By John O’Nelio // Rhone.com
If you read that and aren’t sure what it is, I promise you’ll want to look it up. Havasupai (pronounced Ha·va·su·pai) is an Indian reservation located int he Havasu Canyon. It’s known for its red rocks, striking beauty, grueling hike, and beautiful waterfalls. This isn’t a comprehensive guide to Havasupai, but it does include a few things that will make your trip easier before going. Making a reservation is the hard part, but once you have that locked down, here are some tips to help you along the way. Enjoy!
I was lucky enough to fall into a permit after a friend of a friend broke his arm a couple of days before their trip. I got the call and jumped at the opportunity, as permits are hard to come by and limit the number of people allowed down the canyon. That being said, a trip to Havasupai needs to be planned in advance. So get your buddies together and start planning. It’s definitely worth the trip.
We drove nine or so hours from San Diego to a remote motel about an hour away from the Hualapai Hilltop, where the parking lot and trailhead is located. We planned on getting an early start for the hike but ended up meeting up with the rest of our crew at the parking lot around 10 am. Ideally, you’d want to start as early as possible to avoid the heat (this is Arizona, so it gets hot) and to get the most time down around camp.
Upon first arriving, I was surprised at how many cars were in the parking lot. The villagers said there are usually between 200–400 campers at any given time. There are a couple stands that were selling fruit, cold drinks and ice cream. Make sure you bring plenty of cash if you plan on picking anything up during your time there. As we were getting ready to start the hike down, hikers that had started the journey back around 4 am were returning to their cars. Pro Tip: There are a couple bathrooms here and this is also where you’ll find the mules if you wanted to rent one to carry your gear. Don’t do that though. It’s incredibly sad for the animals, and backpacking is part of the challenge and experience.
Our group had eight people, and the size of our packs varied between us. I had a large backpacking backpack that I would guess weighed about 35–40 pounds. You’ll find that once you throw the pack on in the heat if you don’t absolutely think you’ll need something, don’t bring it. I brought clothes, camping equipment, food, a few other supplies, and my camera gear. Hydration is paramount and that adds to the weight, but it’s a necessity. I brought along the usual stuff for time spent in the sun: sunglasses, a buff to cover my neck or for the dust, hat, chapstick, sunscreen, water and snacks and/or energy bars, and comfortable shoes. I wore trail running shoes while some of my group had hiking boots. The trail isn’t very technical, so if you are used to hiking you’ll be fine in whatever you usually wear. Just make sure whatever you do wear is well-broken in. Blisters in 100-degree weather is a less than ideal situation. I attached my Teva sandals to the back of my pack which I wore later in the water.
The hike down into the canyon is almost entirely downhill or flat ground. There is about a mile of switchbacks to start, which will kick your ass at the end on the way back up but that’s the only tough part. Most of it will be in the sun, so when you take breaks, find a shady spot near the rocks or canyons. It’ll take some getting used to the weight of your pack, and so don’t be surprised if on one of your water stops you end up rearranging things so it’s distributed more comfortably.
You’ll pass plenty of hikers heading up and out of the canyon while you are on your way down. Hop out of the way of the mules going both ways, and eight short miles later you’ll hit the village.
Shortly after you find the river, you’ll be walking down dirt roads in between houses and large lots. Everything is pretty desolate in the village, but the people were very friendly to us. The first stop you can make is at one of the stores, which is located on the left side of the road in a house. The back entrance takes you to a convenience type store with dried food, supplies, and some cold drinks. There isn’t a lot of fresh produce — I think I bought a few bananas for like a buck a piece. It’s not quite airport prices, but it’s not cheap. At the front of the house, there is a spot to buy homemade burritos and other hot food. Some of my group stopped here on the way back for breakfast before the hike out.
If you continue into town, you’ll hit the office where you check in with your group. There were a few other groups in line when we got there, but it is a relatively painless process as the girl behind the counter checked us in, took our money, and gave us wristbands. Remember: bring cash. The office had public wifi if you need it. FYI I have AT&T and didn’t have any service the entire trip starting from about an hour away from the trailhead. Some of my friends with Sprint had service most of the way I believe. But at the end of the day, who needs service when you are in a place this beautiful?
After everyone is checked in and has paid, you’ll head further into the village and find the larger store and restaurant. We didn’t eat at the restaurant during our time there but heard it was a decent spot. We packed in all of our food and drinks but the store has a good selection of stuff if you wanted to add anything to your haul. The selection of fresh produce isn’t great, and no alcohol is allowed on the reservation, so do with that what you will. This spot is about two miles from the campground, so get whatever you think you’ll need because you won’t want to spend your time walking back and forth.
