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What to Expect in Havasupai: The Hike, Village, and Campgrounds

Updated: Feb 10, 2020

A First Timer’s Guide to Havasupai: Part 4

The hike to Havasupai starts at Hualapai Hilltop, which is located at the end of Indian Road 18. This is probably where you attempted to sleep the night before, and where you will be leaving your car for the next 4 days. This is not a large area. Back in the day, before the ‘gram and people like me started posting about how cool it is, pretty much all the vehicles could fit in the actual parking lot. Now they can’t. You’ll find a spot. Probably half a mile down the road and precariously perched on the edge of a cliff. Don’t have a heart attack, this is all a part of the experience!

New in 2020: "ALL vehicles must have their Campground Reservation Confirmation Code visibly displayed through the front windshield on the passenger's side at all times while on Havasupai lands." Per the tribe's reservation agreement. So don't forget to put that bad boy up!

The Hilltop and Trail Head

At the hilltop, you will find the helipad, which if you are planning on catching the copter down, is where you need to beeline it to. There is a ranger station, which I believe is where the pack drop off for the mule train is. There is also a well maintained outhouse. And that…is pretty much it. This is a simple operation folks, not too many bells and whistles.

The trail head is located at the far end of the parking lot. If you stick by the rock face and keep walking, you will end up right there. It may be a little disorienting if you are starting in the dark, but I promise it is easy to find. I mean, there’s a sign there too, so…

The earliest they allow you to start hiking is 4 am. If you are going in the summer, I recommend starting as soon as possible. You want to beat the heat and get to the campgrounds asap to claim your site. Last year we went the first weekend of May and started at 5 am. It was absolutely perfect. You Guys, this was the first time I had ever hiked it in the daylight. In the past, I have always hiked pretty much the whole thing at night, in and out. I had no idea what I had been missing out on. This entire hike is just…insanely gorgeous. Stunning. Take my breath away, Tom Cruise in the 80’s beautiful.

I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Let me back track. (Rewind noises)

The Hike In

Oh, Mylanta, this is it. The moment. You are officially starting the descent into the canyon that will make all of your wildest dreams come true! And descend you shall, because you will immediately drop nearly 2k feet in the first mile. Right from the get go you will immediately start down some brutal switchbacks. I don’t mind hiking downhill, but if you have knee problems, this portion will not be fun and hiking poles may be something to consider. After a mile though, you’ll be smooth crusin’ at the bottom of the canyon and the hike will remain relatively flat from there until Supai. I LOVE the hike in. I love it as much as Maverick loved Goose. It’s pretty flat. The views are unbeatable. Oh my gosh, the views. I took probably at least 100 pictures before we even hit the village. Quintessential desert landscapes as far as the eye can see. Beautiful red rocks coming alive as the early morning sun rays slowly creep their way down the sides of the canyon. It’s just…perfection.

Things to look out for on the hike:

  • Mule Trains. They will no joke run you over. Seriously. Headphones are not recommended.

  • Poop. But really. Horse and mule poop everywhere. Think you’re lost? When in doubt, look for poop. This will bring you back to the trail. That, and the fact that you are in a canyon with literally only two directions you can end up going.

  • Free Range Horses. We saw several horses roaming the canyon, and my horse crazy self was in absolute heaven.

  • Possibly a Ranger. In 2018 we came across a man on horseback checking permits just before rounding the canyon to the village. In 2019 he wasn't there, though it sounds like some hikers did experience this security check. To be safe, have your permit (and ID, though I don’t think I showed it until the village) close at hand. You just need to show him the one permit for your group.

Things you won’t see:

  • Trash Cans. Leave no trace ya’ll! You packed it in, you’ll pack it out.

  • Bathrooms. So hold it. Or bury it with a shovel off the trail. But really, don’t be a jerk. Cover that **** up.

  • Water. Nope. No water here. Pack enough to last you to at least the village. There is no water at the hilltop either, so make sure your water stores are filled up long before you reach the hilltop. TAKE LOTS OF WATER! Always. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.

As you are getting close to the village, you will come to a fork in the canyon. You need to fork to the left. Do. Not. Go. Right. If you want to know what will happen if you go right, there is an entire episode of I Shouldn't Be Alive dedicated to it. Girl should have read this post before going. Too bad I wasn't around in the 70's to help her out.

