Backpacking Guides

Havasupai Backpacking Guide

Overview

Description

People often say “Havasupai”, when referring to Havasu Canyon, a tributary of the Grand Canyon. It has been made famous by illustrious images of turquoise waterfalls set in red rock canyons and is a true oasis in the Arizona desert.

This sacred land is stewarded by the Havasupai, meaning “people of the blue-green waters.” They have lived here for at least 800 years and operate as an independent, sovereign tribe with their own constitution.

The main attractions at Havasupai are as follows: Fiftyfoot Falls, Navajo Falls, Havasu Falls, Mooney Falls, Beaver Falls, and the confluence of Havasu Creek and the Colorado River.

As a visitor, please be respectful of the Havsuapai Indian Reservation’s rules, regulations, and way of life. Enjoy the area responsibly and pack out all of your trash!

There are no roads to the remote village of Supai, so everything has to be helicoptered in/out or transported on mules. Unfortunately, a lot of junk/trash left by campers doesn’t make it out. Please do not contribute to this shameful problem.

Havasu Falls
Havasu Falls. March 2019

Permits

Obtaining a permit for Havasupai is difficult and can be frustrating because there are limited quantities and huge demand. In an effort to improve the process, all permits are now acquired online at Havasupai Reservations.

In 2019, permits opened on February 1st at 8:00 a.m.

In the days leading up to that, a message on the website’s homepage instructed users to create an account beforehand and log in so they would be ready to make a reservation at 8:00 a.m.

I followed these instructions and refreshed my browser at that time. A link appeared that said, “Make a Campground Reservation.” I clicked on it, selected the number of people in my reservation, and clicked continue but nothing happened.

I clicked to go back to the previous page and tried several more times before attempting to sign out and sign in again. In hindsight, I would not recommend doing this because I could not get back in for 2 hours. Finally, I was able to get back in, select dates with the calendar widget, and purchase permits.

Get a Permit for Havasupai

Pricing

As of 2019, all permits available to the public are for 4 day, 3 night campground reservations. Weeknights cost $100 per person and weekend nights (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) cost $125 per person. This puts your total cost between $300 and $375 per person.

Transfers

As of 2019, permits are transferrable. To transfer your permit(s), log in to the official website, click the “Campground” tab to view your reservations, and click the “Transfer Reservation” button.

You can either transfer the permit directly to someone else or list it on the cancellation page for anyone to see. Your permit is purchased at full price by another party and 90% of your money is refunded.

For buyers: If you do not see the dates you want on the cancellation page, visit the Havasupai Transfers Facebook Group.

Mules

The Havasupai Tribe provides a pack mule service in/out to the campground entrance for $400. However, I am against doing this because I think it’s a soft move. Carrying your own gear is a boss move. It’s more rewarding, builds character, and makes you more appreciative of your natural surroundings.

What to Expect

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Havasupai is during Spring or Fall, when highs are usually in the 80s and lows are in the 50s.

Summertime is sweltering hot and triple digit temps are the norm, but once you reach Havasu Creek you can jump in to cool off. The water temperature stays at 70° F all year, thanks to geothermal springs.

Winters are mild by most standards but there’s a good chance of freezing temps at night.

Get the Weather Forecast

The Trailhead

The trailhead is at Hualapai Hilltop, elevation 5,200 feet. There is a parking lot here with limited spots, so you might have to park on the side of the road. Be careful where you put your vehicle though, because the mountainside is eroding here. During storms, rockfalls and mudslides can occur.

There are restrooms at Hualapai Hilltop and great views of Hualapai Canyon. To make sure you get an early start, consider sleeping in your car here the night before your hike.

Hualapai Hilltop
Looking north from the switchbacks below Hualapai Hilltop

Hiking to the Campground, Navajo Falls, and Havasu Falls

From Hualapai Hilltop, it’s an 8 mile downhill hike to the village of Supai. From there, it’s 2 miles to Havasu Campground, elevation 2,700 feet. In total, you will be hiking 10 miles on the first day. Give yourself 4-6 hours to get to camp.

