For those lucky souls with confirmed reservations at Supai Lodge or Havasu Falls Campground who would rather not make the 10+ mile hike in 100+ degree heat with 40-50 lbs on their back, the option exists to take a helicopter down to the bottom of of Havasu Canyon, or back from it.
Well, in theory, anyway… more on that in a minute.
Air West Helicopters, based in Glendale, AZ, conducts helicopter charters, search and rescue, heavy lifts/long line operations, aerial photography, and even cattle herding throughout Arizona and the American Southwest. They are also the sole tribal-authorized provider of air lift services in and out of Havasupai, to and from the Hualapai Hilltop.
Neither the 10:00 AM start time and the 1:00 PM stop time are set in stone; these are simply a “rough guideline.” In reality, Air West could start flying earlier if they anticipate higher-than-usual demand, and will continue flying until all passengers are accommodated, until it gets dark, or until it gets too windy to fly safely, which is a frequent occurrence during the warmer months of the year. Air West reserves the right to stop operations anytime they deem it necessary. If this happens to occur before your group gets on, then that’s the way the cookie crumbles and you’d better start hiking. If you think we’re kidding, think again.
The cost for flying into and/or out of Havasu Canyon with AirWest is, at present, $85 per person each way, or $170 round-trip. AirWest accepts both cash and credit cards, but does impose a $10 surcharge for paying by credit or debit card. Those flying in must have verified reservations at the campground or Supai lodge. Day trippers are not allowed.
For hikers wishing to be flown from Hualapai Hilltop to Supai Village, check-in is at the helipad, approximately 200 yards Southwest of the trailhead. You will be dropped off at the grassy area between the tourism/camping office and the local cafe in Supai Village. Lodge guests have only a short walk to their destination. Campers will still have to hike the last 2 miles to the campground. Those wanting to be flown out of the canyon should meet at the aforementioned lawn area in Supai Village. The helicopter pilot usually places a small table in front of the helipad to indicate where passengers should wait.
Helicopter service does not operate 7 days a week. At the present time, Air West’s schedule is as follows:
March 15 to October 15:
Sunday: 10 am to 1pm
Monday: 10 am to 1pm
Thursday: 10 am to 1pm
Friday: 10 am to 1pm
October 16 to March 14:
Sunday: 10 am to 1pm
Friday: 10 am to 1pm
Each passenger is allowed to bring one pack weighing up to 40 lbs. Extra items may be transported on a space-available basis, for a small fee. If you succeed in getting on the helicopter on the way up and/or down, average flight time is approximately 10 minutes, but can vary widely depending on tribal passenger or freight transport needs. Backpacks are also not guaranteed to be transported on the same helicopter as their owners, so you may end up waiting on these for awhile. Do not schedule anything time-sensitive for the day you hike or fly out of Havasu Canyon. Keep in mind, too, that the Havasupai Tourism Office is not affiliated with Air West Helicopters. If you are utilizing the helicopters to fly in/out, they will assume no liability for the loss of personal property such as bags, packs, and hiking gear.
So, how do you make reservations for the helicopter service? You can’t. Here’s the deal: Air West is not there for the benefit of tourists. All passengers are flown into and/or out of the canyon on a first-come first-served basis. For the use of their services, priority is given as follows:
Members of the Havasupai Tribe
Once the above passenger groups are taken care of, then Air West will begin shuttling tourists into and/or out of Supai Village at their discretion.
Hikers wanting to use the helicopter service are required to put their names on a waiting list as soon as the aircraft arrives at Hualapai Hilltop or Supai Village, which is usually around 8:00 AM. One member of your party can do this on behalf of the entire group. However, you can only put your party’s name on the list the morning of your hike; you will not be allowed to do so any time before that. Since the air lift service is in high demand during the summer months, it’s not unheard of for hikers to start lining up at the crack of dawn to get their names on the list. Indeed, TripAdvisor forum contributor elpaco77 shared a first-hand account of the craziness from a visit in August 2016:
“There was a HUGE line around 6:30 am on the field behind the cafe, not at the helipad in the main square where it usually lands. Next thing you know, everyone moved to the helipad and that seemed chaotic. A friend of ours actually took the helicopter out three hours later. I would say there was about 60-70 people waiting in line to ride the helicopter out that early. Almost all of the people at the campground said they were planning on riding it out instead of hiking. There were two helicopters working nonstop as I hiked back to the parking lot. All I can say is you better be ready to hike about 40 miles in the span of a weekend!”
And that last line makes the perfect segue to our final point (thanks elpaco77!): the helicopter service should never be relied upon as your primary means of getting down into Havasu Canyon, or more importantly, back up to Hualapai Hilltop.
As mentioned previously, and repeatedly, the helicopter service is primarily there for the benefit of the tribe and the people who work with them. They are the “meat and potatoes,” if you will, of Air West’s operations in Supai. Shuttling tourists to and from the canyon floor is “gravy.” This means that if there are more tribe members, employees, or cargo needing transportation in or out on a given day, they go first, always. If it takes all day to serve them and there’s no more time, space, or daylight to fly hikers, then tough noogies. No, really. You will be expected to hike, 10+ miles, and that’s all there is to it. Another TripAdvisor contributor, Sharon H, made this observation after watching this occur with her own eyes:
“Needless to say this caused quite a bit of frustration, chaos, shoving, and arguing. I thought there might be a full-out brawl in front of us between two parties. There is no order here. Just expect that and you’ll be less frustrated.”
That’s certainly not the way we’d want to start and/or end a Grand Canyon experience that was so hard to come by in the first place. We’re guessing, neither would you.