What You Need To Know
So you've got your permit (or maybe you're still trying to get one - keep reading, I have tips for you too!) and you're ready to set out on an epic backpacking adventure, but you're not sure what to expect - this complete backpacking guide will tell you everything you need to know! I've included all my personal tips from packing, to itineraries, to gear guides! Watch my full trip recap video for a preview of this beautiful place!
From what I've heard, getting a permit to Havasupai Falls is the hardest part of the trip. I was lucky enough to secure a permit for a group of 9. There is no "system" or "hacks" for securing a permit. My advice - have a list of dates prepared prior to the portal opening (as your dates will only be held for 8 minutes) and log on exactly when it opens (February 1 st at 8AM Arizona Time). Keep in mind payment is due at the time of reservation). If you didn't get a permit and are still interested in visiting the falls this year, check out the Campground Cancellations/Transfers list (log on to your account and click Cancellations/Transfer List).
Once you have your permit confirmation email, print it out or save it on your phone, you will need to show your confirmation at the first checkpoint on Indian Road 18 (before you arrive at Hualapai Hilltop). When you reach this checkpoint, the ranger will ask you to fill out a form with your vehicle information (license plate no, make, model), and number of people in your party. Each person is required to sign that they have read the provided rules/information guide. Although our car was not searched, it is possible the ranger may ask you to open your trunk or bags so please do not bring any illegal substances into the Havasupai Reservation (alcohol is prohibited).
A few miles after this check point you will reach the Hualapai Hilltop. Drive all the way to the main parking lot to see if any spots are available; when full, parking can stretch a mile down the road. We didn't have any problems parking. We reached there around 6 PM the day before we were to start hiking and there were a couple spots open in the main lot. Luckily we got a spot close to the canyon wall and barricaded our tent between the cars to limit exposure from the winds.
We camped the night on the hilltop. It was really windy and cold (we went at the beginning of April) so be sure to bring warm clothes. When I woke up at 3 AM the next morning, it was 47.4°F. The temperature never got this cold down at the campsites (lowest it got was around 60°F at camp) so I could have left some clothes behind.
We packed up camp and started hiking at 5:20 AM. Though we had aimed to head out at 4 AM, our late start didn't cause any issues as the weather remained mild and cloudy (if you are going during the summer months, a late start might mean hiking in the heat and under direct sun).
With multiple stops for pictures and videos (of course!), we reached the village of Supai at 9 AM and checked in at the Tourism Office, where we received wristbands and tags for our tents. I was taken by the views of the canyon as people hardly post pictures or rave about the beauty of this trail.
The campground is another 2 miles from Supai. When you reach the campgrounds, you'll see a ranger station on the left where you can pick up buckets to store your food (there are a ton of squirrels around camp so make sure to store your food properly). The ranger station also has fuel tanks and other items people have left behind (I even picked up a 2 person tent from there! Don't count on using a fuel tank from here though as you never know if there will be any "in stock" when you're there or not) Walk in towards Mooney Falls for some insane site locations right on the river!
You will pass Fifty Foot Falls, Lower Navajo Falls, and Havasu Falls on your way in to the campgrounds, but I suggest securing a nice site before going down to enjoy the views. This site (first come first serve) will be your home for the next 4 days so consider how long it takes to get to your site (we had to cross 2 log "bridges" to get to ours), how far the bathrooms are (there are 3 along the campgrounds [and they have toilet paper!]), and how far Fern Springs (drinking water) is before choosing your site.
After setting up camp we headed to the impressive Havasu Falls.
The next morning, we headed to Mooney Falls and Beaver Falls (if you plan to hike out to the Colorado River Junction, make sure you get an early start). The descent to Mooney Falls is an adventure in and of itself. You'll climb through 2 caves (no, you won't need headlights for these, unless you are ascending/descending in the dark - which is NOT recommended) and down smooth rock surfaces. You'll get impressive views of Mooney Falls from the climb down, but take pictures only when it is safe to do so. There are chains bolted into the rocks for you to hold as you climb. Be warned, if there is wind, the mist from the falls makes this path extremely slippery. There are gloves people have left behind at the top and bottom of this route that you can use - it makes it much easier to get a good grip on the chains. If you are afraid of heights...don't look down.
Once you make it down, you'll be greeted by turquoise waters, refreshing mist, and an exciting rope swing! Take some time to explore Mooney Falls and wade down the river for some secluded spots. I had my River Sandals in my bag, which I changed into right after descending, so it wasn't necessary to bring my boots along for the hike.
I wore river sandals similar to these , but I would recommend closed toe water shoes with a good (thick) sole as you will hike all the way to beaver falls in these (6 mile round trip) due to the multiple river crossings. Something along the lines of this would be sufficient:
My sandals broke during this hike, though a little bit of duct tape patched them up enough to last another day on the trail!
If you are feeling daring at Beaver Falls, swim to the canyon wall on the right and climb up to the top of the falls (you'll find a rope there for support). Once you reach the small pool, climb up the log for a great cliff jumping spot, or explore the higher levels of the cascading falls!
On the third day, we headed over to try the local fry bread, then to Fifty Foot Falls and Lower Navajo falls. (I personally skipped the fry bread and headed straight for the falls as I'm not much of a foodie).
On the fourth morning, I woke up at 2.45 AM and packed up camp (make sure you keep your boots upside down and check them before putting them on; there are plenty of critters that like to crawl in there at night). We returned the "squirrel buckets" and checked out some gear left behind by other hikers and the ranger station, then started hiking out of the canyon at 5:20 AM. This was late as it got hot and sunny on the climb up to the hilltop (you are ascending 5,200 FT during the final mile).
So what gear do you need for this trip?!
Backpacking bag Sleeping bag (3 season bag - 0-20 degree)
Backpacking tent or hammock Tent
Ground tarp Backpacking
stove and cookware
Water purification system and or purification tablets
Drinking water is available at Fern Springs, but I always prefer to treat the water
2 athletic shirts (nothing should be cotton as it is not moisture wicking and doesn't dry easily)Since I took a merino wool shirt, I would have been okay with okay with one shirt 2 Hiking pants or 1 hiking pant and one swimwear
Thermals (for night)
gloves/beanie/sunhat/buff Sunglasses Headlamp Knee brace, if required
For more details on gear, check out https://kavarastories.com/havasupai-falls/
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