Deep within the Grand Canyon in Arizona (USA), a series of waterfalls can be found on the Havasupai Nation's land near the village of Supai, the most remote town in the US. The water glows an incandescent blue due to lime deposits, and is the reason behind the name Havasupai, meaning "people of the blue green waters." This oasis within the canyon attracts so many visitors that permits have to be obtained in advance to allow access, and the trek requires some planning. While it's possible to go through tour companies that send you with a guide and take care of everything for you, your experience will be cheaper and at your own pace if you plan it yourself. I tried to do research prior but had trouble finding a lot of information SO, I've made this guide to help make it easy for you - from permits, to directions, to gear, and everything in between.
Obtaining a permit
Sorry to say, but if you're reading this after February and hoping to go in the same year, you're too late. Permits go on sale February 1st of each year at 0800 Arizona (mountain) time, and ALWAYS sell out quickly so you have to be on it from the jump (the campground is closed December and January). In the past reservations were made by phone, by calling the Tourist Office at (928) 448-2121. It was nearly impossible to get through and you would have to call over and over. As of 2018, you can skip the hassle of calling like a crazy ex and reserve a permit online, but it was not immediately available at 0800 when I reserved. Also, depending whether you access it from a phone, tablet, or computer it may or may not be visible. SO, if you don't see it, try from another device, and keep trying, it may just be delayed. You must create an account on the website prior to being able to make a reservation. It is recommended to make this account in advance, and be signed in and ready the minute the clock strikes 0800.
BE AWARE, reservations are non-refundable and non-transferable. This means the person listed on the permit must be present, there is no reselling allowed. However, it does allow you to add another name to the reservation authorized to use the permit . I strongly suggest one person make the reservation for the entire group. Additionally, day hiking is not allowed, so you must have a reservation for at least one night, and no more than 3 nights per reservation.
Prices are as follows for one person:
2 Days / 1 Night: $140.56
3 Days / 2 Nights: $171.12
4 Days / 3 Nights: $201.67
*Weekend nights (Friday, Saturday, Sunday), Holiday weekday nights (February 19, May 28, July 4, September 3, October 8), and Spring Break weekday nights (March 5-8 and 19-22) are an additional $18.34 per night.
There are 2 options for where to stay once you are at the falls that will greatly affect what gear and supplies to bring.
Lodge - The lodge is located in the village about 2 miles away from the campground/falls. For those visiting in 2018, the lodge is closed for renovations from January-March. Reservations must be made by phone at (928) 448-2111 or (928) 448-2201 and often sell out months in advance. One room can hold up to 4 people at $175/night with an additional entrance fee of $90/person on arrival, and all fees are charged 10% tax.
Campground - While the lodge is closed this is the only option for accommodation, but also the more common choice for visitors. Campground fees are included in permit costs so there are no additional fees as with the lodge. The campground is located 2 miles past the village between Havasu Falls and Mooney Falls.
Gear and Preparation
When camping, its important to be prepared and bring everything you need to ensure safety. Depending on the time of year, it can be very hot or very cold (as low as 20F/-6C at night to and 120F/49C during the day), so you will need to choose the proper gear and clothing accordingly. I had no camping gear and my procrastinating ass didn't start preparing for this trek until 2 days before. I'm pretty sure I would've succumbed to the elements if it weren't for LowerGear Outdoor Rentals & Sales, who hooked me up with everything I needed to survive the night with only 48 hours notice. Whether you're an experienced camper or a novice like me, they have EVERYTHING you need and their knowledgable staff is easily reachable to advise you if you're unsure about what you'll need. It's really easy to rent whatever you need via their website, and if you're coming from Phoenix you can pick up your equipment at their retail store, OR they ship ANYWHERE in the US, so even if you're not going to Havasupai you can still use them for your next excursion.
What to Bring
Regardless of where you stay or how you get there, you will want to bring the following items:
Cash - You can't always use card on the reservation.
Food - Food is not available for purchase at night. There is a cafe and a store open during the day. The store has some basic snacks and groceries like milk, meat etc. They do accept card but there is a $10 minimum. The cafe has breakfast, sandwiches, burgers, and burritos - a meal for 2 with beverages will run you about $25 and they only accept cash.
First aid kit & medications - There is no hospital or treatment facility accessible so bring whatever medical supplies you may need with you. Make sure to include moleskin in your first aid kit for blisters. In the event of severe injury, help may not be available for hours and you will have to be flown out via helicopter, so be careful.
Camera - For obvious reasons.
Backpack - Regardless of how you get there, you'll want a backpack to carry your daily supplies as you hike to the falls.
Bathing suit, microfiber towel, & water shoes (like Chacos or Keens) - Even in the winter the water stays around 70F/21C, when its sunny and warm its worth a dip. Microfiber towels are compact, super absorbent, and dry quickly. The rocks make be slick or sharp, so it's best not to walk barefoot in the water (even though those shoes are really ugly.)
Sunscreen & bug spray
Comfortable sneakers or hiking shoes
tent or hammock
sleeping pad - not just for comfort but in the cold is necessary to keep you warm whether in tent or hammock
lighter and fuel
first aid kit
battery powered lights
line or rope & carabiners - helpful for hanging bags, food etc off the ground to keep from animals
baby wipes & hand sanitizer
trash bags (just a couple) - can be used to protect bags in rain as well as collecting trash
food for meals - freeze dried meals, cups of ramen, etc are easy options (just add hot water)
battery pack to charge phone and other electronics
cards or whatever you want to bring to pass the time at night
In winter - hand warmers, gloves, hat, wool socks, warm layers
Water bag - There is no access to water until you hike 8 miles to the village and you should bring at least 2L of water per person.
