Havasu Falls: the ultimate oasis. Where else can you find a plethora of waterfalls and vegetation in the middle of the freakin’ desert? Visitors come from all corners of the earth to see these majestic waterfalls situated in the small section of the Grand Canyon that is the Havasupai Indian Reservation. And with good reason.
The water is so clean that you can see straight through to the bottom! The air is clear and free of pollution, and the vegetation is bursting with life. A paradise in the truest sense of the word. Here’s your ultimate guide to getting there.
Step 1: Get A Permit
Step 2: Pack like a Pro
Step 3: Getting There
Our group chose to drive from our home base in Southern California because it was the most economical option, but if you decide to fly in, here are the three closest airports to the Havasupai Trail Head:
|Airport||City||Distance from Trail Head|
|Flagstaff Pulliam Airport||Flagstaff, AZ||168 miles [3.5 hours]|
|McCarran International Airport||Las Vegas, NV||219 miles [4.5 hours]|
|Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport||Phoenix, AZ||262 miles [5 hours]|
You’ll obviously need to rent a car to get from the airport to the trail head, but flying in would be the best option if you’re international or live really far away.
The closest gas station is in Peach Springs next to the Hualapai Lodge. Gas is really cheap in Arizona (compared to California) so make sure you fill up before making the 135 mile round-trip drive to the trail head.
Parking at the Trail Head
The parking lot will be mostly full when you arrive, no matter what time of the day. This is because people will camp for multiple nights so a lot of cars will be parked for days. You’ll see cars parked along the side of the road and backed up for half a mile from the parking lot. I still recommend circling as close as you can to the trail head though, because there were random parking spaces open from people who had left during the day.
Getting there earlier is always better, and don’t leave your lights on like our friend who spent over an hour trying to find someone to help jump his car at 2am when he arrived back at the parking lot.
Helicopter In & Out
If it’s your first time at Havasupai, I’d recommend hiking. That’s part of the trip! But if you’re injured, out of shape, or are traveling with people who cannot hike, this helicopter option is available. Just make sure you’re going on days that offer it!
Pack horses are available for those who have too much stuff to carry or do not want to carry heavy loads during the hike. There are rumors that these animals are abused, however I cannot attest to that as they looked healthy to me when they passed us on the trail. Here’s what you need to know about using them:
- It costs $120 for 1 mule one-way. It says online that you must reserve in advance but you can also book in-person at the Tourist Office in the village.
- Each mule can carry 130 lbs, divided into 4 separate packs (about 30 lbs per pack).
- There are no saddlebags. You must put your belongings in a backpack or duffle bag which will be strapped to the back of the mule via rope.
- Tag your bags with your reservation name and number.
- At the trail head, there will be a small office for you to drop your bags. Just leave them outside on the ground in front of the office if you’re starting the hike in the middle of the night:
- Mules depart the trail head at 10am and arrive at the campgrounds between 2pm and 4pm.
- You can pick up your bags at the entrance to the campgrounds. There will be this fenced-in area near the bathrooms where they drop all the bags off; you can’t miss it.
- Upon leaving Havasupai, drop your bags off where you found them at the entrance to the campgrounds. Mules depart at 7am and will arrive back at the hilltop around 11am.
You can book a horse to ride or bring your own horse if you prefer not to do the hike. If you bring your own horse, you’ll have to bring feed and pay a $20 fee at the Tourist Office. No one in our group booked a horse, but here’s some great info I found in case you’re interested.
The most common way to get to the village and campgrounds is to hike. The first 1.5 miles will be a straight descent down to the canyon floor via a series of switchbacks in the canyon wall. If you have bad knees, I suggest using hiking poles, especially since the trail is covered in loose rocks which makes it easy to trip or twist an ankle.
The rest of the hike is fairly flat, with a gentle downward slope as you near the village. I highly recommend durable hiking boots as the terrain is both rocky and dusty. If you are not going to be carrying heavy loads, the hike down will take you about 3.5-4 hours. If you are carrying your entire camping trip in your backpack, the hike may take you 5+ hours depending on your level of fitness.
We hiked in the middle of June during a massive heat wave, so we started the hike at 3am. The temperature was nice and cool at the beginning but started to warm around 7am. There were plenty of other groups that started around that time and even earlier, so I highly recommend an early start, especially if you want to find good parking at the trail head.
There is a lot of horse poop on the trail. It doesn’t smell at night, but I did notice that it became more pungent during the day as it got warmer. If you’re hiking at night with a headlamp, keep in mind that there will be flying bugs in the canyon that will attack your light.
Pro-Tip: Mix 1 tablespoon of chia seeds with 1 cup of water. Drink this along with about another quart of water before heading out on your hike. The chia seeds will help your body retain water and release it slowly throughout the day. This way, you will only need to carry 1 bottle of water instead of a whole gallon.
Camping at the trail head is possible, but if you’re like us and are planning on staying at a hotel before and after hiking, the closest hotels are located in Peach Springs and Supai Village.
You only have two options here: Hualapai Lodge and Grand Canyon Caverns Inn.
We stayed at Hualapai Lodge and it was actually a pretty nice hotel considering that it’s basically in the middle of nowhere. You can read my Yelp review here.
There is only one hotel in the village and it is really hard to book rooms there. They don’t have an online reservation system or website so you just have to call the front desk and hope that there are rooms available for the nights you want. The good thing about staying here is that a reservation includes all permit fees so you don’t need to get separate permits. The bad thing is that you’ll be hiking back and forth from the village to the falls at least 4 miles each day.
