Grand Canyon, Arizona
Known as the Garden of Eden in the desert, Havasu Falls is one of the most well-known waterfalls in the world. As the crowning glory of the Havasupai Indian Reservation, this breathtaking attraction is found at the bottom of the Grand Canyon near Supai, Arizona. However, backpacking into the hot, jungle atmosphere isn’t your average day-hike. The 10-mile Havasupai Trail from the Hualapai Hilltop to Havasu Falls is a long hike and provides little protection from the boiling Arizona sun. But in the end, the beautiful turquoise pools and spectacular waterfalls are well worth the trek.
If you don’t feel like hiking, helicopter service, long with horses, are available for a fee. You may also pay for the helicopter or mules to take your backpacking gear. Day hiking in and out of Havasu Canyon is not allowed (although some choose to pay the camping fees and hike it in one day despite this rule). Even so, one cannot experience the true majesty the canyon and waterfalls have to offer in just one day.
The Supai village, located within Havasu Canyon, is not accessible by road. The trail to Supai and Havasu Falls begins at Hualapai Hilltop. Taking Interstate 40, turn north onto Historic Route 66. You may either take Exit 53 and drive about 45 miles northeast, or take the Seligman exit and drive northwest 28 miles. Then turn north onto Indian State Secondary Road 18 once you reach a small sign pointing to Supai. Drive 64 miles on a paved road northeast to the end of the road at the large Hualapai Hilltop parking area. Nearby you will find the Havasupai Trailhead. Be aware that there are no services at the Hualapai Hilltop. Peach Springs and Seligman have the nearest services – gas, food, and water.
Havasupai Trail Guide
|Hiking mileage between key points of the Havasupai Trail|
|Hualapai Hilltop to Campgrounds||10 miles|
|Hualapai Hilltop to Supai||8 miles|
|Supai to Campgrounds||2 miles|
|Supai to New Waterfalls||~1 mile|
|Campgrounds to Mooney Falls||.5 mile|
|Campgrounds to Beaver Falls||4 miles|
|Campgrounds to Colorado River||8 miles|
The 10-mile trail to Havasu Falls is a long, dry, and hot hike from the dry Hualapai Hilltop to the green Havasu Falls. Plan on a 4-7 hour hike each way. There is no clean water sources beginning at the trailhead until you reach the village, so plan on bringing about a gallon of water for the hike down. During peak season morning hours, the trail can get busy with other hikers, horses and mules. Now might even be a good time to catch up on your snake bite first aid as snakes have been spotted along the trail.
From the end of the parking area the trail drops dramatically down the sandstone precipice via a series of switchbacks cut into the cliff. After just 1 mile, it has descended 2000 feet to the dry wash in the bottom of Hualapai Canyon. Prepare for the heat, as these first 3 miles offer no protection from the sun. For the next 5.5 miles, the trail follows the gently sloping wash as the canyon drops down through the red layers of Supai sandstone. Shortly thereafter, at 3250 feet, you come to the end of Hualapai Canyon at its junction with Havasu Canyon. Here the nature of the canyon bottom changes as a gushing river emerges from the ground at Havasu Springs.
Turning downstream beside the river, the majority of the Havasu Falls trail here on out is in the welcome shade of willow, tamarisk and cottonwood trees. It is just 1.5 miles from the confluence to the Havasupai village of Supai. Having obtained your permit (see below), you must check in at the tourist office in the middle of the village. After exploring the town and taking a quick rest before the last leg of the journey, proceed through the village following the trail as the canyon narrows again and begins to drop. You will soon arrive at the top of the spectacular Havasu Falls, 2 miles from the village. This magnificent waterfall plunges about 100 feet into a crystal blue-green pool. It is a beautiful place that alone is worth the hike down from the hilltop. The hiking trail descends steeply to the left of the falls and there is a trail to the falls. The campgrounds are just downstream of Havasu Falls and consists of many well-shaded sites, consisting mainly of picnic tables, stretched out along both sides of the river in a narrow part of the canyon. There is one fresh water faucet along the west wall of the canyon near the beginning of the campsites: Fern Spring. In times past, there have been signs posted advising visitors to treat the water, although many consider it clean enough to drink. You can also use the water downstream of Havasu Falls as long as you purify or filter it.
