Travel Guide to Havasu Falls
I came across some stunning pictures of an aqua-blue waterfall called Havasu Falls a while back and was determined to go there. Long story short, I located it, made it happen, survived it and made it home triumphant. There's a lot of planning involved involved pulling off a trip to such a remote place, so my hope is to make it easier for anyone planning to make this a reality.
ABOUT HAVASUPAI INDIAN RESERVATION
It took many months of research and about six weeks of actual planning to bring this dream to fruition. The place is called the Havasupai Indian Reservation and it is an extraordinarily remote location. So remote in fact that it is the only place in the United States to receive daily mail via mule. Supai Village is where the tribe lives at the bottom of the canyon and where visitors must check in when trekking to Havasu Falls. There are no roads in or out of the canyon, only one dirt trail from the top of the canyon to the village. Aside from what has been established by the local Havasupai Tribe, there is no phone or internet service in Supai Village, the 3,000 foot deep canyon where the Havasupai Tribe live.
Havasupai, pronounced “Have-uh-sue-pie”, means “people of the green-blue water” and the Havasupai Indian Reservation was established by Executive Order in 1880 and 1892. The reservation consists of 188,077 acres and the Havasupai Tribe has occupied this area for over 1,000 years.
The attraction to this place is its remoteness and stunning green-blue waterfalls. It calls to the hardcore adventurer in those of us who love a challenge. Photographers, campers and outdoor enthusiasts from around the world come to photograph and play in the falls, the most famous of which is Havasu Falls. Mooney Falls, which is twice the height of Havasu, and Navajo Falls are also striking.
Havasu Falls is located on the Havasupai Indian Reservation in Havasu Canyon. It is situated in the northwestern part of Arizona surrounded by the Grand Canyon on all sides but the south. The road onto the reservation is Indian Rt. 18 as it junctures with Rt. 66, 30 miles to the west of Seligman, AZ (about 30 minutes from Seligman). The drive to the Hualapai Hilltop, where the trailhead into the canyon begins, is about 1 and 1/2 hours northwest from Seligman, AZ, 4 &1/2 hours east from Las Vegas, NV and about 5 hours north from Phoenix, AZ. Many mistake Havasu Canyon for the Grand Canyon but since it is an Indian Reservation it is outside of the jurisdiction of the National Park Services and is therefore governed by the Havasupai Tribe, but surrounded by the Grand Canyon.
With no hotels near the Hualapai Hilltop (at the trailhead where you'll leave your vehicle and start your descent into the canyon), the best course of action is to drive all day and stop for the night in Seligman, Arizona, which is 90 miles southeast of the Hilltop, is the last bit of civilization you’ll see if you're coming from the south (Phoenix) or east (Flagstaff, etc). If you're coming from Las Vegas, Peach Springs, AZ is 75 miles southwest from the Hilltop. There are lodging and restaurants in both Seligman and Peach Springs, and both are along the historic Rt. 66.
You can choose to fly into Las Vegas, NV or Phoenix, AZ if you are not close enough to drive from home. Seligman is at the juncture of I-40 and the famous Rt. 66.
- From Phoenix to Seligman- 2 hours 45 minutes (you'd have to drive through Seligman from Phoenix to the Hilltop anyway, so you may as well get a good rest and start early the next morning toward the Hilltop)
- From Las Vegas to Seligman- 2 hours and 40 minutes
The drive from Seligman to the Hilltop is relatively simple, but if you use Google Maps for directions, you should know that the trip from Seligman to the Hualapai Hilltop at the trailhead is not three hours as Google claims. It's about an hour and ½, which is half the time Google predicts it’ll take you to get there. Not only that, Google Maps may give you three options to get to the Hilltop, two of them appearing shorter than the way I am about to tell you. Don’t believe Google in this case! Those two other roads you may be given as options are actually for off-road vehicles and will take more than 3-4 hours to get you there.
