This adventure marks my 2nd visit to this gorgeous place in back to back years. Of all the trips I have been on, I would probably rank this as one of the top destinations on my list. At the same time it is also one of the hardest places to get to considering you have to first obtain a permit. Most hikers would agree that is the hardest piece of the process because permits tend to sell out the first week of February when they go live. Then if you are one of the lucky few to get your hands on a permit you have to hike from the hilltop parking lot down to the campgrounds, which is about 10 miles or so. Once you’ve done all that you’ll find yourself in front of breathtaking waterfalls with blue water flowing all around you.
Before going here are a few key points to keep in mind…
Obtaining a permit:
Reservations are required to enter this remote area and day trips are prohibited. Even if you plan on sneaking in, there is always someone on duty checking to see if you have a permit. In the previous years the only way you could obtain a permit was by calling the Havasupai Tourist office and pray you get someone to answer. This past year I made over a 1000 call attempts alone in just one day with 2 phones. I was ready to give up until I checked my Twitter feed to see if anybody else was having luck getting through the busy signals. Then out of nowhere I see a notification that for the first time the Havasupai Tribe launched their online reservation website. I quickly logged online to search any available spots and could only find availability for the month of October. With the new online reservation system in place, hopefully this will reduce the stressful process of calling. (Permits for the season will sell out in just the first week they become available during February of each year)
What to pack:
Once you confirm your spot at the campsite, there are some essential items you should take.
(Travel tip- pack as light as possible)
- Tent with rain cover
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad (helps for a goodnight sleep
- Easy-to-pack chair
- Lamp, flashlight, extra batteries
- Extra out fit
- Sun hat, baseball cap
- Hiking boots, pair of beat tennis shoes you don’t mind getting wet, and sandals
- Hiking backpack (at least 65L or bigger)
- MRE’s, snacks, 3 Liter water pack
- Portable Jetboil with fuel tank
- Light jacket
- Personal hygiene products including toilet paper.
- Trash bags (you required to pack your trash out from the campgrounds)
Getting to the campgrounds:
Upon arriving at the the Hualapai hilltop you have a couple of options of getting to the campgrounds. The first would be hiring a mule service to transport your camping gear or other items you wish not to carry down during your hike. This option is about $121 (per animal) one-way and can be booked in advance or the day of your hike. The next option would be taking a helicopter ride down to the Supai village and from there you’ll hike 2 miles to the campgrounds. This option is $85 but is only available during certain days of the week. Last option would simply be carrying all of your personal belongings and hike for about 4-5 hours depending on your pace.
We leave Phoenix around 7pm so that we can arrive early at the trailhead. This is done so that we can get some rest in the car before starting the hike the following morning. Be sure to drive with caution when going through Indian Road 18 as there are lots of animals crossing the road or simply just posted there like this cow we saw.
We begin the 10+ mile trek as soon as the Sun comes out. We decided to skip out on using the Saddle & Packing service and just carry our own items down to the campgrounds. Throughout the hike we take several breaks as carrying 30+ pounds of camping gear can tire you out.
About 4 hours later we reach the Tourist office to check in and grab our permit bracelets. From there we hike the final stretch to the campgrounds. I could tell my girlfriend was very anxious to arrive and I was starting to feel fatigue with one mile to go. Finally when my legs were about to give out, I turned a corner and spotted those mesmerizing Havasu Falls. We rushed to set up camp and returned to jump in the water.
We ended the day with some delicious local fry bread which is sold at a stand right outside of the campgrounds.
We had the option to check out the Havasu Creek and Colorado River confluence which would be a 16 mile round trip hike. I decided to skip out on that and wanted to relax more at Beaver Falls since I didn’t get the chance to explore that part before. From the campgrounds to Beaver Falls only requires a 7 mile round trip hike. Along the way you will first encounter Mooney Falls which is the tallest falls of the 4 (Navajo, Havasu, Mooney, and Beaver). The path to Mooney Falls is a bit rugged and it is not recommended for those who are scared of heights or have any sort of physical limitation. Before you reach the bottom it starts to get very slippery due to the all the mist that comes from the powerful waterfalls. If you can get past that part, the rest is cake as you simply follow the trail to Beaver Falls.
It was time to pack up from our campsite and head home. A few of the crew members encountered unexpected physical limitations during the trip so we all decided to take the helicopter back to the hilltop. If you decide to fly versus hiking back, then it’s important to know that it’s a first come first serve basis for the helicopter service. We left the campsite around 6:30am and hiked 2 miles to the Supai village. A line had already formed prior to me arriving and found out the first person there was waiting since 6am.
The first flight takes off at 10am and will make multiple trips from there starting with the local tribe members as they have priority. Then the helicopter will make rounds of supply deliveries followed by the rest of the tourists. I didn’t board the aircraft until approximately 1:30pm and went on a short 10 minute ride to the hilltop.
It was nice to take the easy way out of the canyon and had all the energy to drive home safely. I was also glad to ride the helicopter since it was my first time doing so. The trip was a blast and I have to give a shout out to my crew members for making this year’s adventure a memorable one. Best believe I will be ready to log online and try to get more permits for 2018 when the time comes.