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The Ultimate Guide for Havasupai Permits & Backpacking

Havasupai has quickly become a go-to destination and part of every nature lover’s bucket list. This paradise is nestled on the Havasupai Reservation next to the Grand Canyon and has become a huge attraction for hikers from all over due to the turquoise waterfalls flowing against the bright red rocks of the Arizona desert. Keep reading to find out more information on the Havasupai permits and backpacking tips!

The village of Supai is located 8 miles below the rim of the Grand Canyon and has been home to the Havasu Baaja, People of the Blue-Green Waters, or the Havasupai Tribe, as they’re known today, for over 1,000 years. Since this village is so remote, all of their supplies need to be brought in by pack animals and by helicopter!

Just above the village, there is a limestone aquifer that gushes out the turquoise waters that this place is known for.

The only way into Havasupai is by a 10 mile one way hike or by a helicopter that only runs a couple of times per week. Permits are required year round and day hiking is not permitted. You must camp or stay at their lodge. More details on this below.

WHEN TO GO TO HAVASUPAI

Winter

If you go in the winter time, it’ll be cold and harder to enjoy the water, but better for exploring the area and the hike in.

 

Spring/Late Fall

In the spring and late fall, it’ll be less crowded and you risk variable weather. I went at the end of April and it was sunny and warm for the first two days and chilly and raining on the third. But if it is warm and sunny, it’s not as hot as it will be in the summer. The first two days of my trip were perfect days for soaking in the water (it was chilly, not cold) but not hot enough to not be able to hike.

 

Summer/Early Fall

The summer and early fall will be HOT. But it means that it will be easier to hang out in the water all day. But it could be miserable hiking in. There’s also the risk of flash floods happening because summer is monsoon season from June to September.

But really, the best time to go is for whenever you can get permits for! These are some of the most difficult permits to get! They typically sell out FAST at 7am on Feb 1.

woman sitting by waterfall in arizona

PERMITS FOR HAVASUPAI

These permits are REQUIRED year-round. The permit is for staying there, but day hiking is not allowed.

Permits open up on Feb 1 at 8am Arizona time (which was 7am PST for me). They sell out FAST. By fast I really mean FAST. In 2019 their site crashed and people spent hours trying to get them. Typically the only dates left are for February.

To stand the best chance of getting a Havasupai permit is to register for an online account at HavasupaiReservations.com and add your payment into so you can act quickly!

If you can, be flexible on dates, see if you can go during spring or fall months when people go back to school, or during the middle of the week.

Starting in 2020, the permits are for 3 nights and 4 days. Of course, you can leave sooner if you’d like. It’s actually the perfect amount of time to explore this area. One day for hiking in, two days for exploring, and one for hiking out.

 

Havasupai Permits are pricey!

  • $100 per person per weekday night
  • $125 per person per weekend night (Friday/Saturday/Sunday nights)

Basically, you’re looking at $300 to $375 for the permit per person for the whole trip.

Other things to keep in mind is that the full payment is due at time of booking, you can only use one credit card for the charges and there are no refunds.

Starting 2020 you can now transfer your permit to someone if you need to cancel. Or if you didn’t get to snag a permit on Feb 1, you can now get one from the transfer/cancellation system. This is actually how I got the permit! Get a transferred permit through HavasupaiReservations.com, login into your account and click on the transfers button.

Things you should know about the transfer/cancellation system:

  • If you’re looking to cancel/transfer, you can only transfer your entire reservation, not just one or two permits.
  • If you’re looking to buy the canceled/transferred permit, you need to get the entire reservation. So if you see a date you want and there are six permits, you’ll need to get all six permits.
  • The spots will remain on your reservation and the transfer will then be pending until/unless you cancel the transfer or someone purchases those spot(s), either directly via your sharing of the Transfer Link, or from the Campground Reservation Cancellation Page (should you choose to have it listed there).
  • Once the transfer has been completed, your reservation will be updated to reflect the transfer away of those spots – and your funds, less a 10% transfer fee, will be returned to your original payment card for each spot that was transferred away.

