Havasupai Falls reopens after three years

HAVASUPAI FALLS, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - After a three-year pandemic closure, one of the most challenging and beautiful hiking trails in Arizona is once again open for visitors.

Many of the hikers heading to Havasupai Falls, on the Havasupai Reservation west of the Grand Canyon, are using the permits they first purchased several years ago. The tribe sells around 100 permits per day, each of which is for four days and three nights of hiking and camping. The beauty of the waterfalls along Havasu Creek is now world-famous, thanks to social media, creating a high demand for permits.

While reservations for 2024 don’t open until February 1, hikers looking to make the trek this year can try to buy permits through the fall of 2023 from others looking to cancel theirs. They’re posted daily at 8:00 a.m., and you’ll need to make an account on the official tribal reservation website to access them. The cost for a permit is now $395 per person, which is a sharp rise from the days when people recall spending just $35 for a visit.

While the tribe doesn’t discuss specifics, documents filed with the Bureau of Indian Affairs indicate a series of factors leading to the increase. They cite the high cost of dealing with the garbage left behind by campers. The trash often has to be flown out, since the village of Supai is an eight-mile hike from the nearest road. Add to that the cost of ongoing repairs from seasonal floods after the melting snowpack in 2023 triggered flash floods in March. The flood washed out trails, left piles of debris, and forced the emergency evacuation of the campground.

The creek’s water cleared up about a week after the flood turned the falls muddy and brown. Other problems have impacted the post-Covid reopening of the falls. The tribe blames a third-party vendor, handling their reservations, for over-booking. It led to countless hikers around the world receiving emails this spring, telling them their permits would have to be rescheduled again for later this year or in 2024. The lucky ones who are making the trip have options to get to the Havasupai Campground. It’s an 11-mile hike from a trailhead, an hour north of Peach Springs, Arizona.

The hike to the campground will take you through the beautiful Havasu Canyon. If the idea of carrying a 35-pound backpack is daunting, hikers have the option of hiring a mule to carry their gear. The cost is $400 round-trip. Others choose to take a helicopter to Havasupai. For $100, it drops passengers off in the village of Supai, which is a two-mile hike from the campground.

Over the four days, hikers can choose to explore the series of Havasupai Waterfalls along the creek. They include Havasu Falls, which is accessible to all. Little Navajo Falls is smaller in size and in terms of the crowd that shows up each day to swim in its pools. The biggest waterfall, Mooney Falls, requires a challenging climb down a rock wall.

Beaver Falls is a unique series of terraces, created by minerals in the water trapping twigs and other debris over the years. Another six miles downstream, Havasu Creek flows into the Colorado River in a spot known as “The Confluence.” Despite the challenges and a few campers not following the “pack out what you pack in” mantra, the reopening is a relief to both the longtime permit holder and the tribe. Tourism is, far and away, the tribe’s main source of income.

Around 500 members of the tribe live in Supai. They’re looking to balance their economic needs with the desires of tourists from around the world. Their main priority remains to protect the pristine land they’ve called home for 700 years.

Jared Dillingham

Jared Dillingham

Jared anchors the evening newscasts on Arizona's Family, after working every possible shift at Arizona’s Family over the last 15 years.