Supai, Arizona: Discovering America's hidden oasis
January 21, 2019
by Chelsea Gouine
One of my most extreme adventures was hiking nearly 20 miles roundtrip to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and camping next to the pristine blue waters of Havasu Falls. This trip was not only a vacation but an opportunity to explore one of the most remote places in the United States. Fun fact: the Havasupai tribe are one of the last people to utilize pack mules to deliver mail! If you are someone looking for a hiking adventure that includes climbing and exploring some of the most beautiful landscapes in the United States, then add Havasu Falls to your bucket list.
How do I get there?
There is one long road that leads to the trailhead- watch out for cattle crossing! From Historic Route 66 you will travel north down Route Indian 18 for 63 miles to reach the Hualapai Hilltop. Cell phone reception is rare so have the directions prepared beforehand. Visit the official Havasupai Tribe website for maps and directions! In short, you must have transportation. This means that if you are flying, you’ll want to rent a car. Personally, I believe a road trip is never a bad idea. My travel companions and I drove all the way from Michigan; the incredible sights along the way made the 20-something hour drive well worth it!
What is the trail like?
Parking is available at the trailhead. I recommend camping out at the trailhead the night before, that way you can start your hike as early as possible in the morning. This detail is very important because temperatures can go above 100°F in the summer. There is absolutely no water available on the trail or at the trailhead, so make sure you bring enough! It is recommended to carry at least 1 gallon of water per person. After your arrival at the campground, you will have access to water for the duration of your stay.
There is one trail which leads to the Supai village and is accessible by foot, mule, or helicopter. This is not a day hike! Anyone planning this hike must purchase a permit and plan to stay at least one night. From the trailhead, it is about a 10-mile trek to the village of Supai, where you check in, then another 45-minute walk to the campground. From there, it is 3 miles to Mooney Falls, 6 miles to Beaver Falls, and 11 miles to the Colorado River. The trails are clearly marked and you will likely run into other hikers. A map to the falls will be provided after check-in but a GPS is not necessary.
During your hike, you must yield to all horses: that means stepping to the side towards the canyon wall to allow them to pass. As I mentioned earlier, the Supai village transports all of their mail by mule! Visitors also have the option of reserving a pack mule to transport their gear from the trailhead to the campground for about $132 one-way (up to 4 bags). There is also an option of having the helicopter transport your bag for about $20 per person one-way. However, if you conserve and pack only what you need to you can save some cash and carry your gear yourself.
It is worth mentioning that obtaining a permit is not that easy and must be done well in advance. There are a limited number of permits available, which results in them selling out within 15 or 20 minutes. Just make sure you are ready with a computer and internet connection at 8 am Arizona time as soon as they are available for purchase! You’ll want to create an account before you want to register for permits on this website.
What is camping like?
There are little to no amenities available once you are settled in, so it is very important to remember the 7 principles of Leave No Trace! For example, do not spit your toothpaste in one concentrated area, do not pollute the water with harsh chemicals from soap or other personal care items, and dispose of food and waste properly. These are only a few things you can do in efforts of preserving this remote habitat. Please do your research before you go and abide by all rules put in place by the Havasupai tribe. There are compost toilets for use but no shower facilities. Campfires are prohibited but you can bring a camping stove. The natural water source is very refreshing and safe to drink! Please be respectful of this land and remember to pack out ALL of your trash.
Rooms are available in “The Lodge,” but nothing beats falling asleep listening to the crystal blue water flowing right outside of your tent. There is also a small store and cafe in the village, near where you check in, where you can purchase coffee, breakfast sandwiches, camp food, and other necessities.
I was lucky enough to be able to try some “fry bread” made by the locals at the entrance of the campground. As I sat on a rock eating a delicious treat, I was educated on the complicated history of fry bread, a lesson that would surely never find itself in any school textbook.
Hiking Havasu Falls will be an experience you will never forget
I was given the chance to experience a part of nature so unique and sacred to Native American culture. I never imagined that something this wonderful could exist in the United States or that I would be able to see the world from another perspective. Here are 5 things I learned on this extraordinary adventure:
- I am both physically and mentally stronger than I give myself credit for.
- I often forget how incredibly privileged I am.
- Always bring extra water when you are in the Grand Canyon.
- Hike for yourself, not for Instagram.
- The locals love sharing their land and conversing with you.
If you are interested in experiencing cultures different than your own, if you’re willing to face a challenge, and if you want to be adventurous, then start planning your trip to Havasu Falls now.