Table of Contents
I. 3-Day Backpacking Trip to Havasupai Falls
The Hiking Itinerary & Low-Down
What I Loved More than Waterfalls
II. Plan your own trip
Getting a Permit
Getting to the Parking Lot (Base Camp)
Helicoptering Out of Supai
Gear & Packing List (And What to Leave Behind)
Conclusion & Recommendations
As we trek out of Havasupai, despite blistered, aching feet in mud-stained boots and 35-pound packs weighing us down, we have giant grins on our faces. As an Arizonan, born and raised in the Sonoran Desert, I never thought there could be an oasis like Havasupai hidden in the Grand Canyon. Similar to the tourism boom in Iceland, Havasupai has seen a surge in popularity due to an increased social media presence over the past few years. Everyone wants to get their photo taken in front of the two most famous waterfalls: Mooney and Havasu Falls. I found myself looking to do the same.
Havasupai was on my Southwest Bucket list and happened to cross my mind a few days before 2017 permits opened on February 1st. I was fortunate enough to snatch some permits after great effort (explained in the Plan Your Trip section) for April 2017. My first trip to Havasupai exceeded all expectations and I believe that Havasupai is worth seeing even without the waterfalls. Every guide I read online in preparation for my trip was brief or centered on the waterfalls alone. My goal with this article is to share my full experience with you to help prepare for your own trip or inspire you to plan for next year.
Part I: 3-Day Backpacking Trip to Havasupai Falls:
The Hiking Itinerary & Low-Down:
Day 1: Basecamp - Supai - Campground
Basecamp/Parking Lot –
From the town of Seligman, AZ, we continued until we hit Indian Road 18 to Supai. If your schedule permits, Seligman and nearby Grand Canyon Caverns are quirky Route 66 road-side attractions complete with dinosaurs and classic cars. After 60 miles driving down the desolate Road 18 at 4:00am, we come up to a parking lot full of people car-camping and wandering about. Welcome to Basecamp. Many hikers arrive to the trailhead parking lot the night before to acclimate to the altitude and get an early start to the 10-mile hike for Day 1. Most people start hiking between 4:00am-7:00am to beat the heat. We started our hike at 6:00am and had wished we started earlier.
The trail dips from the top of a canyon, descending quickly through a series of switchbacks to the valley below. The hike begins in a dry, desert landscape and later leads to a red canyon and later a lush tree-lined dirt road with a stream. Eventually, you will come upon horse pastures on either side and small homes on the fringe of the town of Supai 8 miles into the hike (2 miles before the campground).
On the trail, you will encounter horseback riders, pack mules and dogs racing by you. Stay alert and step off the path if you see them coming towards you. A mule came running past us on the way to Supai and I squished myself against the wall thinking, “Oh no, not another concussion!” after only recently recovering from a ski mishap. An ice chest strapped to the mule’s side narrowly missed my head as he sprinted by. Prepare to stop when you encounter horseback riders checking off your reservation. If you don’t have one, they’ll send you packing back to the top.
The town of Supai consists of the visitor center, a store and a small cafe. The Visitor Center is important to note because it is where you check in for your reservation and receive your mandatory wristband and tent tag for the Campground. The prices at these places are high due to the isolation of Supai. On our limited budget, we relied solely on the food we packed in and out. There is also a fountain for drinking water refills outside the visitor center.
Havasu Falls –
My first impression of Havasu Falls was probably not what you would expect when someone comes across one of the highlights of a 30-mile backpacking trip. “Do you think that’s the campsite in the distance?” I asked, lacking the breath and endurance to finish the trek. We glanced over at the waterfall to our right, that’s cool I guess. When we hiked down to the bottom later on after setting up camp, it was as stunning as the photos. I got distracted in the bushes photographing frogs. The water was enjoyable but chilly in mid-April and there were few if any other people at the falls at sunset.
