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Havasu Falls is easily one of the most beautiful places in the U.S. The falls are located on the Havasupai’s tribal land, nestled in the Grand Canyon. Havasupai literally means “people of the blue-green water.” This amazing place had been at the top of our U.S. must-see list for a couple years. Problem being, the camping permits are extremely limited. Luckily, we scored permits for November 2017. Read on to find out how you can use miles and points to visit this dream destination!
Reserve a Campground
You must have a reservation & camping permit to visit Havasu Falls! If you try to go without a permit, you will be turned away. During our hike, we were stopped by a ranger to confirm our names were on the permit list. You can make reservations for the Havasupai Campground online or by calling the Supai tourist office. The system allows bookings for the 2018-2019 season starting FEBRUARY 1. You will need to get on the site AS SOON AS THE BOOKING SYSTEM GOES LIVE at 8am MST for this year, because all the camping permits will likely sell out on the first day of availability. Don’t even mess with the phone line…you will rarely get through. Click here for a link to the online reservation system. We were only able to get a 2-night permit. If we did it again, we would hope to get at least 3 nights. The cost breaks down as follows (as of 2017 pricing):
- Permit – $50/person
- Environmental Fee – $10/person
- Camping Fee – $25/person/night
- Tax – 10%
- TOTAL – $121/person for 2 nights
UPDATE – 2018 pricing:
- 1 Night – $140.56 per person
- 2 Nights – $171.11 per person
- 3 nights – $201.67 per person
The tribe has moved to a single price structure, with a three night maximum stay. If you want to stay longer, you may be able to get lucky and book consecutive stays. Add $18.33/night if you’re staying on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, certain spring dates, and select holidays. This is the second consecutive year of price increases. The booking window will open at 8am MST on Feb 1, 2018. Book Here.
Sadly, you cannot use award points to cover these costs. Everything else, however…
Fly to Phoenix (or Las Vegas) on Southwest
We used our Southwest Companion Pass to fly into Phoenix, along with a couple friends. (Hey Nick & Ashley!) We could have just as easily flown into Vegas, but the price was better into Phoenix. The round trip flights cost only 17,252 Rapid Rewards miles (8,626 each way) from Kansas City, and then we added the free companion to the ticket. I would suggest keeping an eye on the price after you book as well. The cost went down a couple times, and each time we called to get the difference in miles credited back to our account. Altogether, we saved about 1,000 points from the original cost by spending a few minutes on the phone!
You will need a rental car to get to the Hualapai Hilltop, which is where the trail begins. As you can see from the map, it’s no short drive. After a quick stop at REI for fuel canisters, we hit the road. It took about 3h20m from the airport to the Hualapai Lodge (Peach Springs), and then another 1h30m from Peach Springs to the Hualapai Hilltop. You don’t need a fancy car by any means. We booked a standard car ahead of time using Chase Ultimate Rewards points (1.5 cents per point with the Chase Sapphire Reserve + free primary car insurance). You could also use Citi Thank You Points at 1.25 cents each.
The Hualapai Lodge is the closest hotel you can book the night before the hike. Some people camp in the Hualapai Hilltop (trailhead) parking lot, but we wanted a good night’s sleep before three days of hiking. Luckily, we were able to book a double queen room at the Hualapai Lodge, via the Chase Travel Portal, for only 9,431 Chase UR Points (for one night). It has an onsite restaurant, which had some delicious, authentic local food (you must try the Frybread). We were thoroughly impressed with the place, even though we only got to spend a short time there.
You will want to be up well before dawn to make the drive to the Hualapai Hilltop. This isn’t an easy drive either. It’s through the middle of reservation ranch land, where cattle and horses roam free. It’s also pitch dark. Just drive slow and have everyone in the car watching out for livestock, and you will be fine. You will thank me when you are on the Hilltop when the sun rises. It’s an incredibly beautiful, serene scene.
When we arrived, the parking lot was relatively full, but we easily found a spot. There is no water available at the Hilltop, so make sure you pack that ahead of time. It’s also good to leave some extra water in your car, just in case you are running low when you return. We were thankful we did this! There are some restroom facilities for you to empty the tank before setting off.
Hike to Havasupai Camp Ground
First let me say, if you are going to make this hike, pack your own stuff in and out. Maximize your experience, and don’t pay for one of those poor mules or a helicopter. The hike is brutal, but the sense of accomplishment is awesome! Pack light – you really don’t need much. The four of us each carried 30lb packs, of which about 5 of those pounds were water. TAKE PLENTY OF WATER! We had 2L/person for a November hike. You probably need twice that for a summer hike.
Since we made this trip in early November (9th-12th), we literally had the perfect weather. We started the hike with winter coats on but quickly started shedding layers. The high temperature in the canyon was around 70-75 degrees, with nightly lows around 40 degrees. This may sound cold, but with our long underwear and insulated sleeping bags inside our tent, we were nice and cozy. I cannot imagine doing this hike in the summer. You basically have to make the tradeoff decision – would you rather go in the summer and be more comfortable in the water, or go in the spring/fall and be more comfortable during the hike? Tip – The water is cold year-round.
