a helicopter available for charter (their phone number is listed on the official tribal site) for $85 per way, although as a visitor you take backseat to tribal members and contractors. It may take a few tries to get through to the Havasuapi representatives, but since no deposit is required, it’s worth calling back often if you’re looking for possible cancellations or are trying to book on short notice. You can make reservations by calling the number listed on the official Havasuapi Tribal Website.
Everyone will enter the canyon via the trail at Halupai Hilltop before winding through Halupai Canyon (see the topo and Google Earth maps above, borrowed graciously from www.havasuwaterfalls.com, and the interactive google map from WildBackpacker). The trail starts with a rapid descent into the canyon via the only switchbacks on the route. Beware – just like a lot of the trail it’s almost entirely exposed, although you may catch shade from the surrounding hills if you leave early enough in the morning (coming back is a different story!) Keep an eye out for the mule trains, they have the right away and are usually driven pretty quickly through the canyon. Also, make sure to watch out for the goodies they leave behind as well!
After 6 or 7 miles, Haluapai Canyon will open out into Havasu Canyon, and you’ll first come into contact with the creek. It’s only a little ways from there into the actual village of Supai, where you’ll check in at the Tourist Office. Please remember to bring the relevant information with you (ID’s, confirmation #, ect.), and you’ll be given your permit here if you’re planning on camping. Supai is also home to the Havasupai Lodge (928.448.2111 or 928.448.2201, lodge@havasupai-nsn-gov), which has 24 rooms with double beds and can be up to $145 for up to four people plus 10% tax. Obviously, reservations must be made in advance. There is also the Havasupai Tribal Cafe (which closes fairly early, or at least did when we were there), The Havasupai Trading Post and General Store, where you can buy groceries to take down to the campsite, and The Havasupai Tourism Enterprise, which manages tours, the campground, and reservations for horses and guide services (928.448.2121, 928.448.2141, 928.448.2174, firstname.lastname@example.org). Keep in mind that the tourist enterprises accept cash, Visa, Mastercard, money orders and cashier checks only.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to get your supplies when you pass through town – it’s a 4 mile roundtrip trek back from the campground. As you can see in the video, we picked up some frozen turkey and some bread, plenty to get us through the 2 nights we were staying. You can also fill up your water bottles again for the last two miles to the campground.
The last leg down to the campground itself is the most tedious, especially since the trail turns into a fine, sloggy sand, but you finally get to see Navajo Falls and the blue water and some of the beautiful rock formations that make Havasupai so famous (if you haven’t been back to Havasupai before 2008, be prepared to see a dramatically different landscape – there were floods in 2008, 2010, and 2012, effectively destroying the old Navajo Falls). After another half mile and crossing over the river, you’ll come up to the lip of the first of the major falls – Havasu. This is where the campground and the spring are located. Make sure to check in with the campground host, who will be in the first little building to the left when you arrive at the campground entrance. You’ll also notice the new restrooms built with new composting toilets, and plenty of mules arriving with guests and gear. You choose your own campsite, which aren’t necessarily marked by number or pad. You’ll be able to fill up on water at the spring, which is capped and has a few spigots. Wear your boots – it still creates a tiny, muddy stream that cuts through the west side of the campground, but it’s clean to drink and extremely convenient. We set-up shop right next to the creek, and since it was dark when we arrived, we made some sandwiches with our still mostly-frozen turkey and rested up for our upcoming day of swimming.
The campsite is only a few minutes from Mooney Falls, the next big fall down-stream from Havasu Falls (even if you’re only staying for a day, make sure to make it down to the other falls, it’s well worth the short walk). The campground is about 2 miles from the lower falls at Beaver, and 8 miles from the Colorado River. Making a round-trip hike from the campground to the Colorado is not necessarily recommended, but it is certainly an option if you’re staying for a longer period of time (and can handle the tough 16 mile round trip). For us, since we only had one full day to spend in the canyon, we never left Havasu falls.
Havasu Falls changed during the floods too. What used to be a a wider, more open crest is now funneled more directly to the left side of the fall, creating a deeper pool and a more concentrated deluge of water (don’t worry – if you never saw the old fall you won’t notice anything peculiar, it’s still gorgeous). Picnic tables are strewn about, and new calcium deposits on strategically placed rocks have helped re-form a few pools around that fall that were previously washed-out in the floods. The water is beautiful, usually hovering right around 70 degrees, and is full of lime and calcium (hence the color), but it can be drank if treated (although I recommend the spring – with as many people in the water you might imagine what might happen). I think the best part of Havasu Falls is the rock jumping. A local resident showed us the way up the left side of the falls to a ledge maybe 20-25 feet high, which made for a few hours of entertainment. Unfortunately we lost one of our go pro’s to the water – so if anyone ever finds it, we’d love to get some more jumping footage back!
Don’t forget to bring watershoes – you will probably end up wearing your hiking boots in the water if you forget them. Bug spray and sunscreen are also a must (bugs aren’t too bad, but they did come out in the evening). Otherwise, bring a camera (the Vlog was made with a combination of a 5D Mark3 and two GoPros). If you’re into photography you can spend the twilight hours capturing long-exposure shots of the falls (bring an ND filter to get the ghostly-water effect). A few vendor stands opened up near the campground, where we indulged in soda and fry bread before getting to bed early.
Hiking out is a very similar strategy to hiking in – get up early and utilize the shade of the canyon walls to your advantage. Most people aimed for a 4-5am wake-up call, which would give them shade in the canyon until at least 11am. We slept through our alarms, and did the 8am departure, and paid for it dearly when we did the last 3 miles of the trail without shade. A tip we learned from a fellow hiker was to not completely top off your water at the campground spring, but instead fill up at the village tourism office, which saves a few pounds on the 2 miles from the campground to the village. If you get desperate you can drink the creek water (as long as you treat it!), but if it’s something you can avoid, it might be best. However, don’t go without enough – there isn’t any running water at any point for the last 6 miles, or at the trailhead.
If you’re used to hiking other trails in the Grand Canyon, this will be a fairly easy trip back out for you. If not, don’t worry, the switchbacks really aren’t that bad. They do face almost directly west, so if you’re exiting the canyon closer to 3pm than noon, be prepared for harsh sun. Keep hydrated, don’t be discouraged, don’t skimp on sunscreen, and stick with your group. And trust me, you’ll really be wishing you were back at the falls when you’re about halfway up!
Well, I think that’s everything important about Havasupai and camping at Havasu Falls. If you couldn’t tell, we absolutely loved it, and highly recommend it to anyone and everyone! Hopefully our video and pictures also help give you a great idea of what the trip entails. Please let us know if you have any questions, and we’d love to hear any advice you might have from your trip into the Grand Canyon’s Oasis!
Keep your eye out for new videos, photos, and reviews coming soon from TentTalk!