Photo: Andrew Zarivny/Shutterstock

Havasu Falls Permits Are Canceled This Year, but You Can Still Hike to These 5 Iconic Waterfalls

Outdoor News Hiking
by Suzie Dundas May 10, 2022

Bad news for hikers who finally snagged a coveted Havasu Falls permit for later this summer or fall — Havasu Falls won’t be opening to tourists in 2022.

The announcement came late last week from the Havasupai Tribal Council. The Tribal Council manages the Havasupai Tribe’s land, which includes Havasu Falls. Access to the falls first closed in March 2020 in light of COVID-19 concerns, and hikers who had permits for 2020 were rescheduled for new dates in 2021. However, in June 2021, the Tribe announced that they were extending the closure until 2022. Hikers who had permits were pushed yet again until 2022.

The new closure means that hikers will have to wait yet another year — until 2023, hopefully — to see the famous blue-green falls of Havasu. Hopefully, because the closure is for maintenance and repairs rather than COVID-19, it’ll be the last one.

However, if you’ve been sitting on your Havasu Falls permit for two or three years and are getting anxious, no problem — Havasu Falls isn’t the only epic waterfall hike that should be on your outdoor bucket list. Just plan a trip to one of these other waterfalls to get your fix until 2023 rolls around.

Vernal and Nevada Falls

havasu falls permit alternative - yosemite

Photo: Colin D. Young/Shutterstock

  • Location: Yosemite National Park, CA
  • Distance: 6 miles +
  • Elevation gain: 1,900 feet +
  • Where to camp: Lower Pines

The hike that goes past both Vernal and Nevada Falls is known as the Mist Trail and is one of the most popular in Yosemite National Park — for good reason. On windy days, mist from the massive falls blows onto the trail, creating a refreshing (though occasionally slippery) experience. The trail is a bit steep, especially on the stone steps around miles two and three, but it’s stunning — there’s not a bad view at any point along the trail.

There are a few different routes for the Mist Trail. The shortest and most common route is six miles round-trip and gains about 2,000 feet of elevation, though you can also take a small segment of the John Muir Trail to the top of Nevada Falls and come back down via the traditional Mist Trail. To do that, hang a right at the trail intersection just past Vernal Falls. You can also take the Mist Trail up and come down via the Panorama Trail and Four-Mile Trail, passing Glacier Point in the process. That trail is a total of 11.9 miles and you’ll need to take the free park shuttle back to the starting point, so get an early start if that’s your plan. More information.

Union Falls

havasu falls permit alternative - union falls

Photos: pcfp/Shutterstock

  • Location: Yellowstone National Park, WY
  • Distance: 15.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,930 feet +
  • Where to camp: 9U1 to 9U4

America’s first national park doesn’t disappoint when it comes to waterfalls. In fact, there are about 300 waterfalls within the park boundaries. However, many are accessed via rather short trails, so they can get quite crowded. To avoid most tourists, consider taking an overnight trip out to Union Falls, the second-tallest falls in the park at 250 feet high. You’ll need a backcountry permit and will need to stay at one of four backcountry campsites, which need to be reserved online in advance.

It’s not an exceptionally difficult trail, but you’ll need to be bear-aware and should be prepared for an occasional stream crossing, depending on when you go. It’s in the southwest section of the park, so if you have an extra day, consider adding in a visit to Grand Teton National Park while you’re in the state. Union Falls may not give you the same tropical vibes you were hoping for if you applied for a Havasu Falls permit, but it’s definitely on par in terms of beauty. More information.

The Columbia River Gorge

havasu falls permit alternative - oregon

Photo: Andrew Zarivny/Shutterstock

  • Location: Northern Oregon
  • Distance: Variable
  • Elevation gain: Variable
  • Where to camp: Ainsworth State Park

The Columbia River Gorge, not too far from Portland, is known for the many waterfalls lining Route 30. That makes it a prime spot to plan a point-to-point hiking trip or multi-day camping trip where you camp in one place and hike to a different waterfall each day.

You can plan a route of just about any length. Some of the most impressive falls, like Multnomah, require no hike at all, but others will take at least two or three hours to reach. Good options to work into your trip include Horsetail Falls (a three-mile hike), Latourell Falls (a six-mile hike), and Bridal Veil Falls (3.5 miles). The park service created this helpful map to jumpstart your planning. Just check the trail reports before you set out as some are currently closed due to repairs from wildfire damage.

Unlike trips for Havasu Falls permit holders in Arizona, you don’t need to camp to explore these falls. But camping will allow you to beat the crowds and get to the falls before they’re too crowded, so it’s recommended. More information.

Ribbon Falls

Arizona havasu falls permit other option GCNP

Photo: Ronan ODonohoe/Shutterstock

  • Location: Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
  • Distance: 12 miles +
  • Elevation gain: 1,950 +
  • Where to camp: Bright Angel Campground

If you’ve spent the last few years since you snagged your Havasu Falls permit exploring all Arizona has to offer tourists, you don’t have to change your plans too much — just hike to a different waterfall in Arizona. One of the best for a multi-day hike is Grand Canyon National Park‘s Ribbon Falls. It’s a tall, narrow stream set against a backdrop of fabulously bright red rock and vivid swaths of green moss.

The hike starts from Phantom Ranch, which means you’ll need to hike to Phantom Ranch first. From the ranch, it’s just over 11 miles to make the round-trip hike to the Falls. If you start from the North Kaibab Trailhead, add on another seven miles to reach Phantom Ranch. And you’ll have to climb out, too. Phantom Ranch back up to the South Kaibab trailhead gains 4,400 feet of elevation, or you could go from Phantom Ranch to the North Kaibab Trailhead, which gains 2,546 feet of elevation over 13.5 miles. Regardless of what route you choose, line up your permits as soon as possible. More information.

Snake Indian Falls

Snake Indian Falls - alternative to havasu falls permits

Photo: AllTrails

  • Location: Jasper National Park, Canada
  • Distance: 32.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: +/- 4,890
  • Where to camp: Backcountry campsites

At more than 32 miles round-trip, you’ll have to work for the pleasure of sleeping near Snake Indian Falls. While you may have been planning on a warm-weather trip if you had a Havasu Falls permit, if you attempt the Snake Indian Falls hike in the middle of August, you may find that it’s warm enough to at least dip your toes in (well away from the base, of course). The 75-feet-tall falls are in Jasper National Park, and while the aren’t the tallest in Canada, their width and the sheer volume of water make them an insanely impressive sight.

It’s a popular mountain biking route, but hikers can visit it, too. Just get a Jasper National Park backcountry hiking pass. You have to pitch your tent in a campground, so plan your rote to decide if you want to stay at Seldom Inn Campground (the closest to the falls) or Shalebanks Campground, which is a bit closer to the trailhead. It isn’t a very tough trail in terms of elevation gain, gaining under 5,000 feet spread across 32 miles) so you may be able to do it in two days — mountain bikers can certainly do it in one. But if you want to have time to hang out and enjoy the falls, make it a two-night trip to ensure you don’t feel rushed. More information.

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