HAVASU FALLS DOS AND DON’TS: TIPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL HIKE
Havasu Falls (officially known as Havasupai) in Arizona is an absolutely magical backpacking destination with waterfalls and some of the bluest, dreamiest water you’ll ever see. In order to maximize your fun as well as to ensure you are a mindful, respectful visitor, it’s important to prepare for your hike to Havasu Falls by understanding the land and its people.
Havasu Falls is on Havasupai tribal land. Havasupai means “people of the blue-green water,” for obvious reasons. It’s their choice to welcome visitors onto the land, and it supports their community. So out of respect for the land and the Havasupai tribe, there are just a few simple rules that will ensure you, your friends, and future generations get to enjoy this majestic place.
Here’s a full list of dos and don’ts for a successful Havasupai camping trip to complement our other Havasu Falls posts.
DON’T show up without a permit
Permits/reservations are required prior to arrival. We were checked by rangers three times on our hike down and there were signs warning against hiking without a permit. If you do show up without a camping reservation, expect to pay double (if they even let you stay), and I highly recommend against this since it’s a long hike in and you don’t want to get turned back. And don’t think you’ll just be able to sneak in, permits are highly regulated here. Want to know the details of the permit process? Check out our detailed Havasu Falls Camping Guide.
The hike out, especially when it’s hot out, is a bit of a doozy, and the lighter your pack, the more you’ll be able to enjoy it. While they do have pack mules and horses available to carry your gear with advanced reservations, you should be aware that there have been a lot of reports of pack horses being malnourished and overworked. If you’d like to learn more, check out SAVE, a volunteer-based organization trying to end the abuse and improve the lives of these pack animals.
Alternatively, a helicopter is $85 per person each way. However, passengers are accommodated on a first come first served basis and locals have first dibs so you could be waiting for several hours before you can catch a ride.
Instead, we suggest you pack like you would on any other backpacking trip. I’ve shared my full Havsupai packing list here. Bring only what you need and can carry and leave the luxury items, such as coolers and water toys at home.
DON’T camp where you aren’t supposed to
I’ve seen some Instagram posts of people camping just to the lookers right of Mooney Falls on the edge (where I’m sitting in the picture below). There is a picnic table there, but it is for day-use only so people can eat lunch and hang out and enjoy the view. This is not a camping spot. You are only allowed to camp from the campground entrance to the campground’s final bathroom. Anywhere in between those spots is free game. This rule is in place to protect and preserve specific natural areas and to ensure that everyone who visits gets to appreciate the beauty.
DO be nice to the locals
The Havasupai people don’t have to let us visit these falls. Recognize that we are visitors in their home, be respectful of the rules and their land, and be friendly, just as they are to us.
DO pack out your trash
There are signs everywhere that ask you to pack out your trash. No one comes to pick up trash, so please don’t be lazy and leave your food or any other trash at the campsites or in the restrooms. Animals can easily get into the trash and spread it all over the campground, littering this beautiful place with your Mountain House leftovers.
DON’T leave your punctured float toys at the bottom of the falls
When we were there, there were at least 5 damaged float toys sitting at the base of Mooney Falls. Please don’t leave this place looking like a wild and abandoned spring break destination.
DO bring water shoes
If you plan on swimming at all or hiking down to Beaver Falls which requires several stream crossings, you’ll want a pair of shoes that can get wet. For a full gear list, check out my Havasu Falls packing guide.
DO go swimming
If the weather allows, don’t miss out on swimming in one of the best swimming holes on the planet. You’ll regret it if you don’t.
DON’T go cliff jumping
I recently saw a video on the Matador Network of people jumping off the top of the falls. This is CLEARLY against the tribe’s rules, not to mention dangerous. This is not a place you want to get hurt, so do everyone a favor and don’t go cliff jumping.
DON’T leave food out at camp
The squirrels are incredibly smart at Havasu Falls, and the marmots have been known to be sneaky as well. You’ll want to bring some paracord and a bag to tie your food up high off the ground from a tree, not too close to the tree trunk. We saw squirrels jumping over a foot or two off of the ground onto people’s bags – they then ate right through the backpacks to get to the food inside. Even better, if you have a bear canister, bring that as it’s the most fool-proof way to keep those buggers out of your food.
DO check the weather
We visited Havasu Falls in May and it rained the entire second day. Luckily we checked the weather beforehand and came with appropriate gear, including a tarp that we rigged up over our picnic table. Without it, it could have been a very miserable day.
DO bring a camera, but leave the drone at home
Havasu Falls is a photographer’s paradise. It’s literally impossible to take a bad photo and it’s a great place to practice if you want to improve your camera skills. There are also plenty of places to stash your camera so it doesn’t get wet, or you can store it in a small dry sack to be safe.
As far as drones go, they are NOT allowed on the Havasupai reservation. I packed my drone down there unknowingly and didn’t see the sign until we arrived at the campground. So it stayed in my pack the whole time. Now that I think about this rule, it does make sense. There are a ton of people down there enjoying the beauty of the place, and drones are loud and disturb the peace. And if one person gets some sick drone footage, all of a sudden, everyone is going to be down there with one. This is another rule that’s in place to protect the natural environment, the soundscape, and other’s experiences. So do as they say and leave the drone at home.
DON’T attempt to day hike
Havasu Falls is 10 miles from the trailhead. I’ve had many people ask if they can day hike if they are unable to secure an overnight permit. First, there are signs everywhere stating day hiking is prohibited. Furthermore, it seems way too far to try to tackle the roundtrip hike and still have time to actually enjoy the falls. Take a rain check, keep trying for a permit and visit when you have enough time. Trust me, it will be worth the wait to do it right.
DON’T drive to the trailhead at night, if possible
We saw dozens of huge elk off the side of the road and even some in the middle of the road. We had to be on full alert the entire 60 miles in order to avoid hitting something, and in the dark it’s much harder to see.
DO bring a hammock
There are tons of trees and riverside swinging spots that are perfect for an afternoon hammock nap.
DO be a good neighbor
The campground is busy, and you’ll likely be within eye and ear sight of your neighbors. So don’t be inconsiderate and yell all night at your campsite, like our neighbors were.
DON’T bring alcohol
Alcohol is not allowed for anyone, locals or visitors, on the Havasupai reservation. When we were there our neighbors not only disobeyed the rules but were yelling “drink, drink, drink” which was subsequently heard by every single camper in the canyon. Be respectful of the law and the people. If you need to brush up on your trail etiquette, you can do so here.
DO hike to Beaver Falls
Once you get down to Mooney Falls, the trail is mostly flat and just gets prettier the further down you go, so I highly recommend you hike all the way to Beaver Falls. There are gorgeous secluded swimming holes around every corner and it’s worth the effort it takes to get there.
DON’T be afraid if you’ve never been camping
Havasu Falls is a great introduction to backpacking. There are clean bathrooms, safe drinking water, and beautiful photos ops everywhere. If you run out of food you can always head up to the village and purchase stuff at the grocery store. Basically, having the village there provides a small safety net. If it’s your first time backpacking, check out our complete backpacking 101 guide.
DON’T hike out in the heat of the day
The climb out is entirely west-facing with very little shade. Either leave early in the morning or stay and enjoy the falls and hike out in the early evening. If you take option 2, leave with your headlamps ready.