Many members of the Havasupai Tribe own horses and/or mules that they use for farming, construction, personal transportation, and getting necessary supplies to and from the canyon floor. They also rent their livestock out to tourists to haul extra bags, food, and other items they might not wish to carry to and/or from Supai Lodge or Havasu Campground. Saddle horses and/or mules are also available, albeit on a limited basis, to those who would prefer to ride instead of hike.
Because one mule or horse can carry up to 4 bags weighing 130 lbs total, pack mule service is a good option for groups wishing to bring cooler(s), extra food, or to simply relieve themselves of the weight of a full pack on the 10+ mile hike. Maximum dimensions for any items to be carried by pack mule/horse is 36” long by 19” wide. Coolers and/or ice chests may not be more than 48 quart capacity, and may only be 24” long by 19” wide. If your backpack or cooler is outside these dimensions, don’t assume that your wrangler will “fudge” a little bit. Maximum size and weight guidelines are strictly enforced. All items being carried down must be secured properly to avoid spillage, or being damaged or lost on the trail. The tribe will assume no responsibility or liability should this occur.
Upon arrival at Hualapai Hilltop, which should ideally be around sunrise or shortly after, bring any items you wish to have packed down to the small shed near the trailhead. A member of the Havasupai Tribe will verify that you have camping or lodging permits, and tag your items. If you are staying at the campground, your bags will be dropped off near the fence adjacent to the campground entrance. If you are staying at Supai lodge, your bags will be delivered to the front lobby. Depending on the number of packs being taken down and any needs the tribe might have (which always take first priority), drop off at the campground and lodge can range between 12:00 noon to 4:00 pm according to testimonials on TripAdvisor and other travel sites. Nothing perishable or of a time-sensitive nature should be transported to Havasu Canyon in this manner. Those using the pack service to transport gear from the campground back to Hualapai Hilltop should deposit their items by 7:00 AM at the fenced area where their items were dropped off on the way in. Those staying at the lodge should inquire upon check-in where they should leave items being transported back to the Hilltop. If you miss the AM pick-up, a $300 late run charge will be imposed.
Like campground or lodge reservations, pack horse/mule service must be arranged in advance of your arrival. However, reservations are not taken as far in advance as lodging and camping bookings. Between 1 week and 1 day prior to one’s trip is suggested. Reservations must be made with the Havasupai Tribal Tourism Office by phone at (928) 448-2237 or (928) 448 2111/2101, and prepaid in advance. Current rates are $132 one way, $264 round trip, and are subject to change without notice. Costs for passenger horse service are comparable, but may vary at the discretion of the animal’s owner and/or demand for service on any given day.
Now, here’s where the “caveat emptor” (buyer beware) comes in. Like everything else in Havasu Canyon, the pack mules and horses are there for the use of the Havasupai Tribe, their employees, and vendors, first and foremost. Even though reservations are taken for tourists wishing to use this service, availability on the actual day of your hike is never guaranteed. What’s more, the deposit you paid for it is non-refundable. If your pack animal and handler do not show up to pick up your bags, you are responsible for storing them in your vehicle at the Hilltop, or carrying them down to the canyon floor yourself. If you think we’re kidding, take note of this warning from TripAdvisor forum contributor, excessineverything, Destination Expert for Supai:
Another word of caution: in the last few years, some very grave and valid concerns were raised about the treatment and well-being of pack animals at Supai. Allegations of animal cruelty resulted in the temporary suspension of packing service, which was reinstated shortly thereafter. Nevertheless, the issue continues to crop up on social and national media from time to time, with conflicting reports abounding. Long story short is, if you do not wish to contribute to these animals’ already sizeable “burden,” be prepared to shoulder your own. Likewise, you should not count on being able to ride to Supai Lodge of Havasu Campground. If you’re unable to make the hike, you should not even consider a trip to this area at all.
Last but not least, if you have any questions about anything at all to do with Havasu Canyon, Supai Lodge, the campground, the trail, pack horse, or helicopter service, the best option is to contact the Havasupai Tribe. In the likely event that proves difficult, post your questions on the Trip Advisor Supai Travel Forum, or join one of several Facebook groups dedicated to helping people plan visits to Supai, such as “Havasupai and Havasu Falls,” “Backpacking Havasu Falls,” “Havasu Falls” or “Grand Canyon Hikers.” These are invaluable sources of first-hand information from people who’ve actually made the trip.
Good luck and happy hiking!