We had the unique opportunity to visit what I believe to be the most beautiful place I’ve ever visited in my entire life in March 2017… Havasu Falls which is an area of land that has been owned and managed by the Havasupai American Indian tribe for the last 800 years. Prior to our visit Nick complained about the serious lack of information about Havasu Falls on the official Havasupai Tribe website as well as in various blog posts that he read so I promised him I would write an incredibly detailed (and hopefully helpful) post. Enjoy!
Reservations for Havasu Falls…
So, getting a reservation to visit and to camp in the Havasu Falls area is beyond challenging so an infinite amount of patience is required. Permits become available on February 1st and most of the permits for the upcoming 9-month season are booked up in the first week or so. The reason the process is so frustrating is that you must call one of the 4 phone numbers for their office… over and over and over again. They don’t have a voicemail or call waiting (what year is it???) and so you get a busy signal every time you dial.
We never actually got through to anyone but by some stroke of luck, Nick read an article online that the tribe had quietly launched a new reservation website the day before. So he hopped online and grabbed up 3 nights of camping for midweek in March thinking it would be less busy. What we heard later was that the website crashed after a week because it wasn’t actually supposed to be launched until 2018 so it wasn’t ready to handle that amount of traffic just yet.
Rumor has it that they sell 300 permits in low season and 400 in the high season and weekends are obviously more popular than weekdays. We talked to one camper who had called just 2 weeks before and they had a a few things available in March and only a few midweek 1-day permits during the month of April (and nothing during the summer months). Hopefully the system improves in 2018 but be sure to mark February 1st on your calendar!
Havasu Falls Fees…
2017 Costs (not including taxes):
- Camping permit – $25 per person, per night
- Environmental fee – $10 per person
- Entrance fee – $50 per person
All in all it cost us about $300 for 2 entrance fees and 3 nights of camping.
You can find up-to-date information on fees on the official Havasupai Tribe website.
Rules and Regulations…
Honestly, we didn’t come across any outlandish rules other than “no alcohol”. What?!? Apparently they have an issue with alcoholism among the locals so they don’t want it anywhere near them. We heard a nasty rumor that they may come by your campsite in the evening hours to inspect your drink but we never encountered anyone and we were most certainly drinking our boxed wine every night (SHAME ON US!).
Also, you have to pack out all of your garbage and no campfires.
Getting to Havasu Falls…
From the Havasupai parking area, it is approximately 8 miles hiking to the village and then an additional 2 miles to Havasu Falls and to the start of the campground. There are several options for getting there… you can hike in all of your gear, you can hike in and hire a horse to carry your gear, or you can take a helicopter ride. Our original plan was to hike in our gear but as we were gathering our belongings at 8:30am to start our hike we met a saint of a man who had paid the $120 to hire a horse but was only using 2 of the 4 allotted bag spots (the horses can carry up to 4 bags and/or 130 pounds). He offered us a deal we couldn’t refuse and we scrambled to throw stuff in smaller day hiking bags before taking off (we made some seriously poor packing decisions which included a Lululemon shopping bag and a shopping bag carrying glove).
The helicopter ride is offered for $85/person but in speaking with a lady who took that option, it sounds like you are only allowed one bag per person and are charged an additional cost per pound for bags weighing more than the allotted amount. We also heard that you have to get to the helicopter line early or you’ll end up waiting for hours. Locals get priority and apparently Thursday is payday so they all go to town to cash their checks. As we were hiking out we saw loads of people waiting in line to get out… it didn’t look fun. We also saw a few people riding horses out of the canyon when we were hiking in but I didn’t meet anyone who did it and I have no idea what the cost would be. They all looked miserable (but probably not nearly as miserable as we did when we had to hike out).
From the parking lot, there is a 1.5-ish mile descent into the canyon via switchbacks. This is super fun and easy on the way there and sooooooooo miserable on the way out. Especially while carrying a 30-pound pack (why didn’t a saintly man offer us a killer horse deal on the way out???). The rest of the hike is basically through the canyon wash so it is fairly flat the entire way.
Once you get through the town you begin to see some epic waterfalls and swimming holes. It is very tempting to say “oh let’s go on to Havasu Falls and come back later”. Trust me, you won’t. It’s so worth the stop, both on the way there and on your way back out. Once you’re at Havasu Falls it’s pretty unlikely you’ll want to head back to town (unless you need food or are staying at the lodge). It is BEAUTIFUL and sunny at the top of Little Navajo Falls (Havasu Falls only got sun from about 11am-2pm while we were there and we figured that Mooney Falls never got any sunshine) and definitely worth the stop.
It seems most people choose to start their hike out of the canyon on their last day early in the morning (around 5am) before the heat of the day. We actually opted to enjoy our morning coffee in our hammock and then stop for a swim at the top of Little Navajo Falls for another few hours and then start our hike out at around 3:30pm. It was great; it was cool in the canyon and we hardly ran into anyone along our journey. However, as I mentioned before, that 1.5 miles of switchbacks was torture. But that’s going to suck no matter what time you leave. Case and point…
Getting to Mooney Falls and Beaver Falls…
This is where I was confused at first. I was under the impression that these were completely separate trails and that each was it’s own day hike. That is incorrect. You actually have to hike through Mooney to get to Beaver Falls so most people do both in one day (if you do, you should definitely leave early in the am to get ample time at each). The campsites are all between Havasu and Mooney (in fact, there were several people camped at the very top of Mooney) so the two falls are probably less than a mile from each other. And Beaver Falls is about another 2.3 miles one-way from Mooney.
