Grand Falls

Navajo Reservation / Flagstaff, Arizona, USA

About Grand Falls


Hiking Distance: 1/2 mile round trip (to base)
Suggested Time: 30 minutes (to base)

Date first visited: 2009-03-13
Date last visited: 2018-03-30

Waterfall Latitude: 35.42823
Waterfall Longitude: -111.20128

Grand Falls was certainly one of the most attractive waterfalls that we’ve seen in the US (let alone the American Southwest region).

What made this proclaimed 181ft waterfall so attractive was its width combined with the multiple terraces before plunging in three tall leaps.

Grand_Falls_025_03132009 - Grand Falls
Grand Falls

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 its chocolate-like appearance.

With some imagination, this waterfall could’ve appeared in 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.

Grand_Falls_076_03132009 - Julie checking out Grand Falls near the rim of the gorge
Julie checking out Grand Falls near the rim of the gorge

We even included it on our Top 10 Best USA Waterfalls List at one point in time (before our waterfalling survey expanded to more states)!

Conditions for Grand Falls to put on a show

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.

Grand_Falls_079_03132009 - A faint rainbow arcing before the Grand Falls when it was flowing in March 2009
A faint rainbow arcing before the Grand Falls when it was flowing in March 2009

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 waterfall, and instead, 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, and only then would timing a visit for the snowmelt come into play.

Grand_Falls_18_015_03302018 - Grand Falls when it wasn't flowing on our visit in late March 2018
Grand Falls when it wasn’t flowing on our visit in late March 2018

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 that 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).

Experiencing Grand Falls

Once managed to find the parking area, we were at the top of the Grand 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.

Grand_Falls_150_03132009 - Julie approaching the steep scramble to the base of the falls
Julie approaching the steep scramble to the base of the falls

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.

And it was here where we would eventually get right across the river from 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.

Grand_Falls_125_03132009 - Julie standing across from the Grand Falls at its base going only as far as the spray zone and the start of the muddy sections
Julie standing across from the Grand Falls at its base going only as far as the spray zone and the start of the muddy sections

And if we recognized that we might have gone the wrong way, then we’d backtrack and find a more sane path instead of forcing a leap of faith down a dropoff.

Nevertheless, the path was reasonably doable for us and wasn’t as scary as say the Mooney Falls descent in the Havasupai Reservation.

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.

Grand_Falls_161_03132009 - Looking over the brink of Grand Falls, where the Little Colorado River exhibited little 'steps' before making its big plunge
Looking over the brink of Grand Falls, where the Little Colorado River exhibited little ‘steps’ before making its big plunge

Indeed, we were pretty content with the waterfall experience just from the relative safety of the view from across the river.

Finally, 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 from Flagstaff or from the Navajo Reservation), or they were tourists who looked for gems like this off the internet. 🙂

Authorities

Grand Falls resides in the Painted Desert near Flagstaff in Coconino County, Arizona. It is administered by the Navajo Nation. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, you can visit their official government website.

