About Picture Canyon Waterfall
The Picture Canyon Waterfall was an unexpected waterfall surprise conveniently situated within the city limits of Flagstaff as part of the Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve.
I actually don’t know of a formal name for this seasonal waterfall, and I didn’t even know about the preserve despite having visited Northern Arizona several times over the years we’ve chased waterfalls.
I suspect that this may be attributable to the fact that the City of Flagstaff had acquired the 478-acre lands that would make up this preserve from the Arizona State Land Department in 2012.
Therefore, this seemed like an unlikely place for a waterfall, especially when you consider that the waters of the Rio de Flag flows through regenerated wetlands as well as the outflow of a neighboring wastewater treatment plant.
Experiencing The Picture Canyon Waterfall
In order to experience this waterfall, we had to go on a very mild and flat 1/2-mile (1-mile round-trip) out-and-back hike.
This hike involved going on the so-called Picture Canyon Trail, which included the Tom Moody Loop Trail.
There were opportunities to extend this hike to encompass the entirety of the 3.9-mile Tom Moody Trail, a 0.7-mile stretch of the Don Weaver Trail, and a 1.2-mile stretch of the over 800-mile Arizona Trail.
The reasons why you may consider extending the Picture Canyon Waterfall hike would be to check out things like Northern Sinagua petroglyphs, artifacts, historical relics, etc.
That said, we only bothered to do the abridged hike to the waterfall, and we managed to do it in a very leisurely hour.
From the Picture Canyon Trailhead (see directions below), we walked about 0.2-mile towards a couple of trail junctions near an “outdoor classroom” (basically a series of interpretive signs).
At the first of the trail junctions, there was a short spur trail leading to a pair of interpretive signs fronting a deep water pond or wetland, which was directly opposite the Wildcat Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Back on the main trail, just a few paces after the first trail junction, there was a more obvious trail fork signposted for the Tom Moody Trail.
This fork marked the beginning and end of the longer loop trail, but the shortest path to the waterfall was on the right fork.
So we followed the right fork for about another 0.3-mile as it went beneath power lines and crossed a wetland area adjacent to the deep pond before following the Rio de Flag downstream away from the pond.
It’s worth noting that in the past, the Wildcat Wastewater Treatment Plant had created a straightened channel to quickly expel the treated water.
Unfortunately, that move disturbed this wetland to the point that the waters became ephemeral, and thus removed this place’s ability to harbor wildlife sustainably.
Since the creation of the Picture Canyon Preserve, volunteers and authorities re-established a more curvy path of the Rio de Flag Stream here, which allowed the water to linger and restore wetland habitat.
We noticed the wetland habitat as we walked this stretch of the Tom Moody Trail and witnessed the presence of tall grasses flanking the stream (which was actually mostly hidden from view due to the vegetation).
At roughly 1/4-mile from our entrance to the Tom Moody Trail, we then reached a former site of a railroad tressel bridge (there were still some wooden remnants though nothing resembling the bridge itself).
This was at the head of a small gorge where the Rio de Flag continued flowing further downstream towards the Picture Canyon Waterfall itself.
We retreated back to the Tom Moody Trail and then saw a sign pointing to our left for the “Waterfall”, and that eventually put us on a cliff ledge overlooking the Picture Canyon Waterfall.
There didn’t seem to be a safe path leading down to the bottom of the falls, but with the water having a bit of an urban runoff smell, I don’t think it would be a good idea to be playing in this water anyways.
During our visit, we did notice people on the opposite side of the gorge cut by the Rio de Flag, but their position didn’t seem conducive to viewing the waterfall since the cascading waters faced away from them.
Those people must have followed the Don Weaver Trail, which also featured a petroglyph overlook as well as a pithouse with archaeological artifacts.
I’m sure one of these days, we’ll do the 2.1-mile loop trail encompassing parts of both the Tom Moody Trail and the Don Weaver Trail, where we’ll have more to add to this page when that happens.
The Picture Canyon Waterfall resides in the Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve in the city of Flagstaff in Coconino County, Arizona. It is administered by the City of Flagstaff. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, you can visit their official government website.
I’ll describe the drive from downtown Flagstaff since I’d imagine most visitors will have probably made the approach from that direction.
So from downtown Flagstaff, we’d drive east on Route 66 for just under 4 miles before turning right at the traffic light to continue on the Route 66 (Hwy 89 branches off from here and continues straight past this light).
Then, we’d follow Route 66 for another 1.8 miles before turning left North El Paso Flagstaff Road (there ahould be a Picture Canyon sign nearby here).
We’d then follow this road for another 0.6-mile to the dead-end, where the Picture Canyon Trailhead was.
Overall, this drive should take about 15 minutes or so.
If you’re coming from the I-40, then you can take either the 201 exit (for Hwy 89 North towards Page) or the 204 exit (for Walnut Canyon National Monument).
For the 201 exit, turn left onto Country Club Drive, and then turn left onto Hwy 89 before turning left at the next traffic light to go onto eastbound Route 66 to the North El Paso Flagstaff Road.
For the 204 exit, you’ll want to keep right and follow westbound Route 66 to the North El Paso Flagstaff Road, which would now be on the right.
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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