Grand Falls 2020 update: All Navajo Nation tourism sites are closed due to coronavirus
UPDATE: The Navajo Nation declared a state of emergency over the new coronavirus on March 11 and all tourism locations, tribal parks and casinos on the reservation are closed to visitors.
At least three tribal members have tested positive for the virus. Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said travel agencies that organize visits to the Navajo Nation have been notified and he hopes they will abide by the request. His emergency order urged Navajo people to stay home for 15 days.
"We're trying to lessen that curve and get ourselves through this pandemic," he said. "We ask for our visitors to respect the sovereignty of the Navajo Nation."
What is Grand Falls?
Gently melting snow creates one of Arizona’s most dramatic waterfalls. Grand Falls, northeast of Flagstaff on the Navajo Reservation, roars to life in the spring.
The silt-laden water of the Little Colorado River gives the falls a rich chocolate color that would make Willy Wonka envious. Some people call it Chocolate Falls because of that.
From wide terraces, the falls plunge 185 feet — a bigger drop than Niagara Falls (167 feet). Amid such a furious cascade, floating rainbows can often be seen in the mist.
When is the best time to go?
The falls are most impressive during spring, when warming weather causes snowmelt in the White Mountains of eastern Arizona, where the Little Colorado River originates.
At other times of the year, the spillover is minimal or even nonexistent as the flow from the mountains fades to a trickle and seeps underground.
Where is Grand Falls?
It's about 41 miles northeast of downtown Flagstaff. Take Interstate 40 east to Winona (Exit 211). Drive north for 2.3 miles and turn right on Leupp Road. Go about 15 miles and turn left on Indian Road 70. (Watch for the Grand Falls sign.) The parking area for the falls is 8.5 miles ahead at the end of IR 70.
Note: Google Maps may show you a different route that passes through the Navajo community of Leupp before turning north toward the falls. This route adds about 27 miles of driving.
Will my car make it down the road?
The road to Grand Falls is graded dirt and gravel. It's suitable for most cars, although you may be more comfortable in a high-clearance vehicle. Just know that sharp rocks may be a concern, especially if you attempt to drive beyond the main parking area.
What can I do there?
Take pictures! Walk along the river to see the water tumble over the edge.
A rough road leads to other overlooks and a trail down to the river. This road is rutted and has sharp rocks. You may prefer to walk it rather than drive.
The short trail to the river has steep sections and loose rock. Don't attempt it if you're not wearing sturdy shoes. At the bottom, take in the ground-level sights and sounds of the water's power. Don't be surprised if you get sprayed by mist.
Is there a bathroom?
There are outhouses in the parking area but no other services. Bring drinking water if you plan to stay a while or hike down to the river.
Do I need a permit?
You don't need a permit and there's no charge to visit.
Where do I get more information?
Call the Leupp Chapter of the Navajo Nation at 928-686-3227 for current conditions. Or go to www.discovernavajo.com/grand-falls.aspx.
Little Colorado River facts
- The river originates on Mount Baldy in the White Mountains.
- It flows 338 miles northwest to its confluence with the Colorado River in Grand Canyon.
- By the time the Little Colorado reaches the Grand Canyon confluence, the silt has been filtered out and minerals have changed its color from reddish-brown to pale turquoise.
Roger Naylor contributed to this article.