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: -111.19805

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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!

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

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).

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

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. 🙂

Grand_Falls_003_jx_03132009 - On the Leupp Road
Grand_Falls_007_jx_03132009 - Now on some unpaved roads in Navajo Reservation land.  Not a good place to get lost
Grand_Falls_014_iPhone_03302018 - There were actually two different Indian Roads to take.  As of our latest visit in 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_032_iPhone_03302018 - This was the unsigned road turnoff leading to the picnic area and overlooks. This turnoff was a short distance before reaching the crossing of the Little Colorado River
Grand_Falls_18_001_03302018 - The parking and sheltered picnic area near the top of Grand Falls
Grand_Falls_18_005_03302018 - Mom approaching one of the gazeebos overlooking Grand Falls
Grand_Falls_005_03132009 - Looking along some of the tiers of Grand Falls into the gorge below
Grand_Falls_020_03132009 - The views and angles changed as we walked further along the gorge rim
Grand_Falls_045_03132009 - An even more angled look back at Grand Falls
Grand_Falls_075_03132009 - Direct frontal look at Grand Falls from the opposite side of the gorge
Grand_Falls_080_03132009 - Looking back at Grand Falls with a partial rainbow arcing from a gap in the gorge
Grand_Falls_084_03132009 - View of Grand Falls as we started to look for a way to get down to its base
Grand_Falls_148_03132009 - We found the access to the base of Grand Falls along this black-sanded path
Grand_Falls_091_03132009 - Now scrambling along some jagged cliffs towards the banks of the Little Colorado River
Grand_Falls_092_03132009 - Walking along the banks of the Little Colorado River as we approached the base of Grand Falls
Grand_Falls_100_03132009 - Angled view of Grand Falls from its base
Grand_Falls_106_03132009 - Closer look at Grand Falls from its base.  Note the gazeebo perched atop the cliff for scale
Grand_Falls_125_03132009 - Julie checking out Grand Falls from its base
Grand_Falls_133_03132009 - Looking directly at Grand Falls with a rainbow fronting it from where it started to get muddy
Grand_Falls_18_012_03302018 - On our latest 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_034_iPhone_03302018 - On our way back to Leupp Road, 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 on the way out
Grand_Falls_038_iPhone_03302018 - Whilst on the BIA-6910 Road, 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


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.

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

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.

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

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.

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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