It’s my favorite time of year again: getting hiking and backpacking permits to the famous Havasupai area and its incredible waterfalls. For those unfamiliar, Havasupai is a magical place where adults play in waterfalls like children in a public pool’s slide-park. Nestled between the orange-red sandstone canyon walls of Havasu Canyon lies dozens of waterfalls.
What’s unique about Havasupai’s waterfalls is the Caribean-turquoise color of the water.
The turquoise color of Havasupai’s waterfalls and subsequent creeks is due to calcium carbonate mixing in with the groundwater and spring-fed water. In fact, the word Havasupai translates to “people of the blue-green water.”
Geology and anthropology aside, Havasupai is a prime spot to have a Microadventure. A weekend in this spot in northwestern Arizona can be chock-full of hiking, cliff jumping, cliff diving, and floating at the water pools, swimming holes, and creeks. For those who have backpacked and camped at Havasupai can attest to the number of things you can do in a single weekend.
That being said, getting permits can be a little bit of a struggle for those unfamiliar. Every year thousands of hikers apply for permits to Havasupai. While permits are not terribly difficult to get through an online reservation system, they are competitive.
It’s not like ordering a pizza online- there’s a little bit of strategy involved to beat out the thousands of other people also trying for permits. The good news is that getting camping permits to Havasupai is nowhere near as difficult as getting hiking permits to “The Wave.”
I’ve personally been to Havasupai three times over the last five years and, in my personal experience, with a little luck and preparation, you can easily snag permits for Havasupai.
Here is a quick guide with some tips and tricks from my personal experience on how to get permits to Havasupai this year:
What you should know about permits for Havasupai
Do I need a permit to hike or visit Havasupai?
In order to hike to, camp, backpack, or visit in general, you need a permit. The Havasupai reservation which manages the Havasupai area does not allow you to visit without a permit.
It’s really important for us to drive that home. I’ve heard of people day-hiking to Havasupai to see the first few waterfalls: Navajo Falls, Havasu Falls, and Mooney Falls without a permit. Although it doesn’t seem like a common occurrence- there are people who do it.
That being said, you CANNOT and SHOULD NOT day-hike to Havasupai or any of its waterfalls in a single day. No exceptions!
While it may be tempted to “try to get away with it,” especially since the round-trip distance isn’t that long, you shouldn’t even try. The Havasupai reservation will prosecute you for hiking anywhere on the reservation without a permit. The area is sacred to the Supai people and they allow us to hike, backpack, camp on their land. Please be respectful and follow their rules. Those who break the rules and hike, camp, backpack, or visit in general without a permit are only endangering everyone else’s abilities to visit this beautiful area.
Please do not hike, backpack, or camp anywhere on the Havasupai reservation without a permit.
How much are Havasupai permits?
The fees per night are $100 per person Monday through Friday and $125 a night for Saturdays and Sundays, respectively.
Holidays that fall on a weekday are treated as a sort of “premium day” and are $125 a night despite being on a weekday.
It is important to note that there is a now a three-night minimum stay at Havasupai- further details explained below.
Therefore you can expect to pay $300 at a minimum for a three-night stay and a minimum of $350 for a trip of two weekend nights plus one weekday night.
You can camp longer in Havasupai than just three nights. Obviously the cost will be at least $100 more per night.
Also, keep in mind that the reservations are 100% non-refundable and non-transferable. Once you swipe your credit card online, you’re bound for camping in Havasupai.
When do Havasupai permits go on sale?
Mark your calendars for February 1st each year!
Permits go on sale for Havasupai on February 1st every year at 8:00AM Arizona-time. Keep in mind that most years, permits for Havasupai are sold out by mid-afternoon on February 1st.
How many nights can I stay and camp at Havasupai?
February 2019 saw an interesting change to the number of nights you’re required to stay and camp at Havasupai.
Starting in 2019, you are required to stay a minimum of no less than three nights at Havasupai.
This was an interesting change considering prior to 2019 you were allowed to stay just one night at Havasupai if you wanted. Now, there is a mandatory three-night stay.
We assume this was an effort put forth by the Havasupai reservation in order to curb last minute drop-outs who left camping spots in the Havasu Campground empty when the spots were actually paid for. Plain and simple, with an increase in required nights (and price), hikers and backpackers are less likely to drop out or cancel their Havasupai plans last minute. This ensures that the Havasu Campground is actually full year-round.
How much does it cost to camp at Havasupai?
Camping is actually included in your reservation and there are no extra fees or permits required to camp in Havasupai on top of your initial permit.
How to apply and get permits for Havasupai
As I mentioned before, getting camping permits for Havasupai isn’t like trying to win the mega lottery. It takes a little luck but mostly preparation to get permits.
All of the times I’ve personally applied for permits to Havasupai, I have been awarded them. This was largely due to my crew having everything in order prior to applying.
Online reservations to apply for permits
Unlike other places to that require mail-in or faxed permit applications (we’re looking at you Grand Canyon Backpacking/Backcountry office), applying for permits for Havasupai are done 100% online. This was a change that was implemented back in 2016 and makes the application process so much easier. Prior to 2016, applying for permits was done on the phone– which was a complete nightmare.
On February 1st, the Havasupai reservation opens up an online permit. At this point, all you have to do is go through an online reservation system: plug in your dates, your party’s information, and check out. It’s that simple!
You can literally apply and get your permits in minutes. It’s just like ordering tickets to the movies online.
