Backpacking Havasupai has been on my bucket list for sometime now and I finally got the opportunity to go this year, and it did not disappoint! Havasupai is a paradise of red rocks and turquoise water located within Havasu Canyon, a large tributary on the south side of the Colorado River. For over 800 years the Native American, Havasu Baaja people have lived in the village of Supai. Havasupai translates to “people of the blue-green water.”
How to Reserve a Campsite: No permit is required to backpack Havasupai although you do need to book a campsite reservation in advance. There is no day hiking permitted, only overnight backpacking is allowed. With it’s recent rise in popularity, reservations are quite difficult to get. I was able to book mine online through Sunrise Reservations. Reservations open up February 1st of every year and book up quickly. Since it’s a long trek I would advise reserving at least 2 nights and 3 days. You want to enjoy your time in Havasupai and have a chance to hike and swim in all the falls without feeling rushed! Here is cost breakdown for two people, for two nights and three days.
What to Pack: This was my first serious backpacking trip. I’m a beginner backpacker at best but had a pretty successful trip with my gear. The following is a breakdown for what I packed on my trip. Most is self explanatory, but I will touch on some of the essentials in detail. My Osprey Aura 50L backpacking pack was perfect for the trip. It was comfortable and fit all my gear with room to spare. The key to backpacking is having a proper backpack that fits as well as and having a solid pair of hiking boots. I hiked in my Salomon Quest Prime GTX. The Salomon Quest Prime boots are lightweight and I didn’t get any hot spots or blisters for the entire 20 mile trek! For clothing, I packed a range of layers, including a swimsuit, tank tops, base layers, and even a down jacket. I booked my trip in late October so the weather ranged from 75 degrees during the day and dropped to 35 degrees at night. Although the water was a little chilly to swim in, the cooler temps made hiking out of the canyon much easier.
If you want to bring a nice camera, I would suggest packing a water proof dry sack to protect it. You’ll be crossing creeks and hiking through waterfalls for most of the day—it’s always best to protect electronic items in a waterproof sack. You’ll definitely want to pack sturdy hiking boots for hiking in the canyon but you’ll also want to pack a decent pair of water shoes. There are tiny rocks in the water and Teva sandals made the trek through water so much easier on my feet. Lastly, pack a small daypack for hiking during the day. You don’t want to have to lug around your huge backpacking pack during the day. The 18L Cotopaxi backpack was a perfect size and folded up nicely into my overnight pack when I wasn’t using it.
How to Get There: The trailhead to Havasupai is about a 6.5 hour drive from Los Angeles. Getting there was fairly simple—I put “Hualapai Hilltop” into google maps and it lead me right to the parking lot of the trail head. I suggest booking a hotel the night before so you can get an early start the next morning. My husband and I stayed in the Hualapai Lodge in Peach Springs, AZ. Peach Springs is the last town before the 63 mile drive to the trail head so fill up on gas, water, and snacks.
Services & Amenities: After an 8 mile hike through the canyon you will reach the town of Supai. It took us about 4 hours to hike down to the town. This is where you will check in at the tourist office, get your wrist band, and campsite tag. It’s also where you can pick up a large Home Depot paint bucket to store your food. Although there are no bears in the area there are pesky ground squirrels that can get into your food—the bucket is an easy way to keep them out.
The town of Supai has about 400+ residents that live there year round. You can not access the town by car, only by horse, helicopter, and of course by foot. The town has a small general store, cafe, and post office. There is also a lodge located in town that you can reserve if camping is not your thing.
The campsite is an additional 2 mile trek after you’ve reached the town. Campsites are first come first serve so it’s best to get an early start on the trail so you can grab the most ideal campsite. There is a fresh water spring as well as several compost bathrooms. Each campsite also has a picnic table. Stoves are permitted but no fires are allowed in camp. There are no trashcans located in camp so make sure to pack out all of your trash! There are a lot of trees in the campsite as well, providing ample shade and making it an ideal place to throw up a hammock!
Helicopter flights between Hualapai Hilltop and Supai are available Monday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday, weather permitting. Fees vary, and tickets are issued on a first-come, first-serve basis from 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. $50 landing fee. Pack horses are also available for about $242 to pack a total of 130 pounds round trip, but I challenge you to pack out your gear yourself! My husband and I were able to pack all of our gear in and out of the canyon. It roughly took us 4 hours in and 5 hours out with our 30 pound packs. It’s much more rewarding to tell your friends you backpacked in and out, not to mention it’s no additional cost to you!
What to Expect: Sadly, photos can’t do it justice—Havasupai is far more beautiful in person! The bright turquoise waters look unreal. The color of the water is the result of having been stored underground in limestone caverns or aquifers for as much as 30,000 years. While underground, the water leaches out minerals, primarily calcium and magnesium. These minerals saturate the water and reflect sunlight, making the water a turquoise color. There are five main waterfalls in Supai: New Navajo Falls, Havasu Falls, Fifty Foot Falls, Mooney Falls, and Beaver Falls. I’ll touch on the three most popular.
Havasu Falls is a 100ft water fall—the first major waterfall you’ll come across right before camp. It’s also the waterfall that has gone through the most change in the past 100 years due to weather and flood damage. Formally called “Bridal Veil Falls”, the water used to tumble down in a curtain instead of a spout. Regardless of the change Havasu falls is tranquil and serene. It has serval pools and shaded trees nearby, a perfect place to swim and relax for a few hours! I got there around 8am and had the entire waterfall all to myself!
Mooney Falls is the largest of the waterfalls at 200ft and can be found at the end of camp. Named after miner D.W. “James” Mooney. Legend has it that Mooney repelled down the falls with the help of his friends. His rope frayed on the jagged rocks and Mooney dangled by it for three days until he finally fell and perished to his death. Several days later a local native was seen wearing his boots. When Mooney’s friends asked the native where they found his boots he said he simply walked down to the waterfall through the system of tunnels. You can access Mooney Falls through the same tunnels, with extra assistance of chains and ladders. I’m not going to lie it’s a treacherous descent! The constant mist from the falls make the rocks and ladder steps very slippery and dangerous. There are signs posted that say “Descend at your own risk”, so exercise extreme caution when descending down to Mooney Falls.
Beaver Falls is about a 2 mile hike after Mooney Falls. You may want to hike down Mooney Falls in your hiking boots and switch over to water shoes for Beaver Falls. There are multiple creek crossings, shallow bridges, and ladders to climb. I stupidly forgot my sandals back at camp and ended up hiking most of the trail barefoot. The soft red sand feels good on the feet, but walking over the occasional sharp rock definitely hurts! You’ll also cross a section of the trail with wild grape vines. The carpet of thick green vines make it look like a scene straight out of Jurassic Park! You may even get lucky with wildlife. We saw 2 full grown rams scamper up the canyon rock face!
When you reach the end of the falls there are several tiers and pools, perfect for swimming, lounging, and relaxing. I discovered after I left, that there is an underwater cave just behind the falls dubbed the “green room”. Be very careful if you’re brave enough to swim to it. A man drowned just this past May trying to look for the cave!
Havasupai is quite incredible with its rich and unique features. I can see why this place is such a popular backpacking destination—I’m already planning next years trip!