A Dirtbag’s Guide to Havasupai Falls – below you’ll find everything you need to know to make this paradise backpacking trip happen – at least, if you’re a dirtbag like us.
Havasupai Falls – it’s beautiful, it’s just-as-amazing-as-the-photos-lead-you-to-believe, and it also requires a bit more planning than your typical backpacking trip.
Chances are, this is not the first time you’ve heard of Havasupai Falls. There is nothing quite like scrolling through your Facebook feed on a Tuesday afternoon and then see a photo of a forty-foot waterfall surrounded by giant pools of turquoise waters. It evokes phrases like “an oasis”, “paradise” and “Is that place real?“. Well, dirtbags, we can happily report that this place is, in fact, real.
So, this is when you have probably started asking yourself – Why is it such a big deal to actually get to the falls? Why isn’t it as popular of a destination as the Grand Canyon?
The simple answer is – Havasupai Falls is nestled in the middle of the Havasupai Indian Reservation, and to preserve the small natural wonder, there is a limited capacity that the tribe allows in per year. The Havasupai (or, “People of the Blue Green Waters“) have been the protectors of, and tour guides to, the beautiful waterfalls for hundreds of years.
So without further adieu, here is our dirtbag guide to Havasupai Falls!
1 – How To Get a Permit for Havasupai Falls
Permits: Every February 1st, the Havasupai tribe opens up registration for permits, which usually sells out in minutes. Here is a link to their website. You can purchase a permit by phone or through their new online reservation system. Permits are $50 or so each plus tax.
There are several companies that end up buying permits to do guided tours – and they are extremely expensive. If you don’t happen to get your permits in February, you can do a guided tour, but it’ll cost you! (This company does tours, as does this company, this one, and this one). We don’t recommend this way, for obvious reasons, but it’s definitely a way to get down there!
For last-minute chances to see the falls, another option is to call at the beginning of each week to see if there have been any cancelations for the upcoming week. As we have been told, this is very successful – you just have to have a weekend open (preferably one that isn’t a holiday or during summertime when the traffic is highest) and be ready to go that weekend!
Special note: Unfortunately, they no longer allow day-hiking permits. The trails are regularly patrolled by several tribe rangers, on horseback, who check your permits.
2 – The Basics
Location: Supai, Arizona. About an hour from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. From Los Angeles, it took us about eight hours of driving. Here is a link to the map of Havasupai.
Mileage: From the parking lot at the top of the canyon, to the first set of waterfalls, is roughly 10 miles. Expect to hike about 30+ miles during your trip if you backpack in & out.
Water Sources: There is no water source until you’re about seven or eight miles in. It’s from a natural spring, but it’s a good idea to bring a water filter if you have one. There is also another water source when you’re in the campgrounds.
Bathrooms: There are no public bathrooms until you get into town. Make sure you go before you hit the trail! There are several bathrooms throughout the campgrounds. They are all outhouses, with no running water, so bring toilet paper & hand sanitizer.
Dogs: You can bring your dog to Havasupai Falls! But, be forewarned, as there are many unattended and unleashed dogs that roam freely throughout the reservation. Most are just looking for scraps and wandering, it’s best to leave them alone, even if they seem friendly and approach you or your dog. Be advised that some of the dogs roam in packs, and we witnessed several dog fights. They never showed aggression towards humans, it was mostly dominance-based. Our advice is keep to yourself and be aware of any food you leave unattended.
Dirtbag Tip: Post on Facebook about wanting to go, and ask if anyone happens to have permits and an extra spot. This is how tons of people end up going every year – by snagging an extra spot available through other friends that may have backed out.
3 – Camping at Havasupai Falls
The Havasupai Falls campground fits about 300 people total. Which means there are limited spots available, and, at times they can be quite packed-in. There isn’t a lot of privacy, so expect to get to know your neighbors. Regardless of the close quarters, these are hands-down the most beautiful campgrounds any of us have ever seen. Small rivers and creeks run throughout the campgrounds, which lead you to the first set of waterfalls. Hammocks are highly recommended, as the campgrounds are covered in low-hanging trees. Camping cost is $25 per person, per night, with a $10 environmental impact fee. Not too shabby!
4 – The Town, Wifi, Stores & Things To Consider
There is a small town about eight miles into your journey to Havasupai Falls – this is where many of the Havasupai Tribe live. There is a small general store (with cold drinks, snacks, and some supplies) and a small restaurant (breakfast foods, burgers, hot dogs, coffee – all being sold at a reasonable price). They both take cards but cash is recommended. The restaurant has wifi (!), a bathroom with sinks that have hot water, and a place you can fill up your water bottle.
Special note: Alcohol is prohibited on the reservation. They do not sell alcohol in town. We do not advise that you bring any with you. Some trips are better without the booze, and this is one of them!
