BACKPACKING HAVASUPAI: HIKING TO HAVASU CREEK + COLORADO RIVER CONFLUENCE
Written by Mina Young Lee. Last Updated March 4th, 2019.
Trip Length: 4 days 3 nights
Permits: Required, by the Havasupai Tribe
Total Distance: 20 miles roundtrip (campground); 40+ miles roundtrip (Colorado River)
Elevation Change: 2500+ feet
Notes: Drones Prohibited, Day Hiking Prohibited, Campfires Prohibited, Flash Flood Danger
Activities: Hiking; Camping; Backpacking; Wading; Scrambling; Swimming
Natural Features: Waterfalls; Creeks; Rivers; Canyons
Location: Hualapai Reservation, Arizona; Havasupai Reservation, Arizona; Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
In the unlikely chance one of the six jaw-dropping waterfalls didn't get your attention, hiking through the turquoise waters of the Havasupai Indian Reservation to the Colorado River makes you feel like you just stepped onto the set of Avatar in this adventurer's version of Disneyland.
HAVASUPAI TRIBE & INDIAN RESERVATION
Although the Havasupai Indian Reservation is geologically located in the southwestern part of the Grand Canyon, it is not a part of the National Park but its own reservation inhabited by the Havasupai Tribe, and governed by the Havasupai Council. The Havasupai people has been inhabiting these canyons and plateaus for thousands of years but had a large part of their original ancestral land taken from them by the federal government in 1882. They fought with the government and lobbied for their land for almost a century and finally regained approximately 11% of their original ancestral land in 1975, which now makes up the approximately 188,000 acres known as Havasupai Indian Reservation. This is their home, please respect the land and the people. Please be mindful and pack out what you pack in, practice LNT.
RESERVATIONS AND FEES
Reservations are mandatory to visit Havasupai. Entering the reservation without a reservation and/or day hiking is strictly prohibited. There are rangers at the parking lot and on horse along the trail checking for permits. Since the much deserved hype around this destination has blown up over the years it has been increasingly hard to secure reservations. Prices of camping have also increased to $300+ on a mandatory 4 day 3 night length trip. Starting in 2017, they have made reservations available online. Reservations open up February 1st every year and are almost immediately sold out.
As of 2019, All Campground Reservations are 4 days, 3 nights.
$100 per person per weekday night*
$125 per person per weekend night (Friday, Saturday, Sunday)*
*Prices subject to change, please check with the reservation for up to date pricing.
Office/Campground: (928) 448-2121/2141/2180/2237
Lodge: (928) 448-2111
Store: (928) 448-2951
Helicopter Services: (623) 516-2790
WHEN TO GO
July was too hot with temperatures reaching 115+ degrees (but awesome if you want to do nothing but lay in the water) and September's rain turned the turquoise waters into a chocolate river (that might be your thing - that's ok too). Flash floods are common in the area and are something to watch out for during the months of July to September. It starts to get really packed in May, especially during Memorial Weekend which produces the reservation's highest number of visitors next to Labor Day Weekend. April, on the other hand looked like we just found the Tree of Souls with floating Eywa (tree seeds from the Salicaceae family) dancing around making this majestic place feel even more like a fairytale, and it was the perfect weather for hiking.
HOW TO GET THERE
From Kingman, AZ (From West):
Take Historic Route 66 East
Turn Left onto Indian Rd 18 until it ends at the Hualapai Hilltop Parking Lot.
From Flagstaff, AZ (From East):
Take I-40 West to Historic Route 66 West
Turn Right onto Indian Rd 18 until it ends at the Hualapai Hilltop Parking Lot.
GPS Coordinates for Havasupai Parking:
Tip: Peach Springs Airport on Route 66 is the last place to get gas, food, and water. Fill up your gas tank and stock up on extra water to leave in the car for the hike back.
Hualapai Hilltop is the parking lot for Havasupai. There’s usually always a ranger on duty, toilets, and sometimes locals selling drinks and snacks. I recommend getting to the hilltop before sundown the night before hiking out, catch the sunset, then get some sleep by pitching a tent at the hilltop or stretch out in your car if its big enough.
GETTING FROM THE PARKING LOT TO THE SUPAI VILLAGE
There are two ways of reaching the Supai Village from Hualapai Hilltop. Backpack, or helicopter. For helicopter reservations please contact the Havasupai Tribe. This guide will cover backpacking and camping in Havasupai.
THE HIKE IN: HUALAPAI HILLTOP TO SUPAI VILLAGE
7.5 - 8 miles. average of 3 to 5 hours. first 1.5 miles descends about 2000 feet.
Temperatures during the warmer months can reach over 115 degrees, which makes it incredibly unpleasant to hike in the middle of the day. That being said, unless you're there in the winter, early spring, or late fall, I suggest starting your hike down around dawn. Night hiking is prohibited.
Tip: Take at least two liters of water per person as there is no portable water available until you reach the Supai village.
