Havasupai is the name of a Native American tribe that lives at the bottom of a spur of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. The tribe, which has about 750 members, would probably be unknown to the rest of the world except for the fact that their tiny reservation happens to contain the most spectacular set of waterfalls in the country. The falls were a relatively well-kept secret but financial strain and the popularity of the falls on social media has forced the tribe to implement a permit system for access to the falls. Today, permits to the Havasupai reservation are considered among the most difficult to obtain in the entire United States.
Permits allow access to the many waterfalls in Havasu Canyon and the town of Supai. Permits used to be obtained by calling the Tribe on one of their 6 telephone lines. However, in 2017 the Tribe instituted an online permitting system, which while still difficult to work is considered far more effective than the phone system.
At 8am Arizona time on February 1st, all the permits for the year (February-November) are released. At that point, it is an absolute free-for-all. I would recommend using at least 2 devices to connect to the server. By 8:30 nearly every permit for the year will have been taken (weekdays in February and November might be around). By the end of the day, every single permit slot will be taken. IF YOU WANT TO VISIT HAVASUPAI, BE READY AT 8AM (MST) ON FEBRUARY 1ST. Havasupai is closed to tourists during December and January.
Occasionally, people cancel, so you can always try calling the Tribe at (928) 448-2180 to see if they have a last minute opening.
The permit price varies depending on how long you are staying and whether you are entering on a weekday, weekend, or special weekday. Day trips are NOT allowed. On the low end, a 1 night permit on a weekday costs $140.56/person (2018 price).On the high end, a weekend/special weekday permit for 3 nights will cost $220.01/person (2018 price). In order to fully experience the Falls and the Canyon, I would highly recommend staying 2 nights.
For members of a federally recognized Native American tribe or people who have somehow befriended the Tribe, the permit rules do not apply and there is no fee to visit. Calling the Tribe to arrange the visit is still required, but there is no need to stress out on February 1st.
The final way to visit Havasupai without stressing about a permit is a guided tour. The tour company Wildland Trekking sets up a semi-permanent glamp in the campground with delicious-looking meals. The downside is the price and the fact that you’re on their schedule.
The permit price includes free camping at the Havasu Falls campground, which is located 1.5 miles past the town of Supai and right in between Havasu and Mooney Falls.
The campground has potable water, well-maintained bathrooms and a frybread stand that makes epic Indian tacos.
There is also a hotel in the town of Supai called the Havasupai Lodge hotel. Rooms include an entry permit to see the falls and are $175/night plus $90/person. The rooms also have air conditioning which is clutch in the summer. The downside is that the hotel is in town, which is 1 ½ miles from Havasu Falls and 2 ½ miles from Mooney.
Getting to Havasu Falls
Havasu Falls is about as close as possible to the middle of nowhere. The last gas station and remnant of civilization is Peach Springs, Arizona. From there, it is a 67-mile drive to the trailhead. There is no water at the trailhead. Some people chose to camp at the trailhead before hiking down. Staying in Kingman and driving up early is recommended.
Here are some approximate driving times to the trailhead from major cities:
Flagstaff: 3 hours
Las Vegas: 4 hours
Phoenix: 5 hours
Los Angeles: 7 hours
From the trailhead, it is an 8-mile hike that drops 2,000 feet into the Grand Canyon to reach the town of Supai. All permit pickups are handled in town. The town also has a restaurant, grocery store and post office. From Supai, it is another 2 miles to the Campground/Falls.
For those that do not want to hike all the way down (or up), there is another option: the helicopter. For $85/person per direction the tribe’s helicopter will provide transport from the hilltop to the town of Supai (it is still a 2 mile hike to the Falls). The 8 mile journey takes a mere 5 minutes. The downside is that it is very popular and often requires an hours-long wait. The helicopter also does not run every day-make sure to look online to see the most up to date schedule. To book a journey into the canyon, call the Tribe ahead of time to make arrangements. For the journey out of the canyon, simply show up in advance and must show up in town before 7am on the departure day (ideally closer to 5am). There will be a long wait that is likely longer than the time it would take to walk out of the canyon. The chopper runs from 10am until everyone has gotten a ride (often until 5pm). Tribe members can ride at their leisure and get to cut the line.
-Standard camping gear (tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad)
-Clothing for both day and night (the temperature swings a lot in the desert)
-Water shoes (for swimming in the Falls and for the hike to Beaver)
-3 liters of water/person
-Food for the walk down (Pack less than you think since food can be purchased in town and in the campground)
-Small day pack for hiking to Beaver Falls
-Cash for purchasing food
-Credit Card for purchasing a helicopter ride