What You Actually Need to Know Before Trekking to Havasupai

​Sometimes, packing for a trip isn’t just making sure you have the right gear. It’s about prepping your mind for the road ahead.​

Whether you’re an avid outdoor enthusiast or simply on Instagram, you’ve probably caught wind of the majestic turquoise blue waters of Havasupai. The towering waterfalls, the crystal clear waters, the red canyon surrounding it all - what’s not to gawk over?

Furthermore, if you are one of the lucky few who have snagged permits for this elusive destination, you can vouch that these waters look just as surreal in real life as they do in the photos.


Now, for those who dream of going or those who dream of returning, there is a bit of prep involved. Reserving permits (an absolute mandatory), doing your trail research, and packing your gear are all crucial parts of the process. But with 1,001 online guides about that (Like here. Here. And here.), this particular one isn’t a guide on what to pack, or how to rent a helicopter to fly you out of the Supai village. This also isn’t where you’ll find permit hacks or learn how to reserve a donkey so you don’t have to lug your backpacking 10 miles into the canyon.

This guide is to help you amplify your experience without contributing to the hurt this majestic land is feeling. This guide is especially what wasn’t communicated to me prior to my visit (even through thorough research), and hits on what I wish I had known going to this sacred place.

1. Bring a Sense of Respect

You are not just a visitor to Havasu and Mooney Falls, but you are a visitor to someone else’s land for the entirety of your stay. Havasupai translates to “people of the blue-green waters” and yes this is their home. The Supai tribe is intimately connected to the land, the waters, and everything in between, yet they graciously open the doors to thousands of visitors per year.

Now picture this. You live in a town of about 400 people. Yearly, more than 20,000 people visit for days at a time. Needless the say, those 20,000 people take a toll on your hometown and without their help in upkeep, you may never be able to preserve this place you call home. So, heading into Havasupai, keep this awareness close to your heart and make each decision with a sense of respect, as if these 20,000 people were coming into your home.


2. Pack Out Your (and Others’) Trash

There are signs everywhere that ask you to pack out your trash. Yet, many still ignore this. After you descend 8 miles into the canyon from the trailhead, you’ll enter the Supai village - a place where the “wow” reaction is a little different than when arriving at the falls. From trash scattered everywhere in sight to run down structures, this is when the reality of this land’s wear and tear begins to set in. For most. Meanwhile, many visitors to the campgrounds are only contributing to this by leaving their remains throughout the campgrounds, at the falls, and beyond.

But there are ways to help! Don’t be one of the many people each night who leave Mountain House packets at the campgrounds, leave deflated floaties by the falls, or drop trash in the bathrooms. Instead, bring trash bags! Pack out your trash and pick up others’ while you’re hiking up from the falls and the village. This absurdly simple task is so crucial for anyone and everyone hoping to reap the benefits of this land.

3. Adhere to the Rules of the Land

First and foremost, don’t bring alcohol. Those are words you don’t hear come from my mouth often (or ever, after this once). There is nothing I love more than a delicious beer after a long hike, and campfire whiskey might as well be my Instagram handle. But in the case of Supai village, the anti-alcohol and drug rules aren’t just about packing it out or being discreet, but they are laws of the land. So take your time here to forget about the booze and avoid being the obnoxious campground (insert obscenity here) trying to party.

4. Talk to Locals

If you do some research, you’ll see a lot of commentary on the locals. Rather than trusting someone else’s reviews of the tribe members who live in this place, simply talk to them while there. Ask questions if you’re curious. Spend time in town. Be open to the different way of life. Pay respect and tread lightly. You’re visiting someone’s home - be sure to get to know your hosts rather than simply streamlining straight for the falls.

5. Carry Your Own Gear

I know this is a tough concept for new backpackers or for those who feel they are not physically fit enough to do so. Twenty miles round trip isn’t an easy feat, especially when the last few miles on the way out are uphill switchbacks. But this is not only an important part of the experience, it will save a malnourished donkey from having to lug gear up the hillside multiple times a day. Although seemingly a recent area of improvement, these donkeys are not taken care of as they should be as they are helping run a seemingly teeming business of carrying packs for visitors.

There are many ways you can support the reservation through money and service that doesn’t involve using these donkeys and horses.


6. Bring cash!

On that note, bring cash! Even if you think it’s unnatural (or a cheat) to buy food when on a backpacking trek, this is an easy way to support the livelihood of the Supai people. The local community makes their income selling tacos, frybread, sodas, and more along the trail. Plus, if local critters get into your food stash at the campground, you’ll be happy you brought money to buy some.

7. Don’t Camp Where You Aren’t Supposed To

As with many beautiful places, people break rules. And although plenty of people visit Havasupai with the goal of getting a unique shot of the falls, breaking rules and setting up camp in prohibited areas will never be worth it. Instead, find your perfect camp spot between the campground entrance to the final bathroom. The area is huge, so don’t settle for the first spot, but find a dreamlike spot along the blue waters that won’t be damaging to the land.

8. Leave It Better Than You Found It > Leave No Trace

Supai is a place that needs our help. With the opportunity to witness these unbelievable sites, the least we can do is support these people and protect their land and their livelihood in simple ways. While Leave No Trace principles are crucial for every outdoor person to use, we can do more than simply clean up our personal footprint. We can (and should) try to ease the footprints left by others as well. Need some inspiration to do so? These “Beyond Leave No Trace Ethics” can help.

All in all, prepare yourself for the land, the people, and the beauty involved with a trip to Havasupai. It is absolutely a once-in--a-lifetime experience. Understanding the local culture and how to help ahead of time will only make your journey a positive one, rather than one that makes you simply wish you could have helped more.

Have anything to add? Let me know below! or follow my adventures on Instagram here.


Published: March 23, 2018

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound Collective.

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Clare HealyAdmin

Los Angeles

Adventure storyteller, outdoor explorer, and taco eater from the west. If you're in the California area, let's go on an adventure.