Guide to Visiting Havasu Falls, Arizona
By Carley Eisley
At the western edge of the Grand Canyon lies a landscape that looks too beautiful and surreal to be true. The sacred lands of the Havasupai Tribe (Havasupai = “People of the Blue Green Water”) are a stunning contrast of red/brown canyon walls, lush green vegetation, and turquoise waters. A visit to see Havasu Falls on the Havasupai Indian Reservation is a bucket list item for many backpackers, campers, and outdoor enthusiasts (aka – Escape Campervans clientele), and we are lucky enough that visitors are allowed access to these tribal lands. The trailhead is just under 4 hours from the Las Vegas camper van rental site and about 4 1/2 hours from the Phoenix rental location, making it logistically easy to do.
Why rent a campervan for Havasu?
You may be saying, « Why would I rent a campervan just to leave it at the trailhead for 3 nights? » Valid question. If you are flying in to visit Havasupai (which many of us need to do), you will need a rental car anyway. Depending on the time of year (and whether Escape is offering any of their amazing sales and deals), renting a van will cost you about the same, or minimally more. You won’t need any hotel rooms, and you have a kitchen at your disposal to make yourself dinner at the trailhead, breakfast before hiking in, and lunch once you get back to the car!
Once you are done with your Havasupai excursion, extend your trip and explore some of the Southwest. The Grand Canyon, Flagstaff, Sedona, Southern Utah, Valley of Fire, and Southern California (just to name a few) are not too far. Pull out a map, get creative, and explore some of the most beautiful places in the U.S.
On board with this idea? Great! Here are a few logistical tips to help get you on your way.
Havasupai Trip Planning
There are two options for visiting Havasupai: camping in the campground, or staying in a lodge in Supai village.
Some things to consider:
- Both options require a hike in. The village is an 8-mile hike. The campground is an additional 2 miles past the village.
- To see the waterfalls from the village/lodge, you will be hiking at least 2 miles down to the campground (Havasu falls is the first waterfall, at the beginning of the camping area). Mooney falls is another mile or so, and Beaver Falls a few miles past that. And then you will have a 2-mile uphill return trip to the lodge.
- If you are physically unable to hike in/out, there are helicopter rides available that you can book. They are expensive, and you may have to wait (especially if you are trying to get a standby flight out), but it is an option if absolutely necessary. These take you to Supai village, NOT the campground.
- There are mules that transport bags for a fee. The care and welfare of the animals had been called into question in the past so bear this in mind if you are thinking about this option. If you are physically able to pack in your gear, you should!
Reservations and Permits
The only way to visit the Havasupai lands is with a permit. The permits for camping go on sale on their website February 1 at 8 am Arizona time, and sell out for the year in minutes. There is no day hiking; you need to stay in the canyon to visit! New in 2019 is a website dedicated to re-selling permits. This is the only legal way to purchase a permit from someone else and is a great way to be able to visit if you missed buying one the first time around. Lodge reservations are a bit more complicated – they go on sale June 1 and require phone calls.
Things to know:
- It’s not cheap! Permits cost between $100 (weeknight) to $125 (weekend) per person
- All permits are for 3 nights
- There is only one name on the permit, and that person MUST be there to check in
- There is a group size limit of 10 people
Best time of year to visit
Be mindful of the time of year you are trying to visit. Temperatures can be pretty chilly in Winter, but the area is still beautiful and hiking is more comfortable then. If you want to swim, choose a warmer month but be aware that your hike in and out will be HOT and you will need to leave very early. Summer is monsoon season and there is a risk of flash floods which can close the area, so be cautious (and ready to move to higher ground if a storm is brewing). Normal rain does NOT close the canyon, but you will definitely want a rain jacket and a tarp for your campsite if there is any rain in the forecast (trust me… I know).
Getting to the Trailhead
The hilltop (aka trailhead parking area) is just under 4 hours from the Las Vegas depot, and about 4 1/2 hours from the Phoenix depot. The last 60 miles of the drive to the trailhead is down a rather deserted 2 lane road (Indian Road 18) surrounded by wilderness and cattle grazing areas. Be sure to fill up on gas and supplies before you hit this stretch! The closest town is Peach Springs, off of Route 66. Watch closely for animals on the road; the cattle cross all over the place. Try to drive this stretch in daylight to avoid an unfortunate animal incident.
