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By Eric Friend

Backpacking to Havasupai: A Nature Lover’s Paradise

Havasupai is nestled within the heart of the Grand Canyon and is truly a treasure that nature lovers and adventure seekers come from all over the world to experience. This blog is your ultimate guide to exploring the stunning landscapes, appreciating the vibrant Native American culture, and unforgettable views that Havasupai has to offer. From the deep-rooted history of the Havasupai Tribe to the turquoise waterfalls cascading into crystal-clear pools, every step of this journey promises to be something you’ll remember for the rest of your life!
In this comprehensive guide, we'll navigate the essential steps of securing your reservation, packing list, hiking details, and how to respect the Native Americans who have called Havasupai home for centuries.
Once you arrive at the falls, I’ll give you my recommended itinerary along with some tips for the best places to take photos and simply soak in the breathtaking scenery. And, when it's time for your trip to end, we'll explore the options for your return journey, leaving you with your photos and memories.
By the end of this blog, you will be well-equipped for the journey ahead!

about the blog

Welcome to my photography blog, your comprehensive guide to mastering the art and science of photography. I’m Paige, ready to guide you on a journey of discovery, from capturing the perfect composition to deciphering the complexities of file formats and storage. This is where we will cover will include in-depth discussions on cameras, exploration of editing techniques, and a deep dive into photography’s fascinating world. Whether you’re a new enthusiast or an experienced photographer seeking to sharpen your skills, I’m committed to helping you elevate your craft to the next level. Welcome to your photography journey!

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about the blog

Welcome to my photography blog, your comprehensive guide to mastering the art and science of photography. I’m Paige, ready to guide you on a journey of discovery, from capturing the perfect composition to deciphering the complexities of file formats and storage. This is where we will cover will include in-depth discussions on cameras, exploration of editing techniques, and a deep dive into photography’s fascinating world. Whether you’re a new enthusiast or an experienced photographer seeking to sharpen your skills, I’m committed to helping you elevate your craft to the next level. Welcome to your photography journey!

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The Rich History of the Havasupai Tribe

The Havasupai Tribe, whose name translates to “people of the blue-green waters,” has a history as vibrant and deep as the canyons they inhabit. When going to these places, it’s important to understand the profound cultural significance and how they have shaped the region.

The Origin and History of the Havasupai Tribe

The Havasupai have resided in the Grand Canyon area, specifically the Havasu Canyon, for over 800 years, making them one of the oldest native tribes in America. Their history is a testament to resilience and adaptation. Originally both hunters and gatherers, the Havasupai adapted to the canyon life by developing agriculture, primarily cultivating corn, beans, and squash on the canyon floor. This deep connection to the land is a core part of their identity and way of life.

Cultural Significance of the Land

For the Havasupai, the land is not just a physical space but a living entity imbued with spiritual significance. Here, they believe the walls of the canyon hold the stories of their ancestors and the flowing waters are a continual source of life and spiritual renewal. The tribe’s customs, ceremonies, and oral traditions are deeply rooted in this landscape, reflecting a harmonious balance with nature.

How the Havasupai Have Shaped the Region

The Havasupai Tribe has played a crucial role in shaping the cultural and environmental landscape of the Grand Canyon region. Their sustainable farming practices and deep understanding of the canyon’s ecology have helped preserve the delicate ecosystem of this area. Moreover, their struggle and eventual success in regaining some of their ancestral lands in 1975, after being forcibly relocated in the early 20th century, is a powerful story of resilience and rights restoration. Today, they continue to be stewards of the land, balancing the need to preserve their cultural heritage with the challenges of modernity and tourism.

Be Respectful

We are so very lucky to be able to experience Havasupai, so please be respectful of this sacred place. You can take photos of the scenery but please don’t take photos of the locals or their Village. Practice “Leave No Trace,” especially when it comes to carving into rocks or leaving trash anywhere. We want to help the Havasupai tribe continue to preserve their beautiful land.

Reservations And Getting There

Reserving the Reservations: Presale Dates and Process

Mark the Calendar for Presale Dates: Havasupai reservations typically open once a year, and these spots fill up extremely quickly. It’s crucial to know when the reservations go live. Check the official Havasupai reservation website for the specific date and time when reservations will open for the upcoming season. Keep in mind that this timing can change. 2024 is the first year they are incorporating presale dates, so here’s what you need to know:

2024 Presale and Reservation dates:

  • Presale – 8am Arizona Time on January 5 – 5pm January 18, 2024
  • Public Access – Any remaining available permits will then be released to the public on the on-sale opening day at 8am on February 1, 2024.