In fact, consider this a warning not to trust Google Maps if it tells you to take any route other than Rt. 66 to Indian Road 18. It appears that Google has finally corrected this error and may not advise you to take a shortcut, which is actually a trap. You can watch the story of Amber VanHecke who followed Google Maps to the short cut rather than taking Rt. 66 to Indian Road 18. She got lost. And ran out of gas. And it was bad.
- From Seligman, take Rt. 66 West for almost 30 miles before turning right onto Indian Road 18, which will take you 60 miles to the Hilltop.
- From Peach Springs, take Rt. 66 East for 7 miles and turn left onto Indian Road 18, which will take you 60 miles to the Hilltop. It’s that easy.
THE TRAILHEAD AND HUALAPAI HILLTOP
The trailhead to Supai Village begins at the Hualapai Hilltop, where people park their vehicles and start their descent deep into the canyon. Don’t worry; security patrols the Hilltop to ensure the safety of everyone’s vehicles. There is a bathroom at the Hilltop along with a few vendors selling water and snacks, but there are no other services there. No gas stations, lodging, stores, etc.
There are several options to get from the Hualapai Hilltop to Supai Villiage.
1) Hike eight miles to Supai Village and stay at the Supai Lodge.
2) Hike 10 miles, going through Supai Village adding an additional two miles to get to the campgrounds. You can arrange to have your gear taken down by mule on the Hilltop if your load is too heavy.
3) You can ride a horse to the Lodge or campground.
4) You can helicopter in from the Hilltop to the landing pad in Supai Village for $85 per person one way, but the chopper only flies on certain days of the week and Navajo Tribal members are given priority so it is a first-come, first-served waiting game.
**Helicopter services are not daily! Check the flight schedule before booking a room at the Lodge or campgrounds to coordinate your stay!
If you choose to hike, the trail begins with a mile long steep ascent into the canyon’s floor. This is how most people make it to the bottom. The eight mile trail to Supai Village is over dirt and loose rock. Some describe it as an easy hike, and it can be, IF you are prepared. My travel buddy and I were able to stay at the Supai Lodge and didn’t need a tent or a lot of extra food, but we still lugged about 35-40 lbs. on our backs. It became diabolical by the 6 mile mark. My feet were developing blisters and my backpack was digging into my shoulders giving me shoulder and back pain. I would recommend the pre-emptive use of Moleskins on areas of your feet you’d want to protect from blistering. The last two to three miles were brutal but beautiful. In fact as tough as the hike was near the end, I would have hated to miss the gorgeous views throughout the canyon which ended with a striking greenish-blue river that guided us to Supai Village.
Many people, including myself, opt to fly out of the village for $85 rather than lug 35+lbs. in a backpack up the grueling eight – ten mile hike out. It took only 4 minutes to reach the Hilltop in the chopper… whereas the hike into Supai took us over 5 hours! We made good time hiking in, despite a very slow pace after the first 6 miles, but the rule of thumb is to allow for a five to seven hour hike to the Village from the Hilltop adding two additional hours from the Village to the Hilltop if you are brave enough to hike it back.
HOW LONG IS THE HIKE?
Good question! The 8 mile hike from the Hualupai Hilltop to Supai Village takes between 4-7 hours depending upon fitness level. You will be carrying a lot on your back unless you opt to pay for a mule to carry your stuff down, or if you choose to have it flown down, but I recommend neither. You'll lose 1/2 - a full a day of waiting for your stuff to arrive by mule or helicopter and you won't be able to start exploring the falls until you have your stuff.
I am a 48 year old woman in good health and reasonable level of fitness. It took us 5 hours and 20 minutes and the last 2 miles were terrible with the weight of our loads on our backs. Some fitness freaks have made it in 2 hours. If you are in relatively good health and of reasonable fitness, count on at least 4 - 5 hours as a general rule. On the return trip add an additional 2 hours to the hike as it's slightly uphill. Very uphill at the Hilltop.
