The Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Havasupai Adventure

Storyteller

Katie Yarborough

Are you singing the Havasu blues?! There's two reasons to sing the Havasu blues. One... you weren't able to snag a permit. Two... you've been to this magical place and now you're desperately missing those incredible blue waters. Whatever your reason is, here's how to snag a spot, as well as, how to get the most out of your trip while there!

An oasis in the desert. A place for you to witness the Grand Canyon walls surrounding you while listening to the sound of rushing water outside your tent. Who doesn't want to see the incredibly vivid, blue waters against those red rocks of the Grand Canyon! It's a paradise for hikers wanting a little R&R, while still getting some quality miles under their boots. Here are my tips on the ins and outs of this magical place. 

Photo by: Katie Yarborough

PERMIT

If you've done any research before reading this article, then you know that there is only one way to get to this place LEGALLY because there is NO day trip hiking allowed. You must have a permit that you will get through the main office of the Havasupai Indian Reservation office found on their website here. On their website you'll find the Tourist Office phone number for camping reservations and the phone number to call to stay at their lodge. Reserving permits opens for the new year on February 1st. At least in 2017 that was the date. You will have to check back on their website to confirm. 

Here comes the stress. You've gathered your troops. Set out a plan. You each will call immediately, when the hours for the office start on opening day. News Flash--the odds of you getting through those lines is about the same as having your first newborn babe being kissed by the Pope. Kidding..kind of. IF you get through the busy phone lines to an actual person, you'll literally feel like you won the lottery. You must have stolen Harry Potter's Felix Felicis and drank all of it. You will do the most ridiculous and stupid happy dance. It will feel like Christmas Day, and Santa brought every single thing on your wish list. You get my drift. Don't be discouraged though, if you didn't get through. My group NEVER got through the phone lines and we got legal permits!

For those that don't get through, you'll probably want to throw that iPhone at the wall. It is frustrating to say the least. My group called 100's of times a day for 4 days straight. We never made it through the phone lines, but someone in our group randomly went to their website after days of calling and found out they had started taking reservations online that day! What luck! He snagged the first available date...9 months out. 9 LOOONNNGGG months later?! You could grow a baby in that amount of time--that's ridiculous! Might as well get that baby kissed by the Pope, too! Here we are in the first week of February, and the first available date was the first week of November. What a bummer. Then, I reminded myself not to be Negative Nancy and to be excited that I get to see this beauty of a place regardless of if I was in a yellow polka dot bikini or if I was in winter gear looking like a penguin. In hindsight, I'm actually super happy that we got November. It turned out to be an amazing time to go to beat the crowds and blazing heat! 

Another way to get permits is to show up in the parking lot and walk around asking people if they have any cancellations in their group. We talked to a few people who had joined other people's groups that did just that. Others weren't lucky and had to make the hour long drive back to civilization. Up to you on making that call. There were tons of cancellations when we went in November on the weekdays. Half the campground was empty! Weekends are a different story, as most people are off work and can make the trip.

Photo by: Katie Yarborough

On a surprising note to us veterans that have been doing this the old school way, it looks like Havasupai Indian Reservation office will try and keep up with the 21st century now. Their website states they are currently working with a company to bring the online reservations up permanently! Thank you, baby Jesus! We also heard from other hikers that they made their reservation for the following year by stopping by the office while on their hike out. Don't bank on this, as I did exactly this on my hike out, and I got the stern line of, "reservations open on Feb 1st of the new year." Then, I talked to some people on the trail out who talked to a different person in the office on their way out, and they got to make reservations for next year! I really have no words for why this happened besides the fact that they follow their own rules and aren't governed like national park systems are. It was either that or the fact that I hadn't showered in 5 days, and she didn't find my odor and looks appealing to her. Some people dig the all natural look and smell after hiking and camping for a week! Guess I wasn't her type. Never hurts to try though, so check-in before you leave and see if you have better luck than me!

HIKE IT, HOOF IT, OR HELI IT

While we all would love to be like the Rich Kids of Instagram, taking private jet rides everywhere while drinking Dom Perignon, it isn't happening at Havasupai. There are ways around the grueling 20 mile round trip hike, but only if you're willing to pay the cash for it.