Note – This is the first year they are doing presale so there are some unknowns about how this process will work. You can select desired dates and see if you get awarded the permits. If not, you will need to try again on February 1st when supposedly the rest of the permits will be released.

 

Cost:

  • Presale – $15 entry fee
  • Campground – $455 per person (3 nights)
  • Lodge – $2,277 (for 3 nights)

When you can go:

  • Campground: February 1 – November 30.
  • Lodge: April 1 – November 30.

Note – This area is very hot during the summer so take that into consideration when looking at dates. I have been twice and both times I went in April which was absolutely perfect in terms of weather and greenery in the canyon.

Booking Tips:

  • Create an Account in Advance: Before the presale date, visit the official reservation website and create an account. Ensure your contact information is accurate and you’re familiar with the site’s layout. Havasupai Reservations.
  • Be Ready on the Day of the Sale: On the day reservations open, log into your account well before the designated time. The system may be based on a first-come, first-served basis, so being punctual is key.
  • Select Dates and Group Size: Once the reservations open, quickly select your preferred dates and the number of people in your group. Keep in mind there might be a maximum group size.
  • Payment and Confirmation: Have your payment information ready. Once you select your dates and group size, you’ll need to pay immediately to secure your reservation. After payment, you should receive a confirmation email with your reservation details.
  • Fast Internet Connection: Ensure you have a stable and fast internet connection on the day reservations open.
  • Multiple Devices: Consider logging in from multiple devices to increase your chances.
  • Flexibility: Have multiple dates in mind in case your preferred dates are unavailable.

Getting to the Trailhead and Check-In Process

Transportation Options to the Trailhead

  • Driving: The most common way to reach the trailhead is by car. The trailhead, known as Hualapai Hilltop, is remotely located. It’s about a 3.5-hour drive from Flagstaff, Arizona, and approximately 5 hours from Phoenix or Las Vegas. (recommended)  
  • Shuttle Services: Some companies offer shuttle services from nearby cities to the trailhead. This can be a convenient option if you’re not planning to drive.
  • Private Transportation: Private transportation services may be available from nearby towns, but they can be pricey

Check-In Process and What to Expect

  • The check-in process has been very different both years I’ve done it. The first year we didn’t check in until we got to Supai Village. In 2023 we had to check in before getting to the trailhead and the check-in location didn’t open until 9 am. We then were given wristbands that we had to show at a checkpoint before parking. If you want to start hiking earlier than 9 am, you may need to spend the night somewhere close so you can check in the night before.

    Note – If you are awarded a permit, your group leader will be able to access the current check-in process for the year. Make sure to check that information before coordinating your travel.

  • Arrival: It’s best to arrive early, especially during peak season, as the trailhead and campgrounds can get crowded. The hike into the canyon takes several hours, so starting early is advisable.
  • Permit Verification: Ensure you have your reservation confirmation and ID ready for permit verification.
  • Briefing: The staff may provide a briefing on the rules of the area, safety guidelines, and the location of amenities.

Parking and Last-Minute Supplies

  • Parking: There’s a parking lot at Hualapai Hilltop, but it can fill up quickly. Parking is free, but there are no security services, so park at your own risk.
  • Last-Minute Supplies: There are no services at the trailhead, so make sure you have all your supplies before you arrive. The nearest town with full services is Peach Springs, about 66 miles away.
  • Water: Make sure your water containers are full, as the next available water source is in Supai Village.

The Hike In: Length, Difficulty, and Alternatives

Detailed Description of the Trail

Length:

The hike from Hualapai Hilltop to the Havasupai campgrounds is approximately 10 miles (16 km) one way. The campground itself is an additional mile or so if you go to the very end to camp.

Difficulty:

The trail is rated as moderately challenging. The first mile descends steeply via switchbacks into the canyon, dropping about 1,000 feet. The next 7 miles are relatively flat as the trail runs through the canyon. The final 2 miles, leading into the village of Supai and then to the campgrounds, involve a slight descent.

Terrain:

The trail consists of dirt paths, rocky areas, and some sandy stretches. Good hiking shoes are essential due to the uneven and potentially slippery terrain. The gravelly terrain can be uncomfortable to hike on.

Insights into the Landscape and Scenery

Canyon Views:

The initial descent offers breathtaking views of the vast canyon.

Red Rock Formations:

As you hike, you’ll be surrounded by striking red rock walls, a characteristic feature of the Grand Canyon.

Supai Village:

Just before reaching the campgrounds, you’ll pass through Supai Village, home to the Havasupai Tribe. This offers a unique glimpse into the daily life of the tribe.