Bring at least 70 oz. of water in a camelback. I drank 2 liters, which is about 67 oz. Especially in summer, you must stay hydrated. It can be dangerous in the dessert heat. There are no restrooms or water sources along the way so you'll have to carry your own water and snacks. I recommend MRE's from a Military Surplus store if you're camping out to avoid having to bring cooking equipment and additional food. MRE's are magical. And substantive.
CAMPING VS. THE LODGE
Supai Village is the epicenter of life in the canyon. You must pass through and check in at Supai Village even if you are staying 2 miles further down the trail at the campgrounds. Supai Village is important! It's like the Ellis Island of the Havasupai Indian Reservation. All immigrants must pass stop here before proceeding.
CAMPING- If camping, check in at the Tourist Center in Supai Village. There you will be issued a tag that must be displayed on your backpack as it acts as your pass onto the reservation. The Tourist Center is on the left next to the helipad as you enter Supai Village.
If camping out at the falls (where the campgrounds are) and have not reserved a spot before entering the reservation, you will be charged double the fees per night. And if you show up and there is no room at the campgrounds, which only happens usually during the peak summer season, you will be made to leave. Imagine a round trip 16 mile hike all because you didn't reserve and there was no room at the inn!
Doubled Fees for not reserving at the campgrounds ahead of time look like this: There’s a $35 per person entrance fee, $17 per person per night camping fee and a $5 environmental fee. That’s a total of $57 for the first night and $17 every subsequent night. If you simply show up without reservations you’ll be paying $114 for one night in the campgrounds for the first night, plus a 10% tax, and a $34 camping fee for every subsequent night.
One of the main benefits of camping is the proximity to the several waterfalls in Havasupai. Staying at the lodge means a downhill hike, very steep at points, for two miles. That’s a two mile uphill hike back to the lodge after visiting the falls, which isn’t always fun after a full day of hiking. But if I can do it, you definitely can do it!
The campgrounds are quite clean and have a good amount of restrooms. There are also water spickets clearly marked so you don't have to bring 3 days worth of water on your own.
THE LODGE- If you are staying at the Supai Lodge in Supai Village (which is 2 miles from the falls), you do not need to check in at the Tourist Center and can proceed directly to the Lodge where you will be given your pass for entrance onto the reservation.
Operating hours at the lodge are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. If you arrive after hours YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO CHECK INTO YOUR ROOM! Make sure you plan your hike into the canyon so that you arrive well before 5 p.m.
Regarding the Supai Lodge… On the positive side, it’ll give you the shower and bed that you need. On the negative side, the Navajo who manage this lodge know you need them more than they need you and they don’t hide it. Knowing we had to be at the lodge no later than 5pm, because it is only open from 8am to 5pm, my travel buddy and I nearly crawled up to the porch of the lodge around 3:30pm eager to check in and soak our feet. The sign in the window said “Open” but no one showed up until 4:20pm. We were petrified that we would have to spend a cold night on the porch and as I asked passers by who were Navajo if the front desk lady would be back, I was told, “Maybe. Or maybe not. They’re kind of on their own schedule here.” I’d read many reviews on Trip Advisor warning that “The front desk clerk made us wait 20 minutes (or longer… much longer) before we could check in” but I had no idea that she left the premises for hours at a time. Customer service is non-existent but remember, you need what they have: a bed and a shower. And air conditioning during the summer.
In general it would take me 20-30 minutes of calling and recalling to reach the front desk from home when I was booking and checking up on my reservation. Other guests told me this was their experience, too. When I was at the Lodge over a period of 3 days, I saw why. The front desk clerk apparently likes to ignore ringing phones so she can play on her cell phone or fiddle with papers on the desk. Be prepared!
Fees for the Lodge run $145 per night for up to four people per room. Bring a friend and split the cost, which makes it more affordable. The permit fee into the Village of $35 is added onto the total cost of the hotel stay rather than it being payable at the Tourist Center when staying at the Lodge. There is also a $40 per night per person entrance fee tacked on. My friend and I ended up paying about $280 each for our share for three nights in the Lodge.