The hike begins with a somewhat steep grade down switchbacks. You are sure to encounter multiple mule trains (lines of mules carrying gear) between here and Supai. Make sure to move to the side of the trail and let them pass when you see or hear them approach.

A mule in Hualapai Canyon
A horse takes a well-deserved rest in Hualapai Canyon

After about a mile and 1,000 foot descent, you will reach the bottom of Hualapai Canyon. The grade mellows out here as you head down the wash to your right. Follow the wash for 6 miles until you reach a junction at the confluence of Hualapai Canyon and Havasu Canyon.

There are two signs here that you can’t miss. One has the word “Supai” on it, but it’s barely legible thanks to a smorgasbord of stickers people have left there. Next to it, there is a wooden sign that reads “Hualapai Hilltop” with an arrow that points in the direction you came from. Bear left here and walk another mile to reach Supai.

Two signs at the junction of Hualapai Canyon and Havasu Canyon
There are two signs at the junction of Hualapai Canyon and Havasu Canyon

In Supai, you will need to visit the tourist check-in office, provide your camp reservation confirmation, and show photo ID. They will provide you with a wristband and from there you can continue to the campground.

The village of Supai
The village of Supai

The final two miles to the campground are where the hike becomes breathtaking. First, you will pass Fiftyfoot Falls (not directly next to the trail), then Navajo Falls, and finally, just before your reach camp – Havasu Falls.

Navajo Falls
Navajo Falls

Potable water is available out of a tap at Fern Spring, found at the center of camp. You can also drink the water out of Havasu Creek but make sure to treat it.

The campground has restrooms with composting toilets and most sites have picnic tables.

Havasu Falls
Havasu Falls

Hiking to Mooney Falls

Distance from Camp: 0 miles

Just below the campground, the trail is replaced by a sheer down climb (partly through a cave) to the bottom of Mooney Falls. There are chains anchored into the rock by steel bolts and a few ladders to aid this process.

When I visited in March 2019, I noticed one steel bolt that had come loose from the rock and one ladder that pulled away from the rock about 6 inches when I pulled on it. Proceed with caution!

I also suggest that you go down in the morning, spend the day below Mooney Falls, then go back up in the late afternoon. The climb is single file and can become congested with hikers.

Fun Fact: Mooney Falls is named after D. W. Mooney, a prospector who fell to his death there in 1882.

Mooney Falls
Mooney Falls

Hiking to Beaver Falls

  • Distance from Camp: 6 miles out and back

Beaver Falls is a lesser visited set of short cascades over stunning travertine dams. It is 3 miles from the campground. In total, you will be hiking 6 miles out and back so give yourself 3-4 hours to do it.

You must pass through the steep Mooney Falls route to get to Beaver Falls. Make sure you know what time the sun sets during the time of year you visit; ascending this trail in the dark is best avoided.

You will cross Havasu Creek at least three times on the way to Beaver Falls and possibly more if you lose the trail. It’s difficult to stray too far from a good path on the way to Beaver Falls, so don’t worry which one you take. As long as you continue downstream you will make it there.

Once you are close to Beaver Falls, you will pass a palm tree as you ascend a bench on the right side of the canyon. Soon after, there is a ladder fixed by a frayed rope that you climb up.

Beaver Falls will come into view and from here, you have the option to climb down a taller ladder to reach the bottom.

Beaver Falls
Beaver Falls

Hiking to the Confluence

  • Distance from Camp: 16 miles out and back

Only the most adventurous hikers will make it to the confluence of Havasu Creek and the Colorado River. Those who do will be rewarded with a remarkable sight: The turquoise waters of Havasu Creek tumbling into the chocolatey Colorado River.

From Beaver Falls, it’s another 5 miles to the confluence. Instead of bearing left and down to the bottom of Beaver Falls, look up to your right and you will see cairns that mark switchbacks.

This part of the route will take you high onto a bench that follows the right side of the canyon. It’s fairly exposed and requires vigilance, but it’s easy to follow and pretty short.

Once you get back down to the creek, look for a cairn that marks a crossing. Bear right here and follow the other side, but before you do that, look back at what you just descended.

