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!
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 map to help us out (though it did lead to a little bit of confusion as the map had some outdated road lines).
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. :)
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.
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.
Contextually, we made the drive to the falls from Sedona. This drive was on the order of 69 miles or over 90 minutes.
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What Other Visitors Have Said
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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 …