Date of trip: April 4-6, 2018
February means one thing to a lot of outdoor bucket-listers: Havasu Falls permits open up. The first day to reserve permits for the 2018 season was February 1st. If you have not yet reserved your permits read this post to start planning for next year. This blog will take you through the permit process, finding the trailhead, and hiking in. Part 2 will take you through the camping experience and the actual waterfalls.
How to do it like we did:
Kenon has been researching this trip for about five years. In the two years leading up to the trip he started getting serious about details, possible dates, travel partners, and permits. In July, 2016 he set a reminder on his calendar for February 1st, 2017 so he wouldn’t forget to get our permits. Why the precaution? Permits sell out fast. Once permits are sold out there is a slim-to-none chance of getting one from a cancellation.
There are two ways to get a permit. Calling the Havasupai tourism office or (a recent addition) sign up on the official Havasupai Tribe website. The phone numbers for the tourism office are at the bottom of the website page.Kenon started calling the office at 9 am (Arizona time) on February 1st. He was constantly kicked off the line because of the huge call volume. He also kept trying to sign up online but the online application would only let him reserve one night of camping and he wanted two. Since he never did get a phone call through to the tourism office he settled for reserving only one night, hoping that we could maybe add on another night later.
I found these details for the current permit/camping prices:
“A one-night stay at the campground, including taxes and fees, will be $140.56 per per person. Two nights will be $171.11 and three nights $201.67. Those rates are roughly $50 higher than in 2017.
Add $18.33 per night if you’re staying on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, certain spring dates and select weekday holidays including Memorial Day and July 4. The peak-time surcharge is new this year. The cost for a two-night weekend camping trip is now $207.77 per person, compared with $121 last year.” According to Deb Gilbertson for AZCentral.
We paid slightly lower prices. I am including the current ones for accuracy. This is one of those trips when everyone has to be on board ahead of time because you will pay a lot of money for anyone who does not show up. We planned on four people and one night of camping.
There are two additional charges you can add on to your trip. If you do not want to carry all of your weekend belongings in, you can rent a mule for $264 roundtrip. The mule can carry up to four packs totaling up to 130 pounds. This option makes it easier to bring whole families, including younger children, along for the adventure. For those who do not want to, or cannot hike, there is the option of paying $85 one-way for a helicopter. This is a first-come, first-served type of option and is shared with the Supai people, who have priority. While you will obtain a flight, you could be waiting all day.
We finally had these coveted permits. Now what?
The trailhead starts at the end of the Hualapai Hilltop Highway. This highway ends in a loop with a check-in station at the top of the loop. If you find the correct road you cannot miss the trailhead because the highway literally just ends at the parking lot. Make sure to check-in with the Havasupai people and get your parking permit when you arrive. If you plan on leaving your car at the trailhead for the duration of your trip please remember to take precautions. The trailhead is not the safest place to park so hide all valuables and leave your car empty. There is also a port-a-pot available near the parking lot.
The trailhead is also a makeshift campsite. Since most people drive a distance and plan on starting the hike early, the Havasupai people allow visitors to camp at the trailhead. This experience started the trip off on the exact right foot. In case you haven’t realized it yet, Havasu Falls is located in the Grand Canyon. No, no, not Grand Canyon National Park – that is only a piece of the greater Grand Canyon. This is the another end of the exact same canyon. We arrived after dark and planned on beginning our descent into the canyon at 4 a.m. so we elected to not put up a tent. We laid out a tarp, set up our sleeping mats, rolled out the sleeping bags and slept under the stars on the edge of the freakin’ Grand Canyon!
The light pollution is so minimal that the starlight is abundant. There is so much light from the sky that headlamps are almost unnecessary. A tent is hardly necessary because morning dew in the dessert is minimal to none. The air feels crisp and clean. This is an experience everyone should get in their lifetime. For only sleeping a few hours I woke up incredibly refreshed.
The hike in is eight miles from the trailhead to the village of Supai. For miles and miles the trail is surrounded by rock walls, rock overhangs, rocky footbed, and the occasional sandy patch. Then as the village nears all of a sudden the scenery turns to an increasingly lush, woodsy vibe. Since the trail starts at the top of the canyon, works its way down, and the terrain stays relatively even the hike in is incredibly easy. Going down the canyon is always easier. In Part Two I’ll talk about the hike out – spoiler alert: it is way more difficult going up the canyon! We arrived at the village around 7:30 a.m.
In the village, there are signs leading you to the reservation/permits station. You must stop here to sign in and receive your proper paperwork. Remember when I said we only booked a campsite for one night? At this point, we asked to add on another night. We were able to add on another night last minute. I do not recommend counting on this option, however it never hurts to ask.
The village also offers a small convenience store and cafe. If you prefer not to camp, there is also a lodge available but this must be booked when you reserve your permit. The lodge is in the village, two miles from Havasu Falls, three miles from Mooney Falls. Instructions are on the same Havasupai Tribe website. As far as accommodations go, that is pretty much it.
At this point, there is another two-mile hike to Havasu Falls, the landmark that signals the beginning of the campground. I will leave you here at the village to rest. Look for my next post that details the campsite and the beauty of the falls!
Have patience. You are entering Native American Tribal land. The Havasupai people have graciously opened their land for tourism but are understandably very protective of the space. They take their time processing everything. As a frame of reference, this is the last town in America to receive their mail by mule. Everything runs a little slower down in the canyon.
Go for it. Kenon first added this trip to his “must-dos” in 2012. It took years for the right timing, travel partners, and information to line up into a feasible trip. Even then, since it is not a cheap trip, we considered saving it for a financially better time. Then we came to our senses and realized that we could end up putting it off forever if we were looking for excuses.
Since he has been researching this before it was Insta-famous he ran into a lot of holes in information. He had to piece different websites together to finally have all the steps necessary to make this a reality. When he finally made the phone call to put the last piece of the puzzle in place he was met with more frustration and moments of hopelessness. But he was persistent and finally got his plans and permits to all line up.
Whatever your “it” is sometimes you just have to go for it.
And yes, it is even more gorgeous than the pictures.