Way back in April, my friend and I scheduled camping space at Havasu Falls for September (it’s a popular spot). However, my friend, being rather tenacious, called just in time to pick up a canceled reservation over the 4th of July weekend. Cue loud cheering followed by a few expletives when we realized that left us just over a week to prepare. Oh boy…
We all scrambled around gathering camping gear borrow, rent, or buy until we had a reasonable assimilation of equipment and food for 3 days in a canyon. We knew that there was an option to have our packs taken in, but we didn’t really take it seriously until the night before – way too late to book a pack horse. Plus, you know, animal ethics and all that. Besides, we were all in decent shape, it was only a 10-mile hike, it couldn’t be that bad…right??
A few facts:
- The famous waterfalls are located on the Havasupai Indian Reservation and thus they are generally known as “Havasupai Falls.” Havasupai means “people of the blue green water.”
- Supai Village, located within Havasu Canyon (a large tributary on the south side of the Grand Canyon) is not accessible yet by road.
- The trail into Supai begins at Hualapai Hilltop. From the trailhead to Supai Village is 8 miles (one way). From Supai Village to the actual campground is an additional 2 miles (one way).
- Visitors can carry their supplies in with them or hire one of the pack animals that make the trek. There is also a helicopter option available certain days of the week that will take you and your bags in and out.
So yeah, 10-mile hike with a 20-pound backpack (plus camera bag because duh!). No big deal. The first 2 miles of the hike into the canyon are a series of steadily descending switchbacks. The next 6 miles meander through some awesome canyon scenery and weren’t really all that bad. But oh man, that last 2 miles between Supai Village and the campground – we unanimously agreed it had to be a living level from Dante’s Inferno! It’s literally up and down and up again in sand, as in beach sand. Ugh.
We were all struggling at this point for our own reasons – one had a pack that was too heavy; one was an inexperienced hiker; and I…I had forgotten my knee brace. You see, I have a tricky right knee thanks to an old injury. It flares up from time to time but generally can be controlled with a brace and care. But in my excitement for the journey, I’d forgotten both. Rookie mistake. The discomfort started around the half-way point and the last 2 miles of sand totally did me in. Luckily I had remembered to bring hiking poles and ibuprofen…
After we finally found a spot to pitch our tents and had lunch, we all felt a bit better and ready to explore. We also unanimously agreed we wouldn’t be carrying those packs back out! So the next day it was back up to the Village to book pack animals. Worth.Every.Penny. And we made sure to give the horses a few apples we had leftover, so there’s some small token to assuage our guilt. [Note: There are mixed views on the pack animals here. Some people report seeing atrocious standards of care, but we didn’t witness that on this trip. It’s still something to be aware of though.]
When it came time to walk back out again, I truly didn’t think I could do it. But the helicopters were on a medi-vac mission and there was no guarantee of getting out that way, so I sucked it up. According to my trust FitBit, we walked well over 30 miles that weekend. And a month later I am still in physical therapy….Let’s just consider it a lesson learned the painful way! (smile)
So, was it worth it? Absolutely. We all learned a lot on that trip, about backpacking, camping, and our individual levels of endurance. But the waterfalls…oh the waterfalls were gorgeous! (smile) Of course, as my luck would have it, we went in after a prolonged period of rain so those normally pristine turquoise waters were pretty brown. They cleared up over the weekend, but I’ll definitely be going back to see them in their full glory! I mean just consider – these were taken on a “bad day”…
Little Navajo Falls
Reservations & Fees
Reservations are best done well in advance. Call the tribe to determine availability and to book.
Fees: Payments are taken at the visitor’s check-in at Supai Village. Cash and major credit cards are accepted.
- Environmental care fee – $5 per person
- Entry fee – $35 per person + tax
- Campground – $17 per person, per night + tax
- Lodge – $145 for up to 4 people + tax (rates subject to change)
- Helicopter – Fees vary and tickets are issued on a first come, first served basis. (My quote was $85 for me and my bag to ride out of the canyon). Note: tribal members are given priority when boarding.
- Horses – $75 (one way) – $150 (round trip) + tax. Note: One horse carried four bags, so it was whatever amount split 4 ways. Extra tags are a hot commodity around the campground, so ask around if you have an extra.
Tips & Tricks
- Weather: The weather in northern Arizona is strangely unpredictable compared to the eternal sunshine of the lower 2/3rds of the state. Pay close attention to the weather predictions. As you are walking through a canyon with the occasional wash, the trail is occasionally closed due to flooding. There’s also not a lot of “high ground” in the camping area, so be aware of that when picking a spot – especially if there’s rain in the forecast. Another thing to note, especially if you’re planning a trip in warmer months is that it will actually be much warmer at the bottom of the canyon than at the top. All that air gets trapped down there and it can quickly catch up to you, especially if you aren’t expecting it. And finally, START EARLY. By early I mean before sunrise – trust me on this one.
- Packing: Pack as lightly as possible. You’ll likely only need about half of what you think you do. If you are an inexperienced backpacker, there is no shame in going with alternative options for getting your bags down and up again. For clothing I suggest you bring layers, a swimsuit, good hiking shoes, and camp sandals/water shoes. Flip flops are okay, but not ideal. Other considerations – a good hat, sunscreen, first aid kit (your feet will thank you), and a head lamp (for those early starts).
- Water & Food: Notice that water comes first here. No matter what time of year you go, you need to take plenty of water. Take way more than you think you’ll need and surprise yourself. We also took some electrolyte chews, which were lifesavers at some points. I think we did really well on food – plenty of protein and super filling foods. Don’t hesitate to get creative! There’s a fresh water station in Supai Village and a fresh water spring at the campground. Water tasted great at both!
- Camping: There is a lodge located in Supai Village. They’re basic accommodations, but they’re there. (You still have to get through the sandy hell to get to the falls though…) The campground is an oasis of cottonwood trees along Havasu Creek. There are no assigned spots; you just pitch a tent wherever you find a good spot. We noticed that a lot of people just brought hammocks, which was brilliant. They’re lighter to carry, cooler to sleep in, and there were plenty of trees that seemed made for that purpose. Something to consider for sure.
- Guide: There are plenty of guided tours on offer. I strongly recommend trolling TripAdvisor reviews for further info – I mean this post (as long as it is) barely even scratches the surface! A good guide book would also probably come in handy.
- Other: Several people brought blow up floats for hanging out in the water. Not sure I saw the necessity, but should you be so inclined… The reservation is alcohol free, so take note. A wide angle camera lens is your friend – everything is on a monumental scale. There is a cafeteria and store in the Village, but supplies there are pretty basic.
- Attitude: And finally, take a good attitude. There were so many things that went awry on our impromptu hike, but we didn’t let it get us down. You’re doing something amazing – enjoy every minute! (smile)