Hiking Havasupai is one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences we had in 2018. The hike itself isn’t too bad, but the long distance, heat, and heavy packs make it much more difficult. However, the reward of seeing the electric blue waters and a sense of pride in completing the hike, make all of it worth it. This definitely is a trip that requires planning, so here are all tips for a successful trip to hiking Havasupai.
What is Havasupai?
Havasupai translates to people of the blue-green water and is the name of the tribe from this area. As the name suggests, Havasupai is home to incredible turquoise water which flows in rivers and falls for several miles through the land until it joins with the Colorado River.
The Havasupai are considered one of the most remote Native American tribes in the US. The only access to the tribe is via the eight-mile hike from the trailhead or via helicopter. The tribe graciously allows tourists the opportunity to visit their lands via a permit process each year.
The hike to the campgrounds is roughly 10 miles with about 2000 ft of elevation change. You are responsible for hiking in all of your camp gear and food for the trip, although there are small snacks available in the town of Supai.
Getting a permit
Starting in 2018 the tribe moved towards an online permit process. Permits open up annually around February. For the 2019 seasons, permits open at 0800 Arizona time on February 1st. Based on the Havasupai Permit Website, it appears they are only offering 3 day/4 night permits this year at $100/night/pp for weekdays and $125/night/pp for weekends. Day hikes are not allowed.
Our recommendation is to create an account ahead of time and log on to your computer 10 minutes prior to opening time. Keep refreshing the page until the link to book your permit is active. Make sure to check what Arizona time is in your time zone, as Arizona does not follow daylight savings and may be different than you think!
Have a few alternate dates in mind, as they literally disappear before your eyes. Last year the entire year booked within a few hours. It definitely pays to get up early and snag your spot. You can book for multiple people under one account, but the account holder must be present with photo ID when you hike in to pick up the permits.
**A note on cost: $300-375 is pretty steep for a hiking permit. Especially when you are responsible for all of your own food, gear and lodging. Last year we went and the permits were about $200 for three days. They definitely took a pretty big jump this year. We are guessing due to the increasing popularity of the falls. This is a large income source for the tribe and we feel thankful that they are willing to share their home with us. For us, the experience is worth the cost.
After getting a permit, this is probably the most essential part of hiking Havasupai!! You are responsible for hiking in your belongings, food, camp gear, etc the 10 miles to the campgrounds, as well as hiking it all (including your trash) back up to the trailhead. Your goal should be to keep your packs less than 30lbs.
Here is a list of essentials along with some links of the products we used:
- lightweight tent (or enclosed hammock in warmer months)
- sleeping bags or pads
- cookstove and utensils (we love this set)
- hiking backpack
- three pairs hiking socks, undergarments
- hiking boots
- water shoes or sandals
- three shirts
- two pairs of shorts
- two pairs of leggings/hiking pants
- two swimsuits
- Photo ID and permit confirmation
- food (personal preferences, see our suggestions below)
- camera (Gopro is great for this!)
- quick dry towel
- waterskin/water bottles (there is a clean water source at the campgrounds)
- makeup wipes (there are no showers, so these are a lifesaver!)
- first aid kit (highly recommend adding moleskin for blisters)
In terms of food, Martin and I brought a gallon-sized bag filled with oatmeal, a jar of nut butter, and another gallon-sized bag of protein powder. We mixed those together for breakfast and even used the protein powder to replace creamer in our coffee. We also bought some vegan MDRs at REI, as well as dried bean and rice/quinoa mixes from the grocery store. Lara bars and cliff bars also make high calorie, lightweight snacks.
You don’t want to bring too much food as it is quite heavy but plan on bringing more than you normally eat. You burn through calories like crazy while hiking.
Getting to the trailhead
The trailhead is in a pretty remote part of Arizona, so most people start in either Las Vegas or Phoenix and drive in from there. We went from Vegas and it was a four-hour drive. The roads are paved, so you don’t need four-wheel drive. Just throw in “Havasupai Trail Head” to Google maps and be on your way.