STAYING IN HAVASUPAI

You can camp or stay at the lodge in the village.

If you’re camping, I recommend going further down towards Mooney Falls. It’s a little closer to the river so you can jump in or filter right from camp, and it’s more secluded.

The lodge is in the village, so you’ll need to hike 2 miles to get to Havasu Falls. The room rate is $200 per night and a room accommodates up to 4 people. There is a $40 deposit per room per night and then you’ll be charged a $55 entrance fee per person upon arrival, all fees are taxable by 10%. To make a reservation call (928) 448-2111 or (928) 448-2201

HIKING INTO HAVASUPAI

Permits: Yes, these are available year-round, day trips are not permitted

Elevation Gain/Loss: 2,500 feet

Lodging: Camping or lodging in the village

All Hiking Distances (all one way):

  • The trailhead to the campground: 10 miles
  • The trailhead to village: 8 miles
  • Campground to Mooney Falls: 0.5 miles
  • Campground to Beaver Falls: 3 miles
  • Campground to Colorado River: 8 miles

Difficulty: I didn’t think the hike down was too hard, but I’m also more conditioned to hike the distance and the elevation gain. It did get warm quickly and the trail is entirely exposed so start early. When you get to Havasupai you’ll be hiking the whole way downhill the whole way and on the way up to the car, you’re hiking entirely uphill. You’ll be gaining/losing 2,500 feet of elevation over the course of 10 miles. Make sure you’re prepared for the miles and the elevation gain and loss. If you’re hiking it with a full backpacking pack, make sure to train with the pack.

The hike to Havasupai starts from the Hualapai Hilltop Parking Lot Area at the top of the canyon just outside of the Grand Canyon National Park boundary at 5,174 feet in elevation.

The whole hike is exposed without tree cover or water, so start early! During the summer months, you might even want to start in the dark to beat the heat! Most people opt to sleep in their cars at the trailhead before the hike. There are compost bathrooms. I also had cell reception at the trailhead (I’m on Verizon), but the rest of the hike until the village I didn’t have any.

Alcohol and drugs are not allowed on the reservation, there is a checkpoint about 10 miles from the trailhead, they check your vehicle and ask you to surrender anything if you have it on you.

The trail starts by descending into the canyon with a series of switchbacks over around 2 miles. Then the trail continues along a dried up riverbed that carved the canyon you’re hiking in. The hike itself is beautiful! You’re hiking with red rocks towering above you. But it does get very hot during the spring and summer months. I went at the end of April and it was 75-80 inside the canyon.

The rest of the hike until after the village is fairly level. There are a couple checkpoints where rangers make sure you have a permit, so make sure to have your confirmation number handy. You’ll also need to officially check in once at the village.

At around 7 miles in is where you’ll come across your first water source. You’ll start to see the water looking a little turquoise. If you’re running low, fill up on water here.

Just before the tourism office where you’ll check in, you’ll pass a little restaurant. There you can order food and get cold drinks. There are some tables outside for you to sit down and relax at. Credit cards and cash are both accepted throughout the village, so if you’ll want something, make sure to bring money with you. This includes getting a last minute pack mule, a helicopter ride out or a cold drink.

Then you’ll follow the trail to the tourism office next to a basketball court where you pick up your permit, you will need a legal ID for this. They’ll give you a tag for your tent and a wristband.

The helicopter pad is across from the tourism office if you choose to take the helicopter out.

Right next to the tourism office is the convenience store and a post office.

If you’re staying at the lodge, the lodge is in the village, so follow the directions there and check in. If you’re camping, you have another 2 miles to go.