Things to know:
- The actual parking spots will likely be full. There are many areas to park along both sides of the road that you can utilize.
- You can sleep at the trailhead! Just be polite and respectful of others who may be doing the same thing. They might also be crammed into a regular old rental car trying to get some shuteye and will be green with envy when you snuggle up in your campervan bed and emerge well rested.
- There is a checkpoint on the way into the reservation on the road, and they will search your vehicle.
- There are no drugs or alcohol allowed onto the reservation AT ALL. This means you can not have any alcohol in your vehicle once you enter Havasupai lands. This applies to the road into the trailhead and at the trailhead, NOT just the trails and camping area. If you are camping elsewhere before you head to Havasupai, make sure there aren’t any leftover beers in your fridge – they will be confiscated.
Hiking to (and from) the Campground
The hike into the campground is approximately 10 miles, with a steep 1-mile descent into the canyon to start out and then a gradual descent the rest of the way. At mile 8 you will pass through the village of Supai; there is a store here which carries some food and supplies, and the aforementioned lodge is in the village. Continue on for views of Navajo Falls and then, just before the campground, the breathtaking Havasu Falls.
Things to know:
- The hike is through a canyon. There is no water and very little shade, so start EARLY if it is warm (you can start hiking around 4 am). Once the sun rises over the canyon walls there is no escaping it. Bring more water than you think you need.
- The mule teams that transport baggage travel (quickly!) through the canyon as well; if you hear them coming move well to the side off the trail so you don’t get trampled.
Camping at Havasu
Finding a site
The campground is first come, first serve. There are no set « sites, » as it is more of a backcountry type campground with scattered areas to set up tents or hammocks. Most sites have a picnic table which is key for enjoying meals in comfort.
The creek runs through the middle of the campground and there are sites on both sides. Look for the wooden bridges to cross the creek and explore sites on the other side. There are sites right along the creek, and some set further back away from the water. All are beautiful!
The bathrooms are pit toilets. There are 3 of them in the campground (each has 3 toilet stalls). Again, these may be a long walk from your campsite and could require crossing a bridge to access, so keep that in mind when setting up camp. They all require a short set of stairs to access them.
There are no campfires allowed. If you want hot meals, bring a backpacking stove that runs on fuel canisters (we used a Jetboil).
There are lots of little critters that will steal your food! Keep all food together and don’t leave anything in your pack or tent – they will chew right through it. There are some plastic buckets throughout the campground that you can use to store food if you can get your hands on one. The best storage option is to pick up a rodent-proof food bag (we used a Ratsack but there are other similar bags) and hang this from a tree. You may end up hungry and with holey belongings if you aren’t careful!
The water source in the canyon is a spring. This may be a significant walk from your campsite, so be mindful of this when choosing your spot if this is an issue. We brought collapsible 4L water jugs which were perfect – a large hydration bladder will also do the trick. There is a debate over whether to filter the water; we didn’t and were fine, but if you are concerned, bring a backcountry filtration system to be safe.
What to Pack
There are loads of sites with information about what to pack/bring on a Havasupai trip. I won’t reinvent the wheel here. There are Facebook pages and groups offering tons of advice and information about visiting. I found this guide by Bearfoot Theory to be one of the most helpful.
Pack out what you pack in. Do not leave any trash behind! This means food wrappers, expired fuel canisters, ANYTHING.
The hike into the campground is just the beginning of exploration! Some people just opt for relaxation along the creek and at the base of Havasu Falls, which is wonderful. For a little more adventure, head down the trail to the base of Mooney Falls.
The hike down to Mooney is short but includes a steep descent of the cliff. You will need to be able to climb down ladders and steps cut into the cliff using chains to maintain balance. This entire thing will also be wet from the spray from the waterfall. It is a little adrenaline-inducing, but worth it!
After descending to Mooney falls and splashing around, follow the trail out to Beaver Falls. This is only supposed to be a 2-mile hike, but there are numerous different trails and I think some of them are much longer than that. That being said, you really can’t get lost as you are in a canyon so don’t worry too much about which trail you take. They are easy to follow! The trails require numerous water crossings so this is best done in something like a hiking sandal (i.e. Chacos, Tevas, Bedrock sandals to name a few. There are tons of options). For an even longer adventure, hike all the way to the confluence of Havasu Creek and the Colorado River!
Ready to plan your trip to Havasu Falls? Rent a camper van today!