The Campground –
The designated campground amenities include a frybread stand, scattered outhouses, and a single (filtered) spring fountain to fill up your Camelbaks. We picked a campsite on the right-hand side about halfway through the campground that backed up to the blue-green river running between Havasu and Mooney falls. We hung our hammocks and had a picnic table under some large shade trees. If you’re feeling lucky, there is single campsite at the very end that is literally at the top of Mooney falls. Our second day I saw the elusive campsite available and exclaimed to Kelan that we should take it, he was less thrilled to pack up camp and move, so we kept our site.
Day 2: Campground - Mooney Falls - Beaver Falls
Don’t Forget: Water shoes, lunch, 2L of water, snacks, sunscreen, hat
Mooney Falls –
The hike to Mooney Falls is not for the faint hearted. If you want to be as surprised as we were when we came across the trail to Mooney, skip this section! For those who want to live the experience vicariously, look no further.
A mild stroll from the campsite will give you an excellent vantage point of Mooney Falls below. Considering Mooney falls is named after the first explorer to attempt to climb down this cliff and fall to his death, when doing this torturous trail, you might feel like you are next.
Hiking from the campground to Mooney is a short 0.5 mile hike. However, it is not as much of a hike as it is a climb. The trail starts out reasonable until you hit a sign that reads, “Descend at own risk”. I was stumped on where to go next. Kelan pointed out a small dark cave to our right, when I stuck my head inside, I knew it was by no accident. Stairs were carved out of the rock. The tunnels are short enough to not require a headlamp, but long enough to give you the creeps. Through two tunnels and down a narrow and steep section requiring old bolts and chains in the rock as hand-holds, you will end up at the last stretch: a series of wooden ladders and chains to descend from. This far exceeds anything I’ve seen on Angels Landing in Zion National Park, a hike considered only for the most daring hikers. The last ladder was my least favorite because of wet and muddy planks due to constant spray by Mooney Falls. I felt myself trembling trying to find the next step below me as I scooted closer to the ground.
At the bottom, there is a sandy area mostly submerged underwater. Expect to get into the water for the best photos of Mooney Falls. This is where we failed by wearing heavy hiking boots and thick wool socks rather than our water shoes. After stomping through the water, I would untie and dump out the water squishing under my toes in my boots. I eventually gave up and let my feet sit in splashing water inside my boots for the 10 miles we hiked that day.
Beaver Falls –
Navigating to Beaver Falls is where going with a tour group has a major advantage over hiking by yourself. The beginning of the trail is directly to your left after you come off the ladders at the bottom of Mooney Falls. If done correctly, there are 3 water crossings to get to Beaver Falls. If done like us, there are closer to 10 water crossings because we had no clue where we were going. The trail to Beaver Falls seems confusing with multiple branching paths and subtle river crossings. For a while, Kelan was convinced I had gotten us lost with my constant trailblazing of side trails. It eventually managed to connect to the “main” trail. For much of our hike, we were alone without any other hikers in sight. This was a cool off-beat trail (not the main trail) we discovered by accident. We enjoyed the little waterfalls and series of wooden bridges to cross on our hidden trail we stumbled upon.
Eventually, you will come across the only palm tree on the trail next to a set of ladders going up the rock face. A ranger on the other side of the palm tree, Vincent, exclaimed “You’re almost there!” He checked our names off his handwritten list then explained our choices for where to go next. There are two routes to Beaver falls from the landmark palm tree:
Route #1: The most obvious route (Up the ladder) – Lower Falls
Up the series of ladders, across the plateau and down another set of ladders to the bottom of Beaver falls. On this trail, you will get a bird’s eye view of the falls below. There are several tiered pools for wading and swimming at Beaver Falls. You will notice a rope dangling against the rock wall. If you don’t mind getting wet, you can wade (up to your shoulders) to this rope and climb it to the upper level of Beaver Falls.
