Did you know there’s a waterfall in Arizona that only exists a few months out of the year? Grand Falls in Arizona (aka Chocolate Falls) are taller than Niagara, and located remotely in the Navajo Nation, but fairly easily accessed and enjoyed. Here’s what you need to know!
Grand Falls Arizona (aka Chocolate Falls)
Grand Falls is near Leupp (east of Flagstaff) and only shows itself in March and April because it’s a product of snowmelt from the White Mountains, feeding into the Little Colorado River (which eventually merges with the Colorado River 70 miles away). Because the falls pick up mud, sand and clay along the water’s route from the White Mountains, they are muddy and brown, earning them their nickname, Chocolate Falls.
The falls were formed when lava flowed into the Little Colorado River about 100,000 years ago and as the lava cooled, created a basalt dam. Merriam Crater is nearby and the entire area has a volcanic history.
How big is Grand Falls?
Grand Falls is about 185 feet tall (for reference, Niagara Falls is 176 feet, with only 70 feet of actual waterfall). That said, for most of the year, the waterfall isn’t even a drip, and even at full-flow, they aren’t nearly as wide.
When is the water flowing at Grand Falls/Chocolate Falls?
It is rare to find a waterfall that only flows part of the year, but that’s the case for Grand Falls. The waterfall is a result of snowmelt, so it is only around in the spring, and sometimes later in the year during monsoon season (though it is much more volatile then). If you want to check the water flow in advance, there are instructions here.
The best time of year to see Grand Falls is March and April.
The best time of day is mid-afternoon as the falls face the east, so the sun is on them.
Note: Arizona does not observe Daylight Saving Time, but the Navajo Nation DOES. When planning your trip, note that you may change time when entering the Navajo Nation.
How to get to Grand Falls and road conditions
Chocolate Falls are located about 30 miles east of Flagstaff in the Navajo Nation. You should expect to be on dirt roads for the last portion of the drive. As of March 2019, the roads are in good condition, though they are quite graded (meaning a bumpy ride). High clearance vehicles are recommended.
Directions to Grand Falls
From Flagstaff, take the I-40 East to exit 211 (Winona). Go North on Winona for about 2 miles and turn right on Leupp Road (this will be your last paved road). From Leupp, you will have two options: Indian Road 70 or Indian Road 6910. Take either North as you head to the falls. If you are using Google Maps, be sure to use the pin marked “Grand Falls Campground.”
There are small signs pointing towards the falls, but both Indian Road 70 and 6910 are not well-marked. Both are currently graded and in good condition, and meet right before the falls. As of March 2019, Indian Road 70 had a rougher grade (bumpier ride) and Indian Road 6910 has a smoother grade, but significantly more rocks.
Grand Falls Arizona location and map
You can’t cross the river at the top of the falls, so it’s important you plan to get to the correct side of the falls (the South side).
Grand Falls/Chocolate Falls hike
Who doesn’t love a good waterfall that you can enjoy without a massive hike? Grand Falls definitely meets that criteria as you can drive up to many points along the route. However, if you want to hike down to the bottom, it is fairly easily accessed. You can park at the parking area (near the ramada) and walk down and around past all of the shaded viewpoints. You will find a drop-in to hike down on the righthand side.
Note about hiking in Arizona: always be careful hiking in Arizona as hikes typically include a lot of sun exposure and heat. Because these waterfalls are only around in the spring, it shouldn’t be **too** hot, but you should still have water with you.
The dirt is soft around the falls, so exercise caution while hiking and take your time. As with all hikes into canyons, remember that going up is harder than down.
ALWAYS PACK OUT EVERYTHING YOU BRING. Their remote location means that even though there are a few bins at the site, they are not frequently serviced.
What to wear to Grand Falls
Clothes: There is very little shade in the whole Grand Falls area, and it can get high winds. You will want to wear clothes comfortable for exploring, but bring something to block the wind and to protect from the sun.
Footwear: The terrain is rocky and sandy, but also quite soft. This means that you will want to wear hiking boots with enough protection to keep the sand out and give you good traction. I have these hiking boots from Amazon for about $40 and love them.
Grand falls hiking permit
Because the falls are located in the Navajo Nation, many other sites state that a hiking permit is needed. However, no information is listed on Navajo official sites, nor was any information available at the site. You can refer to the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation page for all park and backcountry information.
Grand Falls Arizona pictures
Other hikes in Northern Arizona
Northern Arizona is an outdoors person’s paradise. If you want hikes specifically, there are a ton north of Chocolate Waterfalls. Here are some of the best:
Coyote Buttes North (the Wave): This is the one most people visit the area for and if you’re lucky enough to get a permit, you will be treated.
Coyote Buttes South: Just as beautiful as Coyote Buttes North, South is made up of hoodoos and Navajo sandstone just the same. It is definitely worth a day.
Buckskin Gulch: Buckskin Gulch is accessible from the Wire Pass trailhead (the entrance to the Wave and Coyote Buttes North). This hike requires a day-use permit, but you can pay for it at the trailhead.
Wire Pass: Wire Pass is another hike at the Wire Pass trailhead, which also requires a day-use permit, available on site. This is a shorter and less difficult option, similar to Buckskin Gulch.
White Pocket: White Pocket lies to the East of both sections of Coyote Buttes and is made up of beautiful formations similar to Coyote Buttes.
Vermillion Cliffs: Vermillion Cliffs lie South of both sections of Coyote Buttes and are worth a nice scenic drive (tip: head South on House Rock Valley Road after your Coyote Buttes hike to catch the Vermillion Cliffs near sunset; the sun lights them up in the afternoon). There is also a hawk-viewing area along the road.
Antelope Canyon: Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon near Page. There are two hikes, upper and lower. It is located on the Navajo Nation reservation and requires a permit and a guide.
Pin to share Grand Falls in Arizona
Note: This post contains affiliate links. My opinions and advice remain my own. For more information on affiliates and sponsors of How Dare She, click here.