Once you reach the Supai Village you’ll need to check in and register at the village office. Their usual business hours are from 8am to 4pm. Here you will receive wristbands to wear and tags to hang at your campsite letting the rangers know you are registered visitors. Next to the office is a water station to refill your hydration packs and/or water bottles. Nearby is a convenience store for any last minute food purchases you might want to make (frozen burritos, fruits, drinks). There is also a cafe if you want to grab breakfast before continuing on to the campground. If you are planning on helicoptering out, make sure to check with the office if the helicopter is flying the day of your departure.
SUPAI VILLAGE TO CAMPGROUND
2-2.5 miles. 1 to 3 hours. Descends I-don't-know-how-many feet.
Even though the campground is only twoish miles away from the village, it takes a bit of time due to the sandy trail and unsuspecting holy shits that will be slipping from your mouth every .5 miles which will most likely be accompanied by a stop-and-stare as your mind ponders why the hell it took you this long to visit this majestic fairyland.
The first waterfall you will see from the trail is Little Navajo Falls. Despite the sign that clearly states "NO JUMPING OR DIVING," it is a popular cliff jumping spot. Since the ecosystem at the top of these falls is very fragile, I would highly suggest holding off on any jumping until you get to Beaver Falls.
It took my third visit to spot the hidden waterfall behind Little Navajo Falls. If you walk down towards Little Navajo Falls and turn left before you get to the steeper descent and follow the path until it ends, you'll come across a waterfall commonly referred to as Fifty Foot Falls.
About a quarter mile before reaching the campground, you will come across arguably the most photographed waterfall in Havasupai, Havasu Falls. As tempting as it is to drop all your bags and jump in, I propose going to the campground first to reserve a good campsite and then coming back for proper exploring.
The campground is one and a half miles long and features a creek which varies in width and depth depending on what part of the campground you're in. There's a ranger station at the entrance of the campground; take the time to say hello :) they are nice people. About 50 yards from the entrance of the campground is a natural spring water station to fill up your hydration packs and water bottles. I’ve had no issues drinking this water without filtration or treatment but check with the rangers to be sure. There are also well kept bathrooms spread throughout the entire campground.*
*Please note that there are no campfires allowed in Havasupai.
CAMPGROUND TO THE COLORADO RIVER
16-22 miles roundtrip. 8-14 hours. requires rock scrambling.
When hiking to the Colorado River you will be leaving the reservation and entering Grand Canyon National Park for the second half of the hike. Camping overnight anywhere but the campground in Havasupai is prohibited. Camping overnight in this particular section of Grand Canyon National Park is also prohibited (not sure if there's a permit for this from GCNP). In order to make the journey to the Colorado River, you must hike there and back in one day. If you want to avoid hiking back in the dark, start as early as possible and after a good meal packed with protein and carbs. Make sure to pack plenty of water (at least 3 liters per person), water treatment (check out my pack-list for options), headlamp, an extra layer, a first aid kit, and plenty of snacks. Durable shoes that you don't mind getting wet and that continue to have traction after they get wet are key for this hike as there are multiple unavoidable river crossings involved. Quick drying clothes and a hat which protects you from the sun is also essential for this hike.
The trek starts from one end of the campground and goes down the side of a 200 foot canyon wall to the bottom of Mooney Falls. The climb down starts with a rocky switch back and continues through a narrow tunnel to a steep slippery canyon staircase with chains to grab for assistance and ends with a couple of wooden ladders.
Once you get to ground level take a moment to take in the presence-commanding 200 ft waterfall pounding in front of you.
From here you have another four miles to go before reaching Beaver Falls. The path to Beaver, just like the campgrounds change often due to the common floods. If you ever get lost, just make your way back to the river and observe which side of the river you're on and which direction the water is flowing. Up river is the campground. If the weather starts getting shady and the water flowing downriver starts to look murky or has a lot of debris, get to higher ground as these are common signs of a flash flood. Usually the rangers here are really good at giving people warnings but it's always better to practice a reasonable degree of caution.
River crossings of varying heights, bridges and ladders made out of wood, dirt path, rock scrambling, and fields of grapevines that make you feel like you just teleported to Jurassic Park are all things to expect on this hike.
Close to the end of the four mile hike to Beaver, you will go through a short cave-tunnel that opens up to the water and has a ladder to your right. Going up the ladder will lead you up and over Beaver Falls giving you a nice view from the top. It is still possible to access Beaver Falls this way but it will require descending and backtracking. For the quickest and easiest access to Beaver Falls, cross the river and follow the canyon wall downriver to a ladder which leads to the first series of a multi-tiered cascade. To reach the second set follow the canyon wall downriver where a down-climb is assisted by some ropes and is followed by a potentially waist-high river crossing.
THE COLORADO RIVER CONFLUENCE
Now this is the point you have to decide if you're continuing to the Colorado River. If you plan on continuing down the creek to the Colorado River make sure you have:
A headlamp, or enough daylight. Allow at least eight hours to get there and back to the campground. If there's not enough daylight and you don't have a headlamp, I wouldn't recommend continuing.
At least 1.5 liters of water, a water filtration system and plenty of snacks.
A first aid kit with tools to treat sprains and blisters.