Route #2: From the top down (Ford the River!) – Upper Falls
At the landmark palm tree, instead of going up the ladder, cross the river and follow the trail on the other side. When the trail disappears, take to the river and wade downstream until you see the trail appear again. We enjoyed this area because of the serenity and were the only hikers while we were there. Cross another bridge and ladder to find the same rope from #1. You can essentially do a loop, taking a different route than the way you came and see both if you don’t mind getting wet. We forgot our dry sacks for our cameras so we went back to the palm tree and all the way around again via Route # 1. I got a priceless photo of me wading through the river up to my waist with my very expensive camera held up over my head. What’s the point of a nice camera if you’re afraid to take it on the real adventures?
On the hike back, we found the proper trail and were surprised at how little of it we recognized. There were also many more hikers around us and a lot less water crossings.
Day 3: Campground à Supai à Basecamp
The hike from our campground to the basecamp/parking lot, including snack breaks, chatting with some locals and standing at the gate of the helicopter pad debating if we really wanted to hike out, took us 6 hours at a mostly meandering pace. We left camp at 6am and arrived at our car at noon. People in better shape and with lighter packs can do this hike in 3-4 hours.
For me, the hardest part was the first mile from the campground past Havasu Falls. I am not sure if it was my body’s surprise going from a 10-pound Camelbak on Day 2 to my 35-pound beastly pack, but I was struggling up the first accent. I made Kelan agree to take the helicopter out, thinking I would never make it another 10 miles. We sat on a rock at 50-Foot-falls and ate some ClifBars and ClifShots for breakfast. After eating (or that 100mg of caffeine in the Clifshot) I got a second wind for most the hike back.
Fifty-Foot Falls –
We stopped here for breakfast but weren’t hike down to the bottom in the interest of time. This would have been great for an extra day to appreciate the lesser-known falls.
New Navajo Falls –
I’m going to be honest and say we didn’t even see this one. Again, an extra day would have been nice! Or being in shape enough to stop and smell the less-prominent waterfalls instead of stomping for ten miles afraid if you even tie your shoe you’ll lose all your momentum and curl up in a ball next to your pack and give up.
As we trekked through Supai with our backpacks towering over us, a local woman stopped us to chat about where we are from. She told us about life in Supai and how all the loose dogs running around are all owned and have names. “And don’t helicopter out! I’ll see you and yell CHEATERS!! Back in my day, you either hiked out or took a horse”. Kelan and I grinned and awkwardly laughed, caught red-handed with our plan!
When we arrived at the helicopter pad I thought about how it would feel to “cheat out” of this hike. It was the first and possibly last time I would be on this trail, why not stay on it for the long haul? “Let’s go!” I exclaimed to my backpacking partner, heaving my pack into my shoulders with great effort. “Are you sure?” Kelan asked in surprise. “Not at all, but we’ve got all day, don’t we?” and so we were off, trekking another 8 miles to the trailhead.
The Hike Back to Basecamp –
The first 2 miles: yeah! We can do this! We can totally do this!
The next 4 miles: ugh maybe this was harder than we thought
The final 2 miles, going uphill in direct sunlight were nothing short of a death march. We made friends with other hikers collapsed in the shade in-between switchbacks.
When I felt like I couldn’t venture on any longer, I saw the parking lot a few switchbacks above us. With a final push, we made it to the top. I had a giant grin when I came up on all of the horses and mules waiting at the top. They looked at me, unimpressed by my massive achievement that they do daily. Looking back at the valley far below us, we high-fived each other for being finally free. “Wasn’t it worth it?” I asked. “Once, yes, but next time we are taking that helicopter.”
What I Loved More than the Waterfalls:
From social media, the vast majority of the photos at Havasupai are of the waterfalls. I found so much more when I was there, and I want to inspire other people to look a little deeper than the surface to find the real beauty of Havasupai.
1.) The Canyon Into Supai
The hike from Basecamp to Supai itself is worth the hike. The red canyon walls are really something special, building up the suspense of what is to come.
2.) Running with the Bulls (Burros)
It was interesting to watch the locals on horseback and their caravan of pack mules stomp by us as if we weren’t even there. Even when I almost got clocked with an ice chest from a rouge mule that ran off the trail.
