We just returned from two nights and three days soaking in the beauty of Havasupi. This place was never on my radar until last year when I started seeing pictures of the Gatorade Frost blue waters on my instagram feed. I knew I had to see it for myself so as soon as permits opened online February 1st 2018 I logged on to the website to snag us a spot. Thirty minutes after permits went live the only permits available were in November and December so I picked some dates and paid my fees. A few minutes after paying I got a confirmation email from the Havasupi Tourist Enterprise congratulating me on my upcoming trip.
Save that email, you won’t get another one!
I knew people would want to know how we got permits, how we traveled to the area, what the hike entailed and more so I decided to put together my thoughts on our amazing experience. THIS is how my husband and I backpacked Havasupi and, of course, it’s not the only way. In fact, I hope you do your own research and curate your own experience based on what’s best for you. But here’s how WE did it and I hope it inspires you to visit this amazing little slice of heaven on earth.
Pricing for 2018 was as follows:
One person, 4 days/ 3 nights $201.67
Weekend nights (Friday, Saturday, Sunday), Holiday weekday nights and Spring Break weekday nights are an addition $18.34 per night.
When making a reservation, you will have the option to add the name of a person you authorize to be able to use your reservation to check-in at the tourist office as if they were you. The reservation is only valid if at least one of the people named on the reservation is present at the tourism check-in office in the Village of Supai with photo ID. You can’t resell your permits and they are non-refundable and non-transferable. They checked our permits at the Hilltop before hiking in the canyon and checked our ID’s at the tourism office. There was also a ranger riding through the canyon who asked our name and radioed to the office to make sure we were legit.
If you are open to whatever dates are available it makes it much easier to get a permit. I also noticed the more people I tried to get a permit for the less I found available and if I wanted Friday-Sunday those days were sold out first. So if you don’t see permits for the days or months you want try changing up your search and see what opens up. Also if you pick late fall you’re more likely to find openings. I kept refreshing my phone to change dates and literally saw openings disappear before my eyes. Work fast and have your credit card ready.
*Pro-tip: We met a larger group who had a girl who had just added on to their party by calling two weeks out. So it seems once you have a reservation it’s easier to add a person or two then it is to book for multiple people online.*
Phone numbers to call: (928) 448-2180 or (928) 448-2237 or (928) 448-2141 or (928) 448-2237. You can also go to havasupaireservations.com now and be added to an email list for updates on permit openings for 2019.
Congratulations, you obtained a permit! Now how are you going to get to Havasupi? Living in Colorado meant we had to fly to the closest city or drive so we opted to fly stand-by (since I am a flight attendant after all) in to Vegas. We spent the night on the Vegas strip but if I go again I’d stay outside of Vegas in Henderson or make the push to Kingman, Arizona. Kingman is the last “big” city you’ll find before heading east on Route 66 so you’ll want to make sure you have everything you need before leaving the city. We rented a car at the airport because there’s no shuttles to the hilltop. Because we flew we couldn’t bring our camping fuel and had to check our bags so we could bring knives and all the stuff we needed. The nice part about renting a car was that I wore one set of clothing on the airplane then changed at the trailhead and left a fresh pair of clothing in the car. If you’re really ambitious you can leave a cooler in there with gatorade and water for your return. There’s a large parking lot at the trailhead but it fills up quickly and though there are bathrooms there is no water. This is also where you drop your pack off if you are using a mule to haul your gear in or if you paid to have a helicopter ride down to the village. You’ll see a little hut at the end of the parking lot and you’ll show your permit to the person inside before starting your hike down to Supai Village.
Is the hike really that bad? Ah the hike. The first 1.5 miles is downhill into the canyon via a series of rocky switchbacks. The trail is well marked and nearly impossible to get lost. From the hilltop to the village it’s about 8 miles and there’s no water until you reach the village. One of my main motivating factors for hiking in the fall was that I knew we wouldn’t have to start the hike at 4am in order to beat the Arizona summer heat. Since we arrived late Wednesday night and had to drive to the trailhead the next day and wait until at least 9am when stores opened so we could buy camping fuel which meant we didn’t end up starting the hike until 1pm. The downside to hiking after daylight savings is that we didn’t have a lot of daylight to work with and ended up setting up camp in the dark. I also believe I saw a sign on the tourist office door that they closed at 5pm so you’ll want to make sure you check-in and get your wristbands before then.
I had read a lot of comments from people about getting blisters from the hike and I have to say my feet held up very well in my Vasque hiking boots with thicker REI hiking boot socks. I can see how one could easily get blisters however as the terrain is a mix of rock, sand and gravel so the uneven surfaces can do a number on your feet especially with a heavy pack on. While ten miles is certainly nothing to sneeze at, I saw people of all shapes and sizes making the hike so I truly believe anyone can do it if they are strong mentally. But pack smart. I saw one girl with a box of crackers sticking out of her pack and a neck pillow. I don’t know why she didn’t think to take the crackers out of the box or use an inflatable pillow. My pack weighed 25lbs and even that was a lot to me.