From the campground, there is a beautiful hike along the trail that continues downstream to Mooney Falls, Beaver Falls and the Colorado River. Mooney Falls, some 200 feet of free-falling water plunging into another blue-green pool is an awesome hike from the campgrounds, although the downclimb to the bottom consists of several small tunnels and platforms cut from the travertine rock followed by steep steps and ladders with chains. From the bottom of Mooney Falls the trail, now less used, proceeds north on its way to the Colorado River. Before reaching Beaver Falls, there are several river crossings that could get up as high as your waist. Upon reaching the falls, you will find they are really a series of cascades at the conflux of Beaver and Havasu Canyons, although still very beautiful. The trail continues, although it may be hard to follow at times, another 4 miles to the Colorado River at the Havasu Rapids. While it is possible to complete the hike comfortably in two days, most people take several days to truly enjoy it.
Other Havasupai Hiking Information
With thousands of visitors attracted to Havasupai’s breathtaking scenery, a limited number of visitors are given permits to enter. Reservation/permit booking for camping and lodging generally begin in February each year and generally go extremely fast. Weekends from May-September, as well as weekdays in the early spring and late fall, are usually difficult to reserve after March. Be sure to make your reservation as early as possible.
|Fees are non-negotiable and are subject to change without notice. No discounts. A 10% tax is added to total fee amount. Anyone wishing to enter without reservations may be charged double the total amount.|
|Entrance fee||$35 per person|
|Camping fee||$17 per person per night|
|Environmental fee||$5 per person|
Camping and Fees
All campers must register at the Supai tourist office in the middle of the village. Camping outside of the Havasu campground is strictly forbidden. Camping fees, shown in the table to the right, are paid upon arrival. Check the weather forecast before you set out since it may be unnecessary to bring a tent (although tents are always helpful to store gear and to change in). Many backpackers avoid the tent altogether and use another form of shelter. Hammocks are not uncommon due to the numerous trees within the campsites.
When is the best time to visit Havasupai? Although the temperature of the water generally stays at a constant 72 degrees F, air temperatures vary greatly month to month. The best months for swimming and hiking are March-May and September-October. The heat of June-August can be unbearable for many with average highs of around 100 degrees F, although this is still considered the peak season. In addition, July-September is monsoon season when you are more likely to see storms (just because you’re in a canyon, don’t think you’re safe from lightning) and flash flood potential which can potentially ruin your trip. If you are looking for a Havasupai experience with less tourists or for activities such as bird watching, caving, or horseback riding, the winter months are ideal.
Flash Flood Damage
After a major flash flood in August 2008 in the Havasu Canyon caused severe destruction, many changes have occurred. Although no human lives were lost, the falls have changed dramatically. Although the original Navajo Falls was destroyed, two brand new waterfalls were created by the rerouted water: Upper Navajo Falls and Lower Navajo Falls (also known as Rock Falls). Both are located about a mile past Supai. About a mile further, Havasu Falls continues to provide excellent swimming and photo opportunities, although its crest is now flowing out of the right side of the previous slightly higher crest. Mooney Falls had only a minor change. Many of the pools at the bottom of the waterfalls are much smaller with fewer trees. Trails have been rerouted and the campgrounds are much more flat. Flooding is a natural cycle that happens over time and soon Havasu Falls and the surrounding area will look as good as new!
Additional Havasupai Hiking Resources
- Wild Backpacker – Google Earth Trail Map of Havasupai
- YouTube – Video Slideshow of the Havasupai Hike
- Official Havasupai Tribe Website – Havasupai Reservation/Permit Information
- Arizona Hiking – Havasupai Trail Report
- NOAA – Current Havasupai Weather Conditions