3.) The Oasis in the Desert… Everywhere
Walking to Beaver Falls, you’re surrounded by fields of beautiful lush vines and ferns along the stream and the calls of little frogs. Every part of Havasupai was stunning with lush green foliage and brilliant blue-green water.
4.) Completely Off-the-Grid
Say goodbye to cellphone service and electricity unless you’re going to hike back to Supai. I loved swinging in my hammock without a care in the world, writing in my journal and being separated from social media, homework, and emails.
5.) Campsite Dreams
This was by far the most beautiful campsite I’ve been at in Arizona and fortunate to have such a beautiful place in our backyard.
6.) Friendliest People (Locals, Guides, and Tourists)
Everyone we encountered was incredibly nice. An older man came up to tap me on the shoulder while I was taking photos to point me to his favorite spot. Guides would shoot the breeze with us and one even offered to let me ride his horse. The locals would stop and chat with us and share some insight on life in Supai.
7.) Spring Flowers & Weather
In mid-April at the time of our trip, beautiful flowers were plentiful. The weather was also very pleasant. The days were cool with a slight breeze while the nights were a little chilly without a jacket. Overall, the flowers and cool breeze really added to the serenity of being in such a unique place.
Part II: Plan your own trip
Getting Permits to Havasupai Falls:
More difficult a feat than the 10-mile march to the campground, reserving permits from the local tribe’s archaic dial-phone reservation system can take days or weeks of constant calling upon opening on February 1st annually.
· Permit Release Date: February 1st annually
· Cost: $120/person for 2 nights at campground (must be paid in-full at time of reservation)
I thought I was cheeky by calling the night before to ensure I’d be one of the first on the line to reserve permits. Eight hours into this phone call, and 20-minutes before the phone lines were set to open at 7am, my call ended. I tried to redial and as feared, there was a busy signal. Hundreds of calls in, the disconnected droning noise became all too familiar. I stalked the online forums for two days and found that nobody else could get through.
A low-budget website quietly surfaced on February 2nd claiming to be the official Havasupai Tribe page. Someone linked this page to the comments of a Havasupai photo on Instagram. I followed it to the Sunrise Campground reservations, which at the time seemed too suspiciously good to be true. Kelan was skeptical of the legitimacy while I jumped at reserving a permit. Every weekend in April was already booked within a few hours, so I settled for two mid-week permits from April 12th to 14th. Checking back on the website weeks later, it appears the online registration failed to withstand the massive traffic influx and is no longer available. I am hopeful that this will replace the archaic phone system next season.
Keep in mind that you will have to pay in advance in full for each permit, which for us cost $120/person for 2 nights at the Havasupai campground.
Can I do Havasupai Falls as a day-trip? Not feasible. To fully enjoy Havasupai, expect to spend 3-4 days (2-3 nights). In addition, they won’t even let you hike to Supai if your name is not on the list. We witnessed a couple hiking in on our day out and encountered them again near the top on their way back out within a few hours with less than thrilled expressions on their faces, possibly kicked out for lack of reservation.
What If I can’t get a permit? A second option to seeing Havasupai this season would be to purchase a tour for $1,000+. I would recommend a “roughing-it” tour where you pack-in and pack-out your own gear without assistance to get the most authentic experience.
Getting to the Grand Canyon & Parking:
The drive from Phoenix takes approximately 4.5 hours. It is beneficial to slowly acclimate to the environment before you hike the Grand Canyon, which we did by arriving the night prior and car-camping in the parking lot. While people were parked alongside the road into the parking lot, we found empty spots right near the trailhead. A few outhouses at the entrance are the extent of the amenities offered at Basecamp.
