The Village of Supai and the Oasis that Lies Beyond

by | Nov 27, 2018 | United States

I can honestly say I’ve never felt such a build-up of excitement for any trip I’ve gone on up to this point in my life. The backpacking trip to the village of Supai and Havasu Falls has been on my bucket list for over three years. Permits sell out every year within minutes of opening and the trek to the falls is intense to say the least. This year, I was finally able to secure not one but two permits and started planning the best Thanksgiving ever.

 

For 2018, permits went on sale February 1 at 8 am Arizona time. Being the incredible planner that I am, I forgot they were on sale and didn’t get to the website until around 10:30 am. Luckily, because I had flexible dates, I was able to snag two permits for over the Thanksgiving holiday before they sold out! After securing the permits and having a slight excitement meltdown at work – I patiently waited until November.

 

Havasupai is a sovereign nation with its own laws, customs, and way of life. Please respect the land, people, and other visitors while you are there so this desert oasis can continue to be a destination experienced by all.

 

Below is a summary of the resources I used to plan the majority of my trip and will hopefully help you as well. All information and pricing are up to date (to my knowledge and research) at the time of writing, November 26, 2018.

 

Before You Go

 

Permits

For 2018, permits went on sale at 8 am (Arizona time) on February 1st. All permits must be paid in full at the time of reservation and are NON-REFUNDABLE and NON-TRANSFERABLE. This means that whoever is listed on the reservation cannot transfer the reservation to a different name. To piggyback on this, when checking in at the Supai Tourism Office, whoever is listed on the reservation must be present. If they are not, the reservation is NOT valid and will NOT be honored.

 

The campground in Havasupai stretches for a mile between Havasu Falls and Mooney Falls. There are designated campsites, but for the most part anywhere you can pitch a tent between the first and last composting toilet is fair game. While we were there, there were tons of tents set up near the cliffs of Mooney Falls, which is highly against the rules, so if you go – please do not set up camp there.

 

There is a maximum of 4 days/3-night stay per reservation. However, you can make multiple back-to-back reservations to extend your stay (if the dates are available).

 

Pricing for 2018 is as follows and includes all necessary permits, fees, and taxes: One Person, 2 Days / 1 Night: $140.56One Person, 3 Days / 2 Nights: $171.12One Person, 4 Days / 3 Nights: $201.67

 

Weekend nights (Friday, Saturday, Sunday), Holiday weekday nights (February 19, May 28, July 4, September 3, October 8), and Spring Break weekday nights (March 5-8 and 19-22) are an additional $18.34 per night.

 

Please Note:
    • Day hikes are NOT allowed. Any day hikers will be subject to citation and will be escorted out at their expense.
    • It is NOT possible to add people or nights to existing camping reservations.
    • It is NOT possible to change the dates to existing camping reservations.
    • If there are any natural disasters, your reservation is still NON-REFUNDABLE. The tribe will do their best to reschedule and honor any reservations affected, but refunds will not be issued.
    • Campfires are NOT allowed in the campground.
The village of Supai also has the option to stay at the Lodge. You can find all the information about reservations here.

 

Trailhead and Parking

 

The trailhead, and where you park your vehicle, is called Hualapai Hilltop. The trailhead is about 60 miles from the turnoff from Route 66 on Indian Road 18. Parking here is totally safe, free, and the biggest bonus, there are bathrooms!

 

The closest gas stations are nearly 70 miles from the trailhead in the town of Peach Springs to the west and 90 miles to the town of Seligman to the east. So make sure you fill up before heading to the trailhead to ensure you can get back to town after you finish the trek!

 

Before and After Lodging

Personally, we opted for the cheapest option and slept in the car before we started our hike to Supai. Camping is NOT allowed at the trailhead. The terrain is not suitable to stake a tent down, so please do not try.

 

If you’re looking to be extremely well-rested before heading down, the closest options are the Grand Canyon Caverns Inn or the Hualapai Lodge. The Grand Canyon Caverns Inn is the closer option by a couple of miles. Hualapai Lodge is on the main train line that does have trains passing by at all times of the day, so keep that in mind if you’re a light sleeper.

 

Both lodges are located off of Route 66, so if you opt to stay at either of these options, you’ll still have the hour drive to the trailhead in the morning!

 

How to Get to Havasupai

 

Hike

The hike from the trailhead to the village of Supai is 8 miles, you then have an additional 2 miles from Supai to the campground. You lose 2,000 feet in elevation throughout the 10 miles – the most significant losses are the first mile (switchbacks) and the last 2 miles to the campground.

 

All of the major waterfalls are located between the village of Supai and the north end of the campground. This does not include Beaver Falls, which is a 6-mile round trip hike with multiple water crossings.

 

Listening to music while hiking is not recommended as you could easily drown out any pack mules/horses coming through. All pack animals have the right of way – which is detailed further below under Trail Etiquette.