On the last 2 mile stretch, you’ll pass the first three waterfalls; Fifty Foot Falls, Navajo Falls, and Havasu Falls. Fifty Foot Falls are about 1.5 to 1 mile from camp at the top of the hill to your left as you’re hiking down. For Havasu Falls you’ll continue on your way to camp and descend further down, the falls will be on your right. Havasu Falls are a short walk from camp, so perfect for soaking and relaxing in after the hike on day 1.

ADDITIONAL TRAVEL OPTIONS

Pack Mules

You have the option of having your things carried by a pack mule from the trailhead to camp. Reservations for pack mules must be reserved in advance from HavasupaiReservations.com.

This lets you put your bags on the mule and then you can hike with a small day pack. Just carry enough water.

There have been a lot of claims of the mules being abused. Something to keep in mind.

  • $400 from the trailhead to camp and back, the fee is per mule.
  • The pack mule can carry up to 4 bags with a maximum weight of 32 pounds per bag.
  • The bag size maximum is 36 inches long, 19 inches wide, 19 inches tall.
  • It must be a soft bag and nothing hanging off the side.
  • Ice chests and coolers are not allowed.
  • The drop off is by 10am at the trailhead and 7am at camp. There is a $300 extra fee for a late run if you miss the 7am campsite drop off time.
  • An Emergency pack mule is $400 one way if there are any available.
  • Since you pay for the whole mule, you can split one with your party.
  • Packs arrive at camp at around 3pm and back at the trailhead by 12pm.

Helicopter

There is also the option of taking the helicopter in or out. The helicopter starts flying at 10am.

March 15 to October 15 the helicopter flies on Sundays, Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

October 16 to March 14 the helicopter flies on Sundays and Fridays.

  • You don’t need an advanced reservation.
  • It’s $85 per person one way and they accept cash or credit cards.
  • If you’re going to take the helicopter, get in line at 7am or so. The earlier, the better. You get in line and wait. The sooner you get there, the sooner you can leave. It’s first come, first serve.
  • Sign up starts at 9:30am.
  • If you have a flight scheduled or need to be out by a certain time, it’s best to hike out.
  • If locals show up, you will get bumped. They don’t need to wait.
  • Bring a book to wait. There is cell reception at the trailhead and at the village.

You will still need to hike the 2 miles to camp or out of camp because it picks up and drops off at the village.

The helicopter will fly until everyone is accommodated unless it gets dark or the weather no longer allows it.

When I was there the helicopter when I was there flew 7 people at a time.

I hiked in and took the helicopter out. I got to the village at 8am and there were 15 to 20 people in front of me. I didn’t get on the helicopter until 3pm. Once you’re on it, it’s about an 8 minute flight and really cool to see the canyon from the air. It was sprinkling and raining on and off the day I was flying out. Around 2pm they announced that all flights were going to be canceled for the rest of the day. I was about 2 groups away from going! We all begged the locals and the pilot and since there were only a few groups left out to fly they agreed to keep flying. But be prepared for something like this to happen. If you are on a time crunch, hike out. If your pack is too heavy, get a mule and hike out with a day pack.

WHAT TO SEE IN HAVASUPAI

Fifty Foot Falls

It’s about a mile from Supai, the village and a little out of the way on your hike down to the campgrounds. This is a good one to stop by on your way down to the campgrounds. You might be tempted to keep going, but it feels so good to soak your feet and take a dip after the 9 mile hike you did to get here.

Realistically, if you’re staying at the camp, you’ll probably stay around the area and explore the other waterfalls down there and won’t pass this one until the day you hike out.

Take a side trail off the main trail (to your left if you’re heading towards camp) and head down to the river. Keep left until you get to a large pool right below Fifty Foot Falls.

Navajo Falls

This one is directly below Fifty Foot Falls.

This waterfall was created by a flash flood that tore through the area in August 2008. On my hike out of Havasupai, I hiked with a woman from a neighboring tribe who has visited the area at least once per year since she was a child and she talked about how she’s watched the landscape change over the years from flash floods and erosion. Imagine having the opportunity to see nature do its thing.

