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Ultimate Guide to Havasupai Campground | How to Choose the Perfect Campsite

Updated: Mar 21

two tents next to a river with trees and a hammock

So you got lucky enough to snag a Havasupai reservation? Congratulations!


Havasupai is one of those bucket list backpacking destinations. It's red canyon walls and tumbling turquoise waterfalls have blown up this spot in popularity in recent years.


Thankfully the reservation system keeps visitors to a manageable level, maintaining safety and cleanliness in the valley.


Amid the excitement of planning, packing, and setting off on your trip, you may be wondering what the experience of arriving at Havasupai campground will be like. Well I'm here to tell you all about it and give you the top tips for choosing one of the many campsites available.


Havasupai Campground

Havasupai campground is nestled between tall cliffs in a valley in the Havasupai reservation, two miles past the village of Supai.


Fun fact: Supai is the last place in the United States that has their mail brought in and out by mule!


The campground itself stretches a mile long and follows the turquoise river right up to the top of Mooney Falls, ten miles from the Hilltop Trailhead. You will have very different experiences staying in Havasupai depending on where you decide to set up camp. There are several factors to consider when entering the campground and selecting a site to pitch your tent:


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It will be clear when you arrive which areas are designated campsites. Most will have picnic benches available and all will have flat, cleared areas for setting up your tent. Make sure to only use an already established site and do not create one for yourself!


Proximity to the River

One of the main features of this campground is the gorgeous turquoise river that runs along its entirety. For some it will be soothing, but for others the sound can be a nuisance.


We camped right along the river and didn't have any issues sleeping -- though the rushing water was pretty loud!


If you visit during the warmer months, camping next to the river gives you direct access to dip in and cool off.


One thing to note: We camped at a site on the river that we found to be particularly scenic. There were cascading layers of travertine that made the water sparkle. It turned out that other folks also loved the look of the river by our site and we often had visitors walking through to take photos in our camp! It didn't bother us much since we had plenty of space, but this is something to keep in mind if you like your bubble to stay personal.


Lastly, folks at sites across the trail from us did walk through to wash their hands and items in the water. This was fine for us, but something to consider if it would annoy you.


Proximity to Fern Spring

Fern Spring is the one potable water source in Havasupai campground. When you're walking in, keep an eye our for signs along the left side of the trail that point to fresh water.


If you know you'll hate the chore of fetching water throughout your stay, camping closer to the spring can be a good option. Groups without a larger reservoir or many bottles may opt for this to avoid needing to make the trek several times.


I found that sites closer to the spring also tended to be cooler, which can be nice during the summer but was too cold for us in the fall. We camped between bathrooms 2 and 3 and were surprised by how long the walk was to the springs. When we had to hike out in the dark, it did get tricky to find!


Proximity to Bathrooms

There's a balance to be found between camping close enough for convenience and far enough to avoid any wafting smells.


There are four composting toilets available in the campground. The first one closest to the trailhead was the most trafficked when we went, so we avoided using or camping near it.


We decided on a site that was between restrooms 2 and 3, which gave us a couple options, each of which was only a few minutes walk away. If you know you'll need to get up in the middle of the night to pee, camping closer to a bathroom can be worth it!


Remember your camp bathroom etiquette! I found the restrooms to be pretty well maintained during our stay, but the campground also wasn't at full capacity. I always found toilet paper in the stalls, even though I brought my own just in case. Add a scoop of the provided wood chips after doing your business, then close the lid and the door to keep smells at a minimum!


Proximity to the Main Trail

The trail goes all the way through camp and many people will walk by your site. None of the sites are super far from the trail, but there are options if you want a bit more privacy.


Our site was sandwiched between the main trail and the river. We weren't bothered by folks walking by during the day. At night it was a different story, with headlamps and flashlights being shone around our site as people navigated in the dark. Remember to use your red lights, people!


There are some sites farther from the trail if you move downstream to the top of Mooney Falls or cross the river on the logs you'll see. These offer more privacy (see section below on upstream, downstream, or middle).


Proximity to Cliffs

Setting up camp at the base of the beautiful red cliffs can be enticing: you'll have built-in privacy as no one will walk or camp behind you and you'll have a natural wind-blocker on one side.