Step 4: Checking In
You’ll know immediately when you arrive at the village of Supai. Continue along the trail until you reach the middle of town where you’ll pass a small teal-colored building with a couple of picnic tables outside; that’s the Tourist Office. The person who made the reservation will need to check in with their ID and sign some paperwork about releasing liability and following rules.
You’ll receive a village map, one tent tag, and wristbands for everyone in your party. Be sure to hang the tent tag on any one of the tents in your group. Rangers do patrol the entire area between Havasu Falls and Beaver Falls so make sure everyone puts on their wristband (except children under 6 as they do not require a permit).
The person checking in will need to write down the names of everyone in the party as well, so be sure you know everyone’s first and last names. If your group has split up and there are people behind you, just have them check in under your name at the Tourist Office when they arrive (they may also have to present their IDs). If it is your name on the reservation and you are the last to arrive, everyone will need to wait for you to check in first.
The village itself is very small and quaint. Most homes have horse enclosures or farms as part of their yard. There’s a helicopter pad in the middle of the village, right next to the Tourist Office and convenience store, and there’s free WiFi throughout the village. If you need water, there is a water spigot on the outside of the Tourist Office, to the right side of the front door. This water is safe to drink.
Step 5: Camping
Camp sites are first-come-first-served. When reserving through the website, you’ll receive a site number but that is completely useless because there are no numbers and no real camp sites. You just find an empty area between the trees and claim it. Hopefully your area will have a picnic table as well.
The campgrounds closest to Havasu Falls will be the most crowded, but keep in mind that the campgrounds stretch 1 mile and reach all the way to Mooney Falls. The farther you walk, the less people you’ll see, and the more opportunity you will have to camp next to the river. The only downside to camping farther down is that there is only 1 drinking water source and it is close to the entrance of the campgrounds, so you may be walking quite a bit just to refill your water.
Despite the large amount of people at the campgrounds, it didn’t really get loud at night. I think everyone just goes to bed early because the day is so exhausting.
Things to remember:
- Each group will receive 1 tent tag. Don’t forget to hang it up.
- Rangers will randomly patrol to make sure you have a wristband and reservation.
- There are food tents selling Fry Bread and Indian Tacos at the entrance to the campgrounds. It’s pretty expensive for something that’s basically a donut ($14 for an Indian Taco) but they also have frozen Gatorade ($5) which is bomb in the middle of the summer.
- There are 3 compost bathrooms at the campgrounds, one at each end and one in the middle. It’s kind of like a porta-potty but not smelly since they have these wood shavings that you’re supposed to throw in there after you’re done to help with composting. They’re cleaned daily so they’re actually very clean and have nice toilet paper (not the cheap kind). There are no sinks or showers, but they do have hand sanitizer.
This one was a game-changer for me: You can book additional nights at the campground if you talk to the campsite ranger. The ranger hut is at the campground entrance, where the Fry Bread tents and bathrooms are. All you have to do is tell them how many more nights you’d like to stay and they’ll add the additional cost to your reservation! This makes such a difference because this means that you only need to book 1 night if you’re not able to get multiple nights in a row, and just add to your reservation later.
Step 6: Do It All
I definitely recommend spending at least 2 or 3 nights here because there’s a lot to see and you don’t want to rush your trip trying to do everything in one day. Here are my tips for making the most of your stay:
- You’ll see lots of people and families lounging around at the base of the waterfall as it’s the easiest to get to.
- Don’t forget to bring a waterproof camera or GoPro for all those photos!
- There are wild dogs that play around Havasu Falls and sleep there at night. This may be bad news bears to someone who doesn’t like dogs, but they’re actually very friendly and will not come up to you as they’re busy playing with their other dog pals.
- If you’re feeling daring, climb up the left side of the waterfall for some awesome cliff jumping.
- The water was ice cold when we went in the middle of June, even though the air was 110F.
- If you go in the summer, you don’t even need to bring a towel to dry off; most people will just walk around in their bathing suits all day.
- There are a lot of people on the weekends, but Sunday was way less crowded than Saturday. If you want to avoid the crowds, I imagine weekdays will be even more empty.
- No need to bring in your own water floaties! There are tons of them left behind by previous campers.
- Mooney Falls is located at the end of the campgrounds, past the last compost bathroom.
- Climbing (yes, climbing) down to the falls will not be for you if you have a fear of heights. You’ll have to descend through two small caves and make your way down a couple of wooden ladders that are chained to the rock. Very fun climb, and totally worth it.
- The water here is warmer than at Havasu Falls and Beaver Falls.
- There is a rope across the way for some swinging and jumping.
- There are a lot of sources on the internet that say that the hike from Mooney Falls to Beaver Falls is only 3-4 miles, but we tracked it using GPS and it’s actually 5 miles (about 2 hours) one-way. But don’t worry, it’s flat and very easy to hike.
- The trail to Beaver Falls starts at the base of the Mooney Falls ladder and continues off to to left.
- This hike is beautiful. Completely worth it and I highly recommend doing it if you have the time. Take lots of pictures!
- Water shoes and a bathing suit are musts. At times, you will be crossing the river and it will be several feet deep.
- This hike is not crowded at all since it is pretty out-of-the-way and inconvenient to get to. The downside to that is that it can be easy to get lost if you’re alone since you’ll be walking through lots of trees and vegetation.
Step 7: Leaving Paradise
When you’re ready to leave, please practice Leave No Trace and leave the campsite and environment as you found it. This includes taking out all garbage and not just leaving them at the entrance to the campgrounds.
I LOVED our trip to Havasupai, even if it was for only 1 night. I’m definitely planning on coming back next year and staying longer. Believe the hype! All of the planning and hiking is completely worth it. If you’re thinking about doing this trip, just do it.