Havasu Canyon, home to the Havasupai Indians, is a paradise located in western Grand Canyon known worldwide for its series of waterfalls and beautifully sculpted rock. In this idyllic setting of lush side canyons and sun-splashed cliffs a small group of indigenous hunters and farmers arrived centuries ago and carved out a simple lifestyle; one that continues to this day.
Havasu Creek, the carver of this serpentine side canyon below the South Rim, is fed by a deep aquifer. The perennial desert stream tumbles over Upper and Lower Navajo Falls, then Havasu Falls, Mooney Falls and finally Beaver Falls on its journey to the Colorado River on the floor of the Grand Canyon. The presence of calcium carbonate in the highly mineralized, spring-fed water gives Havasu Creek its distinctive blue-green color. This same robust creek sustains a rich riparian ecosystem that is home to a wide variety of plants, birds, and animals.
Though many Supai tribal members continue to farm in this flood-prone drainage, tourism has emerged as the tribe's primary source of income. Fee-based camping is offered year round. In addition to backpackers, visitors arrive by helicopter and horseback, some staying in the tribe's rustic lodge. Camping in Havasu Canyon requires a permit and reservations that can be obtained directly from the tribe. DO NOT just show up, or you'll risk hiking 10 miles only to find you don't have a campsite, and if there does happen to be an available site, you'll be billed at twice the usual rate. For more information on visiting Havasu Canyon, visit www.havasupai-nsn.gov/tourism.html.
Havasupai Trail is a somewhat strenuous 10-mile hike from the Hualapai Hilltop to the Havasupai Falls campground. The trail begins with about a dozen switchbacks, descending 1,000 feet over ¾ of a mile from the Hilltop to the canyon floor, where the trail flattens out considerably. The remaining 8 ¼ mile to the Supai Village are pleasant for walking but often sunny and hot, as the temperature on the Canyon floor can soar to 100° F or more from May through September.
There is no day hiking permitted in the canyon. Any visitor must have a reservation and entrance fees are now paid in advance. The cost is $50 per person with a 10% tax, as well as a $10 environmental care fee. These fees can be through the tribal tourism office (928) 448-2121. Keep your receipt with you as you make your way down Havasu Canyon, there are checkpoints to verify all visitors have paid.
If hiking is not an option for you, visitors often prefer to utilize the daily first come, first served helicopter shuttle to either fly in their gear to the Village and hike the first 8 miles unencumbered, or fly in and out themselves. These fly-in options range from $20 to $85 and still require a person be able to hike the final two miles from the Village to the campground. Furthermore, because reservations are not needed nor taken, and priority is given to tribal members first, then tribal business vendors, and finally visitors/tourists, one can end up waiting quite a while for a flight, especially on busy days.
When you reach the Supai village, cool off with some lemonade or ice cream from the Trading Post or General Store, or pick up some last minute items from the necessary but limited grocery supplies. If camping isn't your thing, make a reservation to stay overnight in the 24-room Havasupai Lodge. Rooms are $145 per night for up to 4 people and require a $40 deposit.
The per person entrance fee required of all visitors is $35 and must be paid at the Tourism Office upon arrival. Visitors are also required to pay a once-per-visit Environmental Fee of $5. Camping fees are $17 per person per night. Therefore, a two-night stay for one person would be $57 for the first night, $17 for the second, subtotaling $74 plus 10% tax, or $81.40.
While these tourism fees are vital to the Havasupai tribal economy, the Village is not a tourist attraction. Expect to witness daily life in the Village; you'll see children, residents and often stray dogs going about their day regardless of the presence of tourists.
The night before, your best options are to stay overnight in your car in the Hualapai Hilltop parking lot, or if safety and comfort are your concerns, choose a hotel in Peach Springs (1 hour away) or Kingman (3.5 hours away). Especially in the summer months, many hikers begin their descent from the trailhead at 3 or 4:00 in the morning. Of particular importance when hiking in the pre-dawn dark, be sure to wear a headlamp and always hike with a trekking pole.
Backpackers must drive themselves to Hualapai Hilltop, where the trailhead is located. Start on I-40 near the town of Seligman, the classic Route 66 town on which the setting for Walt Disney's movie Cars is loosely based, located roughly halfway between Kingman and Williams. From I-40, take exit 121 and turn north (right) on I-40 Business Loop. Turn west (right) on AZ-66 (Route 66) and follow the signs to Peach Springs. Continue to follow AZ-66 East 36.5 miles. Turn left onto Indian Road 18 toward Hualapai Hilltop Hwy 60.4 miles.
A word of caution: If you do plan to begin your hike in the dark, early morning hours, use extreme caution and vigilance on Indian Road 18, as it is common to encounter cattle, elk, rabbits, deer and other wildlife crossing the road and endangering drivers.
Along with tools and strategies such as headlamps, trekking poles and careful morning driving and hiking, you'll need to be armed with a "toolkit" of other preparations to make the hike to Havasupai a successful one.
First, be sure to get gas in Kingman, Williams or Seligman; there is no gas available in Peach Springs.
Second, be honest with yourself about your physical condition. The Havasupai Trail is a strenuous one, and the better physical shape you're in, the more you will enjoy your trip. Therefore, it's wise to start training for your adventure as early as 9 months out in order to give you plenty of time to start slow and gradually work up to your peak physical condition. Starting slowly and increasing your endurance and strength over time will protect your joints, build muscle and strengthen your cardiovascular system; it's also key to minimizing soreness and keeping at your routine so you don't abandon your training program.
Train three times a week doing your choice of cardio workouts for at a minimum of one hour per day. Walking up and down hills, gradually carrying more and more weight — 35-40 lbs for a Havasupai backpacking trip — is an ideal training exercise for hiking the Grand Canyon, but cycling, running, step-aerobics, stair-climbing and swimming are excellent options. Your endurance will build if you work out at least once a week for an hour straight; other days, your 60-minute workouts can be broken up into morning and evening sessions.
As with any exercise regimen, check with your doctor first to ensure you're well-suited to your training plan. Be aware that 5,200 ft elevation at the Hualapai Hilltop's thinner air, plus steep, dry and hot conditions — which are present year-round in the Inner Canyon — will exacerbate asthma and any heart, joint or muscle conditions, so use caution and be sure to train and hike within your ability level. Finally, shop for and get fitted for a pair of sturdy hiking boots and a pair of trekking poles now and use them for your training; they must be well broken-in by the time you execute your Grand Canyon hike.
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