 

Helicopter

The helicopter service provided by AirWest is available Monday – Friday and Sundays, weather permitting. It is currently $85 each way with one medium-sized backpack (20-40 lbs.) with a $10 fee if you use a card. The flight leaves from Hualapai Hilltop and drops you off in Supai Village 2 miles from Havasu Falls Campground. Consider the helicopter only as a possible backup – and be prepared to hike with all your gear if it is not available.

 

Signup normally begins between 10am and 1pm, but the line often starts significantly earlier and even if you are first in line, you will probably NOT fly until much much later in the day, and possibly not at all.

 

The helicopter service is primarily for the benefit of Supai residents and Village business – visitors are the lowest priority for helicopter use, i.e. you could very likely end up having to backpack out of the canyon at 1pm which would be less than ideal.

 

Mule and Horse

  • Reservations are Required for Pack Mules and Saddle (Riding) Horses. All fees are subject to change without prior notice. Reservations must be made in advance (at least one day before, and up to one week prior to arrival) through the Tourism Office:(928) 448-2180 or (928) 448-2237
  • Pack Mules (fees are per Pack Mule) Between Campground (or Lodge) and Hilltop Trailhead: $132 one way, $264 round trip. One Pack Mule can carry a maximum of 4 bags for a total weight of 130 lbs. Maximum Baggage Size: 36 inches long and 19 inches wide.Ice Chest: Max 48 quart capacity, not to exceed 24′ long and 19′ wide. Maximum size and weight limits are strictly enforced.$300 extra for a late run (if you miss the 7 am campsite drop off).
  • Saddle (Riding) Horses (fees are per Saddle Horse)Between Campground (or Lodge) and Hilltop Trailhead: $250 one way.Between Campground and Village: $175 one way.Limitations: Maximum body weight of 250 lbs, small daypack no more than10 lbs, long pants, and at least some prior horseback riding experience.

 

 

Notes

 

Trail Etiquette

Sharing the trail with the pack animals:
  • Mules ALWAYS have the right of way and can quickly catch up to the average hiker – be aware of your surroundings so you don’t get run over. We were passed by mules on both our way in and our way out and they are shockingly fast and they do not stop for you, so pay attention at all times for your own safety.
  • When on steep switchback sections, step to the side of the trail that is away from the edge, remain quiet and still, and give the mules plenty of time and space to safely pass.
Sharing the trail with other hikers:
  • Uphill hikers have the right of way over downhill hikers.
  • If you are descending, slow down and yield to uphill hikers.
  • Some uphill hikers may see you and decide to stop or step off the trail – it’s their call.
  • To pass someone who is heading the same direction on a narrow section of trail, slow down and politely let them know you would like to pass (a cheerful “hello!” usually works nicely).
  • Communicate in a clear quiet friendly tone. Do not yell.
  • Do not expect slower hikers to move out of your way.
  • Keep in mind that some hikers may not speak English and may not understand you.

 

Water

There is drinking water available from a fern spring at the beginning of the campground. This water is safe to drink and does not need to be filtered. Any water from the creek or other sources will need to be filtered before being used for cooking or drinking.

 

Weather

If your plans are to hike to Supai in the summer, make sure you’re prepared for hiking in the canyon heat. Our hike in was cloudy and cool, but on the way out, even with 60-degree weather I drank about 2.5 liters of water partially due to the heat.

 

Triple check the forecast before your trip so you can pack accordingly!

 

Forecasts for the Village of Supai:

 

Toilets

There are toilets at the trailhead, in the Village (north of the basketball court, across from the helipad), and throughout the campground. Please use them if at all possible. All toilets are composting toilets and provide “mulch” to put in the toilet after you’re finished. Make sure to throw a scoop of bulking material to keep them smelling fresh(ish) and clean!

 

If you must go anywhere else, since it is a high traffic trail in a narrow canyon that is often near the creek, please be courteous to other visitors and pack out everything that is non-liquid, including toilet paper. Ziploc Freezer Bags are great for picking up solids, or you can use a dog “wag bag”.

 

Please make sure you’re always practicing Leave No Trace Principles: lnt.org/learn/7-principles

 

Soap

Do NOT use soap of any kind in or around the water. If you need to feel clean while you’re camping, please bring some sort of wet wipe and pack it out when you leave.

 

My Itinerary

 

Day One

  • We “camped” at the hilltop and woke up around 6 am to get ready and start the hike into the canyon. Make sure you have your permit printed or as a screenshot on your phone.
  • Stop in Supai to check-in at the tourism office and take a breather.
  • Set up camp as close to Mooney as you can get! The further into the campground you go, the prettier it gets and you get a bit more seclusion!
  • It took us about 6 hours to hike to the campground, so we took a power nap after a quick snack.
  • After the much-needed nap, we went to the top of Mooney Falls to sit, observe, and just relax.
  • Go back to camp, eat, and get some much-needed sleep (yes, even with the nap!).

