Picture Canyon Waterfall

Flagstaff, Arizona, USA

About Picture Canyon Waterfall


Hiking Distance: 1/2 mile round trip
Suggested Time: 30 minutes

Date first visited: 2022-10-08
Date last visited: 2022-10-08

Waterfall Latitude: 35.23111
Waterfall Longitude: -111.55281

Waterfall Safety and Common Sense

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.

Picture_Canyon_054_10082022 - Picture Canyon Waterfall
Picture Canyon Waterfall

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.

Picture_Canyon_006_10082022 - Julie starting on the Picture Canyon Trail in pursuit of the waterfall
Julie starting on the Picture Canyon Trail in pursuit of the waterfall

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.

Trail Description

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).

Picture_Canyon_009_iPhone_10082022 - Looking across the deep pond from the end of the short spur to a pair of interpretive signs in the heart of the wetland by the Wildcat Wastewater Treatment Plant
Looking across the deep pond from the end of the short spur to a pair of interpretive signs in the heart of the wetland by the Wildcat Wastewater Treatment Plant

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.

Picture_Canyon_024_10082022 - Keeping right at this signed trail fork for the Tom Moody Trail put us on the shortest path to the Picture Canyon Waterfall
Keeping right at this signed trail fork for the Tom Moody Trail put us on the shortest path to the Picture Canyon Waterfall

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).

Picture_Canyon_033_10082022 - Context of Julie and Tahia walking on the Tom Moody Trail alongside the restored wetlands flanking the now-hidden Rio de Flag Stream
Context of Julie and Tahia walking on the Tom Moody Trail alongside the restored wetlands flanking the now-hidden Rio de Flag Stream

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.

Picture_Canyon_058_10082022 - The Picture Canyon Waterfall with people on the opposite side for a sense of scale
The Picture Canyon Waterfall with people on the opposite side for a sense of scale

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.

Authorities

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.

Picture_Canyon_002_10082022 - Looking towards limited parking spaces at the start of the Picture Canyon Trail
Picture_Canyon_009_10082022 - Julie starting off on the Picture Canyon Trail as we pursued the waterfall just as some people were about to conclude their hike
Picture_Canyon_013_10082022 - Julie and Tahia on the Picture Canyon Trail as we made our way towards the junction with the Tom Moody Trail
Picture_Canyon_014_10082022 - Julie approaching the so-called 'outdoor classroom' along the Picture Canyon Trail
Picture_Canyon_025_10082022 - Heading right from the fork with the Tom Moody Trail, we then crossed underneath power pylons and power lines through wetlands towards the waterfall
Picture_Canyon_029_10082022 - Looking over the deep pond from the wetland towards the Wildcat Wastewater Treatment Facility as seen from the Tom Moody Trail
Picture_Canyon_031_10082022 - Julie and Tahia continuing alongside the wetlands flanking Rio de Flag en route towards the waterfall in Picture Canyon
Picture_Canyon_034_10082022 - Looking back towards the Wildcat Wastewater Treatment Plant from further along the Tom Moody Trail alongside the wetlands of Rio de Flag
Picture_Canyon_042_10082022 - Looking down into the small canyon from the former site of the railroad tressel bridge along the Tom Moody Trail
Picture_Canyon_065_10082022 - A sign pointing from the Tom Moody Trail towards the cliff overlooking the Picture Canyon Waterfall
Picture_Canyon_046_10082022 - Our first look at the Picture Canyon Waterfall during our October 2022 visit
Picture_Canyon_048_10082022 - Portrait view of the Picture Canyon Waterfall. Notice the bubbling foam going on at the plunge pool at the base, which hints at the less than clean nature of the watercourse
Picture_Canyon_007_iPhone_10082022 - Another look down at the Picture Canyon Waterfall with surprisingly decent flow in early October 2022
Picture_Canyon_064_10082022 - Julie and Tahia checking out the Picture Canyon Waterfall just as another family showed up on the opposite side of the Rio de Flag, but I doubted that they'd be getting a satisfactory view from there
Picture_Canyon_069_10082022 - Julie and Tahia heading back the way we came on the Tom Moody Trail
Picture_Canyon_072_10082022 - Julie and Tahia continuing to head back along the Tom Moody Trail with the wetlands to their right
Picture_Canyon_077_10082022 - Another look across the deep pond towards the Wildcat Wastewater Treatment Plant on the way back along the Tom Moody Trail
Picture_Canyon_079_10082022 - Looking along the power pylons and power lines as we crossed the wetland on the way back to the Picture Canyon Trailhead
Picture_Canyon_089_10082022 - Another look towards the Wildcat Wastewater Treatment Plant, which was adjacent to the Picture Canyon Preserve
Picture_Canyon_093_10082022 - Making it back to the Picture Canyon Trailhead


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).

Picture_Canyon_001_10082022 - Looking back at the row of cars parked along the side of the North El Paso Flagstaff Road by the Picture Canyon Trailhead
Looking back at the row of cars parked along the side of the North El Paso Flagstaff Road by the Picture Canyon Trailhead

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).

Picture_Canyon_003_10082022 - The dead-end at the North El Paso Flagstaff Road, where the Picture Canyon Trail began to the right side of where this picture was taken
The dead-end at the North El Paso Flagstaff Road, where the Picture Canyon Trail began to the right side of where this picture was taken

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.

Find A Place To Stay

Downstream to upstream sweep of the falls with some minor banter


Starting with fixated on the falls before zooming out to reveal scale of people on other side and the falls

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Tagged with: flagstaff, picture canyon, sedona, petroglyphs, coconino, waste treatment, arizona, waterfall, wetlands, tom moody trail



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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning 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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