As most of Arizona boils in the summer sun, Supai village is nestled in a canyon of waterfalls, bustling with hikers who have been planing this trip for months or years. While the waterfalls run cold all year round, it is still hot in the village, most of which is without air conditioning. This is the Havasupai reservation. It is remote. Nothing comes in except by horse or helicopter. There is no farming, though we did see a few backyard gardens struggling to survive the summer heat. This village survives on tourism. There is a cafe, a store, a church, and a school. But people don’t come to see the village. They come to see paradise in a desert. And paradise they find.
If you are planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, don’t miss your chance to add Havasupai to the itinerary. You need to see this place.
From Phoenix, it will take about 5.5 hours of driving to get to Havasupai “hilltop” which is where the trail begins. Since the closest hotel is over an hour away, many people sleep in their cars at the hilltop so that they can wake up early and hike in before the sun is beating down. The hike into the canyon is 8 miles to the village (where you can stay at the lodge if you made reservations) and 10 miles to the campground. I can’t stress enough that you need to call ahead to make reservations for the lodge or the campground – if you show up without a reservation, you might not be allowed to stay if there is no room.
In my opinion, the best time to go would be late spring (May) or early fall (September/October). The water is cold all year round, and the temperature around the falls is significantly lower than the rest of the canyon. You definitely want to get in the water! So go when it’s hot! I wouldn’t recommend July or August because the monsoon is active during those months and may cause flash flooding. We went in the first week of June and temperatures were in the mid 90’s. Perfection. Due to the heat, though, we knew we wanted to get an early start for our hike into the canyon. Like I said, many people sleep in their cars at the hilltop, but we stayed at The Grand Canyon Caverns Inn which is just outside the reservation. It is super kitchy and interesting, but don’t expect any frills.
The Hike into the Canyon
The morning of our hike, we got up at 4:15am but didn’t get out the door until 5am due to one of our hydration packs leaking all over the place (pro tip er… amateur tip?: make sure that the mouthpiece on your hydration pack is in the locked position or that nothing is pushing on it LOL! We are definitely not professionals at this). We had been told that the inn is only an hour away from the hilltop which is where the hike begins. This is only true if you are willing to drive 70mph on a road that is frequently traversed by cattle, elk, and pronghorns. There were definitely some straight-aways where we were able to drive fast, but most of the road has a speed limit of 55mph. Plan on 75-90 minutes.
We ate our breakfast of trail mix, granola, and dates on the drive. Make sure to eat some nutritious food so that you have energy for the hike but limit yourself on coffee (no need to be all jittery on the trail). The inn serves continental breakfast starting at 5am if you are willing to get started a little later and really want to get that bagel.
Depending on when you go, you may see cars parked alongside the road as you approach the hilltop. You want to keep driving all the way to the end of the road which dead-ends into a parking lot. This is where you can drop off your packs if you are having the horses/mules carry them in (call a week before your trip to reserve a mule). Otherwise, just find yourself a parking spot. We went on a Monday, so we were able to park pretty close to the parking lot. We had the horses take in some of our stuff, but my husband and I wanted to pack in as much as we could ourselves kind of as a test of our own backpacking endurance. There are restrooms at the hilltop – be sure to use them before you start your hike!
Hot tip: Take a lot of water!! We each carried 70-100 ounces in our hydration packs plus some electrolyte tabs and gatorade. While the weight is cumbersome, you definitely don’t want to run out of water on this trail. There are no water stations or facilities along the way.
The hike took us 4 hours which is average (we heard of some people doing it in 2.5 hours and others needing 6 hours or more). The entire hike is gorgeous. We took quite a few breaks to eat snacks, rest, and take pictures!
The hike was mostly shaded since we started hiking at 6:30am. There were definitely groups that hiked in mid-morning, but I don’t recommend it!! Way too hot for that. If you are hiking later in the day, be sure to drink some gatorade or use electrolyte tabs before you think you need them.
The first part of the hike is switchbacks, but the trail is 5-6 feet wide, so it’s not scary. Before you know it, you are at the bottom of the canyon, and the rest of the hike is mostly flat-ish (though on the way back out, you will realize that it’s not as flat as you thought!).