Day Two

  • I woke up around 7:30 am. Made coffee and breakfast, and made our way to Mooney Falls.
  • When we made it to the base of Mooney, we were literally the only people there until about 10:30.
  • I headed down to Beaver Falls, which quite honestly is an oasis inside of an oasis. I didn’t think that was possible but I was proven wrong. Once again, there wasn’t a soul there – so we really lucked out on the timing of our trips.
  • Hike back to Mooney and head back up, relax at one of the viewpoints by Mooney to catch your breath and regain feeling in your limbs.
  • Note that the decent too (and ascent from) Mooney is not for the faint of heart. You are scaling a cliff and holding on to chains that are damp from water splash for most of the climb up and down. It took focusing every bone in my body to not have a panic attack during these. When going up or down, do NOT rush yourself or others, take your time, go as slow as you need, and BE SAFE. Also try to make sure nobody is coming down as you start your ascent as it is not easy (close to impossible) to turn around going either way.
  • Head over to Havasu Falls, which in my opinion is almost prettier than Mooney, plus, you don’t have to risk life and death to get there! Soak in the views and explore a bit before heading back to camp.
  • Make dinner and relax before getting some sleep before the trek out.

Day Three

  • This was our exit day. We woke up at 6:30 am to pack up camp with a plan to head out by 7 am.
  • We actually left camp around 7:45 am (lol) and made incredible time. It took us about 7 hours to get back to the hilltop, the most difficult part being that last mile of incline and switchbacks.
  • When we made it to the top we had a literal crowd cheering us on (hikers are the kindest humans I’m sure of it) and congratulating us on finishing the hike!
  • Pro Tip: We had a cooler with ice-cold Gatorade and water waiting for us when we got back. 10/10 would definitely recommend it.

My (Colder Weather) Packing List

 

Bring it With

  • Backpacking backpack – I used my Reva 60L
  • Water – it is recommended to bring a minimum of 3L (2 gallons) of water for each hike in and out. There is no water at the hilltop, and remember to leave some in your car for when you get out! I brought a total of 4L, a 3L reservoir, and a 1L Nalgene to refill for cooking and drinking at camp.
  • Camp Stove – since campfires are prohibited, you’ll need something to use to boil water for food and coffee. I used my JetBoil for the trip but any backpacking stove will work! Don’t forget fuel and matches (just in case the self igniter fails).
  • Food – There is a general store as well as a handful of fry bread huts in the village and near the campground. However, because the village is so isolated – food costs are a bit on the expensive side. I brought dehydrated meals, jerky, granola bars, and cliff bars – but if you’d rather save the weight and purchase food in the village, that’s also an option!
  • Cash – the general store does accept cards with a minimum $20 purchase, but the fry bread huts and other businesses only accept cash.
  • Daypack – My Cotopaxi Luzon was perfect for this trip and I would have not been able to do a lot without having a daypack. It may seem unnecessary, but it was a lifesaver for preventing hourly trips back to camp!
  • Dry Bag – I used mine to store food, you can also use it for creek crossings to Beaver Falls (and the confluence if you have the time!).
  • Camera – with spare batteries
  • Headlamp – with spare batteries
  • Sleeping Bag – I used a 0 degree Sierra Designs Nitro bag. I tend to run cold, so even though the lows for our trip were in the high 30s – warmer is better!
  • Tent
  • Sleeping Pad
  • Backpacking utensils (bowl/spork/coffee cup)
  • Sunscreen
  • Chapstick
  • First-Aid Kit
  • Wilderness Wipes/Wet Wipes
  • Clothing – I brought as little clothing as possible to save on weight. My final packed items were as follows – 1 microfleece, 1 t-shirt, 1 pair of leggings, 1 pair of shorts, 1 tank top, 2 pairs of socks, 1 down jacket, a beanie and naturally underwear.
  • Swimsuit – In the summer, this is a necessity. I did bring my swimsuit bottoms, but just wore my tank top as the top which worked very nicely.
  • Quick Dry Towel
Water shoes/Sandals – I actually hiked down in my Keen Whisper water shoes. They’re incredibly comfortable and I’ve done hikes in them before – so I was confident I wouldn’t blister. I did wear socks on the way in and out of the canyon for added protection.
  • Hiking shoes/boots/trail runners – if you’re not comfortable doing the hike in water shoes – make sure you bring something you’ve worn before to help ensure you won’t get blisters. The trail is 10 miles, but it is not technical, so running shoes are completely okay, just make sure they’re comfortable!
  • Note: I had a duffel bag waiting in the car with fresh clothes for after the hike – would totally recommend it.

Leave it at Home

  • Alcohol is NOT permitted
  • Drugs are NOT permitted
  • Drones are NOT permitted
  • Jumping/diving/rock climbing is NOT permitted
  • Amplified music is NOT permitted
  • This list is pulled directly from the website of the Havasupai tribe –  be respectful and remember that you are a visitor to their land.
First and foremost – remember we are guests on this land. Treat it with respect, clean up after yourself, and ensure it can be enjoyed by future generations.
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