Hanna Schmidtman Photography

Adventurous portrait photographer based in Arizona

Top 6 Things to Know Before Visiting Havasupai

Our trip to Havasupai, overall was a great success. We packed in, found an incredible riverside camp and swam beneath waterfalls at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. However, beautiful scenery and an great trip can often lead to some life lessons. If you are planning your escape to this desert oasis, here are some things to keep in mind for your journey.

1. No Day Hikes or Walk-Up Reservations – Permits are REQUIRED

The first waterfall you come across is 9.5 miles from your car at the trail-head. In order to prevent unnecessary injury and rescue missions, the Supai people have enforced that all visitors must have an overnight permit arranged before-hand. This permit is included with your camping or lodge reservation and is verified by a ranger as you reach the village. Motivated individuals always ask, but please respect the tribe’s wishes, this is their home.

The permit system is online now, and generally opens for the year around the beginning of February and sells out FAST (20 minutes this year). If you have a flexible schedule, you can try your luck getting them second hand as people’s plans are changed or interrupted. There’s a pretty great facebook group dedicated to Havasupai and people post about exchanging tickets fairly often – the Supai tourism officers may even post there. Also, a note a re-sale: it’s not technically endorsed. The reservation has options for two reservation names, so really you transfer it that way. Be aware of  who you are trusting and take precautions: never, ever pay more than what you would pay to the office!

Edit: 2019 reservation process only allows 1 name per reservation. I am not sure how that will affect changes in the reservation system.

2. Be Physically (and Mentally) Prepared for the Hike Out

The 10 mile hike from Hualapai Hilltop to Supai Village and subsequently, the campground (2 miles past the tourism office in Supai) is almost entirely downhill (here is a map for details). If you are in moderate-good health you will be able to do this pretty easily with tons of exciting photo opportunities. However, the hike back to your car is entirely uphill and physically demanding. I do not recommend relying on the use of mules or availability of the helicopter. In fact if the weather conditions are not cooperative, your rescue options are limited! Instead, I recommend training to prepare for this hike! We started the C25K running program about 2-3 months before this and went on a few overnight trips to try out our gear before we left. The hike out is challenging (those last two and a half miles are a gut check), but not impossible! You can do it!

3. Flash Floods are REAL

We reserved our trip for early May based on the availability of our large group and optimizing the temperature (ideally, try to book for early spring or fall). Summers in Arizona are not always the “dry heat”, as claimed, but instead can bring substantial thunderstorms. Havasupai can become very dangerous, very quickly due to its remoteness (remember that 10 mile hike?) and narrow canyon walls. 11 July 2018, 200 people were evacuated from the campground with help of the tribe’s ATVs, horses, and helicopters (with no injuries!). In 2008, the flooding caused severe property damage to the village and even diverted the river to destroy and create new waterfalls.

4. Your Feet will Thank You for Appropriate Footwear

Your feet will make your break your trip! I brought THREE pairs of shoes. We had friends bail on some longer hikes due to blisters (and definitely felt it on the way out). Do not ‘test out’ new shoes on a backpacking trip. I like extra ankle support with extra pack weight, so I wore hiking boots. For the river-crossing trip to the Confluence, I wore beat-up sneakers I had previously destroyed in a mud-run style event and some quick dry athletic socks. Some people only wear their river shoes in the water, and switch back to boots for the ground, but I was fine trudging on through. Finally: camp shoes. I don’t like to lace up boots to run to the bathroom! I recommend strappy sandals, I wear Tevas, (I’d avoid flip flops in case you have to cross the footbridges) or something like a slip on Vans. You can do everything in boots if you don’t like the weight, but to each their own!

Ground Squirrel at Grand Canyon by Geoff Gallice

5. The Squirrels are Devious Suckers

What [they] do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills [they] have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make [them] a nightmare for people like [us]. OK, so a movie about visitors getting kidnapped may be an extreme analogy… but your biggest adversary during your travels to Havasupai will be those damn squirrels. They will chew through your brand new $200 Osprey bag for a snack of trail mix. It doesn’t matter. If you leave food, they will find it. And they will eat it. The best way to prevent this fate is to familiarize yourself with outdoor food storage practices and to double check all pockets/corners/hidey holes before leaving items unattended. Two of our group members fell victim to their tiny grubby hands!

6. LEAVE NO TRACE

Havauspai is a sacred land to the people who live there and have graciously allowed visitors. Due to the rise in notriety due to instagram and other social sharing networks, the area is getting way more visitors than it has ever had before. In order to preserve this natural oasis, please be respectful to the people who call it home and to the land itself. If we work together to minimize the impact and leave the camp and trails better than how we found it, future participates will also be able to enjoy it.

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Leave What You Find
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts
  • Respect Wildlife
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors

For more information on how you can minimize your impact, check out the official Leave No Trace website for more information.