About: AOA Adventures is based in Scottsdale and runs tours all over Arizona and Utah, including two routine trips to Havasupai: Havasupai Adventurer and Havasupai Escape. The Adventurer Trip is typically five days, four nights and the Escape is three days, two nights or four nights, three days. The only differences between the two trips are 1) the length and 2) price (see below) and 3) that you carry all your own gear for the Escape trip. On the Adventurer excursion, mule packs will transport your gear to the bottom.
How it Works: On all Havasupai itineraries, AOA will transport you from a meeting point in Scottsdale to the Canyon, breaking up the six hour drive with an overnight at a hotel about an hour and a half from the Havasupai trailhead. After the trip, AOA will transport you directly back to Scottsdale, making the drive in a single day. Here is a sample itinerary.
Price per Person: Havasupai Adventurer, $1,499 (five days, four nights); Havasupai Escape, $898 (three days, two nights) or $998 (four days, three nights).
What AOA Provides: Hotel stay first night; Tent and sleeping pad; All permits and camping fees; Round-trip transportation from Phoenix; Meals and Snacks (prepared by staff); Base camp amenities (chairs, kitchen setup, water).
One of our guides, Jason Kulak, on a day hike down the Havasu River
Our Experience/Big Picture
One of my biggest concerns before the trip - a concern I have before most organized ventures - was that AOA's hand holding would turn the trek into everything it shouldn't be. Meaning, it would dumb-down the outdoor adventure part and replace it with something closer to glamping, creating an artificial environment in the natural world.
I am happy to report that despite all the services provided by AOA, the trek stayed true to the spirit of adventure one would expect from such a journey. In reality, the only thing AOA did was make it easier for people who aren't familiar or comfortable in the outdoors, taking the thinking and survival preparation out of the equation and allowing you to just focus on enjoying the scenery. They didn't roll out a red carpet - they simply took care of all the practical logistics. They secured the campsite, set up the tents, planned and carried in all the food, and mapped out hikes, but I still didn't shower for four days, went for 10-mile hikes, jumped off waterfalls, and slept on the ground.
Our campsite with AOA Adventures
As much work as the guides did taking care of the day to day logistics, where AOA excelled in my opinion was in their ability to still immerse themselves in the group. They didn't come across as parental figures or camp counselors. They truly made an effort to engage with everyone on an individual level, and by day two it felt like I had three new friends. During the day, they would split up and cater to people's different ability levels.
For example, one of our guides, Jason, accompanied me on a 20-mile round trip hike to see the way the colors mix when the Havasu River meets the mighty Colorado. We were buddies going on a hike, nothing less, and all the other guests echoed the same feelings when it came to their experiences. And that's exactly the way it should be when you're exploring Mother Nature, the beauty and appreciation of the outdoors drawing connections between people.
Many of you are advanced adventure travelers and are able to put together a trip to Havasupai on your own. Others need a little help ironing out the picky details. If you find yourself to be in the latter category but are mesmerized by these photos, consider letting AOA show you the way.
Will was on assignment for another publication while accompanying AOA Adventures to Havasupai, but all opinions are his own.
[Photos: Will McGough]