Havasupai is an oasis in the desert. Located in Arizona, it has become a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and adventurists. Getting a permit to hike the Havasupai Trail is a feat all on its own. The permits go on sale once a year (this year they went on sale on February 1st) and dates sell out quickly. I was lucky enough to get a permit for three days and two nights, which cost $171.11. At this price, you’re paying roughly $86 a night to camp in the Havasupai campgrounds.
The Supai village is located about eight miles from the start of the trailhead. There are only three ways in: on foot, by horse, or by helicopter. You have to stop in the village and check-in, then continue roughly two more miles to the campgrounds.
I’ll write another post about some specific experiences during my time in Havasupai, but here are the main things I wish I’d known before I set out on the trail. If you’re reading this, maybe you’re getting ready to trek into the desert or are thinking about applying for permits for next year. Good luck, and I hope my tips can help you be more prepared than I was!
1 – Squirrels are ruthless and will steal all your food
The squirrels at Havasupai are the fastest, sneakiest, and fattest squirrels I have ever seen. It’s truly a sight to behold when you see something so plump sprint so quickly with tons of snacks stuffed in its mouth. We often forget that squirrels are rodents, and that means that they are really really good at chewing through just about anything. This includes bags, backpacks, tents, and boxes. On my first day at Havasupai, a squirrel chewed through my tent and then through multiple bags and ate three days worth of homemade granola bars. I only saved the rest of my food because I came back to my tent in time to find the squirrel trapped inside still eating.
How do people protect their food? There are really sturdy buckets with super strong lids floating around the campgrounds for people to use. If you don’t see any unoccupied, walk around and ask people if they have any extras nearby or see if someone is about to leave and take their bucket. Nobody hikes in with buckets so they definitely belong to the campgrounds and you don’t need to feel weird about just taking one for your campsite.
Another squirrel chewed through my friend’s heavy-duty backpacking backpack and ate a bunch of Clif bars. If you take any food out to the waterfalls, make sure you don’t leave it in your backpack lying around unattended.
2 – Helicoptering out seems like an easy fix but is really more of a hassle
Most people do a pretty good job of hiking into the campgrounds and surviving, but the hike in really takes a toll on your body if you’re not fully prepared and in shape. Your days in Havasupai will also probably include more hiking and some climbing to get around to the waterfalls. During this time, you may develop some blisters or injuries and decide that hiking ten miles back out of the canyon just isn’t in your future. Not to worry! You can ride a helicopter out. It costs $85 and the entire helicopter ride lasts somewhere between 4 and 5 minutes. It seems like a really good deal and an easy way to cop out of the uphill hike, and if you truly can’t make the hike out then this is the way for you.
However, getting on this helicopter is not as easy as some people would have you believe. I racked up tons of blisters on my feet hiking in and around Havasupai and then tried to take the helicopter out of the canyon. Some tour guides in the campground informed us that the first helicopter that takes tourists out leaves at 10 am and to get on that helicopter, you have to be in line at the helipad around 4 am. They also said that for each group of 20 people in line in front of you, you can expect to wait one hour.
We got to the helipad, which is located in the village (so you still have to hike two miles from the campground to the village), at roughly 4:30 am and there were a handful of people already there in front of us. We then sat around and waited for hours as more people started trickling in. Around 8:30, a man came out with the helicopter sign-up sheet. He didn’t announce himself or anything, so half of the people waiting didn’t even notice him, and it was a mad dash to the little fold up table set up in front of the helipad. Forget the lines and forget the order of arrival- everyone pushed their way to the sign-up sheet and it was chaos. I pushed everyone as well and cut the line to my actual place, and I was the fourth person on the sign-up sheet. Helicopters started coming in and out around 9:15, but the Supai locals get priority and only six people fit in the helicopter at a time. I was the fourth person on the list and I didn’t get on the helicopter until 12:30.
3 – Getting to the waterfalls is scary as fuck
Sorry, not sorry for the language, but it’s true. Mooney Falls, which is considered the best Havasupai waterfall, is about one mile from the start of the campgrounds. You start at the top of the waterfall and have to take a trail down. The trail starts off normally, rocky and sloped but not too bad, and then it gets progressively worse. You have to crawl through two very narrow caves and then start climbing down the cliff face, frantically holding on to jutting rocks at first until you get to the metal chains. At the bottom, there are wooden stairs that are muddy and slippery because of the waterfall spray and mud from people’s shoes. I’m not saying don’t go to the waterfall because of how scary it is to get down, but just be prepared. Hold on with both hands and keep your body as close to the cliff/stairs as possible.
Beaver Falls is about 3 miles from Mooney Falls. You have to first climb down to the bottom of Mooney Falls, then embark on a trail through mostly forested areas and a lot of creek crossings. Beaver Falls has two points of entry, and one of them is less scary than the other, but they are both still scary. I descended into Beaver Falls from the less scary entry point which just consisted of wooden stairs. I left Beaver Falls through the other entry point, and I had to do actual rock climbing (unattached) to get to the wooden stairs at the top. I consider myself to be an okay rock climber and the rock climbing I did to get out of Beaver Falls was similar to a V3/V4 in terms of bouldering. It wouldn’t have been bad if there had been a crash pad below me, but falling here was not an option.