Notice the step-like rock shelves you just came down and take a mental note, or better yet, a photo for reference. These are easy to miss on the way back.

The rest of the way is mostly straightforward as you continue along a path that crosses the creek many times.

After 4 miles, the trail becomes rockier and harder to follow as it ascends to the right. Slow down and watch for cairns and you should have no problem navigating it.

Before long, you will reach a tunnel. Hike through it and soon you will reach a section of narrows. From here, you can either swim through to the Colorado River or take a path to the left that leads up onto a bench overlooking the confluence.

The confluence of Havasu Creek and the Colorado River
Jason and the confluence of Havasu Creek and the Colorado River

What to Bring

The biggest mistake beginner backpackers make is bringing too much stuff and hauling too heavy of a pack.

When I visited Havasupai in March 2019, I saw a lot of people with way too much on their backs. Some people brought so much crap they had to carry some of it in their hands!

I guarantee your trip will be much more enjoyable if you pack light.

The 10 mile hike back to Hualapai Hilltop from camp isn’t easy. You will gain 2,500 feet and the trail is mostly rocks and gravel. Your entire body (especially your feet) will thank you for not overloading it.

Gear List

Tent: Jason and I slept under his MLD TrailStar, a shaped tarp made from DCF, which is an ultra lightweight but durable material. If you’re more of a tent person, here’s my list of the best lightweight backpacking tents.

Backpack: I used the Zpacks Arc Haul-Zip on this trip. If your base weight is under 20 lb, this is a comfortable, lightweight option. It’s included in my best lightweight backpacking packs list.

Sleeping Bag: I stayed warm and cozy under my EE Revelation 20 quilt, which is included in my best lightweight sleeping bags list.

Sleeping Pad: I used the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol, a closed-cell foam sleeping pad on this trip. Although not as comfortable as an air mattress, the Z Lite Sol  doesn’t run the risk of deflating overnight. It’s included in my best lightweight sleeping pads list.

Cooking System: I used my trusty MSR Pocket Rocket (included in my best backpacking stoves list), TOAKS Titanium 1000ml Pot, and Optimus Titanium Long Spoon on this trip.

Water: I treated the water from Havasu Creek with Aquatabs and carried it using two 1L Smart Water Bottles. Start the hike with at least 3 liters in the summer.

Footwear: I hiked in Salomon Wings Pro 2 trail runners. I chose them because I knew there’d be stream crossings and they dry fast. I thought about bringing my Teva sandals, but they would’ve been uncomfortable during the long haul between Hualapai Hilltop and camp. I didn’t bring boots because they get waterlogged, heavy, and stinky.

Jason brought Salmon Quest 4D 3 boots and a pair of lightweight DIY sandals by Xero. He affectionately called them his “Jesus sandals” and I was covetous of them.

Headlamp: Don’t forget yours like I did! I have a Black Diamond Spot Headlamp that I usually bring.

Food: I brought homemade meals with ingredients that I dehydrated at home. If you’re feeling lazy, here are my favorite freeze dried and dehydrated food options.

Jason and I packed all of our food with us on our day excursions. The rodents in the Grand Canyon are ferocious and will chew through any material to get to food. If you decide to leave food at camp, put it in a rodent-proof bag.

Clothing: 

Map: I used the Gaia GPS app and the map found in Non-Technical Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau by Michael Kelsey. For a paper topographic map, get the Grand Canyon West by Nat Geo.

First Aid Kit: Before every trip, Kim (my ICU nurse wife) assembles a kit for me. Check out her articles here. If you don’t have the time or knowledge to make your own, I recommend buying this one.

Sunscreen: Bring high SPF sunscreen and wear it. The Arizona sun is not something to be trifled with.

Other Stuff: 

Fry bread taco in Supai
A “Supai Taco”: Fry bread, refried beans, lettuce, diced tomatoes, and shredded cheese. They were out of ground beef that day

Quick Facts

  • Distance: 20 miles. (36 if you go to the confluence)
  • Hike Time: 4 days
  • Elevation Gain: 2,500 feet (3,500 if you go to the confluence)
  • Fee: $300-$375 per person
  • Dogs: No
  • Difficulty: Hard

Map

Location

From I-40 East

From I-40, take exit 53 in Kingman and follow Route 66 east. Continue for 53.9 miles then turn left onto Indian Road 18. Continue for 60.2 miles then you will arrive at Hualapai Hilltop, the trailhead for Havasupai.

