A Guide to Havasupai

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A couple months ago, I went on my favorite backpacking trip of all-time to Havasupai. This Indian reservation that can only be reached by a 10 mile hike into the Grand Canyon (or helicopter) is unlike any other landscape I’ve ever seen before. The long hike in can be tough with a 50 lb pack on your back, but I think that’s what makes the final destination even that much more gratifying. I’ve put together a guide to hopefully help make that hike and planning for your trip a little bit easier.

A little bit of background:

I went on my camping trip with a big group of 25 strangers guided by the fabulous Mina Young Lee, who basically taught me everything about this place. Our trip took place in April 2015. We specifically went during April because it is not yet monsoon season and you are at less of a risk for flash floods. The weather is also not too hot at this time of the year, which makes the hike in more bearable. We spent five days/four nights there. My recommendation is that if you are taking the time and effort to make this trip, you might as well plan to stay for a little while (not just the weekend) because you’re not going to want to leave. The first night we camped out at the base of the trail head, which I HIGHLY recommend doing. Partly because there’s nothing like camping on the edge of the Grand Canyon looking up at a sea of stars, and partly because it makes such a big difference to start the hike in before the sun. This way, you aren’t hiking in the heat of the day and you get to make the most of your time at the campgrounds.

Click here for an awesome video that Melody Taporco made documenting our trip

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Taking pictures/setting up camp at the hilltop

Starting out early also means you get a better choice of a campsite. We got a perfect spot right next to the creek, which was the perfect lullaby every night when it was time for bed.

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Packing is what can make or break you on this trip because you want to pack as little as possible since it will all be on your back for 10 miles. But at the same time, you don’t want to forget anything important. Below is a list of what I packed and I made out just fine.

Packing List:

Gear

  • GOOD hiking shoes, preferably waterproof (I bought a pair of Keens and had only worn them once before the hike and had NO blisters. It was a miracle. So if you are in need of a pair, I highly recommend the Keen brand)
  • A good internal frame backpack
  • Lightweight Tent
  • Sleeping mat
  • Sleeping pad (inflatable sleeping pads are the best for saving space)
  • Headlamp with extra batteries… mine died on the first night
  • Smaller day backpack with a water bladder insert that holds at least 2 liters of water (You can fill up for free at the campsite from their water spout. You just need to bring a bladder to hold enough water for the hike into/ out of the canyon and if you plan on doing the day hike to Beaver Falls.)
  • Hammock (optional but awesome)

Clothes – I went in April, which had highs in the 70/80’s and lows in the 40’s. Obviously look up the weather for the time of year that you are going and keep in mind that it can always change.

Saving space in your pack is really important. Clothes take up a lot of room so an outfit for each day is almost impossible. Just bring the necessities and you will be glad you didn’t over pack. You can also wash your clothes with Campsuds in the creek.

  • 2 tank tops
  • 2 bathing suits
  • 5 pairs of underwear
  • 4 pairs of socks
  • 1 pair of leggings
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 1 jacket
  • hat
  • sunglasses
  • 1 light long sleeved shirt to protect me from the sun
  • your hiking shoes + a pair of flip flops for swimming

Food – You aren’t allowed to make any fires at the Havasupai campground so your only option for warm meals are MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat). MRE’s are activated by hot water which you can create using a Jetboil

  • Jetboil
  • Jetboil fuel
  • MRE’s ( I used about 2 per day)
  • Snacks/Extra fuel for hikes like granola bars, Cliff bars, dried fruit, trial mix, oranges, etc
  • At least 2 liters of water

Note: you can always forget the MRE’s and do pb&j if you are only staying a couple of nights but that gets old quick and after a long day of hiking it really is nice to have a warm meal.

Toiletries

  • Toothbrush & toothpaste
  • lotion (it is DRY out there, y’all)
  • Campsuds (universal biodegradable soap that can be used to wash clothes, hair, body, etc.)
  • ChapStick
  • sunscreen

Misc.