Helicoptering Out / Renting a Mule:
For $85 each way per person, you can wait in line to take a helicopter ride back to the top of the canyon. Prepare to pay this in cash or be dinged $10 as a credit card surcharge. I would recommend at least hiking in then flying out to have experienced the trail at least once. Mules are $120 each way and can carry 4 bags each. At the end of the day, it was much more of an accomplishment for us to struggle and succeed to hike in and out with 35-pound backpack rather than our tiny Camelbaks. Go for the gold! Spend that $85 you saved on 10 packs of Moleskin blister packs and a Gatorade to celebrate.
Gear and Packing List:
I used the following blog article for a packing guide but found some differences I would like to add for the next adventurers after me.
#1 RULE OF BACKPACKING: MINIMIZE YOUR WEIGHT
This article linked above recommends maxing out at 45 pounds for your pack including water. I realize now this is probably intended for a full-grown, in-shape man. I went by this rule (as a 5’4” thin girl) with a 35-pound pack and could barely carry it. I had never identified so much with Cheryl Strayed in the book Wild, where she is hauling a backpack she can barely pick up but she perseveres through the Pacific Crest Trail with her backpack, “Monster”. I suppose Cheryl and I have something in common since I named my camera “Brick”. This was because it weighed about the same as holding one and could probably shatter windows just as well.
At the campground we met a wanderer named Jack, proudly wearing an American flag bandana and a long white beard. He was astonished by the weight of our backpacks (35 and 40 pounds) and told us his pack was a tidy 17-pounds. When you’re trying to heave yourself up the lengthy switchbacks at the end of the hike back to the hilltop, you will want the least weight possible. I fantasied how it would feel to have a backpack half the weight of mine as I dragged my feet up the final accent to the parking lot. Be like Jack, not like us. Minimize your weight, and think smart not hard – Don’t pack anything that isn’t essential.
What I Brought:
· Backpack – Gregory 65L Baltoro – I’d bring a 35-65L depending on minimal packing skills
· Backpacking Tent – Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 – This is not the tent pictured with our campsite but I much prefer my tent to Kelan’s tent we brought on this trip, the Copper Spur is roomier inside and less of a hassle to set-up (10 tent stakes later…)
· Sleeping Bag – 40-50 Degrees is a good sleeping bag for April, in the summer I would probably try to get the thinnest/lightest one possible. I used a random one from the REI Garage Sale rated to 41 degrees. Check the Supai, AZ 10-Day Forecast before your hike
· Waterproof stuff-sack – Osprey 6L Drysack – Used for food bag to hang from tree at camp, also intended for my camera gear but forgot it the day I needed it
· 1-Gallon freezer bags (x2) – pack out all of your trash and dirty clothes
· 3L Water Bladder (Optional) – Hydrapack - you can get by without a second water bladder but you will fill up much more often. We liked these because they fold up small when empty
· 2L Camelbak – Camelbak MULE Hydration Pack – extremely useful and hold much more water than your Nalgene. Worth every penny if you hike often. I saw a woman on our 8-mile hike to Beaver Falls carrying only a single disposable water bottle and I was baffled (this also adds to the trash you will need to pack out). if you like the daypack included in your backpack, skip the Camelbak
· Nalgene (Optional) – 32L Wide-Mouth Loop-Top – Used for making Gatorade from powder packets and drinking water while at the campsite. Can substitute the extra water bladder
· Hiking boots – High-quality boots will be your best friend on this hike, make sure to wear them ahead of the trip to break them in. Kelan had nice new Danner Mountain 600 boots while I had old Lowa Renegade boots I bought at an REI Garage Sale a few years ago. Guess who used the 2 packs of Moleskine and all the Band-Aids on their painful blisters? Also, both pairs are waterproof but mine had a spongey interior material that took it 2x longer to dry
· Headlamp (x2) – Black Diamond – if I learned anything from my caving experience, never carry only one light source in case one gives up during the trip. On your hike in/out you will probably need a headlamp before sunrise
· Carabiner Clip (x2) – Black Diamond Wiregate - Found these extremely useful to attach things to the outside of our backpacks (like our second pair of shoes) and hang backpacks on tree branches.
