20 Tips for Backpacking Havasupai
Updated: Apr 5, 2020
First and foremost, I will note that although this content has been written by me (Lauren Wood), much of the information comes from the incredible planing and expertise of our trip organizer, my dear friend Lacey Smith of My Laced Up Boots. Lacey deserves all the credit for the work that went into booking permits, sending out backpacking lists to everyone in our group, organizing transportation and shared meals, and… well, pretty much everything. Thank you Lacey—I am just re-purposing your information for the world to enjoy.
On February 1, 2020—the first day of the season—our group of 12 women backpacked into the Havasupai Indian Reservation for a four day, three night trip to Havasu Falls. Organized by our fearless leader, experienced and highly organized Lacey Smith of My Laced Up Boots, we had detailed group meals planned out, packed our own stuff in, and split shared items like tents, fuel, bear cans, food items for shared meals, and cook wear.
Lacey put together a detailed list of all the things we needed to bring and identified which items would be shared (meaning: things I didn't need to bring). I put together a list of these items on my Amazon Storefront so you can shop them directly.
To shop the complete list of items for a Havasupai backpacking trip, CLICK HERE.
We all flew into Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, with most of us arriving around 8 pm. Unfortunately one of our girls missed her flight, so we made a run to REI (10 mins away) for stove fuel, did a quick run to the grocery store, and went back to pick up the 12th woman of our group. That made for a late night—with the time change crossing into the Arizona border (Arizona doesn’t observe daylight savings time in winter), and the two and a half hour drive, we didn’t get to bed until 3 am. That meant for a rugged night with the plan being to be up by 6:30 and out by 7:30 am.
We stayed at the Hualapai Lodge, which is about an hour and a half from the trailhead. Then in the morning we got up bright and early, drive the 1.5 hours to the trailhead, and started our hike down. 5.5 hours later, we were at our campsite and in hikers heaven. We enjoyed four incredible days hiking in, setting up camp by the river, hiking to Beaver Falls and Mooney Falls, cooking group meals and enjoying the stunning scenery.
If you’ve got a Havasupai trip in the cards, lucky you! Use this guide to know what to expect, what items to bring, and the best products to buy before you go.
So without further ado, here are my 20 tips for backpacking Havasupai:
1. Hike in early to claim the best campsite.
If getting a good campsite is important to you—or especially if you are traveling in a large group and need site with space for multiple tents—the old adage “the early bird gets the worm” should be your new mantra.
Hit the trail early: like 6 am in the winter and spring, or even earlier in the summertime. Hikers in summer have to head in early to beat the heat, and I’ve heard people sometimes do this as early as 2 am. Any earlier though and you’ll be sitting in Supai waiting for the tourist office to open (which opens at 9 am Nov-Apr and 6 am May-Oct).
Depending on your ability level, the hike in should take you anywhere from 4 to 7 hours. Realistically, if you’re in decent shape and don’t stop too long in Supai, the hike in shouldn’t take you more than 5 hours. It took our group about 5.5 hours to get in (hilltop to campsite, which we chose at the end of the campground) with A LOT of stops (I mean, there were 12 of us, so…). We stopped a half a dozen times for short breaks, took a rather long break for lunch, and were stopped in Supai for about 45 minutes, where we checked in with the permit office, played basketball with the neighborhood kids, shopped in the market and bought fry bread from the cafe. Had we cut out the lunch stop and time in Supai, it would have taken us only about 4.5 hours.
So where is the best campsite you ask? Well, that largely depends on what you plan to do while at Havasupai and what’s most important to you. Since we had a large group, we really just needed to find a place that fit five tents. If I could do it over again though, I’d probably pick a spot at the beginning of the campground, close to the water source. We chose a spot close to the end of the campground by Mooney Falls, and although it was incredibly beautiful—and closer to the day hikes—it was quite far from Fern Spring, meaning we had quite a hike each day to refill our water bottles.
If the longer day hikes—like to the Confluence, for example—are in the cards for you, perhaps a spot at the end of the campsite by Mooney Falls like we did would be best for you to lessen the length of those hikes. If your plan is to just chill though—and if you don’t want to make the 10 mile hike in and out any longer—then choose a spot close to the beginning of the campsite so you’re not adding to the already long trek just to get there and back.
Speaking candidly, it’s ALL beautiful though, so it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get first pick of the campsites.
2. Bring a Day Pack
If you plan to hike to Beaver Falls, Navajo Falls, Mooney Falls or the Confluence, you’ll need to bring a day pack with you for water, snacks, your camera and extra socks or grip gloves. Although I belatedly found out that my Deuter Futura pack has a detachable lid that can double as a day pack, I still found my day pack to be pretty handy. I chose to bring a small 5L dry bag, so that I could protect all my gadgets when going over all the river crossings. Thankfully I never fell in the water, but I’m so damn accident-prone that I had to plan for that! A lightweight, pack-able backpack like this one is great too.
3. DO NOT go to Havasupai without water shoes.
No, you cannot take off your hiking boots to cross the streams; there are simply too many stream crossings to get to Beaver Falls and the Confluence to be taking your shoes on and off. A good pair of water shoes is really important. Solomon makes great amphibious shoes that are perfect for going in and out of the water and keeping your feet comfortable on the rest of the hike as well. The Salomon Crossamphibian Swift 2 water shoes
were the shoe of choice for our group (I think almost half of us bought these) and they worked great. Water sandals work well too but because of the cold (like when I was there in February) I think shoes are just better.
4. Prepare for extreme cold or heat.
Getting a permit in the first place is hard enough, but getting a permit for “peak” Havasupai season is even more difficult. So if you are going any time other than April, May or October, be prepared for either extreme cold or extreme heat.
It probably goes without saying, but proper (translation = warm enough) gear is SO important if you’re backpacking Havasupai in February, March or November. Temperatures at night can dip to the 30s and 40s in even April, May and October so check the weather forecast and plan accordingly. Fires are not permitted in the campground, so you can’t rely on a fire for warmth.
Some tips for staying warm (and comfortable) in the colder season:
Sleeping Bag: Bring a zero degree bag. Mine was rated to 15 and I was still pretty cold. It ended up being doable with all my layers on, AND putting activated hand warmers at the foot of my bag, but if you want to be warm, you’re probably better off just bring a zero degree bag. If you don’t get cold easily, something in the 15-20 range is fine.
Liner: A sleeping bag liner can add 10 degrees of warmth, so bring one of these and you should be a little extra cozy.
Puffy: A good puffy is as important as a good pair of hiking boots. Preferably one that has a lot of down, is water proof or water repellent, and can pack into itself. I used one from Patagonia and loved it.
Hand Warmers: my girl Kellie brought hand warmers on our trip and they saved my life on our last night, which was the coldest. I used these in my pockets in the evening and then threw them in the foot of my sleeping bag at night.
Wool Socks: Duh. Bring thick ones if your feet get cold.
Base Layers: A good base layer is SO important. I brought a full set (top and bottom) by Odlo which had a ruched neck that pulled overhead and doubled as a face mask. The Smartwool layers were great too.
Other Layers: The key to staying warm is layering, layering, layering. At night, I would wear my base layers, pants, my Kjus mid-layer, a puffy vest by Mountain Hardwear, and my puffy jacket by Patagonia.
"All the things": You may think it’s overkill when you’re packing it in, but all the little things—hat, gloves, beanie, neck/face warmer, etc.—are just as important as the layers.