How Do You Get To Havasupai?

Updated: Feb 12

A First Timer’s Guide to Havasupai: Part 3


You have your permit, the count down on the calendar has begun; time to plan your Havasupai trip! Before packing any bags, it would be useful to figure out exactly how you plan to arrive at Hualapai Hilltop, Supai Village, and the Campgrounds. There are a plethora of ways to accomplish these tasks, so let’s break them down.


I’m Flying in, Which Airport is Best?

Phoenix and Las Vegas are the closest cities with large airports. Flagstaff is also close, but is usually significantly more expensive than the other two, and the drive really isn't that much shorter. Vegas and Phoenix seem to be the airports of choice for most hikers, so we will break them down, as they both have their pros and cons:


Las Vegas

Pros: At roughly 3 ½ hours away from the hilltop, McCarran Airport in Las Vegas is a solid hour closer than Sky Harbor in Phoenix. It also tends to be a pretty affordable airport to fly into and out of. It is close(r) to Valley of Fire, Zion National Park, and Bryce Canyon National Park. Many people coming to hike Havasupai like to visit other wonders in the area, so if these parks are on your list, flying out of Vegas is the obvious choice. Also, I'm not exactly sure how you get there, but I always see signs for the Grand Canyon Skywalk while making this drive, so it must be close. The drive from Vegas to the hilltop is easy, but with the exception of the Hoover Dam, not all that exciting. I highly recommend stopping at the dam though. Take a dam picture. It’s dam impressive. Also, whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. If that’s something you’re concerned about. Go eat, drink, and be merry while playing some slots.


Cons: Not the prettiest drive, but if you are driving at night this is a non-issue. Car rentals tend to be a bit more expensive, at least when I researched it, and are located far from the terminals, you need to take a shuttle to get there.


Phoenix

Pros: The drive is a lot prettier. Sedona, anyone? The Arizona desert is gorgeous! Prescott and Flagstaff can easily be added as stops on your drive, I've heard nothing but good things about both. Want to include a jaunt up to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, or Horseshoe Bend? They are a bit of a detour, but go for it! Why not? Rental car prices do seem to be a little cheaper, but that fluctuates, so don’t quote me on it.


Cons: It is 4 ½ hours away, a full hour further than Vegas. Usually more expensive, though as we all know, these prices fluctuate.


Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

My choice? I’d say Vegas, simply because it seems to be the preferred airport by those who fly in. It’s cheap and an hour closer. Really though, it’s spades. Choose the airport that best fits with your travel plans and budget. Both are located near some beautiful places, just depends what you want to see and which airport happens to have cheaper flights at that moment.


Airport to Hualapai Hilltop

You will have to rent a car. There’s not a bus or shuttle that will take you directly to the hilltop, and it would be cheaper for you to buy a private island than to Uber it. And yes, unfortunately this means you will have to leave your rental unattended at the hilltop for the duration of your trip, which is understandably a little scary. Get the insurance.


I’d give you the address for the hilltop, but I don’t know it. And after many google searches, I don’t think anyone else knows it either. I can tell you it is located at the end of Indian Road 18. When we drove out last year, we just typed “Hualapai Hilltop” into our trusty smart phones, and they got us there just fine.


Let’s take just a moment here to discuss this Indian Road 18. For one, it’s hella long. 60 miles. And it’s all open range. This means there are cattle roaming freely about, and roam they do. If you see one on the road, you’ll see 50. If you drive in at night you’ll also see deer, foxes, rabbits… this road is Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom come to life. It’s very possible you’ll end up in a standoff with an elk at some point. I can say from firsthand experience that this will simultaneously be one of the coolest and most terrifying experiences of your life. They are very large animals. Lots of horns.