  • Camera/camera gear
  • GoPro/charger
  • solar charger/portable charger
  • book
  • cash (The locals sell these REALLY good fresh tacos with fry bread at a stand near Havasu Falls and they only take cash so make sure you bring some!)

Note: You can pay to have your packs brought in by a mule, but you need to reserve them ahead of time and it is a rough ride down so there is no guarantee that your bag wont have rips or have things shaken out of it.

Now that you know what to pack, you need to know where to go. Here is a little bit of info/pictures of the main points that you can’t miss in order of how they will appear on the hike.

1. Navajo Falls

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Navajo Falls is the first waterfall you will see on the hike in before reaching the campgrounds. It isn’t too far of a walk from the campsite when you want to come back and swim or jump off of the waterfalls. There are two falls, Upper Navajo Falls (pictured above) and Lower Navajo Falls. I wouldn’t recommend swimming around Upper Navajo Falls just because swimming disrupts the ecosystem there, but we did swim in lower Navajo Falls. It was neat because you can jump off of these falls and  go in and play around behind the fall. IMG_1810

Lower Navajo Falls

2. Havasu Falls

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Once you reach Havasu Falls, you know you are pretty much at the campsite. This is the waterfall where most people at the campsite hang out. There are picnic tables and people will be swimming, wading in the water, and jumping off little cascades. For the daredevils out there, there is a place where you can cliff jump. There is a little ledge to the left of the waterfall where you can climb up and jump.

3. Mooney Falls

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Mooney Falls was probably my favorite out of the falls. Even though you can’t swim in them, you get to descend 200 ft to the base of the falls assisted by chains and ladders. The falls are located right at the end of the campsites and for those who have a fear of heights/don’t feel like making the descent down, there is a perfectly good spot to stand and admire it from the top. The falls got their name from miner James Mooney who fell down the falls to his death. There is just something exhilarating about climbing down the side of a waterfall while you are being sprayed by its powerful mist. This descent is also necessary if you want to continue on the hike to Beaver Falls.

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4. Beaver Falls

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Beaver Falls is an additional 3 miles from the campground but the extra hike is SO worth it. The whole hike there is so scenic and beautiful that it would be an absolute crime to skip it. It’s best to start out pretty early because the place can get crowded during the day. You will pass cliffs, cascades and even get to scale a wall! I put waterproof shoes on the packing list because you will be crossing the river several times. Make sure you bring plenty of water and snacks because there isn’t really anywhere to fill up after the campgrounds. Below are all pictures from along the hike. The trail there can be a little bit tricky to follow at some parts. You can find a more detailed description of how to get to Beaver Falls by clicking here.

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Now that you know what to pack and where to go, here are some last minute miscellaneous tips

1. Evil Squirrels

So on our trip, almost everyone fell victim to the notorious evil squirrels. These squirrels are after your food and they will stop at nothing to get it. They will open your bags, they will open your tent, and they will even chew holes in your bag or tent if they smell any kind of food. One couple that was with us got ALL of their food stolen except for some Cliff bars. Luckily, we all had enough food to help them out but it’s really important that you pack your food in the right way. I was one of the lucky few who didn’t get anything stolen. So how do you outsmart these sly little creatures? The scent is the one thing that will give your food away. So mask the scent and you’re golden. I put my food in double freezer bags and always kept EVERYTHING in my tent, in my backpack with the zipper strings tied together. Be smart and pack carefully because being 10 miles into the Grand Canyon with no food isn’t a joke. But if you do end up falling victim to the squirrel bandits, there is a small general store in the town of Havasupai about 2 miles from the campsite (4 miles round trip).

2. Reservations

As you may know, reserving a campsite here is NOT easy. Our guide was on the phone for three days straight pressing redial until she finally got to talk to someone. She called immediately after reservations opened up for that year (Feb. 1st). So be prepared to be trying for a couple of days in the beginning and plan early. (She called in Feb for an April reservation). You can find the reservation link/number here.