In October, Shoestring Adventures took a backpacking trip to Havasu Falls. Our mighty group of 12 included campers from California, Oregon and Wyoming. We all came together to swim in the magical blue-green waters.
If Havasu Falls is on your bucket list, here is a guide to help you plan your own adventure. Find out everything you need to know, including when to go, what to expect, how to get permits, and what to pack.
Plan Your Visit
Best Time to Go
The most popular time to visit Havasu Falls is during the spring, summer and fall. While warm temperatures are best for swimming, flash floods are most common during monsoon season from July through September. In early spring and late fall, you will find fewer crowds and cooler temperatures. Warning systems are in place to evacuate tourists in the event of a flash flood.
The total distance to the Havasupai Campground is about 10 miles (or 20 miles round trip) with a 2400-ft change in elevation. The trailhead begins from the parking lot at Hualapi Hilltop. During the summer, you should hike out before sunrise to avoid extreme heat. The beginning of the hike winds down 1,000 vertical feet of switchbacks over the first mile before leveling out. Continue following the path along the dry riverbed, descending gradually another 1,000 feet until you reach Supai Village at mile 8. From the village, hike 2 more miles to the campground. Or you can skip the hike and ride a helicopter.
The trailhead at Hualapi Hilltop is about 3-4 hours from Las Vegas or Flagstaff. The parking area can be reached at the end of Indian Road 18, 65 miles north of Route 66. Beware of wildlife on Indian 18. We encountered dozens of cows and horses in the middle of the road after dark.
The trailhead is located at Hualapai Hilltop Parking Area. No water, gas or amenities are available, except for a few compost toilets, so fill up in Kingman before you turn onto Indian Road 18.
Overnight permits are required. Day hiking is not permitted. Reservations can now be made online or over the phone beginning in February. Permits are in high demand, so have backup dates ready. I don’t have experience with the online system, but if phone lines are busy, keep trying! It took me two weeks to get through calling every day in previous years.
2017 Camping Fees
- Entrance Fee: $50.00
- Camping Fee Per Night: $25.00
- Environment Fee: $10.00
- Tax: 10%
Fees are now collected at the time of reservation. For more information on camping reservations, visit the official Havsupai Tribe website.
4-Day / 3-Night Itinerary
On Wednesday night, we met up at Hualapi Hilltop Parking Lot around 5PM. After a tailgate dinner party, most of us slept in our cars. On Thursday morning, we began the 10 mile hike down to the campground, where we stayed for the next three nights. We hiked over a dozen miles, explored five major waterfalls and gazed at the stars. On Sunday morning, we got an early start to hike back up. After the 10 mile ascent, some of us drove 8 hours back to Los Angeles, while others boarded planes.
Campsites are unassigned and scattered between the campground entrance and Mooney Falls. We crossed a footbridge to camp on the river. Each site has a picnic table. No campfires are allowed. Compost toilets are located throughout the campground. They smelled surprisingly clean and were stocked with toilet paper. On the last night, we even had a camp guard dog!
Natural spring water is available at the campground. During our visit, the water did not need to be treated, but I recommend bringing a filter just in case. The MSR HyperFlow Water Filter
is a lightweight, effective option. Depending on where you camp, the spring might be a long walk from your site. I brought a CamelBak Antidote Reservoir 100 fl. oz. for drinking water, as well as a Platypus Platy 70 fl. oz. collapsible water bottle for extra cooking water.
Rodent-Proof Food Storage
Rodent and odor proof bags are highly recommended for storing food and scented items. Rodents have been known to chew through backpacks and tents for a tasty bite. Hang your food before you go to bed or leave your campsite. We didn’t have enough storage bags and ended up hanging our excess food in sleeping bag stuff sacks. We still had some casualties!
REI Bear Can Rental is the heaviest, but most affordable option at a few dollars per day. Call your local store ahead to check availability. The Outsak and Ursack Minor Critter Bag are better lightweight options. Both must be lined with Opsak odor-proof barrier bags.
Cellphone service is spotty and unreliable. Turn your phone on airplane mode to preserve your battery life and to remain as present as possible.
If you want to elevate your backpacking cuisine, Fireside Provisions makes it easy to prepare a gourmet feast from your campground. Just choose your menu, select your group size, then receive ingredients, recipes and checklists right to your door!
If you’re a backpacking beginner, check out GetOutfitted, an online rental service that delivers premium camping gear directly to your doorstep. The Backpacking Package includes a backpack, tent, sleeping bag and pad.
Once you have the essentials, here are some additional items I recommend bringing that are not included on my Backpacking Gear Checklist.
Bring a comfortable pair with of sandals for swimming and hiking. One of my campers brought surfing booties, which seemed to work the best because they kept the tiny pebbles out!
Bring a daypack to keep your hands free and your gear dry, especially on the hike from Mooney to Beaver Falls.
If you take photos with your iPhone or DSLR, you might want to bring a waterproof case like the LifeProof Nuud Case or a drybag to protect your electronics during water crossings.
Bring a bathing suit for swimming. When we visited in October, it was a too cool to swim comfortably, but we still got in!
Bring a lightweight tech towel like the REI MultiTowel Lite to dry off after a swim.
Don’t let a sunburn ruin your trip! Especially during the hot summer months, wear sun protection and lather up. My favorite lip protection is Banana Boat Sport Sunscreen Lip Balm – SPF 50.
If you’re worried about the battery life on your camera or phone, I recommend the Goal Zero Venture 30 Solar Kit for charging devices.
Disclaimer: I’m not an expert backpacker – these are just guidelines based on my experience. Also, this article includes affiliate links. If you purchase an item, Shoestring Adventures gets a small commission at no added cost to you. Thank you for supporting us with your purchase!