Let me paint a true story picture for you: imagine, if you will, you’re driving down this road. It’s about 2 am, your eyes are dry from staying open when they should be sleeping. You’re getting a little punch drunk tired. You’re only going 40 miles an hour because yes, there really are that many animals on the road, and dear lord, it’s never going to end! You’re doing what you can to stay awake and support the driver in their time of need. All of a sudden, just within the reach of the headlights, you see a large, dark mass arise from the side of the road. It’s head is low, and it’s sauntering straight for you like a lion coming to gnaw on a gazelle leg; it’s hungry eyes reflecting menacingly in the beam of the headlights. “Oh shit, is that a panther?!” you exclaim, as the driver slams on the breaks. For a full 2 seconds you and your car mates sit there in a wearied state of stupor truly believing, that yes! That is indeed a panther coming towards you. And then it clicks. You’re in the middle of the Arizona desert. Panthers don’t live in the middle of the Arizona desert. You know what does? Cows. It was cow. A calf, to be exact.

And that is how our trip catch phrase was born.

Needless to say, drive carefully on this road. Slow and steady wins the race.


Security Check Point

New this past 2019 season: there is now a security check point about a mile or two before the hilltop. Everyone must stop and show permits and you will be subject to a car search. Yes, this is legal, you are now on a Reservation and they have their own laws. Alcohol is a big no, no, and even just having it in your car at this point is not allowed and they will confiscate it. I know someone who had this happen, it was craft beer they intended to leave in the car and then take home for gifts. They had to turn it all over. So make sure what ever is in your car is in compliance with their laws.


Regardless of what time you arrive, guards will be present, even in the middle of the night. There are cones set up preventing you from driving straight through. The stop only takes a couple of minutes, just make sure you have your permit ready to view and remember to be nice, they are just doing their job!


Where do you sleep the night before hiking?

You have two options: Stay in a nearish town at a hotel and drive to the trail head in the morning, or sleep in your car. Again, there are pros and cons.


Hotel

Pros: One word for you: Bed. Boom, mic drop.

It’s nice to have one last restful sleep before starting your trek. Also, one last shower. You're about to smell real bad for a few days.


Cons: You’ll have to drive an hour, at least, to get to Hualapai Hilltop. This means a later start time. If you want to be one of the first to hit the trail in the morning, you’re going to have to leave at 3 am to get there. Peach Springs is the nearest town and has one hotel. I hear there are busy train tracks behind it. Don’t expect to pick up a hot coffee and egg McMuffin for the road; this town doesn’t have so much as a McDonald’s.


Sleep in Car:

Pros: One word for you: Free. Need I go on?

Also, you are right there, at the trailhead. You can go from snoozing to hiking in minutes. It’s kinda fun too, because you won’t be the only one there. You’ll see a lot of your fellow adventures all around, and it’ll make you all the more excited.


Cons: Don’t kid yourself, you’re not going to sleep. At best you’ll nod off, but will be awakened every time a new car arrives. Which is frequently. It can also be kinda loud. People don’t know how to use their inside voices when walking past cars full of sleeping people.


And the Winner is...

Again, the decision comes down to your wants and needs. Are cutting costs or an early start time important to you? Slum it in the car. Is a good night’s rest a top priority? Hotel.

I’ve always slept in the car. I’m so hyped up on anticipation at this point that it doesn’t really matter where I attempt to sleep; plus my body is trained to function well on little to no rest. The curse of a night owl trapped in the body of a 9-5 working girl.


Things to be Aware of if You Sleep at the Hilltop

Sleeping in cars is allowed, camping is not, though people do it. I don’t know what the consequence is, and I don’t want to find out. If you do decide to chance it and sleep outside, please for the love, do not sleep next to your car! First of all, parking is EXTREMELY limited. Don’t worry, you’ll be able to squeeze your car in somewhere, but you might have to get a little creative or do some walking. Please carpool. Second, do not leave your life in the hands of exhausted, blurry-eyed drivers who are not going to see you sleeping there. Honestly, I’m surprised no one has died doing this yet.


If You Opt To Stay in the Hotel

I’ve heard good things about Grand Canyon Caverns Inn. It’s the closest lodge to the trailhead, and seems to be the one everyone recommends. According to their website the restaurant, Cavern Grotto, is in a cave. A CAVE, people! I don’t care who you are, if an opportunity to dine in a cave presents itself to you, you do it! Add it to the bucket list, pronto!