Souvenirs: There are a handful of places you can buy souvenirs. We purchased a few patches and stickers from a local woman selling them in town. This is a great opportunity to help support the local economy.
Dirtbag Tip: There is a place right by Mooney Falls that you can buy delicious fry-bread and tacos. Bring some cash and enjoy some of the local foods! You’ll be happy you did.
5 – Clothing / Gear Checklist
If you’re going in the summertime to Havasupai Falls – expect one thing for sure – it’s going to be hot. Expect the temperatures in the canyon to hit the mid-nineties. With humidity. For gear to best get you through this adventure, we recommend:
- A dirtbag buff – You can dunk it in one of the many rivers along your journey to the waterfalls. This will help you cool off!
- A DBR Hat – Because it’ll keep the sun from your eyes and you’ll look cool, too.
- Luna Sandals – You won’t want to deal with wet socks and shoes all weekend. Invest in a pair of Luna Sandals, and you’ll thank yourself while running through rivers and protecting your feet from the elements. We all wore Luna’s during our trip and they were game-changers. With a non-slip footbed and quick-drying laces, our Luna’s were the perfect tool to help us navigate our adventure optimally. **GIVEAWAY: Find @DirtbagRunners on Instagram to enter into our Luna Sandals giveaway! Giveaway ends 6/22.**
- A Swim Suit / Board Shorts – Because going to Havasupai Falls without them would be a mistake!
- Sunblock – You’re going to spend the majority of your time in the sun. Protect your skin by wearing sunscreen and / or layers.
- A lightweight towel – With all the swimming you’ll be doing, bringing a small towel is a really good idea.
- Sunglasses – Protect your eyes from those UV rays. (Goggles deserve an honorable mention here – they are awesome for swimming around and exploring the rivers!).
- A waterproof camera – If you own a GoPro, now is your chance to use it for what it’s made for! Bring that waterproof casing and get ready to take some epic waterfall and underwater selfies. No GoPro? Borrow a friends, or rent one from your local camera store. It’ll be worth it.
- A daypack – Although you may be mostly focused on your backpacking backpack situation, don’t forget to bring along a smaller pack for your adventures once you get your camp set up!
- A water filter – We recommend a Sawyer Mini Filter! Only $24.99 at REI.com and worth every penny.
6 – The Waterfalls
There are several falls that make up Havasupai Falls. They are all equally amazing for different reasons. Whatever you do, make sure you get to Mooney falls. You’ll thank us later.
Mooney Falls involves using some cables and crawling through a small cave. It’s a little tricky but very fun and reasonably safe (as long as you keep your hand on the chains and take your time going down those ladders!).
Special Note: Do respect the waterfalls and their power. People have lost their lives by trying to swim underneath Mooney Falls, which at 40-feet high, has the power to pull you under the water and hold you down. Be safe.
7 – Getting Out of the Canyon
Option A: You can take a helicopter out of the canyon for $85. They take cards.
We repeat: You can take a helicopter out of the canyon for $85. This includes your extremely heavy backpack.
Pros of helicopter ride: For the cheapest you could ever take a helicoper ride, you can get magnificent views of the canyon and not have to backpack up yourself + gear 8 miles and 4,000 feet. The ride lasts a total of 3 minutes and forty-five seconds. How do we know this, you may ask? Well…we excitedly filmed the entire thing start to finish. It was a pretty badass experience and worth the six hour wait, which brings us to the cons…
Cons of helicopter ride: You’re going to wait at least 5-8 hours to get on the flight. Lines for the helicopters start at 5:30am (basically sunrise) and there is a large crowd formed by the time the place opens (at 9:00am, sometimes 10:00). If you want to get out by the afternoon, you’ll have to wake at the crack of dawn and exert some serious patience. If you show up mid-day to try and fly out, you’ll most likely get waitlisted and stuck backpacking out at dusk. You don’t want to be that person.
Option B: Backpacking out the same way you came in.
Pros of backpacking out: You get to see the gorgeous canyon up-close all over again! If you plan to backpack out, make sure you leave early in the morning to beat the intense morning and early-afternoon heat. And, you won’t have to wait 5-8 hours to fly out! You’ll be in your car and on your way to a delicious post-adventure meal by 10:00am 🙂 It took half our group about three and a half hours to backpack out.
Cons of backpacking out: About a 4,000 ft. climb with your backpacking gear and no water sources. But, some may argue this is nothing but a good challenge to cap off an epic weekend playing in waterfalls 😉
Dirtbag Tip: There will be people selling cold fruit (watermelon!) and drinks (Gatorade and water!) at the entrance to the trail. Leave some cash in your car, as this tasty treat will be heavenly!
Have any questions? Comments? Feel free to shoot us an email at [email protected].
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