Havasupai's turquoise waters are a lure for travelers from all parts of the globe. | Photo by Kerrick James
6. Swim, Hike, and Relax in the Havasupai Reservation
The Havasupai people are believed to have inhabited this canyon for more than 1,000 years, and were noted in John Wesley Powell’s journals. The deep side canyon adjoins Grand Canyon National Park to the west. A perennial spring provides water for the Havasupai tribe and creates turquoise waterfalls famous the world over. Havasupai’s literal meaning is “people of the blue-green water.” Each year, the tribe of fewer than 1,000 individuals welcomes thousands of visitors who come to hike, swim, and renew themselves. I’ve been here 17 times, and still want to return.
Here, your days will fill up with short hikes to the falls, swimming in the pools, and watching the stars wheel over the steep walls that enclose this desert Shangri-La. You’ll meet people from around the world, and you can chat with the Havasupai rangers. I learned that the Havasupai survived by farming in the canyon and hunting on the rim until 1882, when President Chester A. Arthur confiscated all but 513 acres of their ancestral lands. A long legal battle restored the tribe’s land rights, and in 1975, the Havasupai people regained 188,000 acres. As word got out about the ethereal beauty of the cascades—Havasu Falls, Fifty-Foot Falls, Little Navajo Falls, Beaver Falls, and Mooney Falls—tourism became a source of income and identity for the tribe. You might meet some Havasupai in their village of Supai, especially at the café, which is owned and staffed by the tribe. I’ve found the people to be friendly but guarded, and approachable if you take the time to listen. theofficialhavasupaitribe.com.
LODGING: You must make reservations for lodging before arrival. Set at the base of red rock formations, Supai Lodge in the village has comfortable guest rooms and a grass courtyard. Rooms, which can accommodate up to four people, are $200. 928-448-2111 or 928-448-2201; theofficialhavasupaitribe.com/Havasupai-Lodge/havasupai-lodge.html.
Many campsites are available beside Havasu Creek, which is shaded by tall cottonwood trees. Fresh potable water comes from a spring issuing from a shaded cliff. Bring a tent, a stove, and food, although if you run low on provisions, Supai has a small store with limited choices. April and October are typically warm enough to camp, and although summer afternoons are hot, you can chill in the 72-degree pools below the major waterfalls. Camping permits are valid for three nights and go quickly. Camping fees range from $300 to $375 per person for three nights, including permits. For reservations and information, visit havasupaireservations.com.
GETTING THERE: The drive to Havasupai Reservation from the South Rim’s Grand Canyon Village is about 129 miles. Take Old Route 66 west from Seligman, then head north on Indian Route 18 for 63 miles. This paved highway leads to the trailhead at Hualapai Hilltop, where most people hike the 8 miles to Supai village, check in with the tribal office, and then hike the final 2 miles to the campground below Havasu Falls. You can lighten your load by placing heavier camp gear on a pack mule, for $400 round-trip (reservations required). Pay attention to the size and weight limits, which you will find at theofficialhavasupaitribe.com/Havasupai-Mules/havasupai-mules.html.
On certain days of the week, you may be able to fly in and out of the reservation by Airwest Helicopter from Hualapai Hilltop. The cost is $85 per person, one way, for the 8-mile trip that takes about eight minutes. Note that Havasupai tribal members have priority; visitors ride after all tribal members have been accommodated. For information, go to waterfallsofthegrandcanyon.com/havasu-falls/havasupai-helicopters.
INSIDER TIP: Hiking here is not recommended for children. Bring a swimsuit, a towel, a really good book, and your very best friends.
More information about the Grand Canyon is at 928-638-7888 or nps.gov/grca/index.htm. Call 928-638-7496 for road condition/closure updates.
Top photo: The Nankoweap Trail | Photo by James Kerrick