Note: There are no gas stations past Peach Springs, so make sure to get fuel there.

Get Directions

From I-40 West

From I-40, take exit 123 in Seligman and follow Route 66 west. Continue for 32.4 miles then turn right onto Indian Road 18. Continue for 60.2 miles then you will arrive at Hualapai Hilltop, the trailhead for Havasupai.

Note: There are no gas stations past Seligman, so make sure to get fuel there.

Get Directions

 

Trip Reports

March 2019

In March 2019, Jason and I went on a backpacking trip to Havasupai. We spent 4 days, 3 nights there and had time to hike to all of the waterfalls. We also hiked to the confluence.

Weather conditions were partly cloudy for the most part, with a few periods of full cloud cover and some scattered showers. Highs were in the 60s and 70s with lows in the 40s.

Day 1

  • Distance: 10 miles

Made it to the trailhead and started hiking around noon. It was windy with 40 mph gusts. We made it to Supai at 3:30 p.m. and promptly got Supai tacos. We then checked in at the tourist office and made it to Navajo Falls at 4:30 p.m. 15 minutes later, we got to Havasu Falls and found ourselves a campsite at 5:15 p.m.

Day 2

  • Distance: 16 miles

Started hiking toward the confluence at 9:00 a.m. and made it to the bottom of Mooney Falls a half hour later. Got to Beaver Falls at 11:00 a.m. At 1:30 p.m., we met a desert bighorn sheep.

A desert bighorn sheep next to Havasu Creek
A desert bighorn sheep next to Havasu Creek

Made it to the confluence at 2:00 p.m. and realized that neither of us had headlamps. This lit a fire under our butts because we didn’t want to go up Mooney in the dark (especially without headlamps).

Thankfully, we made it back to the bottom of Mooney at 5:30 p.m. with an hour of daylight and plenty of time to photograph the falls.

Arrived back to camp at 6:30 p.m.

Day 3

  • Distance: 7 miles

This was basically a rest day, but we managed to cover 7 miles hiking to Supai and back for fry bread (this time with powdered sugar and honey). We spent a lot of time taking photos of Havasu Falls, Navajo Falls, and Fiftyfoot Falls.

Arrived back to camp at 3:45 p.m. and spent the afternoon hanging out, talking, and watching clouds dance across the sky.

Once it got dark, we shot timelapses and watched the moonless night sky. While we were enjoying the stars, a teenage Havasupai boy marched into our camp with a blinding flashlight and harassed us. It was pretty startling! He told us he was on a night shift doing security.

Day 4

  • Distance: 10 miles

We woke up at around 7:00 a.m., made breakfast, packed up our camp, and began marching toward Hualapai Hilltop at 8:30 a.m. We got to Supai at 9:30 a.m., then stopped only once for a quick snack. We made it to the bottom of the switchbacks at a quarter to noon and finished at 12:15 p.m.

Resources

Guidebooks

Topographic Maps

Photos

Havasu Falls
Havasu Falls (without a prickly pear cactus in the foreground)
Another shot of Havasu Falls
Another shot of Havasu Falls
Mooney Falls
Mooney Falls from below
Mooney Falls
Mooney Falls from above
The confluence
The confluence
Max Karren wading into the narrows before the confluence
Me (the author) wading into the narrows before the confluence
Narrows before the confluence of Havasu Creek and the Colorado River
Just before the confluence

Update Log

  • 04/07/19 – Added YouTube video to Trip Reports -> March 2019.

 

 

 

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2 comments

  1. Wow! I was stunned by the beauty of this place. It’s true that the pics are great too.
    Can’t wait to go and hike in Havasupai.
    Keep up the good work, guys!

    1. Agreed, Havasupai is gorgeous. Thanks Asen!

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