Waterfalls and Streams:

Towards the end of the hike, the trail follows a stream leading to the famous Havasu Falls, providing a stunning preview of the natural beauty awaiting you.

Photography Opportunities:

As a photographer, I took my camera out several times to capture the journey into the canyon!

Options for Helicoptering and Using Mules for Transport

  • Helicopter Service: Helicopter transport to Supai Village is available but operates on a first-come, first-served basis. It’s more expensive than hiking but offers spectacular aerial views of the canyon. The price was $100 per person and the ride takes only about 6 minutes. Keep in mind, you can’t rely on this option as the helicopter only runs on certain days. One person in our party tried to helicopter out and couldn’t because they were only running it for locals that day.
  • Mule Service: You can arrange for mules to carry your backpack or supplies. This service must be booked in advance through the Havasupai Tribe and is subject to availability and weight limits. The cost in 2023 was $300 per mule (rumors are that the price is going up to $400). Each mule can take 4 bags at 32 lbs each. You have to reserve the entire mule. Note that there have been concerns in the past about the treatment of the mules but improvements are being made. Definitely consider this if planning to use the service.
  • Overall Considerations: These alternatives are particularly useful for those who may find the hike challenging or have physical limitations. However, they are weather-dependent and may not always be available, so it’s essential to have a backup plan.

Recommended Day By Day Itinerary

Day 1: Hike Day

  • Hike Day: Start as early as possible to get a good camp spot, preferably around sunrise to avoid the heat.
  • When you get to the village, stop at the cafe to get some food. It hit the spot after hiking 8 miles.
  • Continue another 2 miles to the campground (you will pass Navajo Falls, 50 ft Falls, and Havasu Falls, so the views should keep you occupied!
  • Find a camp spot – my favorites are down the river towards Mooney Falls. You can camp right next to the river. Note that the place to fill up your water is at the beginning of the campsite. Since we wanted to camp at the end, we filtered water to avoid having to trek back and forth as much.
  • Set up camp – If you’re lucky, you can position yourself close to a restroom and also in a spot that has a picnic table.
  • Dinner – We were really tired from the day so we spent the night hanging out and eating some more food by the river.

Day 2: Mooney & Beaver

  • Early breakfast and pack a lunch.
  • Head downstream to Mooney Falls – you don’t need to be there at sunrise but don’t wait too long as the light is nice in the morning for photos and you want to beat the crowds.
  • Beaver Falls – After descending Mooney Falls, make your way to Beaver Falls.
  • Bring a water filter as you will be thirsty hiking in the heat.
  • Lunch at Beaver Falls, relax and swim.
  • Hike to confluence (optional) – we didn’t do this but some people challenge themselves to continue hiking all the way to the Confluence where the River merges with the Colorado River. It looks really beautiful but we didn’t have it in us to add the extra 6 miles or so onto our hike.
  • Return to Mooney Falls, the late afternoon/sunset light here is lovely so we took some photos.
  • Returned to camp and dinner.

Day 3: Havasu, Navajo, 50ft Falls

  • Sunrise at Havasu Falls (close to camp).
  • Back to camp to eat breakfast.
  • Back to Havasu Falls to swim once it’s warmed up a bit. There are pools below the falls and to the left that are really beautiful.
  • Early afternoon – head to Navajo Falls.
  • Head to the village for lunch.
  • Check out 50ft Falls on the way back to camp.
  • Head to camp for dinner and rest.

Day 4: Hike Out

  • Early breakfast and pack a lunch.
  • Head downstream to Mooney Falls – you don’t need to be there at sunrise but don’t wait too long as the light is nice in the morning for photos and you want to beat the crowds.
  • Beaver Falls – After descending Mooney Falls, make your way to Beaver Falls.
  • Bring a water filter as you will be thirsty hiking in the heat.
  • Lunch at Beaver Falls, relax and swim.
  • Hike to confluence (optional) – we didn’t do this but some people challenge themselves to continue hiking all the way to the Confluence where the River merges with the Colorado River. It looks really beautiful but we didn’t have it in us to add the extra 6 miles or so onto our hike.
  • Return to Mooney Falls, the late afternoon/sunset light here is lovely so we took some photos.
  • Returned to camp and dinner.

Exploring Havasupai: Activities and Attractions

Havasu Falls:

The iconic waterfall known for its stunning blue-green waters and picturesque cascades. A perfect spot for swimming and photography. This has to be one of the most beautiful falls I’ve ever seen. My favorite view is up above the fall along the hiking trail and down below all the way to the right of the waterfall.