Once you reach Supai Village you’ll first be greeted with a small grocery store that has cold drinks and packed food items like chips and ramen. There is a $20 minimum for credit cards so I recommend bringing cash. Near the tourist office there’s another grocery store but keep in mind these stores are 2 miles from the campsite. There’s also water here you can fill up on. I brought a Nalgene and 3 liters in and was just fine but remember my hike wasn’t in the dead of summer. If you need anything the time to buy is when you arrive so you don’t have to hike 4 miles for more food. Prices are triple what they would normally be as you can imagine. I believe we paid $13 for two cokes and a bag of chips and pack of ramen.
So where can I camp?
So you hiked the ten miles and made it to camp, now what? There’s three bathroom areas with composting toilets along the trail and plenty of picnic tables dotting the trails along the water. There is, however, only one water source here which is spring fed and well-marked so most tend to try and camp near the spring water station. I knew this, however, so our group pushed on past the water and the first set of bathrooms and set up across the stream which was near the second set of bathrooms. People are arriving and departing each day so the earlier you arrive at camp the earlier you’ll be able to snag a spot from someone who just left. You can always move your tent if you’re super ambitious. The later you arrive the more hassle it is to find a spot. We found most people were very accommodating and willing to share their camping space. If you’re planning on sleeping in your hammock there are plenty of great trees to use. There is no camping down by the top of Mooney Falls even though we saw several tents set up right near the edge. To me, this is very stupid, because if there’s a flash flood then your tent, possibly with you in it, will be carried 200 feet to your death.
What should I bring?
I’ve taken several backpacking trips in the past few years and I feel like everytime I learn more about what I should bring and what I shouldn’t. Knowing there were no fires allowed at the campsite but there was a water source we decided on dehydrated meals. I brought my MSR WindBurner stove system for cooking. We ended up eating one backpacker meal Thursday night and a backpacker desert, ramen and tuna Friday for lunch and another backpacker meal Friday night and a backpacker desert. We honestly brought way too much food and ended up packing out a lot of snacks and extra meals.
my pack...it looks bigger because my hiking boots were in it for the flight home
What I packed: serac hammock, mini first aid kit, solar light, headlamp, msr wind proof stove and fuel, pack towel, inflatable pillow, sunscreen, toothbrush, toothpaste, multi-tool, pack silverware, water filter, camp slippers, chacos, thermarest, north face sleeping bag, costco down light weight blanket, camp cup, warm hat, tripod
the best camp pillow and pack towel ever
clothing I took: feral Patagonia moisture wicking top, prAna Halle pants, gloves, three pairs of socks for hiking and one for sleeping in, tank top, two sports bras, two bathing suits (I only needed one), rain jacket (didn't need it), Patagonia baggie shorts, 32 degree heat pants and long sleeve shirt as a base layer from Costco, Melanzana dress, Patagonia vest, Mountain Hardware puffy, Lululemon tank top. I wore the Lulu top and sports bra in with the 32 degree heat long sleeve over it and my vest and on the way out the Feral top with same shirt over and vest. Same pants the whole time.
Mountain Hardware 3.5 optic tent which my husband carried. It's about 5lbs so we often divide it up. Pictured is food we didn't eat.
A plastic inflatable water cube to fill up and keep at camp for cooking. A deck of cards. A mesh hang-bag for food. We didn’t have an issue with squirrels but some people did and these keep them out of your goodies.
Here’s what I brought that I didn’t need:Extra food. Water filter (nowhere to filter water along the trail and plenty of fresh water at camp).
Even though we had a long day traveling and hiking Thursday we were ready to hit the ground running Friday. I had read that a line can form with people waiting to go up and down the chains to Mooney Falls, sometimes causing a 2 hour wait so it’s imperative one get down them before 10am. We woke up early, made coffee and took our meals and stove with us so we could eat after getting down the most treacherous part. Oh, you didn’t know there were chains and ladders? Ok I’ll enlighten you. At the end of the campground you’ll come upon an amazing site, Mooney Falls. These falls were named after the sailor who tried to downclimb to the base of the waterfall and died. Comforting right? But deaths here are extremely rare, the only fall having occurred before a trail was established. (Read more behind the history of the falls here).
this part is slippery and muddy from the waterfall
exit from second cave
the chain gang
If you’re nervous about heights or exposure isn’t your thing then you can see the falls just fine from above. One of the great parts about being on a reservation is it’s unlike other spots in America where there’s retaining walls to keep you from getting to close to the edge. Nope, you can walk right up to the edge of the falls and peer over or take all the selfies you like. Just know your limits. The first part of the chains is pretty benign. You go through two small caves that have very well worn steps leading you down to the crux of the climb which is where the down climb begins. The final part of the climb wouldn’t be so bad if the chains and ladders weren’t muddy and wet from the spray of the waterfall and people climbing up and down them getting them more wet and muddy. Once you pass through the second cave if you aren’t feeling comfortable now is a great time to turn back...as we saw a guy do. Because past this point you are committed and it’s dangerous and difficult to squeeze by others. We brought gloves to make it easier to get a good grip on the wet chains. There are great foot and hand holds you just have to take your time and make sure you have three points of contact at all times.Once you reach the bottom of the final ladder you’re rewarded with a cooling spray of the falls. In total I believe it’s 200 feet of down climb.
