We awoke early, maybe too early (3:30 AM) and this was the 3rd day in a row I was up long before the sunrise. More on that later. This time around my wife and I had 11.5-miles and over 2,800’ of grueling elevation gain in front of us. Add to that the desert heat that would be upon us soon and I was left with the nagging question of why we had paid so much money, $750 and a 1/3rd of a bottle of tequila, for such an experience. We had ventured into the Grand Canyon, a dream for so many, including us. It felt like we had just arrived and yet this was the final day of our journey. Was it all worth it? I’ll let you know in 11.5-miles and in this Havasu Falls guide.
Havasupai Campground: 10.25 to 11.5-miles (one-way)
Mooney Falls: 11.5-miles (one-way)
Beaver Falls: 15-miles (one-way)
Colorado River: 19-miles (one-way)
Total Elevation Gain/Loss: 2,830′ (Havasupai Campground to Hilltop)
Trailhead Elevation (Hilltop): 5,182′
Campground Elevation: 2,720′
Season: Year Round but late-March thru mid-May and early-October thru early-November are the best times to visit.
Time on the Trail: 4 days (All permits issued are for 3 nights/4 days)
Challenges of Hiking Havasu Falls
The truth is that for many the cost of hiking Havasu Falls will be prohibitive no matter what words I write here. For others, the sheer challenge of descending and ascending this harsh desolate terrain will keep them away. There are ways around the latter in the form of horses or helicopters but the price of course increases. I hope for those unable to make this journey themselves that this Havasu Falls guide helps you see the world through the eye of our camera.
At $100/person and $125/person for weekends per night (3-nights required), the high cost to enter this remote wilderness is a shame but also understandable. The Havasupai campground is just over a mile-long stretch adjacent to the Havasu Creek that hosts about 350 campers each night. The kicker is that every night of the year books out in a single morning each year. That’s right 42,000 campers all book a reservation on the same morning and many more fail in their attempt. Low supply and high demand leads to an outrageous cost, but the people keep coming. This many people visiting such a remote place also has an environmental impact that requires money to mitigate.
The Reservation System
Just getting to the trailhead for Havasu Falls is a journey. The first step is to navigate the terrible online registration system. This is done annually within the first few days in February. All the reservations for the entire year are usually snatched up in the first few hours. To have a chance of getting a permit it will require determination, a good internet connection, money, flexibility, and luck. Go online prior to the opening day to set up an account so that the process is slightly easier. Do Not Attempt Hiking Havasu Falls Without A Reservation, the Supai people have lots of rangers out asking for your reservation information. When you get caught on the trail without a reservation the fine is double the regular cost and they most likely will not allow you to stay.
Reservations secured, your journey begins at the trailhead known as Hilltop. Hilltop is a 4-hour drive from Las Vegas or a 3-hour drive from Flagstaff. To say that hiking Havasu Falls takes you to the middle of nowhere is a vast understatement. Travelers will traverse part of old Route 66 through the desert. There are few gas stations to be found between Kingman or Flagstaff. Campgrounds are even sparse in this part of the country. Turning off the “Mother Road” Route 66 and onto Indian Road 18 is akin to driving into another world. There are no services on Indian Road 18. The road is in great condition, but we saw only a few other travelers the entirety of the 60-mile long road. The only people who venture this way are headed to Havasu Falls.
The trailhead is located on Supai land and therefore subject to their jurisdiction. The native land prohibits alcohol which I took to mean that it wasn’t allowed on the trail but it turns out that they don’t allow it inside your vehicle either. We arrived at a Supai checkpoint as the sun was setting. I had read that people were allowed to sleep in their vehicles at the trailhead to get an early start on the hike down but at the time I wasn’t certain. The nearest campground was over an hour back near the junction with Route 66 so I was worried. I hadn’t read anything about there being a checkpoint that apparently was newly implemented for the 2019 season.
Restricted Items on Supai Land
The two native Supai members were nice enough in welcoming us to their land. They then read off the list of things we were not supposed to have with us, alcohol, drones, and propane tanks being among the three that we did indeed have. Drones are okay to remain in the vehicle which is good but I was warned not to remove it from the vehicle as they would confiscate it on sight.
The propane tanks I am still a bit hazy on. I had a quick moment of panic as most of our cooking on the trail requires Jetboil tanks (a mix of butane and propane) and we have large propane tanks on our truck camper for cooking and heating. The ranger informed us quickly that both were okay. I’m still not sure what is forbidden as he first said propane tanks of all sizes were prohibited.
Alcohol, on the other hand, was entirely prohibited as they have an issue with bootleggers and so all alcohol is strictly prohibited on Supai land. With that, about 300ml of tequila became another part of the cost of our hiking Havasu Falls.
Luckily, camping at the trailhead is permitted and we were welcomed in. We had good timing and got a parking spot right at the front which made me feel at ease about leaving our home with all our stuff in it there. The parking area is very active all hours of the day. People are constantly coming and going making it a relatively safe place in the middle of nowhere.
Parking at Hilltop
The parking lot is split into two areas. The first is the trailhead for the hike. The other has the helicopter pad on it. In addition to the two parking areas, vehicles tend to line the road for up to another mile past the outer lot. The parking areas cling to the cliffside with a 1,200’ sheer drop into the canyon below. It is an amazing place with a lot of hustle and bustle during the day. Helicopters are constantly coming and going. There are always hikers preparing for the journey or crawling back out of the canyon. Horse trains and the men who lead them are also rustling about with the bags of those who choose to pack in light.