Mooney Falls:

Located downstream from Havasu Falls, this is the tallest waterfall in the area. This offers the most unique hiking experience of the entire trip. You’ll be navigating and descending through caves all the way down to the base. The rocks can be very slippery so please make sure to be extra careful. Some people even bring gloves for this part to avoid slipping on the chains. This descent to the base is steep and requires careful navigation, but the view is worth the effort. Mooney Falls is located right at the end of the campground so this shouldn’t be far at all. I would recommend doing this part early as the descent gets clogged with people starting late morning.

Beaver Falls:

This waterfall is my favorite for swimming, with a series of smaller cascades and pools. The hike to Beaver Falls is an adventure in itself, offering some of the best views of the canyon that you’ve seen yet. Depending on how much water has come in, the canyon gets extremely lush and green. You feel like you’re hiking through a jungle but you’re surrounded by red rock which is amazing. This hike is about 3 miles each way with several water crossings so it can take a good portion of your day. This is a hike that I used my sandals for.

Navajo Falls:

Located closer to the village, this area is often less crowded, allowing for a more peaceful experience. It’s great for swimming and you can walk behind some of the small falls. It’s a nice place to soak up some sun.

50ft Falls:

Hardly anyone goes to this fall but it’s so close to Navajo Falls that you should for sure give it a visit. The route to get there was hard to find and we had to ask a few people and look at our downloaded map with AllTrails. If you can have the trail downloaded before you go it will make it easier as there are many small trails that lead all over this area.

Tips for Experiencing the Waterfalls, Swimming Holes, and Viewpoints

  • Early Morning Visits: To avoid crowds, visit the waterfalls early in the morning. The light is also excellent for photography at this time.
  • Water Safety: Always be cautious when swimming in the pools, as currents can be stronger than they appear.
  • Leave No Trace: Respect the environment by carrying out all trash and not leaving any belongings behind. We want to help the Havasupai tribe continue to preserve their beautiful land.
  • Respectful Exploration: While exploring, stay on designated trails to protect the fragile ecosystem and sacred sites.

Cultural Experiences within the Havasupai Reservation

  • Supai Village: Explore the village to gain insight into the daily lives of the Havasupai people. Be respectful of private property and residents’ privacy.
  • Food: There is a food spot across from the market that is open during the day. The Navajo tacos are amazing, and also the Navajo bread with sugar and toppings tastes like a buttery scone. Anytime we were near the village, we made a stop here to charge our phones and get some delicious food. There are occasionally other stands between the village and the campgrounds selling food, but it was hit and miss if they were open.
  • Cultural Exchange: Engage with local guides or take part in any cultural tours or talks, if available. This is a great way to learn about the tribe’s history, traditions, and connection to the land.
  • Support Local Businesses: Purchase crafts or goods from local vendors as a way to support the Havasupai community.

Havasupai Photography Guide: Breakdown And Tips

What To Bring:​

  • Lens Recommendation: I took two lenses as these worked for the types of photos I was wanting to get of the waterfalls. If you can only bring one lens, bring a wide lens. I took these:
    • 16-35 mm
    • 24-70 mm
  • Tripod: As annoying as it is to backpack with a tripod, I highly recommend having one.
  • ND Filter: For waterfall photos during the day, this is absolutely needed.
  • Polarizer: Very helpful to get rid of the glare off the water.
  • Charged Batteries: 3 batteries on my Sony lasted me the entire trip, but make sure you look at how long your batteries last.
  • Lens Wipes: Havasu Falls and Mooney Falls can get your lens very wet.
  • Waterproof Bag: To place your gear for extra protection.
  • SD Cards: Make sure you have enough to last you since you might not be able to export photos.

Photo Tips at Each Waterfall:

Havasu Falls:

For sunrise and starting above the falls along the hiking trail. After the sun started to come up, I moved down to the base of the waterfall. If you go to the right side of the fall, there are some cool caves and a platform you can stand on. The platform is extremely slippery, so do this at your own risk. You can also go directly across from the waterfall and follow the wall up to the left (if you are facing the waterfall) which leads onto a ledge to get the pools and the waterfall in one photograph.

Mooney Falls:

I took photos here a little after sunrise before we hiked to Beaver Falls. You can get some good frames from inside the caves as you descend to the base of the waterfall. To get this photo, you will need to go early or else you will be blocking people from descending. I also did some later afternoon photos on the way back from Beaver Falls, which turned out amazing! If you stand back away from the waterfall, you can get reflections in the river. Or, you can get up closer and photograph on a wider lens.