Baby wipes & hand sanitizer
Sunscreen, hat, & sunglasses
Snacks for along the hike - Your body needs the glucose!
*Regardless of your plans, you should pack one bag per person in a way that is feasible to carry for 10 miles in case plans fall through and you have to hike.
You probably won't have cell service on the reservaton and you definitely won't at the campground. Be sure to download the map for that region in maps.me, an app that allows GPS routing without service. You may not be able to route the trail, but it will still show your location, the village and the falls.
The weather can be unpredictable and extreme at times so pack accordingly. The canyon is subject to flash floods and the campground may be closed at any time due to safety reasons. It also snows sometimes in the winter, and got as low as 17F/-8C at night when we camped in February, so bring appropriate layers to prevent hypothermia.
The Havasupai people speak English and a native language. Wherever I go, regardless if English is spoken, I always try to learn at least "thank you" in the native language. To say thank you, I was taught to pronounce it like "hoon-ga" or "hoong-ya."
Drones, drugs, alcohol and weapons are illegal on the reservation. You can face significant fines and/or federal charges.
Getting to Hualapai Hilltop
You can search Hualapai hilltop (try including trailhead or parking lot) and GPS route from your point of origin. From Phoenix, it's a 5-6 hour drive to the trailhead. From Flagstaff or Vegas, it's about 4 hours. You will want to arrive early in the morning so it may be wise to spend the night nearby the night before (and possibly after). The closest place to stay near the trailhead is at the Grand Canyon Caverns Inn, located 65 miles (80 minute drive) from the hilltop. I suggest filling up on gas about 2-3 hours in to the drive there. As you get more rural, it can be hard to find a gas station, and gas costs as much as $5 a gallon. There is a restaurant at the Inn, but it closes at 7pm and there is not anything available close by so you should bring snacks. Continental breakfast is included but doesn't start until 6am, when you should already be on the road to the trailhead. From the Inn, take a left and follow that road about 5 miles to Route 18, where you will turn right and continue straight until you come upon the trailhead.
Getting to Supai Village
There are a few ways to get to the village from the hilltop. Once you get to the village, you will need to check in with photo ID and a copy of your reservation at the Tourist Office. The campground and falls are an additional 2 mile hike from the village.
I think the hike is a necessary part of the experience, but it can be long and difficult so you may want to consider your options. If you are only staying one night, I recommend hiking one way (to the village if possible) and taking transportation the other way. Hiking both ways (especially if you are carrying gear) is a lot on the body and won't allow you very much time for photos or enjoying the falls. We only stayed one night, so we took the helicopter to the village and hiked with all our belongings the 2 miles to the campground, then hiked back the following afternoon with one bag of essential gear, and sent the camping gear via mule to lessen the load on our backs.
Hiking - I recommend hiking at least one way. The hike down to the village is faster and less strenuous than the hike back. I was told the hike back would take 5-6 hours - we did it in 3.5 while stopping for photos. The last hour or so is the most difficult as you start up the switchback - a very steep zig zag up to Hualapai Hilltop. I was told the hike down would take 3-4 hours, but I imagine if you're in good shape and not carrying much that you can make it faster. You will typically want to hit the trail before 7am as temperatures can climb high in the afternoon. Be sure to bring enough water as you will not be able to get any on the way.
Helicopter - The helicopter takes about 5 minutes but will still give you a beautiful aerial view over the canyon. In the winter, it is not available every day, so if you plan on taking the chopper, be sure to call Airwest in advance at (623) 516-2790 and check their schedule. The helicopters start at 10:00am and are on a first-come, first-serve basis, except locals get priority. It is wise to still get to the trailhead early because sometimes people will line up in advance. The helicopter costs $85/person and includes your bag. On the phone they will tell you they accept card, but at the helipad they will say they only accept cash. They DO accept card, just prefer not to. They will take your card from you and give it to the pilot, and then run it when you land with an additional $10 card charge. You can also pay $20 just to send your bag.
Horse - Reportedly, you can ride horses or mules. Although I didn't actually witness this, I'm assuming it can be done through the Tourist Office.
Pack mules - I recommend sending your camping gear and whatever you don't need on the hike via a pack mule. It will greatly decrease the amount of time it takes and your back will thank you (actually your back will still probably cuss you out but it will be much less I promise). Reservations typically need to be made at least 1 week in advance for pack mules. They typically have some extra mules I was told in case you didn't make a reservation, but I wouldn't leave that up to chance. If you go in early February you don't need reservations and can just pay at the trailhead to have bags taken there and at the Tourist Office in the village to have bags carried back. The Tourist Office does accept card. One mule costs $130 one way and $260 round trip, and carries up to 4 bags and a total weight for 130 lbs to and/or from the campground. If you have less than 4 bags, you can sell your additional tags. If you are staying at the lodge, you can book this through them, and its $95 one way, and $150 for round trip.
Getting to the falls
You have to be fit enough to walk the 2 miles Supai village to the campground, and the falls start 1 mile past the village and extend past the campground about another mile. There are 4 falls:
Navajo Falls - One mile after the village
Havasu Falls - One mile past Navajo before entrance to campground.
Mooney Falls - The largest waterfall, located at the end of the campground. It's a steep, wet climb down to the bottom using chains.
Beaver Falls - Series of smaller falls located about a mile from Mooney Falls.
Always ask before taking photos of locals! They typically do not like being photographed.
UV filter for lens as it can be very bright and sunny.
For shooting the falls, make sure to bring a neutral density filter and tripod. In manual start with your iso as low as possible, the aperture can vary, from f8-25 (I had mine at 25) with shutter speed 2-8 seconds.
Go early in the morning for better lighting and less crowded shots.
The stars are unbelievable at night from the absence of light pollution and perfect for astrophotography.