Grand_Falls_008_iPhone_03302018 - On the Leupp Road backed by some interesting-looking volcanic cinder cones en route to Grand Falls during our March 2018 visit
Grand_Falls_013_iPhone_03302018 - Continuing on the Leupp Road backed by some more interesting-looking volcanic mountains en route to Grand Falls during our March 2018 visit
Grand_Falls_014_iPhone_03302018 - There were actually two different Indian Roads to take.  As of our latest visit in late March 2018, a sign suggested that we turn left onto the BIA-70 Road, which was a bit washboardy as you can see in this photo
Grand_Falls_016_iPhone_03302018 - Continung on the washboarded BIA-70 road en route to Grand Falls during our March 2018 visit
Grand_Falls_18_001_03302018 - The parking and sheltered picnic area near the top of Grand Falls as seen during our late March 2018 visit
Grand_Falls_18_005_03302018 - Mom approaching one of the gazeebos overlooking Grand Falls during our late March 2018 visit
Grand_Falls_18_008_03302018 - Looking across the Grand Falls as it wasn't flowing during our March 2018 visit
Grand_Falls_18_012_03302018 - During our visit in late March 2018, Grand Falls was not flowing; proving that there may be some years where the falls may not be flowing (reliably) at all
Grand_Falls_18_024_03302018 - Looking back at the parking and picnic area for the Grand Falls during our March 2018 visit
Grand_Falls_034_iPhone_03302018 - On our way back to Leupp Road during our late March 2018 visit, we had a choice of going back the way we came in on the BIA-70 Road to the right, or the BIA-6910 Road to the left.  This time, we opted to take the left road (BIA-6910) on the way out
Grand_Falls_038_iPhone_03302018 - Whilst on the BIA-6910 Road during our late March 2018 visit, it turned out that the surface was harder than the BIA-70 Road.  Therefore, it felt a bit smoother and less washboardy.  Strangely, we didn't notice any signage on Leupp Road suggesting that this road would also lead to the Grand Falls
Grand_Falls_001_jx_03132009 - Driving on the Leupp Road with interesting volcanic cinder cones in the distance during our drive to Grand Falls as seen on our March 2009 visit
Grand_Falls_006_jx_03132009 - Driving on some unpaved roads in the Navajo Reservation land during our visit in March 2009
Grand_Falls_007_jx_03132009 - Continuing on some unpaved roads in Navajo Reservation land during our March 2009 visit.  This was not a good place to get lost
Grand_Falls_008_jx_03132009 - Looking upstream from the Grand Falls brink towards the Little Colorado River during our March 2009 visit
Grand_Falls_001_03132009 - Looking towards the lookout by the brink of Grand Falls as seen during our March 2009 visit
Grand_Falls_005_03132009 - Looking along some of the tiers of Grand Falls into the gorge below as seen during our March 2009 visit
Grand_Falls_010_03132009 - Looking across some of the interesting cascades further upstream from the brink of Grand Falls as seen during our March 2009 visit
Grand_Falls_016_03132009 - Broad view across Grand Falls with the context of the lookout shelter at its brink as seen during our March 2009 visit
Grand_Falls_018_03132009 - Looking downstream across the base of Grand Falls as seen during our March 2009 visit
Grand_Falls_020_03132009 - The views and angles of Grand Falls changed as we walked further along the gorge rim during our March 2009 visit
Grand_Falls_021_03132009 - Looking down towards a fellow who managed to scramble into this alcove besides the Grand Falls as seen during our March 2009 visit
Grand_Falls_037_03132009 - Portrait view across the flowing Grand Falls during our March 2009 visit
Grand_Falls_045_03132009 - An even more angled look back at Grand Falls during our March 2009 visit
Grand_Falls_064_03132009 - Angled look down at the Grand Falls with a faint arcing rainbow appearing in the waterfall's mist during our March 2009 visit
Grand_Falls_067_03132009 - Context of Julie checking out Grand Falls during our March 2009 visit
Grand_Falls_069_03132009 - Context of Julie standing near the brink of Grand Falls during our March 2009 visit
Grand_Falls_075_03132009 - Direct and wide frontal look at Grand Falls from the opposite side of the gorge as seen during our March 2009 visit
Grand_Falls_080_03132009 - Looking back at Grand Falls with a partial rainbow arcing from a gap in the gorge during our March 2009 visit
Grand_Falls_084_03132009 - View of Grand Falls as we started to look for a way to get down to its base during our March 2009 visit
Grand_Falls_148_03132009 - We found the access to the base of Grand Falls along this black-sanded path during our March 2009 visit
Grand_Falls_091_03132009 - Now scrambling along some jagged cliffs towards the banks of the Little Colorado River and the base of Grand Falls on our March 2009 visit
Grand_Falls_092_03132009 - Walking along the banks of the Little Colorado River as we approached the base of Grand Falls on our March 2009 visit
Grand_Falls_100_03132009 - Angled view of Grand Falls from its base as seen during our March 2009 visit
Grand_Falls_106_03132009 - Closer look at Grand Falls from its base during our March 2009 visit.  Note the gazeebo perched atop the cliff for scale
Grand_Falls_133_03132009 - Looking directly at Grand Falls with a rainbow fronting it from where it started to get muddy during our March 2009 visit

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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.

Then, we’ll then describe the alternate route.

The Signed Route to Grand Falls

Grand_Falls_003_jx_03132009 - On the Leupp Road, which leads into the Navajo Nation and eventually the BIA roads that ultimately lead to the Grand Falls
On the Leupp Road, which leads into the Navajo Nation and eventually the BIA roads that ultimately lead to the Grand Falls

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).

Grand_Falls_006_jx_03132009 - On the Indian Road 70 during our first visit back in 2009
On the Indian Road 70 during our first visit back in 2009

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 about 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.

Grand_Falls_032_iPhone_03302018 - This was the unsigned road turnoff leading to the picnic area and overlooks of the Grand Falls. This turnoff was a short distance before reaching the crossing of the Little Colorado River
This was the unsigned road turnoff leading to the picnic area and overlooks of the Grand Falls. This turnoff was a short distance before reaching the crossing of the Little Colorado River

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.

Returning via the slightly longer but less bumpier route to Grand Falls

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.

Grand_Falls_018_iPhone_03302018 - The Indian Road 70 can be a bit washboarded due to its softer surface, which can be bad news if it's wet and muddy like in a thunderstorm
The Indian Road 70 can be a bit washboarded due to its softer surface, which can be bad news if it’s wet and muddy like in a thunderstorm

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.

Sweep along the tops of each tier of the impressive waterfall


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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Tagged with: flagstaff, navajo, reservation, sedona, meteor crater, coconino, little colorado, arizona, waterfall



Visitor Comments:

Dirt Spray May 19, 2017 1:13 pm by Joe Budd - I was at the Grand Falls of the Little Colorado in 1984 at a time of heavy water flow. We parked at a small picnic area just down from the Falls and walked up to admire the huge chocolate-like flow over the cliffs. When we got back to the car later we found that the… ...Read More
Pleated (above Grand Falls) October 30, 2012 3:30 am by Abe - 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 in several drops. Unique feature to this falls. ...Read More
Went April 11, 2011 April 15, 2011 6:48 am by Robert Mayhall - 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 size of it in perspective. ...Read More

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Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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