havasupai, grand canyon -- a great budget travel idea

The Grand Canyon made headlines recently for a series of proposed development projects that, while aimed at helping the non-adventurous explore the South Rim, would also threaten its natural beauty. These include a variety of hotels, shops, and a gondola. As the debate continues, one important takeaway for all travelers is that if the Grand Canyon is on your travel list, you should act now — not later — to experience what is probably out nation’s most dramatic landscape in unspoiled form.


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Of course, that’s not to say that boosting infrastructure will be the end for (relatively) pristine nature. Take the way the Havasupai Tribe has handled tourism on its land, specifically the 11-mile Havasupai Trail — which happens to be one of our favorite corners of the Grand Canyon. The main route of access to Havasu Creek and Havasu Falls, the trail is known for its striking travertine formations and incredible milky, turquoise water.


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The Havasupai Tribe has made it easier for the non-adventurous to reach the falls at the bottom of the Canyon, in a way with limited environmental impact and by maintaining a true outdoor experience. Think: campsites, not hotel rooms, for both making the most of your trip and resting up before the return journey. The only significant concession the tribe has made on this is that a helicopter, also used by the Tribe to transport supplies to their homes, can be taken by those not wanting or able to make the hike ($85 one way). The chopper lands in Havasu Town, though, still a protective two-mile walk from Havasu Falls and the campsite.

Most visitors to Havasu Falls do end up walking the full 11 miles, but the diverse scenery and sense of awe you’ll encounter is worth every ounce of effort. The Havasupai trailhead begins in Hualapai Hilltop, about a five and a half hour drive from Phoenix and four hours from Flagstaff. The trail itself descends over 1,000 feet immediately, then levels off and is slightly downhill for the entire 11-miles (coming back, obviously, is the opposite). The first six miles or so takes you through dry, red rock terrain until you reach Havasu Creek. Then, the environment changes, looking more like Hawaii than Arizona at times as the river fuels a valley of lush, green vegetation against the backdrop of the towering canyon walls.

Regardless of what happens with the proposed projects, the photos of Havasupai highlight that, at the end of the day, it’s still all about the natural wonders in the Grand Canyon — and you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg to experience them. All one must have is a reservation to hike to and camp near the falls, reasonably priced at $35 per person for use of the trail and an additional $17 per night per person to camp. (If you show up to camp without a reservation, you’ll be charged double, so be sure to make one in advance.) And that’s one of our favorite ways to do it — when it comes to the outdoors, a small camping fee and an adventurous spirit can take you further than any $200 hotel room ever will.

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