There is so much to go over regarding Havasu Falls! Note: none of the pictures I took really can do this justice. It is amazing.
First and foremost, this exists at the bottom at the Grand Canyon, on the Havasupai Reservation. The Havasupai people are an American Indian tribe who have lived in the Grand Canyon for at least the past 800 years. Havasu means “blue-green water” and pai “people”. This is not federal land, nor overseen by federal or state employees but the tribe.
This post is all about logistics, permits, getting there, hiking in and out! Part two coming soon! It will focus on when you get into the campground and the falls.
Permits–yes you need them! Things have changed.
You will need permits to hike in and out and reservations at either the campground or lodge in the village. There are no roads in and out. You get to the village by hiking, horseback, or helicopter. The tribe brings in supplies to themselves via horseback and helicopter. There is NO day hiking either. Its 10 miles one way, and you will get lost hiking this in the dark. If you want to read about my adventure in getting permits to hike in and campground spot, read my blog post on that experience here. It was not easy.
I have overheard people say as well as read other people’s comments stating “who’s going to notice if they don’t get a permit?” Keep in mind, the tribe allows only about 300 permits per day. So, how will they know? Well, as we hiked down, a tribe ranger was on horse back on his way up stopping hikers on the way down and checking your name and guest number against their list. No pass go if you are not on the list. Then, once you get into the village, you must check in. You give your name, your reservation number (which you do get in an email they send you) and you and your party get laminated paper carnival like bracelets you must wear the entire time. You also get a tag for your tent that must go on it. There are several rangers in the campground who do come through checking you, your bracelets, and your tent tag periodically. We saw at least 4 different rangers in less than 24 hours. As it has gotten more popular, the tribe has kept on top of it. We went the beginning of May and there were no open camp spaces. So, if you come down and think you can fit in, you won’t. I will discuss the camp spaces more on part two.
The Trail head
So, this is a long drive and at least 5-6 hours from Phoenix. You drive up the I-17 if you are coming from Phoenix (you can also go from Las Vegas, but not saving much in time) past Flagstaff, jumping on I-40 towards Los Angeles and continue till you get to exit 121 on the I-40 at Seligman. Drive down 34 miles to Indian Road 18. Then continue for 60 miles to Hualapai Hilltop Trail head. You can’t miss the cars parked everywhere.
Many people camp out overnight at the trail head in their cars and start out on the trail at first light. So, you might be driving Indian Road 18 at night. There are no street lights, and in May, there were Elk everywhere with cattle–open range and really no fences. Seriously, neither of us have ever seen so many Elk in our lives, at least 40 of them scattered down the 60 mile stretch. So, you are really driving this 60 mile stretch at 25- 30 mph if at night, tops, least you hit an animal, even though the speed limit is 50 mph. It made for a very long drive.
So, we camped out at the trail head, like I had read, many people do. We were surprised so many people were camped out in their cars. This is just a small part of the parking area!
There are port-a-potties but no running water. So make sure you bring everything with you before you turn off I-40. There is a hotel before the Indian Road 18 turn off, and I heard some people stay there, but I was glad we were at the trail head at first light and had already driven that 60 miles the night before. There is an office at the trail head, but no one was there when we left around 6:30-7 am. We did see women from the village hiking up to it about an hour into our hike down. They hike that 8 miles there and back daily to staff that office.
At this point, you start down the trail, about a one mile descent. Note switchbacks below.
The remainder of the 9 miles to the campground is down hill, but not as noticeable. If you are experienced, this is a great hike. Note the switch backs down about 1 mile in length. You will share the trail here with horses coming up. You will hike about 8 miles to the village. Along the way, if you start early enough, it will be fairly shaded. The trail is in many spots dry river and creek bed, so it is very slippery, and even with my wool socks and good boots, I did loose a big toe nail due to friction on top of my toe in my boot sliding. No blisters anywhere else though! Also glad I had my trekking poles.
Along the way, you will be greeted by the one ranger checking your name and reservations on horse back. There are many times where you will need to stop to let the horses go by. I have read in other blogs or comments about the poor condition of the animals, but all the animals we saw looked healthy and were in good condition. There are dogs from the village that run with the horses and the men back and forth. Occasionally, one might decide to stop and take a rest with you. They never begged for food and looked content.
There is about 800 tribes members living here, and it is amazing. Dirt roads, no cars. There are some 4-wheelers and tractors. Everyone is walking among the many hikers going about their daily lives. This is also where the helicopter drops you off. There is a hotel in the village you can stay at if you can get reservations. But from here, if you are headed to the falls and camping (remember, no day hikes!), you will need to hike the remaining 2 miles in yourself once you register at the check in station.
There is a post office here, store, restaurant, church, school, community hall, and lots of houses. This was a wonderful community of friendly people. Remember, this is their land, their lives, and you are guests, you are entering their home. The tribe administers this land.
Once you register and get your wrist band on, off you go! It’s like a carnival wrist band, and you must wear it the entire time! For more specific information about reservations, this website also takes you to the tribes site. Click on here to learn more about making reservations online (when it is up) or by phone for camping or the lodge. And again, to read about my experience getting my passes, read here.
Hike Back Up
So, the elevation change from the trail head to the campground is down 2450 feet in elevation and back up those 2450 feet. I am noting back up as a reminder that if you don’t start at the crack of light out, it will be very hot hiking that last mile, which is 1,000 feet up on switchbacks. If you plan right, you will use your 3 liters by the time you get to the bottom of the switchbacks. However, if you leave later and it is hot out, make sure you have extra water on you even if you are carrying it up. We did leave out late, as we spent some time taking more pictures of the falls on the way out. Leaving late wouldn’t be too bad if it hadn’t been 95 degrees outside by the time we got to the car. That day in Phoenix it was over 110.
As we walked into the village on the way out, we walked past Ranger Dave. His amazing tip for us on the way out? Buy a frozen Gatorade tip for the way back at the store before you leave. Save it until the end if you can when it has turned into an icy. Well worth it. Thank you Ranger Dave!
Here is the last mile on the way out. You hike up to the middle plateau. It doesn’t look bad from this picture, but I think I stopped us every 10 minutes n the way up. I was tired going up these, especially after just hiking 9 miles in the heat with my backpack. Once we got up the switchbacks, we got in the car and headed out. There was a vendor selling water, sports drinks, and snacks. This was out of his truck trailer and not a permanent feature. Do not rely on them to be there! Have extra water in your car to drink once you get back just in case.
Remember, 3 liters of water each way per person… be on the safe side! And grab a frozen Gatorade in the village on the way out–you will thank yourself believe me! Nothing will taste so good than this at then end of your hike out. Start out as early as you can if you are hiking May through October. It seems to be running about 10-15 degrees cooler up there than Phoenix, in the spring and summer. If you are looking at temperatures, put in the town name of Supai into your weather app. Despite Arizona being known for its “dry” heat, dry heat will kill you! I have lived in the Phoenix area for 14 years but on the way back, I was surely feeling it! And be respectful. These great people are sharing the beauty of their land with us. There are some signs stating no photos, such as at their graveyard. Please respect their culture!