Tips to increase your odds of getting a permit to Havasupai
While the chances of not getting permits have decreased (in my opinion) thanks to the online reservation system, there is still a likelihood that permits will be sold out before you’re able to get one.
Remember, each year permits are usually gone by mid-afternoon on February 1st.
In order to get increase your chances of getting a permit to Havasupai, we’ve put together a few tips based on our own experience to increase your odds:
#1 Apply for permits to Havasupai during the off-season: spring and fall
A beautiful fall morning at the overlook of Havasu Falls. The off-season at Havasupai is just as magical as the peak season.
The peak season of Havasupai is July through September and for good reason. The blue-green water of Havasu Creek is like bath water as it snakes around the canyons and tumbles off of the waterfalls. During the day, the temperatures can reach into the mid-90s which is perfect weather for dipping in the wading pools and cliff jumping. It’s no wonder that during these months are so coveted by backpackers and Microadventurers.
During the peak season at Havasupai, it’s much harder to get permits during this time. It becomes a numbers game as many more interested parties apply for permits for July through September. More people applying for permits means a lower probability of getting permits altogether.
In my experience, getting permits for visiting during the off-season is much easier than during the peak season. While this is obvious, you’d be surprised how few people don’t even consider visiting Havasupai outside of summer.
The last time I visited Havasupai was during the fall. Here are a couple of observations worth considering when applying for permits during the off-season:
- The campgrounds were relatively empty allowing us to get a prime real estate spot on Havasu Creek
- Besides a few hikers, the waterfalls were quiet during the day
- The town of Supai was also quiet and the prices seemed lower than during peak season
- Overall, the whole trip was much quieter than other times I had been to Havasupai
And above all, getting permits during the off-season was so much easier.
When applying for permits to Havasupai, consider the off-season: March through late April or during fall: October through early December.
#2 Have at least three backup dates before applying
With the exception of my recent off-season trip, I have never gotten my first choice dates for Havasupai.
That being said, I have always gotten my second choice!
By having a few date slots in mind, it allows you to make a quick pivot if your first choice slot is not available.
Remember, permits to Havasupai sell out extremely quickly- in a matter of minutes. By being prepared with dates when you are ready to apply, it cuts down on the fumbling and indecisiveness and increases your probability of successfully getting permits.
#3 Get organized before you apply for permits
I can’t tell you how many people I know were scrambling while they were applying for permits. Not having your group’s contact information, not having your preferred trip dates squared away, or not having your credit card next to your computer can cost you minutes. In the extremely competitive nature of applying for permits to Havasupai, every second counts. The minutes lost thanks to disorganization and fumbling can wipe away your chance at getting permits.
My advice is that before you apply for permits on February 1st, make sure you have:
- Your dates/itinerary picked out with three backups dates
- Your entire group’s contact information, phone number, address, email addresses, etc.
- Your credit card out in front of you
- You’ve read up on the rules from the Havasupai‘s website on how to apply and played around on the site
By being prepared, when it comes time on February 1st, only factors outside of your control (like competition) can influence your ability to get permits for Havasupai.
Every second counts! Make sure you’re prepared before applying!
#4 Band together: apply for permits as a group
An amazing feature of Havasupai’s online reservation system is that you can individually apply for permits for an entire group. In the past, we’ve designated three individuals to apply for permits for all of us.
This strategy works great because when someone gets through for the dates that you want, they buy permits for the whole group- and you’re done!
In order to make this strategy successful for getting permits, have your entire party hop on a Google Chat or Zoom call and all coordinate together. Discuss, who’s in, what page they’re on, what dates they can select, etc. By utilizing an online call room, you’ll minimize the fumbling around and maximize getting through the reservation system and getting permits as quickly as possible.
Coordinating as a group = better odds of getting permits to Havasupai.
If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again
Remember, there’s always next year.
We all can’t go to Havasupai. As exposure and visitation increase every year, getting permits to Havasupai will also get harder. There are no signs from the Supai Reservation to increase the number of available permits (at least right now) so the odds of getting a permit will continue to decrease over the next few years.
Regardless of the competition for permits, you should still apply!
Using some of the tactics I’ve outlined above, there is still a chance to get them- if not this upcoming year, maybe the next.
Mark your calendars for February 1st and be prepared to apply!
Didn’t get permits to Havasupai? Here are some other trips worth considering:
I know Havasupai may seem like a “Holy Grail” for backpackers and Microadventurers alike. But we all can’t get what we want!
If you don’t end up getting permits to Havasupai, here are some other backpacking trips worth considering either in Arizona or outside:
- Hiking or backpacking Rim-to-Rim in the Grand Canyon
- Hiking to Fossil Creek near Strawberry, Arizona
- Hiking or backpacking Coyote Gulch
- Hiking or backpacking Buckskin Gulch
- Hiking to Cibecue Falls in Eastern Arizona
In addition to these trips, you may want to consider throwing your hat in the ring for a permit to “The Wave!”
Kidding, those permits are harder to get than Havasupai.
Getting permits for Havasupai can be tricky! The biggest thing is that you need to get organized and prepared when the online reservation system opens on February 1st. Using some of the tips and tricks I’ve provided, can increase your chances of getting a permit.
Get prepared, mark your calendars, and the best of luck getting your permits to Havasupai and I’ll see you down at the falls!
Nick is the owner and regular content writer for Southwest Microadventures. When he’s not writing, you can find him rock climbing, peak bagging, mountain biking, backpacking, or drinking strong coffee.