Backpacking into the Grand Canyon to see Havasu Falls is one of the most difficult and rewarding ways to experience this iconic location. Havasu Falls is found in a remote corner of the Grand Canyon in Arizona (find out more: Where is Havasu Falls?) and is difficult to access. The hike into this part of the canyon is difficult but for fit and experienced backpackers the greater challenges on the trek to Havasu Falls are heat, weather, and dealing with the irritating and gritty sand that makes up this part of the canyon’s floor. Read on for more basics about Backpacking into Havasu Canyon on the Havasupai Indian Reservation.
The Physical Challenge
10 miles one way. 2500ft elevation change.
Getting to Havasu Falls takes time and patience. The hike into Havasupai is not as difficult as many trails in other parts of the Grand Canyon, but it is not easy. Following the Hualapai trail from Hualapai Hilltop you will descend a series of switchbacks to the canyon floor where the tail follows a mild descent along the canyon’s sandy bottom. Here the sand presents a different and unexpected challenge. Walking over uneven soft ground uses muscle groups we don’t often exercise. Plan to start early to avoid the hot sun overhead. Plan to carry 1 liter of water for every hour you will be hiking. This is about 4 liters for most hikers. Remember to stop in the shade and take in some salts in the form of a salty snack.
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You’ll need at least 3 days. The hikes into and out of the canyon will each take the better part of the day, so staying 2 nights is an absolute must. This allows you one full day to explore this amazing place. Many people recommend an even longer stay because it is difficult to really see all the amazing spots in Havasu Canyon in only one day. There are 5 major waterfalls and a number of very interesting side canyons. Driving to Hualapai hilltop takes about 4 hours from either Las Vegas or Phoenix, the 2 nearest big cities. This should factor into your travel plans.
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When To Go
Havasupai is open to tourists for most of the year. When carrying all your gear, the hike into Havasu Falls is quite difficult. High summer in the Grand Canyon is very hot and the temperature increases the further you hike into the canyon. Spring and fall provide a more moderate environment for less physical strain. In any case, you should plan to begin your hike as early in the day as possible. Check weather forecasts diligently, especially during the seasonal monsoon (July – September), when dangerous flash floods are common.
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There are a number of outfitters who offer fully outfitted backpacking trips into Havasupai. The quality of the trips range from bare-bones with a hobby guide as your leader to “thought of everything” offerings from true professionals who’ve clocked hundreds of days in the canyon.
Benefits of an outfitted trip
- Gear is provided. Flying into the Southwest? Avoid checking bags with bulky tents, water jugs, stove, etc. A good outfitter will provide high-quality equipment as part of the trip price.
- Less logistical hassle. Don’t worry about food. They should have that covered.
- Permits. Any respectable outfitter will take care of those for you. Due to the way the Havasupai Tourism Enterprise manages their business, outfitters are often able to procure permits through the Havasupai tribe when other tourists are not.
- Ground Transportation. Generally speaking, most outfitters will at least have a shuttle you can book to transport you to the trailhead. This is a huge bonus with most wilderness trips.
- Low pressure. You’ve got a guide, there’s no need to be worrying about every possible trail hazard, they’ve got that covered.
Go local with Arizona Outback Adventures. AOA has is one of the longest-operating adventure companies in Havasu Canyon. Guides are professional, organized, wilderness safety certified, and experts when it comes to finding the coolest spots to camp, swim, or cliff-jump (if that’s what you’re into!). AOA comes highly recommended on TripAdvisor.
Well-known outdoor retailer REI also offers a Havasupai Backpacking trip through their “Adventures” program. Co-op members can access the lower price and if you’re not a member all it takes is $20 for a lifetime of discounts on all the outdoor gear you need.