Havasu Falls

This is one of the iconic waterfalls of Havasupai. It’s less than .5 mile from camp. The bright turquoise waters shooting from this waterfall against the bright red rocks are just spectacular and definitely more beautiful in person. Photos don’t even do Havasupai justice.

From the top of Havasu Falls, you’ll head downhill on the final stretch from camp. This is a perfect one to hang out at on your first day.

I hiked past it, went to camp to drop my pack and set up, changed and came back to Havasu Falls. I then spent the evening swimming, taking photos and soaking my tired muscles. I felt like a new person afterward, especially after hiking 10 miles on an exposed trail under the desert sun.

Below Havasu Falls, there are different pools that you can hang out in and watch the waterfall.

For night photography, this is the best waterfall to shoot. It’s not too far or too hard to get to from camp and the canyon walls are not too high so you can still capture the night sky. If you also want to capture the falls in your shot, use your headlamp to light up the falls.

Mooney Falls

Now, this is a fun one.

To hike to the top of Mooney Falls, you just keep hiking deeper into camp. Depending on where you are in camp, you’re less than .5 mile to the top of the falls. You can even hike to the very top of the falls where the water shoots out. But be careful so you don’t fall over the edge, also it’s not advisable to swim directly where the water goes over the edge, but there are pools you can swim in further back.

Now the descent to Mooney Falls is fun, or scary, depending on you. If you have a bad fear of heights, it might not be the best idea to go down.

You start with a series of switchbacks, then you hike/crawl through a cave, then you go down some wet rocks and hold onto a rope and chain, and finally climb down the ladder. I thought going down was harder than hiking back up, but be careful and remember, if you decide to go down, you’ll still need to climb back up.

There are a couple of gloves you can use and I took one but I didn’t really need it. It helped me to just get down and up and not freeze up while trying.

You’ll want to have a small daypack for water, snacks and your camera or phone. Leave your trekking poles and such at camp, you’ll need both hands for this. The climb is pretty short and shouldn’t take more than 10 to 15 minutes.

Once at the bottom, Mooney is spectacular! And there are miles of turquoise pools and rivers to explore.

Beaver Falls

To get to these falls, it’s 6 miles round trips (3 one way) from camp. Once down at Mooney (yes you need to get down to Mooney to hike here), you just keep on hiking. There will be a trail on the side of the stairs/cliff you just got down from. The trail itself is fairly easy. It does get hot and exposed.

You’ll have 3 water crossings before you get there, and these aren’t the type of water crossing where you can hop on rocks across. I highly recommend wearing comfortable water shoes that you can hike in. I had blisters from the hike down, so I wore my wood Inijni toe socks and my Keen X water shoes and I was comfortable. I took off the socks once I got to Beaver Falls.

With water shoes, you also can enjoy the area and the hike more since you’re not worried about stepping on a sharp rock or getting your hiking shoes wet. But make sure you can hike in your water shoes, that’s a key takeaway, so don’t wear flip flops.

The hike down here was beautiful! There is water almost everywhere along the trail so you can filter, the river is beautiful and the whole place feels surreal. There will be some ladders and a bit of scrambling in the final stretch to Beaver Falls.

There might be a ranger at the top of the falls, make sure to show the ranger your wristband and give them your name.

Confluence

This is a 16 mile round trip hike from the campground and 8 miles round trip from Beaver Falls.

The Confluence is where the turquoise from Havasu Creek meets the brown Colorado River. The trail is poorly marked and it’s not on the map you get from the tourism office when you pick up your permit. I recommend bringing a GPS map for this one.

The trail to the Confluence continues to the right of the creek once you’re at Beaver Falls. You’ll notice a few rock cairns to the right that will help guide you to the path. You hike up and over the ridge and down the creek. Once you’re at the creek, you continue on for 4 miles. Although the trail can be difficult to find, it always follows the creek.

Be careful in this area and hiking past the Confluence, it’s not patrolled by the Havasupai rangers.