· Hammock (Optional) – Eno Doublenest – I prefer the doublenest, especially if you plan to sleep in it instead of bringing a tent –plenty of trees to hang these off of on the trails and in the campground!
· Backpacking Stove, Fuel, Matches (Optional) – MSR Pocket Rocket – Super lightweight. If you don’t care about heating food (or eating Mountain house) then you can skip a cook-set. I went a week in the Icelandic Highlands without it (though I had to eat cold baked beans out of a can) and would consider skipping this on my next Havasupai trip, but this is personal preference
· Titanium Pot (Optional) – Toaks 750ml – Super lightweight and can store fuel/matches inside. I accidently rusted this by letting the metal fuel canister touch. Separate with a napkin
· Travel Towel (Optional) – Youphoria Travel Towel - I didn’t use it on this trip. I took this towel on a 14-week backpacking trip and can dry your body off like some kind of Sham Wow. They got even smaller since my first purchase in 2015 and now only the size of your fist. I’m going to buy these things for my house towels I love them that much
· Rope (Optional) – Intended to hang a food bear bag but we instead hooked our food bag onto a tree branch. There are some feisty squirrels that chewed through someone’s tent and ate all three bags of their trail mix. ProTip: Don’t keep food inside your tent!
· Water Filter (Optional) – LifeStraw – Could have used it when we ran out of water on our Beaver falls hike but didn’t have it in my daypack. You can also carry extra water or water purification drops
· Hiking Socks (x3) – Smartwool – Lightweight is best. Don’t cheap out on socks or boots!
· Underwear (x3) – I hope this would be self-explanatory
· Sun Hat – probably my favorite personal item, I stole my dad’s goofy sun hat and it was amazing… It’s like being in the shade all the time!
· Sunscreen (x2) – if you bring one sunscreen and have luck like mine it will run out
· Toilet Paper, Napkins, Tissues – Outhouses / cleaning up after meals / allergies
· Athletic Shirt (x2) – Patagonia Capilene Shirt – These are great, lightweight shirts that dry quick. Wear one and pack a second one in your bag for halfway through the trip
· Running Shorts / Pair of Leggings – Underarmor, chilly at night but warm during the day
· Moleskin – Blister Dressing – I went through nearly 2 packs of these
· Wilderness Wipes – Sea to Summit – these are nice when there are no showers for three days
· First Aid – Band-Aids, Neosporin, Anti-Itch cream, alcohol wipes (I stole these from my First-Aid kit and threw them in a plastic bag to save space), Advil, allergy medication and Dayquil. We used all of the Advil and allergy medication by the end of the trip
· Camera – I brought 2: my Canon 5D Mark III (you will want a waterproof bag) and a Nikon N60 B&W film camera. I would skip the film camera in the interest of weight. Kelan brought the GoPro Hero 5 Black and the Karma Grip stabilizer handle
· External battery pack – You can share one of these between group members. We both had iPhone 7 Plus phones and after 4 days of taking pictures on mine, it still had 40% battery. My previous phone would have needed an external battery pack. Or just turn off your phone and keep it for emergencies. We instead used the battery for charging the Karma grip
· Mountain House Meals (x2) – Beef Stroganoff (tastes great) - Pouch-sized is good for 2 people for dinner. These require the stove and water from your Nalgene or extra bladder
· ClifShots (x4) – Double shot Expresso Flavor or Mocha – I think this was the only thing dragging Kelan and I up the Supai to Basecamp hike with the 100mg of caffeine per pouch. This was our first time trying these and were very happy with them. Do yourself a favor and don’t buy Citrus flavor (shudders). Buy these individually at REI or by the 24-pack box on Amazon
· ClifBars (x2) –good for long-sustained energy when hiking 10+ miles/day and filling
· Gatorade Powder Packets (x3) – Lemon Lime – these things are great for adding to your Nalgene for post-hiking electrolytes. Beware: I had two of these explode – one in the box when I got it and one in my food bag. Keep them in a separate zip lock or risk getting sticky yellow powder everywhere
· Honey Stinger Waffles (x2) – Variety Pack – nice snack to break up all of the trail mix and Clifbars
· Trail Mix – Break a big bag into small zip-locks. I liked Target brand with coconut/dried fruit
· Fruit Strip Snacks – Simply Balanced (Target) – mildly addicting sweets
· Baby Food Pouches – Peter Rabbit – I was skeptical when my friend recommended these but they were great when you are limited on the packable, non-perishable food options and taste good
What I wish I brought –
· $100 cash – Even if you are not planning on helicoptering out of Havasupai, I recommend bringing enough cash to cover it in case you change your plans or someone has an injury. I would hate to sprain my ankle, fly out of the canyon ($85 per person, one-way), and add the $10 credit-card surcharge as an insult to injury. The extra money is if you want to buy something at Supai food stands or shops.
