Basecamp Outdoor Gear Team
Alternatives to Havasupai: Trip Cancelled Again? Check Out These Great Alternatives
Updated: Dec 29, 2022
Havasupai closed itself to tourism in the beginning of 2020 for obvious reasons that should not be spoken of here. Though is has finally reopened in February 2023 (fingers crossed!) the canyon is susceptible to flash flooding and may close at any time if threat looms. For this reason, you should always have alternative plans to your trip to Havasupai. Here are our suggestions.
Havasupai is an extraordinary desert oasis made ten times more impressive thanks to its remoteness and the amount of effort you have to exert in order to get there. The more painful the process to visit, the better the reward. Are there any other places like this in the Southwest? Yup. Read on.
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Havasupai-Style Destinations in the Southwest
Don't get us wrong. We agree that Havasupai is a once-in-a-lifetime destination that should be on your bucket list. There is literally nothing else like it in this entire world! The good news is that Havasupai and your permit are both safe and sound. It will just take a bit of patience and more waiting on your part to finally go there. In the meantime, why not visit the following alternatives?
Below is a list of places you must visit in the American Southwest, Havasupai-style. What is the Havasupai-style criteria?
First and foremost, the below alternatives are amazing blow-your-mind destinations!
They are all about 4-5 hours drive from Las Vegas
To reach them, you'll backpack roughly 7-10 miles into a remote area and set up basecamp for a couple of nights in an otherworldly environment
Use your "rest day" to lounge around camp or keep hiking around to explore many more hidden marvels
Hike back out the way you came
These destinations are great for beginner and experienced backpackers alike
You can of course rent outdoor gear from us for your trip. We rent backpacking gear by the item or you can choose our Voyager Package, which is a complete set of backpacking gear perfect for the below destinations.
Alternatives to Havasupai
The following destinations fit all the Havasupai-style criteria mentioned above. It is important to note that these are remote backpacking destinations. In its very nature, backpacking is a strenuous activity. It requires a lot of physical exertion and mental preparation.
For each destination below we give a very short description and offer links should you need more information. It is VERY important that you continue the research and prep for your trip on your own. Aside from the regular calculations of total distance, elevation gain, and how much food to pack, you must also pay special attention to the altitude, the season, and potential weather conditions.
Feel free to reach out to us with any questions during your prep. Between all of us at Basecamp, we have been to all of these places and will be happy to share our experiences to help you prepare.
Best season to visit: WINTER
OK, it's another one of those permit lottery situations. But it doesn't hurt to apply, right?
Phantom Ranch is located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, alongside the Bright Angel Creek and the Colorado River. It is most easily approached from the South Rim. Similar to Havasupai, there's a campground here, a lodge, a store, and you can hire mules to carry your bags down to you.
It takes about 4.5 hours to drive from Las Vegas to the South Rim. From there, reservation in hand, hike down South Kaibab Trail about 7 miles and set up your basecamp at your allotted spot. With your one day to spend at the bottom of the canyon, hike to Ribbon Falls. Return to the South Rim via the Bright Angel Trail.
If you're an experienced backpacker, extend your trip with two more nights at Clear Creek. From there, day hike to Cheyava Falls.
Paria Canyon to Buckskin Gulch
Best season to visit: SPRING
If you have hiked the Zion Narrows and said to yourself, "wow, I wish I could spend a few more days trapped in a desert canyon between sheer sandstone walls," then this hike is for you.
The Paria River flows between Grand Staircase-Escalante and Vermillion Cliffs National Monuments in Utah and Arizona. It creates a narrow canyon through extremely tall and very red cliff faces. But the allure here is access to Buckskin Gulch, the longest slot canyon in the world.
My recommendation is to start at White House Campground and hike down about 7 miles to the confluence of Paria Canyon with Buckskin Gulch. On the second day, explore Buckskin Gulch. Go up the canyon as long as you'd like, then retrace your steps back to camp. That way you get to experience this amazing slot canyon twice.
You need a permit to overnight here, but the odds of getting your desired dates are much better than Havasupai. You'll have to pick up the permit in person at the visitor center in Kanab, which is on your 4-hour drive to the trailhead from Las Vegas.
FYI If you're an experienced backpacker, this much longer route (4-6 nights) should be on your bucket list.
Best season to visit: SUMMER
The Palisades are a series of steep peaks in the Sierra Nevada Range of California. Truth be told, you have a lot of options here, all leading to crisp alpine environments of pristine lakes and meadows. Most people come here to backcountry fish and/or rock climb.
A great introduction to backpacking is the North Fork of Big Pine Creek. Follow the trail about four miles uphill to the first of seven lakes. Then keep going. Pitch your camp and hang out for a day or two. On your "rest day," you can try to reach the Palisade Glacier. Be aware that the glacier is at over 12,000 ft of elevation. Aside for altitude concerns, your approach may be hampered by ice and snow, depending on the season.
You need a wilderness permit to overnight anywhere in the Palisades. If you're a planner, apply for your permit up to 6 months in advance. If not, then request your permit on site. Have a few different trails marked out in case your first choice isn't available. Note that this is bear country, so you'll need to rent a bear box if you don't already have one.
Best season to visit: FALL
This may be the closest experience to Havasupai you can get in the Southwest. Similar to Havasupai, visiting Coyote Gulch requires hiking downhill for about 8 miles, setting your basecamp for a couple of nights in a beautiful environment, and then hiking back out the same way you came in. Unlike Havasupai, the overnight permit is free, and you obtain it on the spot from the visitor center in Escalante, UT.
Coyote Gulch is located in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. It takes about 5 hours to drive there from Las Vegas. On your way you'll pass Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks and drive on the Scenic Byway 12.
There are many ways to explore Coyote Gulch. Since you have three or more days, our suggestion is to hike in and out from Hurricane Wash. It's the easiest to access and the best to hike with a heavy backpack. Set up your basecamp near Jacob Hamblin Arch. On the second day, explore the remaining six miles between your camp and the Escalante River. There are many points of interest on the way.
And the list goes on...
Were your Havasupai permit reservations rescheduled once again to next year? Do you keep pushing back your flight to Las Vegas and your camping gear rental package? Maybe it's time to use it on an alternative destination in the Southwest!
If you need to rent backpacking gear, we've got you covered. Our Voyager Package is a complete kit of backpacking gear that would be perfect for Buckskin or Coyote Gulch. Add a rat sack to it if you're going to Phantom Ranch and a bear box if you're headed to the Palisades.
If you'd like more information on any of the destinations mentioned here please don’t hesitate to contact us. As with any backpacking endeavor, remember to plan ahead and prepare accordingly.