By Diego Maloney
In what has become a worldwide phenomenon, Havasu Falls is the place to be if you love hiking, camping, and nature. The birth of the internet has also helped to boost its popularity (almost too much but we will discuss that later) making it one of the most famous hiking destinations in the United States. Located in northwestern Arizona, Havasu Falls is a part of a series of waterfalls on the Havasupai Indian Reservation which borders the world famous Grand Canyon. It, along with its sister falls, sit at the southern end of the canyon, just outside of the national park boundaries making it a part of the territory of the tribe of its namesake.
Here we will cover how to prepare for your journey to the Havasu Falls, how to get there, the sites to see, as well as your ideal packing list. Permits, lotteries, helicopters, pack mules and more to come as you begin to understand what it takes to reach this magnificent place and make your trip to Havasupai and Havasu Falls one you will never forget.
✦ Havasu Falls Permit: Havasupai Reservations
The Havasupai, meaning “blue-green water people,” own and operate the land where the Havasu Falls are located and access into the area can only be obtained through the tribe. Gaining permission into the reservation proves to be a difficult task, however. With the growing popularity of the Havasupai Falls area via online articles and viral videos featuring its magnificent waterfalls and mineral pools, it has become increasingly difficult to gain a permit and access into the area. But with a certain amount of planning and a little bit of luck, making it to this pristine landscape is very possible.
✦ Get a Havasu Falls Permit
No day trips are available for Havasu Falls and its surrounding area, meaning you must apply for a camping permit if you want to go on this trip. The permits are hard to come by with the registration period opening each year on February 1st. You can call one of four numbers to speak with a Havasupai Falls Reservation representative. Those phone numbers are as follows:
928-448-2121 928-448-2141 928-448-2180 928-448-2237
Reservations can also be made online. If you are making no progress with receiving your permit try your luck in nearby Kanab, Utah where 300 to 400 people stand in line every day to be entered into their permit lottery system!
✦ Havasu Falls: Getting There
Since I live in Phoenix, Arizona it was easy to make the trip to the world-famous falls. The final drivable area ends in the Hualapai Hilltop parking lot, a 4.5-hour drive from the city. For those needing to fly to get to Havasu Falls, you will want to arrive in either Phoenix, Las Vegas (4-hour drive) or even Flagstaff (3 hours) where flights will probably be more expensive.
✦ Havasu Falls: Where to Stay Before You Go
If you plan to spend one final night indoors before making your way into the wilderness, the town of Peach Springs, Arizona is only 1.5 hours from the parking lot. Peach Springs is located on the Hualapai Indian Reservation in northwestern Arizona. It is about 50 miles northeast of Kingman and 115 miles northwest of downtown Flagstaff. There are two motels with around 50 rooms each in the town making it a good stop to load up on last-second supplies before heading out to the parking area of Havasupai Falls. They are Grand Canyon Caverns Inn and Hualapai Lodge. Other hotel choices might be Sand Hollow Resort, The Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon, and the Best Western Premier Grand Canyon Squire Inn, all situated between 40 and 70 miles away.
✦ Making it to Havasu Falls
Havasu Falls is isolated from the modern world and the terrain to arrive at your destination is rugged but the land is untouched and the scenery is second to none. This means you will have to hike to the campground. From Hualapai Hilltop it is an 8-mile hike to Supai, the capital of the Havasupai Indian Reservation.
To illustrate just how far off the grid this place is the community has a listed population of 208 as of 2010. No estimates on the population have been made as of recent. Not to mention, Supai has been described as “the most remote community” in the contiguous United States by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It is also the only place in the United States where mail is still carried out by mules! From Supai, it is another 2 miles to the campground where you will pass Havasu Falls on the way. In total, the hike takes the average hiker about 5 hours to complete.
If you prefer not to walk there are alternative means of transportation into the Havasu Falls area. Pack mules are available for rent for $121 and reservations are required one week in advance. If traveling in style is more your thing, helicopter rides are also available. This 15-minute ride will take you directly to the village of Supai and costs around $85. However, they only operate between 10 am and 1 pm on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays. If you prefer to walk but not with a bag, the helicopter service does offer to fly bags to Supai where you can pick them up before hiking the next 2 miles to the campground.
Keep in mind that if you want to fly out, you need to reach the Supai Village and put your name on their list. The list is on a “first come, first serve” basis and they give priorities to the locals. Also, note that they do accept credit cards or cash.
✦ What to See at Havasu Falls
You have made it to camp and you are backtracking towards the falls. The Havasu Falls themselves consist of one main 95-to-100 foot drop into a grouping of plunge pools below. The high mineral content of calcium carbonate in the water creates its world-famous blue-green color as well as forms natural dams near the base of the falls. Here you can go swimming where the water is 4-to-5 feet deep in most places.
Stopping to have some lunch is a no-brainer with picnic tables spread out along the opposite side of the creek. You have the opportunity to jump from high cliffs into the water as well as swim to a rock shelter hidden behind the falls. Although, caution should be taken when either jumping off the cliffs or swimming into rocky corners of the canyon. But like with every activity included on this trip be careful; but that should not stop you from have as much fun as possible during this once in a lifetime experience.