One important tip to keep in mind is that rocks and even cacti can fall from the cliffs and onto your site! Although unlikely, there have been incidents of chunks of stone or loose cacti tumbling down during particularly drafty days.


Look up and check out the cliff for any suspect objects before selecting one of these sites.


Surrounding Trees

Similar to setting up camp near the cliffs, pitching your tent amid trees provides shelter from the wind that surges through the canyon.


The other main reasons you'll want to choose a campsite with trees are that you'll have a place to set up a hammock and to string up your food bags. We also loved the convenience of having branches to hang small lights from.


You'll find that many sites have strings already attached to some of the trees. These were used to hang our clothes and towels to dry after taking a swim!


Proximity to Other Campsites

As with all campgrounds, your experience will differ significantly depending on whether you have close neighbors or not. I tend to go camping to find solitude, but others will want to make friends with other outdoorsy folks.


You won't find a ton of solitude in Havasupai since the campground holds hundreds of visitors in its one-mile stretch -- but it is still possible to grab a campsite without a ton of close neighbors. The most isolated sites we saw were farther down the trail and closer to Mooney Falls. The sites sitting at the top of Mooney were as close to isolation as you could get! Crossing the stream also led to more sites that weren't as snug to one another. Just make sure to stay in designated sites wherever you end up.


Location: Upstream, Downstream, or Middle

As you hike into Havasupai campground, you'll be following the river downstream. That means you start in the upstream portion and end downstream.


Upstream

These are the first campsites you'll see and can be a great option for some, but we avoided these sites due to the crowdedness.


Pros:

  • Close to the fresh water spring

  • Easy access to the earlier waterfalls, Havasu, Little Navajo, Fifty Foot, and Hidden Falls

  • Closest to the trailhead, which makes this an excellent choice for your last night if you want to get out early

  • More sheltered from the wind


Cons:

  • Campsites are close together and will be louder

  • Campsites are often right along the main trail, so you'll have lots of foot traffic and little privacy

  • Many people camping here plan to leave early, meaning you may be woken up by the sounds of people packing up


Middle

This is where we camped! We loved being close enough to everything we needed and getting the best of both worlds.


Pros:

  • Not super far from either end, making it easy to take day trips any of the falls

  • Very scenic part of the river, with many sites right along or on islands in the river

  • Somewhat sheltered from the wind

  • Quieter and more secluded than Upstream


Cons:

  • Some sites are really small or can still get crowded

  • You'll have traffic from both directions as people hike out to the falls or back to the trailhead


Downstream

This would have been our next choice for where to set up camp. These sites were beautiful, but a bit too cold for November when we went.


Pros:

  • Amazing scenery! You can camp right at the top of Mooney Falls

  • Closest access to Mooney and Beaver Falls and the Confluence

  • Much less foot traffic for those that prefer an isolated feel to their camping experience

  • Open skies make for incredible stargazing


Cons:

  • You'll have the longest trek in and out with your gear

  • Winds get crazy here at night and can leave you freezing if unprepared


Presence of a Picnic Bench

This was an absolute perk of camping at Havasupai. I usually bring an ultralight chair when I go backpacking, but opted to leave it at home since I knew there were picnic benches.


This made it so easy to sit and prepare meals and relax after our long hikes. Sharing meals next to the river was so much nicer having actual seats and a table. While it's not an absolute must if you're used to backcountry camping, I would opt for a campsite with a table if you can.



Wrapping Up

So there you have it! There are so many wonderful options for campsites at Havasupai and it all depends on what you're looking for.


And if you aren't able to grab the perfect site when you arrive, don't worry! People pack up and leave every single day, so you can scope out new spots in the morning and move around. It can be fun to try out 2-3 locations during your stay to get different experiences!



Regardless of where you camp, you'll have an amazing time in Havasupai and get to enjoy the unbeatable scenery. Have fun, be safe, and leave no trace :)


If you'd like a closer look at what it's like staying in the Havasupai campground and exploring the surrounding area, check out my detailed Havasupai itinerary. Or if you'd like to get an idea of what to pack, check out my backpacking gear list for some recommendations.


Happy adventuring,

A

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