If you want to stay somewhere that has a bit more going on, say a gas station or Micky D's, you’ll have to stay a bit further down the road in Kingman.



How to get down to the Campgrounds: Hike, Helicopter or Pack Mule?

When it comes to getting your body from the hilltop to the campground, you have 3 options: You can hike in with your pack, you can hike in and pay for a mule to carry your pack, or you and your pack can arrive in Supai in style, by helicopter.


Hike With Pack

I have always carried my pack in and out. It’s hard. The way in, no problem. Out? Oh, man. You can hear that story in my next blog post, so I won’t go into too many details here. I always tell people to go for it. Is it hard? At times. Is it tiring? Yes. Will you be sore after? Probably. But man, it is so worth it! I can’t explain why. It just is. It's like running a marathon, there are no words. So test your limits, take the pack.


Also, hi, it’s free.


Mule Train

Want to take a load off and let a mule or horse do all the work? Then this is the option for you! I’ll be honest, my animal loving heart has struggled with how to best approach this topic. I’m literally giving my dog kisses as I type this, I love me some animals. Which is why I won’t use the mules. There have been situations in the past that have been…not ideal, when it comes to their treatment. A simple google search will tell you all the grim details. However, that is the past, and the tribe has come a looong way in recent years in caring for these hardworking animals. They truly have, I have seen the progress first hand, and for that, I commend them.


I still won’t hire a mule though.


But if you want to, here are the details:

All pack mules must be reserved before your visit online. Each mule can carry 4 backs, and the cost is $400 round trip. Packs need to be left at the bag drop off no later than 7 am. Each bag cannot exceed 32 pounds, and cannot be larger than 36”x19”x19”. You cannot have anything hanging off the side of your pack.




Helicopter

Never did I ever think I would ride the helicopter out of Havasupai, but you know what happens when you say never. The last time I went to Havasupai I had the great pleasure of experiencing being sick while there. 10 out of 10 would not recommend. Legit thought I was gonna die and they would have to send my body down river like the viking queen I am. Clearly, I made it out, and opted for the easy route and took the chopper! I can tell you first hand, the views are every bit as beautiful as you would imagine. It blew my mind how quickly it was all over, what would take hours to hike took all of 4 minutes to fly. While I still think everyone should experience the hike out with their pack at least once, I also think flying out should be added to that list!


The cost, according to 2019 information:

$85 per person each way, cash. $95 for card. This includes your packs.


They don’t operate every day, and it is first come first served. I know people often wait for hours to catch a ride, and a ride is never guaranteed.

March 15th to October 15th they run Sunday, Monday, Thursday, and Friday 10 am to 1 pm

October 16th to March 14th they run Sunday and Friday from 10 am to 1 pm.


Villagers have first priority to the helicopter. I’ve heard people line up as early as 5 am to ensure a spot, so be prepared. We didn't get on the list until 10 am and we flew out around 2, I believe. We definitely got lucky. A flu miracle, if you will.


If you are flying in, you meet at the helipad that is just below the hilltop parking lot. When flying out, you will line up outside the Tourism Office in the village. Make sure to put your name on the list as soon as you arrive. The helicopter is a luxury, not a guarantee. Be prepared for plan B if this is your plan A.


No matter your preferred airport, sleeping arrangement, or campground arrival method, you are sure to have an adventure before the real fun even starts!



Next up in the series, A First Timer’s Guide to Havasupai Part 4: What to Expect on the Hike and in the Campgrounds


Other posts in A First Timer's Guide to Havasupai Include:

How Do You Get Permits to Havasupai?

What If You Didn't Get a Permit to Havasupai?

How Do You Get to Havasupai?

What Should You Pack For Your Havasupai Trip?

The Waterfalls of Havasupai




{as always: practice LEAVE NO TRACE. stay hydrated. tell someone where you are going. wear appropriate clothing. be mindful of the weather. be nice to fellow hikers. have fun, make good choices, & hike smart}

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