✦ When to Go to Havasu Falls
Although located in the desert in Arizona, the Havasupai Falls area can get cold in the winter months. Finding the right time to go on this trip can sometimes prove to be difficult especially with the competition in getting camping permits. If you are able to pick a time I highly recommend you go in May or October. These months offer the best swimming and hiking combination for those looking to take a dip in the blue-green waters of Havasu Creek.
If swimming is a main focus on your Havasu Falls trip then June to September is your best bet with summer temperatures reaching as high as 99°F. If you are not excited about getting in the water then booking a trip for April or November should be when you decide to visit these amazing waterfalls hidden in the wilderness. Regardless, it will be cold in the mornings, so be sure to pack a jacket even if you go in the summer, as it gets cold at night.
✦ What to Bring to Havasu Falls: Packing List
Speaking of which, let’s discuss the ideal pack to bring on your Havasu Falls adventure. As far as clothing goes, remember that the temperature can fluctuate throughout the day so think layers. Short sleeves, long sleeves, and jackets are all recommended to be the most prepared out of anyone in Havasupai. Here is everything you will need for your Havasupai trip:
- Hiking boots
- Tent or hammock
- Sleeping bag
- Bathing suit
- Water bottle
- Water filter
- First aid kit
- Trash bags
- Camelbak (small day pack)
- Bug spray
- Trekking Poles
Some optional items that you can bring also include:
- Inflatable pool rafts
- Waterproof phone case
- Water shoes
- Lip balm
✦ The Sisters of Havasu Falls (The Waterfalls of Havasupai)
Havasu Falls is not the only waterfall in this remote area. In addition to the more famous Havasu Falls, there is the Upper and Lower Navajo Falls about halfway between the village of Supai and the campground. These fall about 50 and 30 ft respectively. While Lower Navajo Falls empties in a barren swimming hole, Upper Navajo Falls is surrounded by lush greenery reminiscent of an Arabian desert oasis. Located just past the campground is Mooney Falls which can be accessed by following the main trail. This is the tallest of the falls in the canyon with a 210-foot drop.
For the average hiker, the trip should end here. The rest of the trail around the tributary is extremely rugged and is only recommended for experienced hikers. In order to gain access to the bottom of the falls and its pool, a rugged and very dangerous descent is required. Located on the left side looking downstream, the first half of the trail is only moderately difficult. Once you reach the halfway point extreme caution should be taken as the steepness of the trail becomes that of climbing down a ladder. Mist from the waterfall makes the rocks very slippery, so chains and handholds help in climbing down.
From there you can hike to the fifth and final set of falls of the Havasupai area, Beaver Falls. What is more of a set of smaller falls, Beaver Falls is 3 or 4 miles from the bottom of the slippery, rocky Hell you call a trail at Mooney Falls. The limestone pools are small but still offer good swimming for those that make the trek. From here, another 3 miles down the trail is the confluence of the Havasupai Falls marking the end of the falls where the water flows into the raging water of the Colorado River. You will cross several makeshift bridges over Havasu Creek along the rocky and sometimes steep trail that can be difficult to follow even for experienced hikers.
✦ Havasu Falls: Conclusion
Havasu Falls and the equally impressive waterfalls that it shares Havasupai with are both stunning and majestic thanks in big part to its remote location. Being hidden from the rest of the world has helped to sustain its natural beauty for millions of years. And now, with the area under constant surveillance by rangers and Havasupai reservation police, generations to come will have the opportunity to see these clear blue-green waters that have made the area so famous.
This is obviously your atypical travel adventure with roads and cars being nonexistent. But that is a part of the charm of Havasupai. You are able to simplify and just enjoy the nature around you for what it’s worth. Being forced into that should actually help you reach your nature nirvana in this canyon-filled landscape. Not to mention that the highly sought-after permit to enter and stay overnight can only be purchased through the Havasupai Indian Reservation meaning that all the money is being put back into the community. And business is booming. I highly recommend this trip to those looking to get off the beaten path and explore the rugged landscapes that the United States has to offer.
Remember Havasu Falls is remote and takes exact planning to make the trip run as smoothly as possible. Having your group all call about permits on February 1st of next year is one way to boost the likelihood of getting a camping permit on the day of your choosing. I also mentioned before, nearby Kanab, Utah has a daily lottery for permits to the Havasupai Falls area so why not take a stop there. The town is only an hour from famous rock formations like Horseshoe Bend and Upper Antelope Canyon. Hitting all three is hard but possible and if you are having to fly into the American Southwest to see these natural wonders, I think it is worth a shot.
Good luck and do not forget to take lots of pictures!
About the author:
Diego Maloney has traveled to 27 countries in his short 23 years. He has lived in 4 countries on three continents (Chile, Jamaica, Spain and the United States). He has the heart of an adventurer having run with the bulls in Pamplona, sandboarded in the Sahara Desert, hiked Machu Picchu and scuba dived with sharks in the Caribbean. He loves football (soccer) and geopolitics and hopes to make a career out of these passions in the form of global security for events like the FIFA World Cup.