- Caitlin Lee
Hiking To Havasupai Falls
It’s that time of year when pictures of those infamous crystal blue waterfalls start permeating your newsfeed. A clear reminder that Havasupai permit season is upon us. I was lucky enough to visit this beautiful place last May with a group of three other women. Yet access to this place is not as simple as just showing up or signing online to grab a permit last minute. Permits sell out almost immediately each year and, from firsthand experience, it is a very overwhelming and stressful experience. That’s why I compiled some tips here to hopefully help others avoid even just a little bit of stress.
In order to save precious time on February 1st, create an account on HavasupaiReservations.com prior to permit date. On the site they also remind you to do this prior to the permit launch as it is required to have an account to even purchase a permit. You also really do not want to lose any time setting up an account on the day of. There is no need to add that stress onto this already stressful endeavor. Permits go live at 8AM but I would recommend setting an alarm least 30 minutes prior. As a west coast resident, this helped me have time to wake up, turn on my computer, get the site up, and mentally prepare. NOTE: Live time is based on Arizona’s time so make the correct calculations for your own time zone.
Day of Permit Launch:
Prior to my attempt, I had read other articles that recommend you go in with multiple date options. However, after my permit day experience, I would recommend you going in with as little preference as possible – basically just have one or two preferred months. I had gone in with quite a few weekends in mind but as soon as I logged in at 8AM almost everything was snatched up. The page wouldn’t load for me and glitched out more often than not. I watched as date after date got swiped up while my page wouldn’t work. It was beyond frustrating and stressful. This story leads me to my BIGGEST recommendation: have multiple people attempting for permits at the same time. In the end, I wasn’t able to get permits but my friend was lucky enough to acquire 4. This is how I ended up at Havasupai last year. However, if your group is large, I would recommend breaking up and trying for a smaller number of permits separately. You will have more luck if you are looking for 1-4 permits vs. 5+.
The main callout I have here is that July and August are considered monsoon season in the desert and canyon areas. This means that these periods have a higher risk for flash floods. This is something to consider when picking dates as flash floods are extremely dangerous and can be deadly. As well, early spring dates in March permits tend to sell out last. While it might be cold, you would have a higher chance of getting a permit within that time frame.
Leave No Trace:
Havasupai is one of the most beautiful places in the world. After visiting and exploring, I understand why it was has become so popular as it truly is magical. However, this also means that with popularity comes overuse and destruction. When you hike the 10 miles in and reach the campsites, you will first reach an entire area dedicated to all the items left behind. When I was there in May it included fuel canisters, cooking gear, tarps, rat bags, and even tents and sleeping bags. According to pictures, this pile only got worse as the season continued. This is unacceptable behavior when participating in any outdoor activity. This place is a home for the Havasupai tribe. With this in mind, we are merely guests in their home and on their sacred land. It is essential that when you accept an invitation to visit, you treat it with the respect it deserves. Please adhere to the Leave No Trace principles and leave it better than you found it. Only take in items you intend to carry out. Do not wash dishes in the river. Do not leave trash behind. Please research trail descriptions. If you know you are not able to carry all the items in your pack back out, then you should not be completing the hike in.
The Golden Rule:
When I was there in May, we had a flash flood come through the first evening. Thankfully, it was not extreme enough to cause an evacuation, but we did have to move our campsite away from the river and to higher ground. After we moved all of our gear, we noticed that another campsite nearby was getting washed down the river. The camp’s residents were not nearby, clearly out exploring in the canyon. My friends and I stepped in and grabbed all the items we could and moved them to higher ground. While this was happening, there was another group nearby that did not help and instead attempted to steal our picnic table. Within the hiking and backpacking community, I have found that this is not typical behavior. However, based on this experience and from others who have visited Havasupai, it is worth the reminder to please follow the golden rule. Please treat others the way you would want to be treated. Save someone’s things when they are being swept down the river. Don’t take advantage of stressful and dangerous situations. Respect shared spaces. Lend a helping hand.
During Your Trip:
Trips are now required to be four days, three nights long, but this is truthfully a benefit to you as there will be more time to explore at your leisure.
Day 1 will largely be dedicated to the 10-mile hike in, the check-in in town, and finding a campsite. The campground itself is a mile long but I would recommend going in further to find more open spots right on the river. However, you cannot go wrong anywhere here! The spring for fresh water is in the middle of the campground so you might want to take walking distances into account. You can also filter the river water or bring a portable water jug to fill up once for the full 4 days.
On Day 2 there is nearby Havasu Falls or the slippery but short climb down to Mooney Falls. Definitely bring gloves for Mooney Falls and do not attempt this hike in the rain! You can lounge here all day and enjoy the view or hike the 4 miles (one way) to picturesque Beaver Falls. For those looking for an even longer adventure, continue past Beaver Falls for 4 more miles (8 total one way) to see The Confluence. It can be hard to navigate at times so download a map and review trail descriptions. This hike may be long, but it is very rewarding with amazing canyon views as you cross over into Grand Canyon National Park and a wonderful finish where the turquoise water converges with the Colorado River.
On Day 3 I recommend a low-key day energize for the 10 mile hike out of the canyon the following day. On my trip we spent this day on the hunt for fry bread and then relaxed by one of the falls. Note: Fry bread vendors can be found above Havasu Falls or on the road back towards town. If none of those are open, try your luck back in town which is 2 miles from the campground. There is a beautiful waterfall as you near town so if fry bread is a bust, you can explore there instead!
On Day 4 I recommend an early start (as with the hike in) to avoid the heat of the day. It will likely take longer on the way out because it requires going back up and out of the canyon. Remember to take it at a steady pace and stay hydrated! This part of the hike tends to be overshadowed, but it is extremely pretty so at least you will not be lacking in views along the tough hike out.
No matter when you go or what you choose to explore, Havasupai is a trip that will take your breath away and stick with you for a long time. Happy permitting!