Grand Falls (of the Little Colorado River)

Navajo Indian Reservation / near Flagstaff / Coconino County, Arizona, USA

Rating: 4     Difficulty: 1.5
Grand Falls (of the Little Colorado River)
Grand Falls was certainly one of the most attractive waterfalls that we've seen in the US (let alone the American Southwest). What made this proclaimed 181ft waterfall so attractive was its width combined with the multiple terraces before plunging in three tall leaps.

In addition to the waterfall's dimensions, the surrounding scenery seemed to be a microcosm of the mighty Grand Canyon itself as we were literally looking into a mini-gorge with intriguing Grand Canyon-like cliffs. And like the mighty Colorado River, the Little Colorado River possessed a muddy color which gave this waterfall it's chocolate-like appearance. With some imagination, this waterfall could've appeared in the Willy Wonka's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie given its "Chocolate Falls" characteristic.

So when we considered all the rather memorable and unusual aspects about this waterfall, it was no wonder why Julie and I found this waterfall to stand out as both memorable and awe inspiring. We even included it on our Top 10 USA Waterfalls List!

Julie checking out Grand Falls near the rim of the gorge However, with all the superlatives we're throwing at this waterfall, there are a pair of caveats. First, we had to time our visit for the narrow window of March through April and possibly May depending on how much snow had been accumulated in the White Mountains, which drained into the Little Colorado River. Otherwise, the falls would quickly trickle until going dry for the rest of the year except for a brief revitalization from the thunderstorms of the Summer monsoons. Since timing the monsoon (not to mention the flash flooding complications) would impact the reliability of the waterfalling experience, coming in the Summer just wasn't palatable to us (not to mention the intense Summer heat of the deserts here).

The second caveat was that we had to figure out how to find this waterfall (see directions below). It wasn't exactly a well-signed attraction and we were glad we used a combination of a GPS with TOPO! map to help us out (though it did lead to a little bit of confusion as the map had some outdated road lines).

Julie approaching the steep scramble to the base of the falls Once managed to find the car park, we were at the top of the falls. We noticed a handful of gazeebos perched right at the cliff's edges providing various angles of the impressive falls itself as we walked around the rim of the edge of the gorge that the falls plunged into.

As we got towards more frontal views of the falls from the gorge rim, we noticed that there was a rather informal and somewhat hidden black-sand pebbled path where some minor scrambling was required to get into a gully that was further downstream of the falls. That gully would ultimately lead us to the banks of the Little Colorado River where we would eventually get right across the river to the front of the falls where we could feel the spray of the attractive Grand Falls while seeing rainbows in the process.

The scrambling wasn't too bad as we merely needed to take our time to ensure we weren't careless in trying to shortcut dropoffs or recognizing that where we might have gone the wrong way (and ended up at a dropoff). However, the path was reasonably doable for us and wasn't as scary as say the Mooney Falls descent.

Once we were at the bottom, we even witnessed some people scramble up behind one of the side tiers of the falls after negotiating a real muddy stretch drenched by the falls' spray. Julie and I didn't bother doing that as we didn't feel like traversing the muddy stretch and incurring additional risk at scrambling up the cliffs towards the middle tiers of the falls. Indeed, we were pretty content with the waterfall experience just from the relative safety of the view from across the river.

Despite the unsigned nature of this attraction, it was still quite popular as we shared it with at least a half-dozen carloads of people or so. We suspected many were locals though (either of Flagstaff or of the Navajo Reservation) or tourists who looked for gems like this on the internet. :)

Directions: The following was the way we managed to find Grand Falls.

First off, we had to take the I-40 east of Flagstaff until reaching exit 211 near the town of Winona. From there, we headed west on the county road until reaching Leupp Road in just a few miles. We then turned right onto Leupp Road and followed this road until we saw the pavement change near the sign indicating we were entering Navajo Indian Reservation land.

Here was where things had gotten a little tricky.

On the Indian Road 70 The key was that we had to look for an obscure turnoff just past the Navajo boundary sign on our left (near where the pavement surface had changed). There was a Grand Falls Bible Church sign near this turnoff.

So we took this turnoff (which was very easy to miss) and followed this dusty unsealed road formally known as Indian Road 70. We followed this road while trying to ignore spur roads around us until we got near the Little Colorado River Crossing. We had no desire to keep going since there was no way we would've been able to cross the river in our passenger car, but it turned out that it wasn't necessary anyways.

There was an unsigned turnoff on the left before reaching the Little Colorado River that leds along a rough road to the picnic area at the top of the falls. Ultimately, our passenger car was able to make it all the way to the picnic area, but we had to be careful on that last spur. I suppose had the conditions been a bit too rough for the passenger vehicle, we could've parked near the Little Colorado River and walked the remaining distance on the turnoff road to the picnic area.




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PHOTO JOURNAL
A faint rainbow arcing across Grand Falls as seen from the gorge rim
Prior to visiting Grand Falls, we drove further to the east to visit the enigmatic Meteor Crater
We used the scenic town of Sedona as the base for exploring the general area to the northeast outside of town, which included both the Meteor Crater and Grand Falls.  This photo was taken near the so-called Red Rock Crossing at Oak Creek
On the Leupp RoadOn the Leupp Road

Now on some unpaved roads in Navajo Reservation land.  Not a good place to get lostNow on some unpaved roads in Navajo Reservation land. Not a good place to get lost

Looking along some of the tiers of Grand Falls into the gorge belowLooking along some of the tiers of the falls into the gorge below

The views and angles changed as we walked further along the gorge rimThe views and angles changed as we walked further along the gorge rim

An even more angled look back at Grand FallsAn even more angled look back at the falls

Direct frontal look at Grand Falls from the opposite side of the gorgeDirect frontal look at Grand Falls from the opposite side of the gorge

Looking back at Grand Falls with a partial rainbow arcing from a gap in the gorgeLooking back at Grand Falls with a partial rainbow arcing from a gap in the gorge

View of Grand Falls as we started to look for a way to get down to its baseView of the falls as we started to look for a way to get down to its base

We found the access to the base of Grand Falls along this black-sanded pathWe found the access to the base of Grand Falls along this black-sanded path

Now scrambling along some jagged cliffs towards the banks of the Little Colorado RiverNow scrambling along some jagged cliffs towards the banks of the Little Colorado River

Walking along the banks of the Little Colorado River as we approached the base of Grand FallsWalking along the banks of the Little Colorado River as we approached the base of Grand Falls

Angled view of Grand Falls from its baseAngled view of the falls from its base

Closer look at Grand Falls from its base.  Note the gazeebo perched atop the cliff for scaleCloser look at the falls from its base. Note the gazeebo perched atop the cliff for scale

Julie checking out Grand Falls from its baseJulie checking out the falls from its base

Looking directly at Grand Falls with a rainbow fronting it from where it started to get muddyLooking directly at Grand Falls with a rainbow fronting it from where it started to get muddy


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS

Sweep of the falls with a guy actually behind one of the falls from one of the uppermost viewpoints


Sweep from right to left at the base of the Grand Falls besides the Little Colorado River


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MAP OF THE FALLS

View Larger Map




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TRIP REPORTS
For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.




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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES



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NEARBY WATERFALLS


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Pleated (above Grand Falls) 
Above the main falls the muddy river forms what appear to be curvy curtain pleates all the way across the river in levels making drops of a few inches …

Went April 11, 2011 
Was only flowing at about 20 percent but was still amazing and it is a lot bigger when u see other people standing on the other side. It really puts the …

Amazing 
I was there in May 1987

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