Hiking to the Grand Canyon’s Havasupai Indian Reservation

Beautiful Havasu Falls gets its color from dense minerals in the water.  “Havasupai” means “people of the green-blue water”. Photo by Amy Proctor,  Special to the Fort Bliss Bugle.

Beautiful Havasu Falls gets its color from dense minerals in the water. “Havasupai” means “people of the green-blue water”. Photo by Amy Proctor, Special to the Fort Bliss Bugle.

By Amy Proctor, Special to the Fort Bliss Bugle:

I came across a stunning picture of an aqua waterfall a year ago and was surprised to find it is located in a rural Indian reservation surrounded by the Grand Canyon. Well, I’m at Fort Bliss, and the Grand Canyon is in nearby Arizona. Surely this was a road trip worth investigating. I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon, and as a photographer, I was excited about adding such colorful, splendid images to my portfolio. So I talked to my travel buddy Lorena and she was all in.

Hikers on their way to Supai Village in the Grand Canyon will be passed by horses and mules carrying mail and luggage. Supai Village is the last place in the U.S. to have mail delivery by mule.

Hikers on their way to Supai Village in the Grand Canyon will be passed by horses and mules carrying mail and luggage. Supai Village is the last place in the U.S. to have mail delivery by mule.

It took many months of research and about six weeks of planning to bring this dream to fruition. The place is called the Havasupai Indian Reservation and it is an extraordinarily remote location. So remote, in fact, it is the only place in the United States to receive daily mail via mule. There are no roads in or out of the canyon, and there is only one dirt trail from the top of the canyon to the village. Aside from what has been established by the local Havasupai Tribe, there is no phone or Internet service in Supai Village, located in the 3,000-foot-deep canyon where the Havasupai Tribe live.

Havasupai, pronounced “Have– uh– sue– pie,” means “people of the green-blue water,” and the Havasupai Indian Reservation was established by executive order in 1880 and 1892. The reservation consists of 188,077 acres, and the Havasupai Tribe has occupied this area for more than 1,000 years.

The only way to reach the bottom of Mooney Falls in Havasupai is to climb through a series of cave tunnels.  Steps are carved from inside the tunnels to assure safe footing for visitors.

The only way to reach the bottom of Mooney Falls in Havasupai is to climb through a series of cave tunnels. Steps are carved from inside the tunnels to assure safe footing for visitors.

The attraction to this place is its remoteness and stunning waterfalls that are green and blue in color. It calls to the hardcore adventurer in those of us who love a challenge. Photographers, campers and outdoor enthusiasts from around the world come to photograph and play in the falls, the most famous of which is Havasu Falls. Mooney Falls, which is twice the height of Havasu, and Navajo Falls are also striking.

The drive from El Paso to Hualapi Hilltop is 692 miles. That’s about 10 hours or so, but don’t be intimidated. With no hotels at the hilltop, the best course of action is to drive all day and stop for the night in Seligman, Arizona, which is the last bit of civilization you’ll see before your last leg onto the reservation. Seligman is at the juncture of I-40 and the famous U.S. Route 66, and is about eight and a half hours from El Paso. U.S. Route 66 themed hotels and restaurants at reasonable prices are in Seligman to accommodate you at the end of your drive. It’s really the best way to get a good night’s sleep before the long hike into the canyon.

Driving from El Paso to Seligman is enjoyable. I deviated several times, adding at least an hour onto my trip, because there were so many scenic stops along the way. I-10 West will take you all the way into Phoenix to I-17 North, with two shorter stints onto Arizona State Route 69 North through Prescott, and in Prescott to Arizona State Route 89 North. From there, I-40 West will take you right into Seligman and U.S. Route 66, where you can spend the night. It’s an easy drive.

The drive from Seligman to the hilltop is next. Take U.S. Route 66 west from Seligman for almost 30 miles before turning right onto Indian Road 18, which will take you 60 miles to the hilltop. It’s that easy.

The trailhead to Supai Village begins at the hilltop, where people park their vehicles and start their descent deep into the canyon. Don’t worry; security patrols the hilltop to ensure the safety of everyone’s vehicles. There are several options for getting there:

1) Hike eight miles to Supai Village and stay at the Supai Lodge.

2) Hike 10 miles, going through Supai Village and adding an additional two miles to get to the campgrounds. You can arrange to have your gear taken down by mule on the hilltop if your load is too heavy.

3) You can ride a horse to the lodge or campground.