The hike from the trailhead to the village is mostly downhill. Your adrenaline will be pumping and you can’t wait to get to the village. Supai village is at Mile 8. This is where you must pick up your permit. Important Note: The person whose name is on the reservation must be there to pick it up, with ID. They will give you wristbands to wear during your stay and a tent tag. Stop and have brunch at the cafe, because you will need the energy to make it the rest of the way to the campground.
The hike to the campground was 2+ miles of pure sand. Not gonna lie, it was pretty slow-going. We stopped along the way to see Fifty Foot Falls, a smaller waterfall system. When we FINALLY got to the campground, we followed advice to walk past the crowds of campers near the entrance. The best campsites are farther into the 1-mile-long camping area. Yes, that extra mile feels like an eternity, but it was worth the effort. We found the most beautiful campsite, that was as close to Mooney Falls as we could get. With frequent picture stops, along with a lunch stop, it took us about 6 hours to make the full hike.
The campground contains several composting toilets, which aren’t terrible. There is a freshwater spring as well, to refill your water bottles. No showers – that is what the creek is for!
Visit Havasu Falls
After setting up camp, we went back up through the campground to spend some time at Havasu Falls. Havasu Falls sits right near the campground entrance, so it is easily accessible. You can’t miss it. Soak it all in. There are some makeshift seats and a picnic table nearby.
We came back through the campground and topped off our water jugs for the evening. After dinner, we turned in early to rest up. Be sure to put your food into the plastic buckets found around the campsites. We had a few raccoons snooping around our campsite the first night.
Visit Mooney and Beaver Falls
The next day we completed the 7-mile round trip hike to Beaver Falls… and lived to tell about it. To get to Beaver, you must first play a high-stakes game of “chutes and ladders” to get down to the base of Mooney Falls. It is terrifying, and the mist from the falls keeps everything wet. There are signs all around that say “Descend at your own risk.”
The climb down to the base of Mooney Falls may be challenging, but the view from there is well worth the effort! At this point, the trail is a bit hard to find. You can either go straight up the river or hang to the left side of the canyon (which is what we did).
A couple miles into the hike, you come to a very nice area with small falls and a few picnic tables. THIS IS NOT BEAVER FALLS! A group we met wrongfully assumed this was it, and they totally missed out!
As you continue on, you should see picnic tables with numbers written in permanent marker. After the small falls, I would estimate you start around table #5 and will go past at least another 5-7 tables. This was about the point where we forded the river, walked another half mile, and scaled a couple walls. It was like Jurassic Park meets American Ninja Warrior.
You will know when you arrive at Beaver Falls. It is one of the most beautiful places I can imagine, with the layers upon layers of falls. Take some time to relax and swim in the unreal-blue water of the pools. After taking a dip, be sure to allow yourself enough time to return to Mooney before dark. The round trip, with an hour of swim time, took around 6 hours.
Hampton Inn & Suites – Tempe/Phoenix Airport
The hike out… absolutely brutal. It took us over 5 hours to hike out. We stopped every mile to take a rest and hydrate. While the whole hike is 10 miles of uphill trail, the last 2 miles is particularly painful. Straight switchbacks up the canyon wall. This is where you will be thankful you have hiking poles to pull yourself up the path. Bring hiking poles… I was skeptical, but they are totally worth it!
We said goodbye to the canyon and started the drive back to the big city. To reward ourselves for a job well done, we made sure to stop at In-And-Out Burger for burgers, fries, and milkshakes. Well-earned calories!
We stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites – Tempe/Phoenix Airport for 26,000 Hilton points/night. Not to be confused with the Hampton Inn Phoenix Airport North, which we tried to check into. They are about 10 minutes from each other, so just be sure to confirm which you are routed to. A soft bed and hot shower felt SO good, before we had to wake up for an early flight home.
- Be ready to book on February 1st and be flexible on available dates
- November isn’t a popular time, but it should be!
- Take hiking poles
- Take friends for moral support – you’ll need it
- Pack plenty of water
- Backpacker’s Pantry makes delicious Pad Thai to cook on your JetBoil stove
- Set up camp near Mooney Falls
- Bring a hammock
- Budget enough time to hike to Beaver Falls and back before dark (start early in the morning)
- Invest in good hiking boots – For Him – For Her
- Gloves can actually be helpful for climbing down Mooney Falls
- Grab brunch at the village cafe on your way in and out
This was the most physically demanding adventure we have ever attempted. Words can’t even describe the feeling of accomplishment after completing 30 miles of hiking in 3 days. The experience is one we will never forget. The blue-green water is even more gorgeous in person than in the pictures. If you’ve always wanted to visit Havasu Falls, don’t wait… do it now!