An extra layer for the hike back in case it gets chilly.
When you're ready to continue on, cross the creek to the other side of the canyon and follow the path down river. Eventually you’ll be trekking on a path made of rock over another short but powerful waterfall on down canyon left. To continue to the Colorado River, ascend a steep cairned route on down canyon right. From this point, you’ll be leaving Havasupai Indian Reservation and entering the Grand Canyon National Park.
Once you’ve made it to the river, make sure to leave a cairn or some type of marker to indicate where the climb back up to the path is for your trek back. From here you'll follow the trail downriver where you’ll cross the water multiple times. You'll know you're getting close to the Colorado River when the canyon walls start to get really narrow. From here you’ll want to cross the river to the left side of the canyon downriver and follow the path to another rocky step-like descent to the confluence of Havasu Creek and the Colorado River.
Take a bit of time to soak in the views, treat your sore muscles with the cold Colorado River, fuel your body with some protein, and treat the water from the river to refill your bottle/hydration pack. If necessary, use the buddy system on the way back and make sure everyone in your group is accounted for. I've found you can optimize the flow of the group by consciously choosing the order of people for the hike back: (who's in front, who's behind who, and who's last).
Once you get back to camp, pat yourself on the back, feed yourself to a big meal, hydrate, and treat yourself to one of the best sleeps of your life.
WHAT TO PACK
For a lot of people, including me, Havasupai was/is their first real backpacking experience. On my first visit in 2013, I carried a small 25 liter backpack filled with snacks such as beef jerky, a leaky hydration bladder, and was severely underprepared, but lucky enough to be with seasoned backpackers who looked after me. To help others, I put together a pack list, separated by gear which you’ll most likely need, and items that aren’t necessary but may make your experience more pleasant. For some of the items, I’ve included click-through links to lists of items available in that category. For items I’ve personally tested and recommend, I’ve included a link to that specific product.
Highly Recommended Gear:
Overnight Backpack (between 50-75 liters)
♥: Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 - I use this backpack for every adventure but it’s particularly good for Havasupai as it easily compacts and you can use it as both your overnight backpack and daypack for the Colorado River trek
♥: REI Magma 15 - equivalent to what I imagine sleeping in a cloud would feel like. best damn sleeping bag I have ever used and good for all seasons
Water Bottle / Hydration Pack
Water Filtration / Treatment
♥: Platypus GravityWorks Water Filter System - I’ve been using this for a few years to filter my water in backpacking trips and love the simplicity and dependability of it
♥: Black Diamond ReVolt Headlamp - waterproof is not absolutely necessary but I like having my headlamps waterproof in case of rain, waterfalls, accidental drops
Meals (high in calories, protein, and nutrition)
♥: Freeze-Dried Meals - this is one of the easiest options as they weigh little and are ready to eat after adding hot water
♥: Jetboil Flash Cooking System - one of the fastest ways to boil water in the backcountry
♥: Jetboil Jetpower - fuel to power the flash cooking system (cheaper to buy in stores)
♥: Sea to Summit Spork - extra long titanium spork to reach the bottom of the bag
Fast Carbs (ie. dried fruit, energy gels)
♥: Clif Shot Blocks - one of my favorites to pop in on the go for quick energy
Snacks (high in protein; ie. almonds, peanut butter, beef jerky)
Trader Joes is a good source for nuts and dried fruits
Electrolytes (for rehydration)
♥: Endurolytes Fizz Tube - need to replenish salts when you sweat, adding this to your water is one way of doing that (the mango flavor is my favorite)
Food Storage (rodent proof)
♥: Armored Outdoor Ratsack - there are a lot of little critters at Havasupai such as chipmunks who love to, and will rummage through your food as soon as you leave camp, to avoid a potentially tragic situation where you’re left with no food, I’d highly recommend something like this to hang up and protect your food, this item is specifically made for the outdoors, has steel knitted mesh making it rodent proof, and weighs little
First Aid Kit (including treatment for blisters, sprains, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergy, etc)
Hiking Shirt (lightweight, breathable, UV-protective, quick drying)
Hiking Pants / Shorts (lightweight, UV-protective, quick drying)
Warm Top Layer (ie. down jacket)
Waterproof Shell (ie. rain jacket)
Hiking Shoes (durable, drains water, dries fast, and is good for backpacking)
Hiking Socks (fast drying)
Not Necessary but Recommended:
Lightweight Sleeping Pad
♥: Teton Sports Altos Sleeping Pad - been using this for years, it’s lightweight, comfortable, and doubles as a floatation device
Extra Set of Clothes to Sleep in
Hat (something to protect your head from the sun)
If you’re carrying around cameras and hiking in and out of water, it might be a smart idea to have a dry bag to protect your electronics.
Skin Moisturizer / Biodegradable Soap
Toothbrush & Toothpaste
*Please note that drones are prohibited in Havasupai.
Hope you've enjoyed this guide! Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below.
For more of Mina's adventures follow her on Instagram or check out her Facebook Page. If you want to know when more guides like this will become available, sign up for updates below. Cheers and happy adventuring!