Don’t spend too much time at any of these stops because you’re very close to the good stuff. Keep hiking in.
I wasn’t sure what to expect as I’ve been to plenty of campgrounds around the country, and there wasn’t too much information on this one. It’s all first-come-first-serve, so if you are getting there earlier when people are packing up to head out you’ll have a better chance of snagging a prime spot. It’s all just ridiculously beautiful so don’t stress about it. Any spot is a good spot. We arrived later in the afternoon, closer to five and ended up walking pretty far through sites to find a decent spot out of the way near the river. There aren’t designated sites; you just find some space that looks good and set up camp. We were looking for a big enough space for our whole group, with some privacy and trees for our hammocks. There are picnic tables at some of the spots, but be aware that there are no fires are allowed.
There are camping spots along both sides of the river as well as in the center island that runs most of the way down the river with wooden walking bridges help you get across. In my opinion, the center island looked pretty sweet so if you can snag something there I’d go for it. We weren’t sure how large the campground was, but after setting up camp we walked about five minutes further in and found the second waterfall, Mooney Falls. You are able to set up tents basically right above these falls. Those spots tend to fill up quickly but it’s worth checking out.
There is a natural spring towards the front of the campground and there are signs to help you find it. Fill up your water bottles! This is where collapsable water bottles come in handy since you can hike in with them empty and then fill them up to have at your campsite to cut down on trips to the spring. There’s a small food stand at the front as well that offers a few hot items like hot dogs, some sort of taco, and fry bread, all around $5–10 cash. Make sure and hang your food up when you aren’t around as the squirrels will chew through tents and other gear to get to food left on the ground. There are bathrooms located around the campground. There’s no running water but the facilities are decent.
WHAT WE ATE
We were only there for three days and the majority of the first and last day were spent hiking in and out. On the hike, we drank lots of water and ate bars and other snacks you’d typically bring along for a hike. At the campsite, for dinners, we had the Mountain House pre-packaged meals (just add water!). I brought along some similar soup stuff that worked the same way. Between the group, people had crackers and meat/cheese, sandwiches, fruit, trail mix. Some of the guys said that they wouldn’t have brought so much for the weight factor on the hike in. However, your body is going to be tired and sore so a hot meal is nice. Member’s of my group occasionally bought something from the food stand near the front of the campground. I don’t typically need much when I’m out in the wild so I wasn’t that caught up in food, but if you happen to run out or need more you can always hike back into the village for a burger or more supplies.
I’m not going to spend too much time on this part as it’s just one of these things you have to experience yourself and my words won’t do it justice. From the village, you’ll hit the first waterfalls less than two miles in (Navajo Falls) on your left. I didn’t get the chance to hang here much but they seemed to be less crowded than the others. You can jump off everything, so do yourself a favor and jump off everything.
Havasu Falls is next, this is where the campground begins. Towards the end of the campground, about a mile or so down is Mooney Falls. This is only accessible through a sketchy descent through caves and wet ladders on the side of the cliff but it is amazing.
Three more miles down is Beaver Falls. This is where my group spent most of the second day hanging around, swimming and searching out hidden caves. There is a really nice cliff jump here that is about fifty-five feet that will make your trip. I highly suggest it.
As a bonus, you can hike to the Confluence, which is where Havasu Creek meets the Colorado River. I ran into some friends there that were heading that way so I tagged along and ended up spending the day hiking the extra sixteen-mile roundtrip through some of the prettiest trails and river-crossings. The canyon near the end is amazing, so if you have the time and energy left, it’s a really nice trip that most people aren’t making because of the distance.
I wore Teva sandals for the hike to the Confluence since you’ll cross the river a handful of times. You’ll want to keep your shoes dry for the hike out so keep that in mind. It’s also just nice to have something to wear in the water if you’re climbing to jump or just want your feet to be more comfortable. Your body will hate you either way after all the hiking, so give your feet a break.
- Like with any crowded tourist place, wake up early to get to places before everyone else.
- Take care of your own stuff and don’t leave anything.
- Make the most of your time there but take a look around and realize how insanely awesome this place is.
- Do a few things that scare the hell of out you, like jump of that big cliff. You won’t regret it.
- Bring some avocados and drink lots of water.
- Leave some fresh clothes and sandals in the car for the drive home.
- To look into reservations of your own, click here
To see more of John’s adventures, follow him on Instagram: @johnonelio
This article was originally published on The Pursuit (Rhone.com)