Beaver Falls:

Have your camera ready during this hike, as there are so many picturesque moments before even getting to the waterfall. In April when I went, the harsh light gets blocked by the canyon around 2:30 or 3, and people tend to clear out. I was able to get photos with no one in the water at this time before heading back up to Mooney Falls. This may change depending on the time of year. If you hike up onto the rocks (the same way you came down), you can get a nice view of the cascading pools that you won’t be able to see as well from eye level.

Navajo Falls:

I will be honest that I didn’t really take a lot of photos of this waterfall. I mostly used it as a place to relax. If you want no people, you could try a sunset here, but I was too hungry to stick around.

50ft Falls:

I did get some fun photos here since we went late afternoon and there was no one. It’s a very wide waterfall, so you have to get creative with foreground plants and angles to get some good photos, but I loved what I got here.

The Return Hike: Options and Preparation

The journey back from Havasupai is as much a part of the adventure as the descent. Preparing for the return hike, considering alternative options, and reflecting on the experience are all important parts of concluding your Havasupai experience.

  • Start Early: Begin your hike out early in the morning to avoid the midday heat and to give yourself plenty of time to ascend the canyon walls.
  • Pace Yourself: Remember, the hike out is generally more challenging than the hike in, especially the initial climb from the campgrounds to Supai Village, and then the steep ascent up the canyon wall at the end.
  • Stay Hydrated and Energized: Ensure you have enough water and snacks for the hike back. Staying hydrated and nourished is crucial for maintaining energy levels.
  • Sun Protection: Have sun protection ready to go, such as sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, and a lightweight long sleeve shirt.
  • Helicopter Service: Similar to the inbound journey, helicopters might be available for the return trip. This option can be a relief, especially after days of hiking and exploring. However, this might not be an option on the day you hike out, so it’s important to not rely solely on this.
  • Mule Service: Booking a mule for your return journey can alleviate the burden of carrying a heavy backpack. Ensure you arrange this service in advance.

Post-Hike Recovery and Reflection

  • Recovery Time: After the hike, give your body some time to rest and recover. Stretching, staying hydrated, and a good meal can help with muscle recovery.
  • Reflect on the Experience: Take some time to reflect on your adventure. Journaling or sharing stories with fellow hikers can be a fulfilling way to conclude your journey.
  • Share and Educate: Share your experiences and insights with others, emphasizing the importance of respecting and preserving the natural and cultural beauty of Havasupai.

 

Whether you choose to hike out, fly, or use a mule, each option offers a unique perspective on this unforgettable adventure. Remember, the journey doesn’t end at the trailhead; it continues in the stories we share and the lessons we carry with us.

Conclusion: Reflecting on the Havasupai Experience

Good Luck!

There is nothing as incredible as experiencing natural places like Havasupai. Remember that we are so lucky to be able to experience this place, so make sure to reflect on the profound experiences this land offers. From the inspiring descent into the canyon to the beauty of the turquoise waterfalls, Havasupai is not just a destination; it’s a journey that truly touched my soul. The gentle warmth of the Havasupai community has stayed with me long after our departure.

This adventure serves as a reminder of the delicate balance between nature’s wonders and our responsibility as visitors. The Havasupai have been the guardians of this land for centuries, fostering a sacred connection that is evident in every aspect of the canyon. As travelers, we have the privilege to witness this harmony, and with it comes the duty to respect and preserve it. Embrace the principles of Leave No Trace, respect cultural practices and sites, and support the local community. Our actions, no matter how small, contribute to the preservation of Havasupai’s natural and cultural heritage.

Happy Hiking!

Additional Resources

For further exploration and understanding of Havasupai, the following resources can be invaluable:

  • Official Havasupai Tribe Website: For the most accurate and up-to-date information directly from the Havasupai Tribe. Havasupai Tribe
  • Grand Canyon National Park Service: For information about the Grand Canyon and surrounding areas. NPS – Grand Canyon
  • Hiking and Backpacking Guides: Websites like AllTrails and REI’s Expert Advice offer valuable tips and guides on hiking and backpacking, including gear recommendations and safety tips.
  • Weather and Trail Conditions: Before your trip, check Weather.gov or a similar service for current weather forecasts and trail conditions.

Contact Information for Havasupai Tourism and Emergency Services

  • Havasupai Information Station: (928) 638-7888
  • Havasupai Health Clinic: (928) 448-264

Remember, engaging with books, documentaries, and personal narratives can also greatly enhance your understanding and appreciation of Havasupai. Whether it’s through storytelling, photography, or direct communication with local services, each resource offers a valuable piece in the mosaic of preparing for your Havasupai adventure.

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