Key Takeaways

  • Bring enough water for a 10 mile hike through the desert.
  • Bring a water filter.
  • Bring your ID and money (credit cards or cash).
  • Carry a screenshot or printed version of your permit confirmation. DON’T show up without it. I was checked 2 times on the way down before I even got to the tourism office to pick up my permit.
  • Bring comfortable water shoes that you can also hike in.
  • You can sleep in a tent or in a hammock, there are trees everywhere.
  • There are squirrels and other critters that will chew through your pack or tent to get into your food. So bring a rack sack, something that hides scent and you can hang, or a bear canister. Don’t feed the wildlife!
  • Follow leave no trace principles!
  • The reservation doesn’t allow alcohol, drugs, drones, or diving.
  • When driving to the trailhead, watch out for wildlife! They all come out at night.

HAVASUPAI PACKING LIST

Make sure to bring water shoes that you can also hike in! – I wore the Keen Whisper Sandals. This is huge because it will help you hang out in water so you’re not worried about stepping on a sharp rock, and when you hike around the area, you won’t need to worry about getting your hiking boots wet. And they’re great to wear in camp.

Hammock and/or tent – There are trees all over camp so it’s very easy to just stay in a hammock or you can bring your tent. You can even bring both! I use the Mountain Hardwear Ghost UL 2 tent and the ENO JungleNest Hammock, it keeps the bugs out!

Backpacking backpack – I wear the Osprey Aura 65 pack.

Small day pack – You’re going to want a small day pack to explore the local area with. Since I backpack a lot, I carry the Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Day Pack. It compresses down really small and easily fit everything I needed for the day to explore Havasu Creek.

Sleeping bag – I use the Nemo Jam 15 sleeping bag. It’s a spoon shaped bag which is perfect for side sleepers, it features gills to help keep you cool, it weighs 2lbs 15oz and is rated for 15 degrees. The Nemo Jam 30 sleeping bag is a pound lighter if you’re looking for a 30 degree bag. When looking at the degree rating, keep in mind what kind of conditions will you be camping in and if you sleep hot or cold. Also when looking for a new sleeping bag consider which shape would you be comfortable in. Your sleep system is very important because it determines if you’re going to have a good day on the trail or a bad one. Read through my blog posts on how to choose a sleeping bag.

Sleeping pad – I use the REI Co-op Flash All-Season Insulated Air Sleeping Pad. This sleeping pad is 1lb 3.4oz on the regular side. It’s also an all season sleeping pad, which means it will keep you warm during the colder months too. Selecting a good sleeping pad will help you have a comfortable nights rest so you aren’t miserable the next day, read through my blog post on how to choose a sleeping pad.

Pillow – I use the Aeros Ultralight Pillow. It’s small, compact, and lightweight! When backpacking weight does matter.

Kitchen cooking set – I use the MSR Pocket Rocket stove with an iso propane tank, a Sea to Summit X-Pot Kettle for the pot, a lighter to light the stove, and a humangear GoBites Uno Spork.

Water filter – Make sure the filter you choose will filter out giardia and e-coli. A Brita filter won’t do the job. I use a Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter System with a Smart Water bottle and filter the water through the hose and into my bladder. A Sawyer is a light option but it does take time, there are gravity water system, pumps, water bottles, and so forth. For more information on water filters and giardia, read through my blog post.

Bear canister, other container or sack that will prevent animals from getting into your food. – Don’t feed wildlife, store your food properly. This isn’t only beneficial for wildlife, but also protects your backpack and tent from being chewed through by the squirrels and other critters. I have the BV500 and I fit 7 days of food and toiletries in this one. If you don’t need this big of a bear can, there’s also the BV450, the Garcia Bear Can, or for Havasupai, you can also use a rat sack like the Armored Outdoor Gear Ratsack Cache Food Storage Bag.