· More Advil – I packed enough for myself but didn’t account for my groupmates stealing some too
· EMPTY Water Bladders – I read online that occasionally they recommend treating the spring water before drinking it so we packed in an extra 6L of water which was a mistake that weighed heavily on us. Bring the bladders and fill them up in Supai or the campground when you get there. Pack enough water for the day (for me that would be 2-3L)
· Trekking Poles – If you have these, the steep accent and decent will probably be easier. And when I had a 35-pound backpack I wouldn’t have minded having poles to keep me upright!
What to Leave in your car (What?) –
Currently you will not fully understand how great these simple items are, but future you will appreciate how great this will feel after that strenuous hike out of the canyon.
· 1 Gallon of Water - You’ll probably be out of water in your pack by the time you complete the hike
· Gatorade – you’ll probably also be sick of drinking water
· Snacks – Kelan and I found a half-empty bag of Goldfish crackers on the floor of my car and were ecstatic. On the ascent to Basecamp, all we could think of was fried chicken
· Flip Flops –Nothing felt better than ripping off my boots and tossing them over my head into the backseat the minute I got into my car
· Fresh pair of clothes – you’ll feel refreshed after 10-miles of trudging with your pack in the same shirt you wore the day before
Recommendations and Lasting Impressions:
Was it worth the hassle, cost and hike? While the hike was excruciating at times (for us being out of shape and carrying a lot of weight) it made the whole adventure a major accomplishment. I would most definitely do this hike again with a group of friends or family.
Has tourism ruined Havasupai and the experience? From the difficulty of reserving a spot and the constant stream of online features of Havasupai, I prepared for Disneyland-style lines of chaos. Tourism has not ruined Havasupai … yet. We need to practice Leave No Trace principles and respect the environment for those who will trek to Havasupai after us.
Keep in mind that you are in another culture and to respect their rules. I was disappointed to read another Havasupai guide complaining about the “no alcohol” rules and bragging about how they snuck in alcohol and plan to bring even more alcohol on their next Havasupai trip.
The Real Adventure…
To fully experience Havasupai, you need to do the leg work. Hike in and hike out with all of your gear on the trail! Obviously, some people are justified in their decision to use the helicopter, but many (including us!) were intimidated by the daunting hike and ready to pay for smooth sailing out of there whether by helicopter, horse or pack-mule. In the end, we were grateful we decided to do the hike out and complete our experience. One of my outdoors role models, Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, had the well-known statement regarding those who paid to summit Everest with the path of least resistance by hiring others to carry their gear and do the grunt work of the accomplishment:
“The goal of climbing big, dangerous mountains should be to attain some sort of spiritual and personal growth, but this won’t happen if you compromise away the entire process.”
― Yvon Chouinard, Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman
We rolled out of the parking lot in my beat-up green hatchback, the breeze flowing through our open windows, past hikers shuffling with their gear, and away from the oasis hidden away in the canyon below. A young girl waved to us from under her rainbow umbrella at a trailer snack stand, “Goodbye! See you next year!” I looked over at my backpacking partner and grinned. That would be something. I hope it is true.
Safe travels, backpacking friends!
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