About Grand Falls
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 at one point in time!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).
On a subsequent visit to Grand Falls in late March 2018, we also proved that even the snowmelt months are no guarantee of its flow. For on that visit, there was no water going over the falls. There were only a few standing pools of water at its base. So the bottom line is that the snowpack on the White Mountains must be significant enough to feed the Little Colorado River, then timing a visit for the snowmelt would work.
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 lookout gazeebos perched right at the cliff’s edges providing various angles of the impressive falls itself as we walked around the rim 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. 🙂
It turns out that we could have taken a couple of different ways to reach the Grand Falls. We’ll first describe the more obvious signed route using Flagstaff as the starting point. We’ll then describe the alternate route.
Starting from Flagstaff, we drove east on the I-40 until we reached the exit 211 for the Winona Road (near the town of Winona). From there, we turned left to go over the bridge, then followed the Winona Road for about 2.2 miles before turning right onto Leupp Rd.
We then followed the Leupp Road for about 14.5 miles. On our latest visit in 2018, there was a sign indicating that Grand Falls was the next left turn (which can be easy to miss given how fast cars can go on the Leupp Road). On our first visit in 2009, that sign wasn’t there and we took the unsigned turnoff shortly after the pavement changed (indicating we were now on Navajo Tribal Lands; there was a Grand Falls Bible Church sign near this turnoff).
At this point, we were now driving on the unpaved Indian Road 70 (also referred to as Bia-70 on maps). It was a fairly wide but bumpy washboarded road, which we kept on for about 8 miles. Note that after 7 miles after leaving Leupp Road, there was a junction with the Bia-6910 Road coming in from the right.
There was an unsigned turnoff on our left that led the final 0.4 miles to the parking and picnic area for the Grand Falls. Overall, this drive took us about 45 minutes or so. If you happened to miss this turnoff and reach the ford of the Little Colorado River (roughly another 0.4 miles past the correct unsigned turnoff on the left), then that’s a good indicator that you went too far.
On the return route, instead of taking the Indian Road 70 back to Leupp Road, we kept left at the fork and gave the Bia-6910 Road a try. Although this route was a little bit longer than the Bia-70 Route (by about a mile), the Bia-6910 Road had a harder, packed surface and thus was not as subject to bumpy washboards as the Bia-70 Road.
We would eventually make it back to the Leupp Road roughly 5 miles east of the Bia-70 Road turnoff. We didn’t notice any signage suggesting that the Bia-6910 Road was just as valid as the Bia-70 Road leading to the Grand Falls. So if you’re unsure, you can do as we did and follow the signs leading us to the Bia-70 Road, then return via the Bia-6910 Road.
Contextually, Flagstaff was about 29 miles (45 minutes drive) north of Sedona, 145 miles (over 2 hours drive) north of Phoenix, 148 miles (over 2 hours drive) east of Kingman, and 129 miles (over 2 hours drive) south of Page.
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