By this point, you’ll have noticed the sand is staring to get a little deeper. Spoiler: deep sand, the rest of the way. Not fun. But what is fun, is this is the part where you will get your first glimpse of the turquoise waters. You’ll criss cross the creek a few times and marvel at its beauty. Even in just basic creek mode, it’s stunning.

The Village

Supai; Not the M Knight Shyamalan Masterpiece

After 8 miles of Arizona sun and sand, you’ll arrive at Supai. Be respectful of the residents. If it’s early, be quiet. If you pass by any locals, and you will, smile and greet them. They will either ignore you completely or try to chat your ear off, no in between. If they are open to talking, do it! You won’t regret it. They have some great stories to share with you.

What you'll find in the Village

  • The Sinyella Store will be the first establishment you come across. They serve food and ice cream from 7 am to 7 pm. I’ve never eaten there, but I hear good things, and word on the street is the owner is an absolute muffin.

  • Supai Store and Café also serves hot food, from 8 am to 5 pm. There is a grocery store as well, that carries a reasonably decent variety of goods. Lots of Gatorades. Open 7 am to 5 pm, hours vary.

  • Okay, here is where my memory gets dicey- I can’t remember if there is a third store or if I’m making it up. I think there is another grocery type of store, and this is where the post office is. Or the post office is in the Supai Store and Café…I think there’s a third store. Pretty sure.

  • The helipad for flying in and out.

  • Lots of village dogs. Odds are high they will follow you around for a bit.

  • Cold beverages and real toilets.

  • The Tourist Center. Check in time! Have that permit, ID, and proof of being registered on the site on hand. Everyone in your group will need to present their proof as well, and I would have everyone bring an ID just in case. Oh, you also need to know what your licence plate is, so don't forget that! Check in is pretty straightforward; You show them the goods, they give you wristbands and a tag for your campsite (you need to display this on your tent or hammock). Done. Moving right along.

  • There are two churches here, and if you happen to visit on a Sunday I cannot recommend enough taking the time to attend one during your visit. It’s honestly one of my favorite things to do when I am there. One is a nondenominational church and the other is a branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

  • The lodge is located in the village. I’ve never even noticed it. I’ll have to look for it next time. I believe it is near the school.

  • Houses. To you this is a vacation destination, to the Supai people, this is home. Please be respectful, no pictures. Fair warning: you will experience culture shock.

The village is the last place you will be able to get somewhat reliable internet access. It's not the best, so I would screen shot any documents you will need while down there, like your permit. If there are any last minute 1st world issues you need to take care of before turning airplane mode on for good, do them here. Havasu Falls has a few spots around it that you can pick up a signal if you are willing to walk around like an idiot waving your phone in the air {been there, done that. make sure you have enough space on your phone for the onslaught of photos you will take BEFORE you leave your house}, but it is spotty at best, and who wants to worry about that sort of thing when there are waterfalls to be chased?

On the Road Again

After the village, you have two more miles to the campsite. It’s all downhill in that deep sand. You’ll hear and see the water pretty frequently now, even pass two of the waterfalls. It’ll all hit an apex when you come around the bend and lay your eyes on Havasu Falls for the first time. She’ll be all you ever dreamed of and more. Celebrate, because you have arrived! The campsites are just a few minutes’ walk past Havasu.

I'm a pretty fast hiker, it takes me 3 hours to reach the village, and about another hour to get to the campground. I would say this is the fastest 99% of people can get down there. Plan on the hike in taking anywhere between 4-7 hours.

The Hike Back to Hualapai Hilltop

People always like to debate if this hike is difficult or not, which is silly since the difficulty level will be relative to your abilities and experiences and everyone is different. In my 20's, it was a piece of cake. 30's... yeah, it's a little harder now. The hike back is not the same as the hike in. Hiking in, easy. I could do it in my sleep. Hiking out? It's a little more difficult. First 2 miles are uphill, in deep sand. Sucks. The last mile, uphill switchbacks. Suuucks. The middle part is fine. Pretty flat, not very strenuous.

