Preparing for Havasupai: How to obtain a permit & plan for your trip
Havasupai is a coveted backpacking trip for adventure seekers around the world. Take a peek at one of the many waterfalls and you’ll see why. In this post, I’ll detail your best chance of getting permits (there’s more than one way) and how to plan your trip thereafter.
The most common means of obtaining permits for Havasupai is through their website here: https://www.havasupaireservations.com . Seems easy enough. Ha! On a specified date and time (for the 2019 season it was Feb 1 at 7am mountain time) the site goes live and will allow you to purchase permits for that camping season. The caveat? You and thousands of others are also trying to get permits to Havasupai. We were lucky enough to go with a friend who had already obtained permits this way in the past. She had some “tricks” if you will and I’ll go ahead and share what we did (and by “we” I mean “she”). Prior to opening day we had already pre determined the dates (you can ONLY book 4 day/3 night reservations) and the number of permits we needed (max is 10). We each set up an account and pre-populated our credit card info on the site. This way, we all worked on getting permits at the same time on opening day. When the website finally went live it froze and crashed for about 2 hours. Persistence is key, because the website crashes and lags for everyone. Our friend, Juliana, was finally able to get through and book permits. (Cue all the clinks and confetti… at 9am). Our first hurdle was complete, now it was time for all the planning and logistics.
(Some side notes: If you miss the Feb 1 opening day for permits, I have heard of other success stories by either 1. going through the site directly and checking regularly for cancellations or 2. joining one of the Facebook groups and checking routinely for permits that way.)
There are 3 main airports you can fly into near the trailhead: Phoenix (5 hour drive), Las Vegas (4 hour drive), or Flagstaff (3 hour drive). We chose Flagstaff. If you go to Havasupai during the hot season (which I recommend because the water is pretty cold), you’ll HAVE to get an early morning start on the hike in to avoid hiking in the heat of the day. Which means… you’ll likely be sleeping in your car at the trailhead for a couple hours instead of getting a hotel. The nearest hotel is about 1.5 hours away from the trailhead, so it doesn’t make a ton of sense to check out at 12 or 1 am.
We ended up taking our 4 year old and 2 year old (which wasn’t the original plan, but I’m so happy it worked out that way). Thankfully, kids under 6 do not need permits, and we were able to reserve a mule to take our camping gear down and back out. That left our backs available for kids and necessities only.
(Mule side-note: You can reserve a round-trip mule ahead of time for 400$, or you can book one-way trips once you’re there. The bookings for round-trip mules take precedence, so you are not guaranteed a one-way slot. 2 people in our group hiked in with their gear and sent their gear out via mule as a last-minute reservation and had no difficulty in doing so. You can also *try* to get into and out of the canyon by helicopter, but it’s not guaranteed and the locals get priority. Personally, if you get the chance to go to Havasupai, I think you’d be selling yourself short by not hiking at least one way: in or out. You can also send bags by helicopter which is significantly cheaper than mule service, but also not guaranteed. Lastly, I have heard rumors of ill-treatment of the mules and horses at Havasupai in the past, and I think its worth mentioning that we did not observe this AT ALL. The animals looked well treated and healthy & there are very strict regulations regarding all bags that are checked into to the pack mule service.)
I hope you found this article helpful in planning your future trip to Havasupai. Please let me know in the comments below if I’m missing anything or if there are any questions I can answer!
To be continued: What to Pack for Havasupai–