My group initially planned to hike our packs out, when we made the reservations. I then had double knee surgery a month later (due to my amazing Alps backpacking trip), so I let the group know that I was going to need to get a horse/mule courier or take a heli ride to play it safe. If you're able to carry your own pack, please consider this story before booking a pack horse. It actually was pretty cost effective, if you share your horse and costs with others in your group. By visiting the website here, you'll see that it costs $121.00 one way/$242.00 round trip per pack animal. One pack animal can carry a maximum of 4 bags for a total weight of 130 lbs. Any standard backpack for hiking is within the size limit for them. Ice chests can be considered one bag with the maximum 48 quart capacity, not exceeding 24 inches long and 19 inches wide. You will make your reservations for your horse/mule EXACTLY 1 week, before you're scheduled to hike in. I called two weeks in advance, and they made me call back the next week...whatever, I'm a planner. Calling one week out made me nervous I wouldn't get a courier. They told me there were plenty of horses and to not worry that they bring in more horses, if there is a need. They will tell you all the deets for using a horse/mule for packs: tagging your packs, leaving them at the trailhead, etc. 

Photo by: Katie Yarborough

If you are unsure about wanting to hike those 20 miles, you have the option of riding a horse or taking the helicopter. Reserving a horse to ride is also done the same way you reserve a pack horse for your bags and is the same price. One week prior to your hike in day you will call and make the reservation. For the helicopter ride, it is first come, first serve with the Indian Reservation people having first priority. This means you may or may not get a lift. We met a handful of people hiking out pretty late in the day because they waited for a heli ride and got turned down. If you want to try to wait it out regardless of your chances, you better make sure to get there pretty early on as the line starts early. Flights start at 10am. You'll go to the second parking lot that you pass before the last parking lot at the trailhead. Here is where there is a broad shelf that the helicopter lands, and the line starts. Depending on the months, their days of flying change. Be sure to check in with the Havasupai office to see when these dates are. It costs $85 each way to fly; they take cash and major credit cards (cc fees includes $10+$85). Bags are limited to 40lbs each person. You could also fly your bag out for $20 and hike in, but you'll have to check in with the company the day of to do that at the parking lot. Again, even bags are first come, first serve.


Photo by: Katie Yarborough

Going to be hiking into the campgrounds with all your gear? It is doable. Here's what to expect. Depending on your speed, it will take about 4-7 hours to hike the trail. It is 8 miles from the trailhead to the village and office. It's then another 2 mile hike to the campgrounds. The trail starts with switchbacks for the first mile going downhill for about 2,000 feet into the canyon. It'll then level out, but you'll have no shelter from the sun for at least 3 miles. We had a beautiful and enjoyable hike because it was cool in November with about 73 as the high that day. We started our hike early at 6am, had 40 degree temps, and made it in 4 hours. Now if it was July and 115 degrees out, I'd be singing a different tune. Be prepared. Bring at least 2 liters of water, wear sunscreen and head wear, and start your trek EARLY! The trail itself is kind of tough to hike with the fact it's like hiking at the beach. The dirt is sand-like, and the paths made by the horses are mostly rocky and loose gravel. This makes it harder for solid footwork. You'll tire a little faster this route, but you can weave around the sand and follow others' foot paths to find more solid ground to walk. It all leads you to village. You'll check in at the village to get your wristbands that you are supposed to wear at all times. You will have free wifi while in the village. Stop by the store to grab snacks and drinks. There is also a restaurant that serves standard foods like hamburgers and such. It was actually pretty good! Granted after hiking in sand for 8 miles with your pack in the blazing heat, anything will taste like the nectar of the gods. You can also send a cute postcard out by a real Pony Express! When you're done here, head on down to the campgrounds. Your first glimpse of Havasu Falls means you're about to descend into the campgrounds. Get excited--you made it!!