4) You can helicopter in from the hilltop to the landing pad in Supai Village for $85 per person one way, but the chopper only flies on certain days of the week and Navajo Tribal members are given priority.

If you choose to hike, the trail begins with a mile long steep ascent into the canyon’s floor. This is how most people make it to the bottom. The eight-mile trail to Supai Village is over dirt and loose rock. Some describe it as an easy hike, and it can be, if you are prepared. My travel buddy and I were able to stay at the Supai Lodge and didn’t need a tent or a lot of extra food, but we still lugged 35 to 40 pounds on our backs. It became diabolical by the six-mile mark. My feet were developing blisters and my backpack was digging into my shoulders giving me shoulder and back pain. I would recommend the preemptive use of moleskin on areas of your feet you’d want to protect from blistering. The last two to three miles were brutal but beautiful. In fact as tough as the hike was near the end, I would have hated to miss the gorgeous views throughout the canyon which ended with a striking greenish-blue river that guided us to Supai Village.

Many people, including myself, opt to fly out of the village for $85 rather than lug more than 35 pounds in a backpack up the grueling eight-to-10-mile hike out. It took only four minutes to reach the hilltop in the chopper, whereas the hike into Supai took us more than five hours. We made good time hiking in, despite a very slow pace after the first six miles, but the rule of thumb is to allow for a five-to-seven-hour hike to the village from the hilltop adding two additional hours from the village to the hilltop if you are brave enough to hike it back.

Once in Supai Village, you must check in at the tourist center, whether you are staying at the lodge or the campgrounds. Registration for the campgrounds is confirmed at the tourist center. Registration for staying on the reservation if you book a room at the lodge takes place at the time of booking the lodge.

If camping, you must walk through Supai Village another two miles to the campgrounds, which are just past Havasu Falls. One of the main benefits of camping is the proximity to the several waterfalls in Havasupai. Staying at the lodge means a downhill hike, very steep at points, for two miles. That’s a two-mile, uphill hike back to the lodge after visiting the falls, which isn’t always fun after a full day of hiking. But if I can do it, you definitely can do it.

Regarding camping, it’s important to reserve ahead of time through the Havasupai Camping Office. Fees double if you simply show up at the tourist center when checking in if you don’t reserve in advance. There’s a $35 per person entrance fee, $17 per person per night camping fee and a $5 environmental fee. That’s a total of $57 for the first night and $17 every subsequent night. If you simply show up without reservations you’ll be paying $114 for one night in the campgrounds for the first night, plus a 10 percent tax, and a $34 camping fee for every subsequent night.

Fees for the lodge run $145 per night for up to four people per room. Bring a friend and split the cost, which makes it more affordable. The $35 permit fee into the village  is added onto the total cost of the hotel stay rather than it being payable at the tourist center when staying at the lodge. There is also a $40 per night per person entrance fee tacked on. My friend and I ended up paying about $280 each for our share for three nights in the lodge. The rooms do not have a TV, phone or refrigerator, but do provide the necessities of a bed, a shower and air conditioning or heat, depending on the season.

There is a café that opens in the village from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Across the dirt road from the café is a small grocery store open until 7 p.m. with milk, snacks, detergents, water and other basic supplies.

I am proud that I was able to endeavor on such a journey and come to know my physical abilities. The greenish-blue waterfalls are amazing and I’m happy to be part of the exclusive club who has embarked on this trek. It is definitely a must-see location for anyone needing an extraordinary adventure.

Things to know:

– Only service animals are allowed in Supai Village. You cannot bring any non-service pets to Supai Village or the campgrounds.

– The Supai Lodge fills up a year in advance April through November. I was able to book a room a month in advance because I went in early March when the weather was supposed to be bad. However, by the second week of March, the lodge was full for the month and is booked through fall. Preplanning is key.

– Offseason maybe the best time to visit. You’ll have a better chance at a room in the lodge, or more room at the campgrounds, and far fewer people than in spring and summer. Also the heat in summer is oppressive often reaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. That’s makes for a potentially dangerous 8- to 10-mile hike.

– Bring lots of water for the hike down. It was cool – perfect whether for us – so I only went through two liters of water, but in summer months that should be doubled.

– Invest in good footwear. Good, solid hiking shoes are important with nonslip soles and plenty of buffer on the balls of the feet and heels.

– Think minimalistic. Bring what you need, not everything you want. It’s a long hike.


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