UPDATED 2018: Known as both Havasupai Falls and Havasu Falls, this 100-foot waterfall rushing from a side canyon of Grand Canyon is often viewed as heaven on earth. Getting there is no easy task, but those who have ventured down the long and challenging hiking trail have said the dramatic surroundings are more than worth the sweat equity. Cool water, mists from the 50 and 200 foot waterfalls will revive any weary hiker. Beneath towering cottonwood trees is a great place to relax before you start your trek back up the trail. As with any hiking expedition, it’s imperative you respect the land and its inhabitants, leaving the area as pristine as or even better than you found it.
1 – Treat the Area with Respect. Havasu Falls is on the Havasupai Indian Reservation in Grand Canyon and to access the falls, you start on the Hualapai Indian Reservation, so you are visitors on someone else’s land. “Havasupai” translates to “people of the blue-green waters,” and the Havasupai Tribe is intimately connected to the surrounding water as well as the land. The bulk of the tribe’s income comes from tourism, with more than 20,000 visitors passing through every year. The remote Indian town of Supai near the falls is home to about 450 Havasupai tribal members, and you do need to have a reservation and permit in order to go beyond Supai to the falls. In addition to an entrance fee and daily camping fees, tourism dollars come from the tribe’s lodge, café, and trading post and general store. Just remember whatever you buy needs to be carried back up the trail when you leave. There are way too many people visiting this beautiful and sacred place that leave their trash behind because they don’t want to carry it out.
2 – This is Not a Simple Hike. Moderately strenuous. Steep the first (and last) mile and a half. Long. You’ll start your hike at the trailhead of Hualapai Hilltop and head 10 miles down to the falls. The starting elevation is 5,200 feet, and you’ll head down 2,800 feet to the falls. The last leg of the return hike is probably the toughest, as you’ll power uphill. Oh, and having a horse carry your gear does not make this hike that much easier.
First 1.5 miles: This steep descent drops you down 1,000 feet to the dried creek bed.
Next 6.5 miles: The next leg of the hike is a more gradual elevation change, taking you between the towering canyon walls through an arroyo (dry river bed). So while the hike is relatively level, it is sandy and gravelly. After meeting up with Havasu Creek at mile 6-ish, you’ll hit Supai about 1/2 mile later. It’s here you will need to visit the camping office to pay your fees, get your permits and see how the residents of Supai live. For a treat, before you go to the camping office, one of the first houses you will see when entering the village has a small convenience star in their living room. The “store” is called Sinyella’s and you have to stop for an ice cream, cold beverage or fry bread!
Last 2 miles: You will leave Supai and will be hiking near the creek most of the way – passing various water features, a small waterfall or two, crossing a couple bridges and then up close and personal with the 115ft tall Havasu Falls before getting to the camp ground.
3 – You Need a Permit. You cannot just show up to the campground and expect to find a camping space or a ranger happy to see you without a permit. You must make reservations well in advance. Permits come available for reservations on February 1st of each year and fill up quickly for the entire year. When you make your reservation, you are required to pay for all permits upfront and there are no refunds or transfers (not that we have not heard otherwise but these are exceptions to the rules. A 3 day trip will cost roughly $172/person in permits and fees. Do not attempt to show up without a reservation, they will not let you in and that is a long drive and hike to get turned around. There are 300 spaces per night available at the one and only campground, so you also will not be enjoying the falls on your own. All this information is soley dependent upon the tribe so it’s best to visit the Havasupai Tribe’s Official Website for the most accurate and up-to-date information.
4 – Best Time to Visit. Because Havasu Creek is fed by a natural spring, it is not prone to drying up like other creeks around Arizona. But just because the falls are active and the water temperature remains around 70°F year round, doesn’t mean you’ll have the best time hiking during the less inviting months. Winter’s cold can leave people too chilled to enjoy the view and the water, while summer daytime temperatures reach upward to triple digits.
That leaves the Spring and Fall as the ideal hiking time. Head there during March and April and you’ll beat the sizzling heat. Visit in October and November and you will also avoid the larger groups as well. You’ll also want to keep an eye on average temperatures to ensure they match up with what you’re willing to handle:
- Jan: 53/27 … Feb: 60/32 … Mar: 67/37
- Apr: 75/43 … May: 86/50 … June: 96/60
- July: 99/66 … Aug: 99/64 … Sept: 89/56
- Oct: 78/46 … Nov: 64/35 … Dec: 53/27
5 – Greatest Dangers. The two greatest dangers on the Havasupai Falls hike are probably the heat and the flash floods, both of which you’re most likely to encounter in the summer. Plenty of water, salty snacks, breathable clothing and hiking early am or later in the afternoon are good ideas for staying safe during the hotter months. Here are also some tips to hiking Grand Canyon in the Summer. Actually, a moonlit hike in the summer is a great way to avoid the heat and experience the area in a way so few hikers ever will.
Flash flooding is most likely to occur early July through mid September, although knowing how to react is wise any time of the year. Flash floods can hit suddenly and without warning, sending a deluge of deep and debris-filled water through the canyon. Staying safe means getting to the highest possible ground, watching for a change in the color of the water (a change from blue green to brown means something is coming in from up stream, avoiding walking in a flowing stream during months flooding is prevalent or when rain is forecasted in the immediate and not so immediate area. and sticking together as a group so members can provide help if needed.
While the Havasupai Falls hike can be challenging, proper planning, preparation and training helps ace the 20-mile trek. And all the sweat, toil and sore muscles are worth the view and sense of achievement. Every single time.