Photo by: Katie Yarborough

TIME TO EXPLORE

There are 5 main waterfalls in Havasupai and a hidden 6th waterfall that we never found, in addition to exploring the creek flow near the falls. You'll pass the falls in this order: 

Each falls has its own beauty to enjoy besides the incredible blue waters. Take your time to explore all of them. You are able to swim, float, and relax at each of these. Our group got to stay a glorious 5 days (minus the time to hike in and out). We had tons of time to explore, which I am thoroughly glad we did. Don't sweat it, if you don't have as much time. You can easily see everything in less than 3 days. 

Photo by: Katie Yarborough

In addition to the falls and Havasu creek, we made it out to the confluence of Havasu Creek and the grand and powerful Colorado River. By far, this hike was my favorite. It was surreal to see those vivid blues merging with the rushing Colorado River! I loved it, even though I broke my toe and had scrapes for days. You will want to wear water shoes for the crossings, but also trade them back out for your sturdy and protective hiking boots for hiking on land. I decided to hike with my water shoes on and save time from changing out my boots. Water shoes don't have protection like hiking boots. I jammed my foot into a solid rock (I'm the clumsiest). My toe immediately swelled up and turned black. It was a hard hike to finish there and back. Don't make the mistake I did. You will pass tons of mountain goats and other wildlife, so be on the lookout! The 16 mile hike round trip is relatively flat. Make sure to leave Beaver Falls no later than 10am. You don't want to hike back in the dark.

Photo by: Katie Yarborough

PACK LIST

Be sure to check out Lisa's gear list for some great essential choices for packing! Here's a list of everything I packed for my 5 days:

  • sleeping bag
  • single person air mattress
  • pillow
  • toiletries
  • sunblock
  • bug spray (zero mosquitoes and bugs in November)
  • jetboil
  • backpacker meals
  • snacks
  • Camel bak
  • float
  • bathing suits
  • head lamp
  • water shoes
  • hiking boots
  • trekking poles
  • head wear
  • 2 hiking outfits
  • first aid kit
  • jacket (it was 40s at night and in the mornings in November)
  • extra trash bag to help pack out any other trash you find

That pretty much sums up my pack. I brought water tablets, but I never had to use them. There is a water station that you can fill up with that is purified enough that you can drink straight from the pipe. It didn't taste muddy or "earthy" at all. It was quite refreshing. It is located at the beginning of the campground directly after the horse corral, where they drop off your packs. There will be a sign directing you to it. There is also a little tent by the corral, where they make fried dough from scratch. They are either sweet or savory. Cash only. It was taco type food or funnel cake. It was quite tasty and around $5.


Photo by: Katie Yarborough

You are not allowed to bring in alcohol. They do not sell alcohol. There are rangers/police that ride their ATVs around every day patrolling the campground. They will confiscate any alcohol that is within visibility outside the protection of being inside your tent if you are not around. You will come back to your campground and wonder if wildlife got a hold of it. Wrong. The rangers took your treasure. If you are caught with alcohol in person, they may not kick you out, but they will confiscate all of it right then and there. Sorry, Charlie.

Make sure to bring a float. If you forget one, don't worry, you may be able to grab one from a group that's leaving. My group brought some awesome obnoxious ones (swan, donut, etc.) and loved using them floating down the creek for some lazy river days. I had a BERRY good time with mine :) Ha!

Photo by: Katie Yarborough

I loved my experience at Havasupai, but I was made aware by other hikers who did this during the spring and summer that the wait lines to get to Mooney Falls and then on to Beaver was over an hour long! This is due to the very tight quarters of the cave-like tunnels you have to pass through and the super muddy and wet ladders you have to climb up and down. They said it was a bit much for them waiting that long. We had most of the waterfalls to ourselves for hours in November. Again, we went when it was a little colder than normal, 70s, and during the weekdays. I think I got spoiled and lucky!

I'd 100% go back again. It was all worth it to see those baby blues! If you're lucky enough to get a permit, please enjoy this place responsibly and practice Leave No Trace principles

Photo by: Katie Yarborough

Cover photo by: Katie Yarborough

Published: November 29, 2017

Katie YarboroughStoryteller

Photographer, Backpacker, Coffee Addict, Nature Lover

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.

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