If you are hiking out during summer, or honestly anytime of year where the temperature is remotely warm, I strongly suggest leaving early morning, like 3 am early. It will take you a lot longer to hike out than it did to hike in. In the past they strongly suggested no night hiking, but in 2020 they have updated their website to say the trail between the hill top and village is closed sunset to 4 am. I don't know how strictly this will be monitored; my guess is they will keep an eye on it, because they also stated your bags may be subject to being searched as you exit. This search is to ensure you are taking all of your equipment back with you. Pretty sad they have to do this, if you can't be responsible and pack out everything you packed in you don't deserve to go. Anyway, I'm sad about this change because I have always loved using up my last day and hiking out at night.

My favorite part of the hike out a couple of years ago was when my friend Jace and I started singing church songs while we trudged up the switchbacks to keep us motivated. We sounded like dying cats, huffing and puffing as muffled, strangled words emanated from our bodies sounding more like sighs than actual words. In our delirious, punch-drunk state, we couldn’t remember any of the words beyond the first line or chorus. Except for “I am a Child of God.” That one we nailed.

How To Prepare For the Hike to Havasupai

A popular question when people are seeking Havasupai advice is "What do I need to do to get in shape for it?" As you can imagine, that is a highly personal question, and there is no blanket answer.

If you are someone who frequents the gym or running trail I'd say just stick with it, you're probably fine. You are likely someone who is very aware of your body and what it is capable of, and therefore you will know what you need to work on.

But if you are someone who isn't a consistent gym goer, I would start walking. Walk as much as you can, and include hills, up and down. Walk with your pack on for practice. Start with it empty, and then start adding more and more weight to it until you are able to walk with all of your equipment and clothes in there. Do you need to join a gym? Not necessarily, but you will never regret a minute of time spent preparing yourself physically for this hike. It is better to over prepare than under, no one ever says "Man, I wish is hadn't trained so much, that was a waste!"

The Campgrounds

The campground starts a little ways past Havasu Falls. You'll walk through an open area with a ranger station off to the left and a fence that keeps the horses and mules from entering the campground on the far end. The campground is about a mile long, and sites are first come, first served. If you arrive pretty early, you shouldn’t have any problem locating a sweet spot. I personally like the sites further down, closer to Mooney Falls. Most sites have a picnic table, though you may have to share with neighbors sometimes. Perfect time to make some new friends!

You are NOT allowed to camp next to Havasu or Mooney Falls. You are only allowed to camp in the designated campground. There are signs to help clear up any confusion as to where the campground begins and ends.

There dozens, nay, hundreds, of mini falls and rapids in the creek along the campsites. The white noise from this is amazing. If you set up camp by one of these you will feel far, far away from everyone, even though the place is sold out. It is awesome.

There are 3 outhouses throughout the campsite. I have been when they are really well maintained, and I have been when toilet paper is scarce. You don't know what you will get, so be prepared. Bring a roll of TP.

There is a natural spring that is safe to drink from. It is closer to the beginning of the campsites and is easily located by signs and people carrying water bottles. I promise it is safe to drink. I’ve never filtered it once, and I’m still alive and kicking.

There are 2 fry bread huts that will be located somewhere between Havasu Falls and the start of the campground. I'd tell you where, but they seem to move each season. They sell a small assortment of food and chilled Gatorade's… shut up and take my money, I regret nothing. I think they have sodas too, but mmmm…electrolytes. The hours vary, but they seemed to be open more late afternoon, evening time. Or just not at all.

A fry bread burger last year was $10, the drinks were $5. Plan on spending between $10 to $20 each time you eat here; that goes for the stores in the town as well. After a long day of hiking, this is well worth it though! It’ll be like manna from the heavens. Bring cash. Card systems can’t be trusted down there. You also can’t bank on the huts and shops in town to be open, so don’t depend on these options for every meal.

There are no showers here. You’re gonna smell. I’m gonna smell, we’re all gonna smell together. Just put on more deodorant.

The campsite is safe. I’ve never had an issue with theft or delinquent behavior of any kind, and I’ve never heard of anyone who has. That said, be smart. Don’t bring an exorbitant amount of cash, keep what you do bring close at all times. If you go with friends, use the buddy system. Just look out for one another and you’ll be just fine.