When you finally reach the sign that says “Supai: You’re almost there!” don’t get too excited. You still have another 2 miles to go! This was the hardest part of the hike for me because I thought we were so close, and I really needed to use a restroom! I’m sure many of my female readers can relate when I say that my period had come at absolutely the worst time, made even worse by the 2 fibroids that have taken up residence in my uterus this year. Ugh. I was definitely not enjoying myself by this time in the hike. But I say all of this just so that you can take note: when you reach that sign that tauntingly says you’re almost there, if you gotta go, then take the time to wander off beyond that sign and go, because you are not there yet! Also, I have since ordered Thinx period panties which provide amazing back up for unpredictable, heavy periods and/or for long hikes such as this! And sorrynotsorry to anyone reading this who may be wondering why I am sharing so much about my period – but 50% of us have vaginas, and this is what vaginas do. So I think it’s important to talk about.
Hot tip: In the village, there is a restroom in the cafe. There are also restrooms once you get to the campground. While we were there, all of the facilities were kept stocked and clean, but it never hurts to carry some tissues or baby wipes with you.
As you hike the final 2 miles into the village, you will finally get a glimpse of the water which flows near the trail the rest of the way. The water was a bright blue and was crystal clear allowing us to see every rock and pebble at the bottom. This water has no secrets. There is no anger. There is no corruption. Only peace and clarity. If you want to find yourself, or get away from yourself, start here. Despite the mesmerizing beauty of the water and the distractingly large, gnarly trees that lines the trail, I was still desperate to get to town, so we marched onward. If you are camping, you need to check-in at the office in the village. There will be signs. If you are staying at the lodge, you can skip this office and go straight to the lodge.
We were so excited when we finally reached the lodge with it’s delicious air conditioning! Unfortunately, though, the lodge has a 1pm check-in time. And seeing that there were no restrooms in the lobby, I headed straight back to the little cafe about 100 yards away where I found a wonderfully clean real restroom. Finally!
After lounging in the lobby’s air conditioning and eating our peanut butter and jelly lunches, my dad and my husband decided they wanted to hike on to see the falls instead of waiting around for check-in. My sister and I wanted to rest up and then go to the falls later in the afternoon/evening hours. My shoulders were killing me, and I couldn’t bear the idea of putting my pack back on (side note on that: I probably need to learn how to pack better or adjust the straps so that the weight sits more on my hips instead of my shoulders, but that’s another post for another day). My sister and I had also both packed our water shoes in the packs that the horses were bringing in (which weren’t scheduled to arrive at the lodge until around 4pm), and we didn’t see the sense of hiking on to the waterfalls without our water shoes. Somehow, my husband had room in his pack to carry his water shoes AND his flip flops, while my pack carried the majority of our supplies (stove, food, etc.). Funny how that worked out. Unable to convince them to wait until later in the day, they left their packs with us and continued on to the falls. I was a little angry and a little jealous, but I found solace in my plan to take a nice little nap in the air conditioned lobby. That notion was quickly ruined, though, as shortly after the guys left, the staff at the lodge told us that they go to lunch from 12-1 and we had to leave! Our trip was off to a rocky start!
My sister and I luckily were able to find a shady spot outside the lodge. Meanwhile, our traveling companions were taking in the view at Navajo Falls. Not cool. If I had it to do over again, I would have left our heavy packs at the lodge (you’ll find that there is little danger of anyone stealing anything down in the canyon) and hiked to Navajo Falls while waiting for the lodge check-in time – even without water shoes. Of course that’s easy to say now that I don’t feel like my insides are squeezing the life out of me. And I will say that the wait time outside the lodge gave my sister and I some time to bond and talk about what no one ever wants to talk about – the shittiness of menstruation! Plus, we shared an ice cream sandwich from the little store. While it was incredibly over-priced at $6, I was just happy to eat something deliciously cold!
Check back later this week to see how the rest of our trip to Havasupai went! And if you missed it, read my post about Mooney Falls which is one of the falls we hiked to while in Havasu Canyon.