For those of you venturing to Havasu Falls. Grand Canyon Cavern Campgrounds offers an excellent alternative to sleeping in your car at the Hilltop Trail Head parking lot.
I have done the Havasu Falls trip on numerous occasions. More than once some years. Once I trail camped up off the trail below the switchbacks (I don’t believe it is allowed any longer?)
On another occasion I attempted sleeping in my vehicle. That was a negative experience and I vowed not again.
Since then, until a 2017 trip, I have always left Las Vegas and made the drive timed to arrive at the Trail Head right when I want to start hiking. At times that meant leaving Vegas at 2am.
Traveling in the dark means missing much of the scenery along the way, or fun stops such as Hackberry, Arizona. Perhaps missing Seligman, Arizona if you are coming in from the east. Both are interesting and great photo op stops.
The last 60 miles off old route 66, once you start heading north on Indian Rd 18, is a desolate and hazardous stretch of highway at night. It is not the road to be driving in the dark due to wildlife and open range cattle crossing or standing in the road.
Our Havasu trip planned for mid May 2017 found us debating the early morning departure from Las Vegas. After recommending the Grand Canyon Cavern Campgrounds on the website so many years we decided to give it a try.
The entrance is a few miles east of the RT 66 & IR 18 intersection. The view from the road side appears as an old run down gas station, and a small cafe. Some old vehicles staged around the parking lot up by the buildings. We stopped in the cafe and the friendly staff pointed us to the road/drive, that snaked around the back of the cafe, and up over a small hill. We almost got nailed by the cops tucked in behind a tree (Vintage black & white cop car staged along the road) LOL!
The campground is about a mile on this paved road that winds through low growing evergreen trees. You eventually come to the restaurant first. This is some distance off the main road RT 66 and not visible from the main road.
Don’t expect RV resort accommodations. Though they do have power pedestals on many sites. The campground is typical high desert and appears not well kept. Sites are dirt. Some have picnic tables, some do not. No sites have any type of shade structure.
The Evergreen tree’s peppered about average about 15ft tall. This is high desert. So I suspect these are Cedars or Pinon Pine. They offer relatively little shade except in the late afternoon. They do provide a little privacy from some neighboring sites.
There are rough graded roads and ample sites tucked into out of the way places if you want to enjoy some privacy. We saw no site numbers. Once you pay you simply have squatters rights to any open place you want to make your camp. Bathrooms/Showers…..not the best. But they are centrally located at the front of the camping area, and not too far from the restaurant building.
We made reservations at the last minute, the night before. Mid May there were plenty of sites. The grounds are large enough I would think you would not have trouble at any time? You might not get a level site, or one with power, but I think they would be able to accommodate you?
The prices of $32 a night for 2 with a tent. I don’t remember if that included power or not. We did find a picnic table that had a power pedestal next to it. In hindsight a small electric heater and an extension cord would have been nice. It got real cold that night.
We had a picnic table and lots of 15ft Pinyon Pine or Ceders that offered wind breaks and some privacy. The campground location makes it near ideal for starting the trip the next day.
We didn’t have time to check out the Cavern tours. The Caverns are the actual reason this place exists! That might be another story for another day.
We arrived around 6pm and took advantage of the restaurant that looks like it is open until 8pm. We can both recommend the Pulled Pork/BBQ sandwich. We washed those down with several ice cold brews and had a very relaxing visit. It sure beat driving over in the middle of the night tempting fate driving in the dark. It certainly beats sleeping in the vehicle at the trail head. It beats waking up after attempting to sleep at the trail head, being tired and cranky, at the start of the hike down.
We tried to set up minimal gear to head out right at first light. It was a very cold night for sure. I believe more so because of the higher altitude. We survived the cold, and packed gear about 4am to take off. Several others must have had the same idea because two other groups took off right before us.
The drive up IR 18, the last 60 miles to the trail head, was a pleasant one. The sun just below the horizon. Enough light to avoid slamming into black cattle standing on the road, or wandering Elk. Both of which could quickly turn a fun trip into a disaster.
At the trail head, in the morning light, we made a breakfast. A batch of bacon, eggs, and coffee on the camp stove stove out the back of our vehicle. With some hearty protein in our systems we started hiking near sunrise.
So our recommendation is to allot the time to make this your stop. Enjoy the restaurant the night before. Even come early enough to check out the Caverns. Then give yourself 1 hour of driving time, plus packing up your camp, to be at the trail head right at sunrise. You will easily be down the switchbacks all in the shade. All at a much more relaxed frame of mind.
Those leaving after a trip, and after hiking back out, this is also an excellent place to camp over. Avoid a long drive after hiking out. If this is your first trip you will not believe how cramped up your legs will get if you hike out, and make a long drive. Been there, done that too! Getting smarter and enjoying the whole experience way more.
Summer time may be different, due to heat. Camping could become unpleasant? Be sure to check this all out in advance.