Keep in mind that the closest gas station is about a little over an hour from the actual trailhead in Peach Springs, so make sure you have enough gas to get there and back. The last thing you want is to finish the hike, get in your car, run out of gas and have to walk another 10 miles to refuel.
We drove to the trailhead the night before our permit started and slept in our car so that we could get an early start morning of. If car camping isn’t your thing, the nearest hotel is Hualapai Lodge in Peach Springs and is roughly an hour to an hour and a half driving distance.
Our biggest recommendation is to START EARLY. We thought a 7 am start time would be early enough, but in hindsight wish we started at 5 am. The mid day heat is killer and there is not a lot of shade, so you really feel every bit of it. We consider ourselves to be in relatively good shape and it took us 6.5 hours to hike down because of the heat vs 4.5 hours to hike back, even though the hike back is uphill.
At the top of the trailhead, you will see a small office and some bathrooms. You do not pick up your permits here, this is only if you plan on using mules to carry your belongings. There is no need to wait for it to open, as soon as you get up, you can start the hike down. You DO need to use the bathrooms beforehand, there are no other bathrooms until you get to the town of Supai.
The total distance to the campground is about 10 miles, with the first 1-2 miles being downhill switchbacks followed by relatively flat ground. However, the ground is often sandy and rocky, so not always easy walking conditions. You walk in between a canyon the majority of the way, so although there are no trail markers, you really only have one direction to walk.
Along the way, you might be asked for the name of the permit holder. This is just to keep track of who is coming and going, you don’t actually pick up your permit until you reach the town.
Starting around 7-730, you will see the mules coming through for those who did not wish to carry their belongings. GET OUT OF THEIR WAY!! While they might not mean to run you over, they also don’t try to avoid you and the last thing you want is to get tramples.
When you reach the town of Supai, one of the first buildings you see will be a little market where you can buy Gatorade and some snacks. This is NOT where you pick up your permit. Keep going until you reach down the road. On the left side will be a small white building labelled “Tourist Office.” Show them your confirmation and photo ID. They will give you your wristbands and tent tags.
After picking up your permit and tags, continue down the road for another 1.5 miles and you will reach the campgrounds (as well as pass some incredible waterfalls). The campgrounds start just after Havasu Falls and continue just until Mooney falls.
There are several composting bathrooms and picnic tables scattered throughout the area, as well as a source for freshwater. Spots are first come first serve, so pick somewhere that looks good to you. Our key criteria was a location near the water source, shade, and it’s own picnic table.
Tip: At the start of the campgrounds is a ranger station, make sure to pick up a bucket to store your food. The squirrels here are very sneaky. They will rip through your tent to get a cliff bar. If there aren’t any buckets, hang your food in the rope between the trees.
From the campgrounds, you have a ton of options for day hikes. The easiest falls are to visit Havasu and Little Navajo Falls, which you pass on the way in. Mooney Falls is also nearby but requires a relatively difficult descent using chains and ladders. Totally worth it, but not for the faint of heart. Beaver Falls is about four miles from Mooney. And for those who really haven’t hiked enough, you can even go all the way to the confluence of the Havasupai river and the Colorado River. It is only an extra 20 miles round trip.
Again, our recommendation is to either start early or start late. Basically, do anything in your power to avoid hiking in the mid day heat. We woke up at 4 am, packed up our campsite and were hiking out by 5 am. The hike out is not easy, as you have about 2000 ft of pretty steep elevation gain divided between the beginning and end of the hike.
Some people choose to take the helicopter back or use mules. We really encourage you to do the hike! There is something to be said from the empowerment and adrenaline rush that comes from completing the hike. Plus mules weren’t all in the best of condition, some were quite emaciated and with saddle sores.
If you don’t think you can make it, get to the helicopter pad at Supai EARLY. People were lining up at 6 am when we hiked out. The helicopter is first come, first serve, with tribes people having priority over tourists. We have heard of some people waiting 5 hours to get on.
Ok guys, congrats if you made it to the end of this post. Hope it helps! Please send us a comment if you have any questions. And with the upcoming 2019 permit season opening, may the odds ever be in your favor.