The rooms are 1-star and I’m nominating this place for the Travel Channel’s “Hotel Impossible”, so don’t have great expectations. No TV, no phone.. but, again, you’ll have a bed, a shower and air conditioning or heat.
THE REST OF SUPAI VILLAGE
The General Store, which is a small grocery store open until 7pm, carries milk, snacks, detergents, water…. Much of which you probably can’t use because there’s no frig in the lodge to keep anything fresh, but it’s still good for basic supplies. You can also purchase post cards and Havasu Falls t-shirts. It's kinda cool to send a postcard to a friend, or to yourself, since this is the only place in the United States that still gets mail delivery via mule.
The General Store is on the right as you enter the village, next to the Post Office and across from the Village Cafe' past the helipad.
The Villiage Cafe' is open from 7am to 5pm (later closure in peak season) and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Prices are reasonable, food is ok-good, and cash/debit/credit cards are accepted.
The Supai Lodge is the furthest building in the canyon, past the Village Cafe', beyond the school and just past the church.
TO THE FALLS
Going past the church, which will be on the right, continue 2 miles down the dirt road. About a mile of the hike is steeply downhill, which means it'll be steeply uphill on the return. The falls are in this order:
- Navajo Falls (on the left, 1.5 miles from Supai Village)
- Havasu Falls (on the right, 2 miles from Supai Village) There is a very steep descent from the top of the falls to the campgrounds, which lie along the base of the falls and along the river. You'll follow a path on the right down to the base of the falls where you can picnic, swim, or just look in amazement at the gorgeousness of it all.
- Mooney Falls (on the right, 3 miles from Supai Village and 1 mile from Havasu Falls). Mooney Falls are about twice the height of Havasu Falls and are impressive, to say the least. The are also more intimidating as the drop is quite severe to the bottom. There is a path that'll lead you to the very bottom, if you dare to scale it, that'll go through a series of landings and cave-like tunnels. Finally near the bottom are railings and a looooooong later that'll let you descend to the bottom of the falls.
- Beaver Falls (on the left, 6 miles from Supai Village, 4 miles from the campgrounds at Havasu Falls, and 3 miles beyond Mooney Falls). Most people don't make it this far because of time, days spent in Havasupai, and because it's a bit tricky wading through the river several times to finally get there. It's well worth the trouble but always have a flashlight and/or headlamp with you.
THE TRIP OUT
I opted to pay $85 for the helicopter ride back to the Hilltop. This is what the 5 minute flight looks like:
To view more pictures from the Havasupai Indian Reservation and Havasu Falls, see my Arizona Gallery.
THINGS TO KNOW:
-Only service animals are allowed in Supai Village. You cannot bring any non-service pets to Supai Village or the campgrounds.
-The Supai Lodge fills up a year in advance April-November. I was able to book a room a month in advance because I went in early March when the weather was supposed to be bad. However by the second week of March, the Lodge was full for the month and is booked through Fall. Pre-planning is key!
-Off-season maybe the best time to visit. You’ll have a better chance at a room in the Lodge, or more room at the campgrounds, and far fewer people than in Spring and Summer. Also the heat in summer is oppressive often reaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. That’s makes for a potentially dangerous 8-10 mile hike.
-Bring lots of water for the hike down! It was cool perfect whether for us so I only went through two liters of water but in summer months that should be doubled.
-Invest in good footwear! Good solid hiking shoes are important with non-slip soles and plenty of buffer on the balls of the feet and heels.
-Think minimalistic. Bring what you NEED, not everything you want. It’s a long hike.
NPS-Havsupai Indian Reservation website
Supai Lodge: 1-928-448-2111 / 2201
Havasupai Camping Reservations: 1-928-448-2141 / 2121 / 2174 / 2180
Helicopter Services: Airwest Helicopters and Air Schedules
If you need more information or have additional questions, please feel free to ask in the comment section below and I will respond as soon as I can.