Our next objective was Beaver Falls so we snapped a few photos and followed the water downriver. The trail to Beaver Falls crosses the river several times so we wore our hiking boots then changed in to water shoes for the three mile hike since we were in and out of the water. Depending on the water level these crossings can be shin to thigh high. I wore my prAna Halle pants because they are quick drying and my bathing suit underneath. I brought a pair of Patagonia baggies in my day pack which I changed in to for the hike back. Since we went in November I wasn’t sure how warm the water would be but it really wasn’t that cold. I only brought a pack towel though because I knew it wouldn’t be hot enough to fully submerge myself in the water and, to me, a towel, wasn’t worth the extra weight.
my favorite spot of the trip
there's multiple waterfalls on the way to Beaver Falls. It looks so fake here like we are at some amusement park and have a green screen behind us! I promise it's real!
After playing at Beaver Falls we hiked back to Mooney, took several photos then made it back up the chains and ladders to our campsite. We changed and then headed to Havasu falls which is the first waterfall you encounter before reaching the campsite. While we didn’t have cell phone service at campsite, we did have a few bars of service at the top of Havasu falls so I was able to check-in with our babysitter and make sure everything was alright at home. Havasu falls is the easiest falls to get to and the one you’ll see the most people enjoying.
playing at the base of Mooney Falls
Mooney Falls as seen from above. You can climb all over the rocks here. See the tents at the top by the falls? Way too close
Before the trip I vaguely knew about the mules and helicopter you can take in and out of the village. I also want to preface this by saying I’ve read conflicting reports about the treatment of the mules and horses by the locals. Personally, I did not witness any elements of abuse to the local animals although I will say I’m sure they aren’t taken care of as well as people would like them to be. I’m sure living in the desert is hard on these animals and there’s not a whole lot of pasture for grazing. We had talked to the ranger on our way to Havasu falls (yes, there’s a ranger on site who checks your wristbands and keeps things running smoothly) inquiring about having our packs hauled out by mule. He gave us a number to call and we were able to pay over the phone and add our name to the list. We then returned to the ranger who gave us 4 tags (there was three of us but were told the tags only come in 4 packs or 2 packs and so we ended up selling the extra tag) to put on our bags that night. Our bags then had to be dropped off at the entrance of the campsite by 7:45am the next morning. I believe for four tags it ended up being $43 per bag. You can also arrange this prior to your tip or at the tourism center, but it must be done the day before you depart. If you want to take a helicopter in our out of Supai it’s $85pp but it’s first-come, first-served and locals have first dibs. The helicopter runs every 15 minutes but only on certain days of the week (it definitely doesn’t run on Saturday) so it’s not the most reliable mode of transportation.
Last look at Havasu Falls, the first waterfall you see on the way in
This was hands-down the most beautiful place I’ve ever been in my life and I’ve been to a lot of amazing places. From the moment you step on the trail to head in to the canyon you feel as if you’ve entered another world. A world that lives by a different set of rules and is so remote that the closest parking lot is 10 miles away by foot. The Supai people are incredibly nice and every hiker we met was laid back and friendly. We adventured with one guy Friday who joined us at Beaver Falls and made friends with our camping neighbors for our final night who were incredibly kind. The air temp was perfect for hiking and there was no bugs or snakes to contend with. While it was a little chilly at night, the trade-off was less crowds. We all kept saying that even though we knew there were at least 100 people scattered all over the place it didn’t feel crowded. For a backpacking trip, as far as accessibility and gear goes, this one is fairly easy and requires no maps or specialty items.
Above Havasu Falls looking down into the canyon
I’m lucky in the fact that this was my first time ever to try and get permits and I got them. I truly believe being flexible and willing to travel to this destination on an off time in the year made all the difference. While I would have loved to have more daylight to enjoy the campsite after our activities or warmer weather for swimming, I’m glad I don’t have hundreds of people with pool floaties in my photos I have to photoshop out.
I hope you get to see this place in person and experience the magic and beauty for yourself in 2019!
I'll be adding to this more in the coming days but if you want to see my recommended gear check out my amazon affiliate store: amazon.com/shop/yogimagee or check out my adventures on instagram @yogimagee
One flight, one rental car, a hotel and a 4 hour drive, a year of planning and 26 miles RT later we finish the adventure of a lifetime!