Havasu Canyon was dramatically altered following a large flood caused by heavy rainfall on August 17th, 2008, an event which caused closure of the area for nearly ten months; it reopened June 1st, 2009. Navajo Falls is no more, having been completely bypassed by the water. Havasu Falls has changed shape, and although Mooney Falls is less damaged, most of the beautiful travertine pools in the lower canyon have been swept away. The description below relates to the canyon before the flood.
Furthermore, around 2015 the Havasupai tribe decided to prohibit day hikes to the canyon; it can now only be visited as part of an overnight trip (minimum price around $140 per person), for which advance reservations are required, and all the yearly places, made available in February, tend to to be taken within a few weeks.
IR 18 is one of several long roads that lead towards the southwestern part of the Grand Canyon; from Peach Springs in the Hualapai Reservation
the 66 mile route crosses a forested plateau then descends through empty, grassy plains into the Havasupai Indian Reservation
, the most remote of the many Indian lands in Arizona. The territory has only one village, Supai
, located 8 miles beyond the end of the road on the floor of red-walled Havasu Canyon, and 4 miles from the Colorado River. Havasu is one of the longest tributaries on the south side of the Grand Canyon and runs through the center of the reservation which extends about 6 miles at either side.
The attraction of the area for visitors is Havasu Creek
, a year round stream with unusual aquamarine water that flows by the village and descends another 1,400 feet passing over five waterfalls, the highest being Mooney Falls
with a drop of 200 feet. The most popular and oft-photographed is the 100 foot Havasu Falls
which like Mooney has a beautiful deep blue pool beneath, surrounded by thick green vegetation. Despite the effort required to reach the falls, Havasu Canyon has become one of the top attractions in all of Arizona, and is considered by some to be one of the most beautiful places on Earth, because of the exceptional scenery, the traditional Indian village of Supai and the chance to camp right by the creek. Although only 30 miles west of the populous South Rim of the Grand Canyon, the trailhead for Supai is 200 miles away by road.
The road to Havasupai is paved all the way though some parts are in need of resurfacing. From Route 66 it climbs steadily, quite winding at first then mostly straight, the surroundings changing from open grassland to pinyon-juniper woodland then, at the highest elevations, to a few miles of true pine forest before the trees fade away and the land opens out once more to reveal far-reaching views of treeless plains, distant cliffs of the Grand Canyon and the North Kaibab Plateau on the horizon. Most times of day the road sees little traffic, especially after the turn-off to the Hualapai settlement of Fraziers Well, with the exception of early morning and late afternoon, when many people drive by en route to or from the canyon. Fifteen miles of the road runs over BLM land, between the Hualapai and Havasupai reservations, and passes plenty of places for free camping - useful for those wanting an early start on the hike to Supai.
For the last few miles the road follows a shallow tributary canyon before ending at Hualapai Hilltop, which consists of a parking lot, helipad, mule corrals and a cluster of buildings on the edge of the sheer cliffs of Hualapai Canyon
, a sizeable tributary ravine. There are no visitor facilities, not even drinking water. From Hualapai Hilltop a well-marked trail
descends steeply to the flat valley floor and continues for 6 miles past several springs to the junction with Havasu Canyon, and then for a further 2 miles downstream to Supai. The hike is moderately strenuous and can take up to six hours; some people prefer the more expensive alternatives of renting a horse ($75 - Indian operatives) or traveling to the village by helicopter ($85 - private company). Other options are to hike both ways but have a mule carry most equipment, or hike down then ride a mule back up.
Supai has been the home of the Havasupai Indians for hundreds of years and for nearly all that time was very isolated and largely unknown to the outside world but now receives up to 500 visitors per day in summer and a yearly total of 25,000.
Although tourism is now the main source of income, the Supai still follow a traditional way of life, albeit with modern accessories like satellite dishes and air-conditioning. There are of course no cars here, the only motorized vehicles being a few ATVs and tractors, so travel is by horse, mule or on foot. Supai has around 450 people living in 130 houses, spread out over 2 miles of a wide, flat, wooded area of the canyon, and includes two churches, a museum, clinic (not for visitors except in emergencies), cafe, rodeo corral, two general stores, school, post office - the only one in the US where mail is still delivered by mule - and various administrative buildings. The village is surrounded by high cliffs of Supai sandstone, a deep red rock found all over the Grand Canyon and named after this location. Two prominent rock spires on the west side, known as Wigleeva, are believed by the Havasupai to be guardian spirits which watch over the tribal homeland, and will ensure continued prosperity as long as they stand.
Fees and Regulations
Accommodation at Supai is in either a high price, 24 room lodge (around $440 for a room, for up to four persons, in 2021) in the village or at the campground two miles beyond, adjacent to the creek and occupying a half mile stretch of the canyon. The campsite is of the primitive type, with picnic tables, pit toilets and spring water for drinking; all stays must be reserved in advance. No campfires, pets, firearms or alcohol are permitted anywhere on the reservation, and only Hualapai/lower Havasu canyons are open to hiking - all other areas require special permission.
Hiking to Supai, Havasu Canyon and the waterfalls