But be forewarned, the hike down to Mooney Falls is not for the faint of heart. In the picture posted below, you must get from the small white sign in the upper right corner to the bottom of the ladder on the lower left. It’s steep and slippery from the waterfall mist. BUT it’s really all in your head. There are chains to hold on to and hundreds of people (and children) do it everyday. Plus you can’t possibly have gone through all of this work to get to Havasu Falls and NOT see this part of the canyon.
The hike from Mooney Falls to Beaver Falls was easy enough. There are 3 river crossings which we did barefoot (most people we saw had some type of awful, ugly water shoes which were probably actually incredibly convenient) and some ladders and such but nothing crazy. And it is SO WORTH THE TRIP!!!
The Havasupai tribe forbid day hiking and you’ll need a reservation for the campsite or the lodge to stay the night. Thinking of sneaking in? We were checked 4 times during our 4 days at the falls. The first was in the parking lot. A lady sitting in her car has a list of the names of all registered campers. Second, we were asked for our name by a random man on a horse during our hike to the village. He wrote it on a tiny pad of paper. Not sure exactly how he confirmed our reservation or what he would have done if he found out we didn’t have one. We then checked-in at the Tourist Office in the village where we were each given a wristband and we got a tag for our tent. This was the only place that we were asked for ID and only Nick was asked as he was our “party leader”.
Lastly we came across a local waiting at the top of Beaver Falls who checked our wristbands and asked for our names. We chatted with him for a bit and I asked him about catching people sneaking in. He said a fair amount of people take a boat in from the Colorado River and then hike up the canyon which is about 4-ish miles to Beaver Falls. I asked about what the penalty is for those folks and he said that they are either asked to turn back, or to just stay on the Grand Canyon side (which is right below Beaver Falls) or just required to pay the entrance fee of ~$75. Nothing too serious. He seemed friendly and talkative and certainly not out to get anyone.
There are disgusting, horrifying port-o-potties at the trailhead as well as 3 decent compost toilets. There are no toilets along the canyon trail.
We did not take a look at the Havasupai Lodge but we heard from a woman who was staying there that they were super basic – no microwave, no refrigerator, and no tv (why would you need a tv in paradise???). But she said there were a few hibachis for cooking. Be aware that the lodge is located in the village which is 2 miles from Havasu Falls. So that adds an additional 4 miles roundtrip to any adventure you choose for the day… Beaver Falls becomes a 9 mile roundtrip trek rather than the 5 miles that we walked from the campground.
There are 2 restaurants in the village, 2 grocery stores, and 1 post office. We ate at the restaurant that was just outside of the village on our way out… we had the Supai Cheeseburger and the Grande Nachos. Both were awesome. They also sell fry bread, hot dogs, and tacos at the entrance to the campground.
The campsites are first come, first served which I was rather concerned about on our hike in. I figured we would be late and be stuck by the stinky bathrooms. Turns out there is plenty of room for everyone, so no reason to fret. We chose a spot across the river so we had to cross a pretty sketchy bridge at least twice daily but it was worth it to avoid being right next to the trail. The campsite was really large and we put some inconspicuous gear on the picnic table one campsite over to look like people were considering camping there so we had extra amazing views and privacy (again, shame on us!).
We did hear that during peak season, people are so packed in that they have to pitch their tent in the middle of the trail. But really, who cares? You don’t need to hang out there anyway when you’re surrounded by so much beauty.
We purchased a 4-gallon collapsible water contain prior to the hike because we were a bit worried about how convenient the one natural spring would be to our campsite. Turns out it is super conveniently located and only a short walk from every campsite (maybe a 15 minute walk, max). So we probably didn’t actually need it but it was pretty convenient for washing dishes and our morning coffee.
The compost toilets in the campground are actually really nice and not at all stinky. They are conveniently located and well stocked with tp (no need to bring your own).
For the most part, we prepared for this hike exactly the way we prepare for every multi-day trek; backpacking tent, 2 sleeping bags, 2 sleeping pads, 2 inflatable pillows, camping cookware, onions, peppers, carrots, 3 pasta-ish meals… you get the point. The only real differences were that we purchased a giant cherry floatie from Target, a collapsible 4-gallon water jug from REI, and we were sure to bring twine to hang our food and garbage from a tree as we’d heard that the squirrels there are tiny terrors. Turns out, the rumors are true. We had our garbage rummaged through and our poor neighbors had a backpack chewed through. We think that keeping our food in a dry bag may have helped as well…
How many days should you camp?
Honestly, no matter how many days you stay at Havasu Falls it will never feel like enough. You can make it as relaxing or adventurous as you want. We chose to spend 3 nights there and we made the most of every day… we started our hike in around 8:30am, arrived by 12:00pm, spent the afternoon swimming above Little Navajo Falls, and the evening enjoying Havasu Falls.
We were up on day 2 at 7:00am to get an early start hiking out to Beaver Falls. We stopped at lot along the way for photos and then had the falls all to ourselves for an hour or so before the crowd arrived. Day 3 we made our coffee by Havasu Falls and then locked down an ideal picnic table and lounged in our giant cherry floaty for most of the afternoon.
Day 4 we were back to the swimming holes around Little Navajo Falls and then had lunch in the village and started our trek back around 3:30pm. It was a nice mix of strenuous activity and relaxation and was absolutely the perfect vacation…
If/when we return…
We will most definitely find some folks to split a horse with to pack our bags out. It sucks. We’ll also probably hire a horse to pack our bags in and bring WAY more fun floaties and beer and bathing suits. And we will stay for a week, or two, or three. Or never return to real life…