Would you believe me if I told you that Arizona is home to a waterfall that is taller than Niagara Falls? It’s hard to believe, but Grand Falls is truly a sight to see. And these are no ordinary falls; the muddy water has the appearance of flowing chocolate – thus earning it the nickname of “Chocolate Falls”. This breathtaking waterfall is free to visit and is a exciting family friendly adventure!
Located on Navajo land in the Painted Desert, Grand Falls is about an hour outside of Flagstaff, Arizona. It is a beautiful place to visit, but logistically it can get a bit complicated to plan. So I’m sharing all my tips to help you execute a successful trip to see one of Arizona’s best kept secrets.
When to go
The first thing you need to know is that Grand Falls does not flow all year long. It will be completely dry unless you go in the spring after snow melt or after heavy rain.
- The best time to visit the falls is during March or April when snow has melted and fed the Little Colorado, or after a large monsoon storm.
- Before you go, use the USGS website to check flows of the river. There is nothing more disappointing than showing up to a dry waterfall.
- If the flows are over 1000cfs then water will be flowing well at the falls. On the day we visited it was just under 4000cfs and the falls were absolutely stunning. You will want it flowing at least a couple hundred cfs so it won’t be just a trickle of water.
- Another way to check is to scroll through Instagram and look for recent photos taken there in the past few days. I like to search the location tag or the recent posts using the hashtag to get a glimpse of how it looks before I go.
How to get there
Grand Falls is about an hour East of Flagstaff, so close to 4 hours (with stops) from the East Valley. We did the drive from Gilbert to Grand Falls and then back home in one day. It made for a long day in the car but was doable. In the future I’ll make it a side trip from Flagstaff instead.
- Do not, I repeat, DO NOT follow the directions in Google Maps to get to Grand Falls. These directions will not only take you longer, but will also bring you to the wrong side of the Little Colorado.
- From the 1-40, take exit 211 at Winona. Drive 2.3 miles north to Leupp Rd. Turn right and drive 15 miles to Indian Road 70. Just before you will see a sign for Grand Falls and at the turn there is a sign for Grand Falls Bible Church – this is an unpaved road. Turn left on Indian Road 70 and continue for 8.4 miles (this road is a little rough). You will then see a turnoff to the left for the falls. If you miss the turnoff you will come to the Little Colorado River – Do NOT cross, just turn around to find the parking area for the falls.
- The last 9 miles of the drive is on a somewhat rough dirt road. Having a 4×4 vehicle isn’t totally necessary (we saw plenty of cars there during our visit) but definitely makes the drive easier. Also keep in mind that the road condition could worsen at any time, making it more challenging for a smaller vehicle.
- Be aware that there is no reason whatsoever that you will need to cross the Little Colorado river. DO NOT attempt to cross it. When we visited there was a large SUV that got stuck while attempting to drive across and they did not get help for at least 3 hours due to the remote location.
- I highly recommend looking at the map before you leave in satellite view so that you can familiarize yourself with what roads are where. These dirt roads are not marked and can easily be missed.
- Cell service is limited in the area around the falls so I suggest having written directions (or a screenshot saved) so you are able to navigate.
- After leaving Flagstaff there are not many services, so it’s a good idea fill up on gas there. It’s also smart to make sure you have plenty water and some food with you in case of an emergency.
Grand Falls is in a pretty remote area – one second you’re on a dirt road surrounded by desert (so much that you are wondering if you are even in the right place!) and the next you are looking at one of the most unique waterfalls imaginable. The site is somewhat developed, but not like you would see at a National or State Park – there are no paved roads/parking lots, no sidewalks, no visitors center or guides. What you can expect is a small ramada, some picnic tables, trash receptacles and a water-less bathroom. We brought a picnic lunch and ate before we explored the falls.
- There are no railings to keep children/pets/adults from falling over the cliff into the falls. We kept the kids a safe distance from the edge and were still able to get great views (I also had a verrrry tight grip on their hands).
- While you do not need to hike to view the falls, you can park right at the turn off and walk around the front of the falls to see it from different views. We did a decent amount of walking/exploring while there and the ground is covered in neat looking volcanic rock.
- There is a trail to hike to the bottom of the falls. We did not come across a marked trailhead but did see some people down at the bottom during our visit. The falls put off quite a bit of spray, so I would imagine the trail can get somewhat muddy.
- The weather was warmer than Flagstaff but pretty windy. I recommend wearing or bringing a windbreaker to be more comfortable.
- At this time no permit is needed to visit Grand Falls, but you can verify that on the Leupp chapter website.
- As mentioned before, Grand Falls is on Navajo land. Please be respectful of tribal beliefs, leave no trash behind and follow all laws. Let’s keep this place beautiful and well preserved!
Planning to visit Grand Falls? Tag us on social media and show us your photos!