The Squirrel Situation

There are thieves lurking about the tents and hammocks, and they have bushy tails and are adorable. Squirrels. Squirrels everywhere. The most cunning, intrusive, and smart little bastards you’ve ever met. One squirrel literally unzipped my friends pack, (unzipped it! He swears it was zipped up!) ripped open a bag of food, and sat up on his perch high above us, watching us curse him as he munched on dehydrated banana chips. The jerk. At least he was kind enough to not rip through the pack, which is what they usually do. They’ll rip apart a tent, too. Never, EVER store food in your tent or even eat in there. If there is food, even unopened food or even just a lingering scent, they will find it. And they will stop at nothing to get to it.

Just hang it from a rope, you say? Ha! They can repel down it! ALL OF YOUR FOOD, and I mean all of it, including your trash, needs to go into either a rat sack, bear canister, or a 5 gallon bucket. You can find these buckets at the entry to the campground, however many of the lids are missing. I always bring my own bucket and lid down. It weighs nothing and is a fraction of the cost of a rat sack or bear canister. I just hook with with carabiners to my backpack and rock that look. Anything with a scent goes in, I put my deodorant in there as well. The buckets at the ranger station are first come first served, another motivation to get to the campgrounds early.

Someone suggested to me once to leave my pack and tent unzipped, at least partially, to protect it from these furry little beasts. The idea is, if they want to go in, they’re going to; might as well make it easy for them so they don’t ruin your equipment. Even if there is no food in your pack or tent, it could still smell like it, especially that first day, so the squirrels will still be interested in it. I’m not saying it works, but I am saying that I have twice returned to the campsite to find my pack, which was previously on a picnic table, on the ground, covered in teeny tiny little foot prints. Not a stitch was harmed.

The only critters I have ever had issues with are squirrels. I have only visited during spring months, and I don't feel like bugs or spiders have been an issue any more than you would expect for them to be, being that you are in their territory. I've never seen tarantulas, scorpions, or even snakes. I have heard of people seeing snakes on the trails that are not used as frequently, such as the trail to the Confluence and the canyon that is to the side of Havasu Falls. If you use these trails just remember to always be aware of your surrounds and be alert. Snakes don't want to see you either, give them their space and they will leave you alone.

Some No's:

There is no electricity in the campgrounds, you will need to plan accordingly if that is a need. Campfires are not allowed, nor is alcohol. Amplified music is a no-no. No one wants to hear your jams, we come to nature to get away from that noise. Keep your clothes on, because nudity is banned. Starting in 2019, pool floaties are banned. There are no trash cans anywhere, so I'll say it again, you must pack your trash out. Drones are not allowed on the Reservation, not on the hike, not in the campsites. Drones can be very dangerous for helicopters, so don't be that guy who ruins the trip for everyone. Leave your dogs at home too. In the past you could bring your pooch, but the tribe has asked you leave them behind. There are plenty of other dogs hanging around who can keep you company.

Don’t be a jerk face neighbor, no one will like you.

How to be a jerk face neighbor: stringing up enough LED lights around your campsite to be seen from space, shining headlamps into people’s tents, leaving left over food and supplies “for the next campers” because you don’t want to pack it out. The other campers are bringing plenty, they don’t need your crap. You bring it in, you take it out. Campers who put their trash in the small trashcans in the bathrooms are jerks. Those trashes are meant for sanitary purposes; don’t ruin that small luxury for those who need it. And the number one way to be a jerky neighbor: being loud after dark. We turn into a bunch of old school farmers down there, rising and falling with the light of the sun. Quiet hours are between 8 pm and 5 am. Let us sleep, for tomorrow we will hike mountains...or at least spend a lot of time playing in water.

How do you like the irony of me posting a picture of a banned item there? I think I am hilarious, but honestly, I didn't do it to rub it in your face; and while it might be disappointing that pool floaties are no longer allowed, I can promise you first hand they are not worth the effort. Even when flotation devices were allowed and I had access to them, I didn't use them as much as you would think. It's honestly more enjoyable just sitting in the water and enjoying the blessing that is being in Havasupai.

Now that you know what you are getting yourself into, you probably want to know what you need to pack. It’s a valid question, and one I just so happen to address right here in The First Timer’s Guide to Havasupai, Part 5: What Should You Pack for Your Havasupai Trip?

Other Posts in This Series:

{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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Tiffany Tasting
Tiffany Tasting
Aug 31, 2021

Good blog post

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