Packing for a Trip to Havasu Falls - Part I

Welcome to my new photography blog! This week's post is all about what you need to pack for a backpacking trip to Havasu Falls, located on the Havasupai Indian Reservation in northwest Arizona. Part II next week will go into detail about the actual hike and all the different waterfalls you can see while you are down there.

A rainbow forms over Havasu Falls, located near Supai, Arizona.

Making Reservations

The Havasu Falls campground books up months in advance. The reservation season starts on February 1st for that same year, so it is highly recommended that you reserve a campground (or lodge) spot for the days you want as early as possible. It is possible to book a last minute reservation if you call the office persistently and get lucky enough for someone to cancel a reservation, but this is not likely. Your best chance for this happening would be during the middle of the week and not during peak season (June - September), but definitely don't plan on this working.

Best Time of Year to Hike

It is beautiful year round at Havasu Falls, but there are certain times of the year that are better than others for various reasons. Hiking/camping during March and April will generally mean cooler weather with chilly overnight temperatures; but it also means fewer people. Arizona can see occasional widespread rain events during these months, so if you plan on hiking during this time, make sure to check the weather forecast in advance and be prepared for some rain.

May and June are generally the driest months to make this trip, but the temperatures can also get very hot, especially in June. I recently went down during the middle of the week in late May and it was not very packed (rare storms in the forecast may have scared some people off), but the weekend prior to and after I left, were overbooked. If you go during these months, you can generally expect the campground to be pretty full, and typically overbooked on the weekends.

July through September is the heart of the Monsoon season in northern Arizona, so thunderstorms are a likelihood during these months. While they do not occur everyday, they are generally pretty frequent during this time of year. One of the biggest concerns with hiking down the canyon during Monsoon Season is flash flooding. You are essentially hiking down a wash for 8 miles to reach the village of Supai, and flash floods can easily occur. If you see a chance for thunderstorms in the forecast, you may want to consider postponing your hike.

October and November are generally drier than the months during Monsoon Season and temperatures are more reasonable. Temperatures can get chilly, mainly at night, but it will still feel pretty comfortable most of the time. The campground will also tend to be less crowded during this time of year. 

No matter what time of year you decide to go, it is important to start your hike from the Hualapai Hilltop parking lot (this is the name of the parking lot at the trail head) bright and early. Many people choose to sleep in their vehicle the night before since there are no hotels within an hour or so of the trail head. This allows them to get an early start (4 or 5 AM) so as to avoid the scorching sun in the canyon. It is especially important to begin your trek this early if you are hiking during the hottest months of May through August.

What to Pack

I am going to assume you are staying at the campground and carrying your pack down on your back, as opposed to staying at the lodge or having your pack carried down by the mules. I will also assume you are staying at the campground for three nights.

Clothing

You really don't need to pack too much in the way of clothes if you are hiking down during the warmer months (May - August). Lows can dip down into the 50s in May, but are typically in the 60s or even low 70s during most of late May through August. So for this time of year, you'll want your bathing suit, of course, two non-cotton t-shirts, a few pair of non-cotton hiking socks, one pair of shorts, a couple pair of underwear, a hat, and some sunglasses. If there is a chance of rain in the forecast, you may also want to pack some light rain gear. You'll want to wear a good pair of hiking boots on the hike and you'll also want to bring some type of water shoe for swimming in the falls (the ground is very rocky). The lighter you can pack the better, and you have the river right there to "wash off" in. 

If you are hiking during the months when the temperatures can get quite a bit colder, then you'll want to think about adding things like a knit hat, gloves, coat, long pants, etc. 

Camping Items

You'll want to pack light since it is a 10-mile hike to the campground from the parking lot. The main necessities are a tent (though some people bring a hammock and just sleep in that - but be weary of bugs if you are camping in the summer months), sleeping pad, sleeping bag (not even necessary during the warmer months if you want to just sleep on your sleeping pad and save some weight), day backpack (so you can have a light-weight backpack for your day hikes to the different waterfalls) and a string to hang clothes on to dry them off. Some people bring chairs down, but those can be heavy and every camp site has a picnic table, so it's not a necessity. Camp fires are strictly prohibited, so fire starters, etc. have no use. You'll definitely want a good flashlight (headlamps work great) for getting around the campsite at night and for making your way to the restrooms after dark.

Food

You'll want enough food to make up for the calories you will be burning with all the hiking you'll be doing. For general snacks, things like CLIFF bars, granola bars, fruit (grapes, oranges, apples, etc.), nuts, and crackers are great. You'll definitely want some salty snacks. For lunch and dinner, things like Top Ramen and MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) are perfect. They are light weight and taste great. To cook these, you'll want something like a Jetboil, and you'll also want some utensils so you can eat! There is a fresh water spring at the campground, so you won't have to filter your own water from the river, but it is a good idea to bring a lightweight filter in case the spring gets contaminated (they check it monthly).

There is a store in the village of Supai (2 miles from the campground) where you can pick up some food if you want. It is a little more expensive than elsewhere in the state since it all has to be flown in, but prices still aren't too bad. They also have a restaurant where you can eat if you wish. For your hike down and for the day hikes, make sure you have a large enough hydration bladder (at least 2 liters, preferably 3). There is no water at the trail head, so make sure you arrive with plenty of water before you begin the hike.

Photography Gear

I brought down my Nikon D610 with just one lens, my Tamron 15-30mm f2.8. A lens with more of a zoom would have been nice at times, but overall, this lens let me capture pretty much everything I set out to get. If you plan on taking any long exposure shots or night shots, a tripod is a must. I brought down a lightweight travel tripod, and it worked out great. You'll want to bring some lens cleaning equipment, even just a lint-free cloth will come in handy. If you are like me and want to get close shots of some of the falls, you'll be getting water on the lens, and maybe a little sand as well.

Make sure you bring plenty of batteries for your camera and enough memory cards. The last thing you want to do is run out of storage room or have your camera die on you. Also, make sure you bring extra batteries for a flash light if you plan on doing any light painting.

Other Items

You'll want to bring a first aid kit, sunblock, a knife, some type of pain killer (Advil, Tylenol, etc.), cleaning/bathing wipes, and cash (to pay for your reservation once you get to the village of Supai).

Next week's blog (Part II) will be all about the actual hike itself and all the different waterfalls you can see while you are staying at the campground. I will also be posting lots of pictures from my recent trip there! If you have any questions at all, feel free to comment on this post, reach out to me on social media, or send me an email!