Head lamp – You’ll need to be able to see in the dark, right? Also bring extra batteries, just in case. I have the Petzel Zipka Headlamp, the band is retractable so it fits really nicely in the hip pocket of my backpack.

First aid kit – I have the Adventure Medical UL/Watertight First Aid Kit. It comes pre-made with things you would need for the outdoors. I also add extra moleskin and Advil to mine.

Sunscreen and chapstick – You don’t want to come home with a sunburn!

Toothpaste and toothbrush – Gotta keep your pearly whites clean and fresh! Prevent those cavities!

Face wash – I use Ursa Major. They come individually packaged so perfect for taking to the backcountry. They’re also all natural ingredients, and the brand is entirely focused on creating natural skincare products for the outdoors.

Eye drops – I use the Refresh Optive Mega-3 Eye Drops. They’re preservative free, the omega-3 helps prevent moisture loss. These were the drops recommended to me by my eye doctor after LASIK.

Hiking pants, leggings or shorts – I usually bring hiking pants and shorts. Wear whatever you are most comfortable in! If it’s winter conditions, you should also bring thermals.

Jacket – The type of jacket will depend on the weather conditions. If it’s raining, bring a rain jacket, if it’s cold, bring a puffy.

Tank top or t-shirt – There are SPF protecting hiking shirts, you can wear the tank top you wear to the gym, whatever you are going to be more comfortable in. I do suggest a moisture wicking shirt to help keep you dry.

Sports bra – I wear Nike Classic sports bras.

Underwear – There is hiking underwear, you can wear your normal underwear, you can wear athletic underwear, all up to you! It’s completely a personal choice, you just want to be comfortable.

Socks – I wear Injinji midweight crew NuWool toe socks. They help prevent blisters!

Hiking boots or trail runners – I wear Vasque Talus Boots. Your choice in boot is also a personal one. Make sure you’re comfortable, you are going to be putting miles on your feet after all.

Sun/trucker hat or beanie depending on temperature – Sometimes even bring both.

Sunglasses – Make sure they’re UV protecting! And actually wear them to protect your eyes!

Swimsuit – I never miss an opportunity to jumping into an alpine lake.

Backpacking towelREI Co-op Multi Towel Deluxe. It’s small and easy to pack with you. It also dries quickly.

Pocket knife – It’s just always good to have one on you.

My phone – Gotta have it for selfies, Instagram Stories (save and post later), photos, and to help navigate/look at the map that’s synced through my Garmin inReach.

Camera – I have a Canon T3i. This is not a requirement to bring and any camera works! Go Pro, Sony, Nikon… so many options.

Portable charger – Depending on the duration of your trip will depend which size you need. Some are perfect for weekend trips, or if you’re going on a thru-hike, you might want a solar powered one.

If you’re looking for more hiking tips, packing lists and more, make sure to subscribe to my email newsletter!

Comments:

  • DIana Fernandez

    May 7, 2019

    Thanks for sharing your amazing experience! I appreciate all the details and your pictures are breathtaking:)

    reply...
  • Lia

    May 7, 2019

    Thanks for the low-down on this hike! It has been on my list. Had no idea there was a cancellation/transfer page for permits. Just booked mine for next year!

    reply...
  • Ul

    May 7, 2019

    Incomplete without hike to Colorado river 🙁

    reply...
  • Lara

    May 22, 2019

    this was very helpful as I plan my own trip for next month! what time did you leave the trailhead and how long did it take you to get down to the town? I am anticipating it to take us 4 hours- does that sound about right?

    reply...
    • Jenny Kotlyar

      May 22, 2019

      I’m glad it was helpful! I left the trailhead at around 10am. I recommend leaving earlier than that especially as we get into summer. It gets hot and there’s no shade. I was averaging around 2mph with a 40lb pack (I don’t recommend carrying that much, I just brought about 7lbs of camera gear with me).

      reply...
  • October 31, 2019

    Thanks for sharing, I leave in 3 weeks!

    reply...

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