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You Must See these Chocolate Waterfalls in Arizona Before They’re Gone

Cheyenne Reed

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There’s nothing quite like seeing a waterfall that offers everyone a profound connection to the primal power of nature. Many can be said about this moving water, but if there is only one word to describe it, then it is majestic. Grand Falls Arizona is a unique natural landmark. These chocolate-colored waterfalls are higher than Niagra Falls Check out why it is an absolute must-visit!

Okay, So Maybe it isn’t Actually Made of Chocolate

Flickr User Monty Jackson
Flickr User Monty Jackson

But, Grand Falls in Arizona is pretty incredible. It’s best known for its nickname, “Chocolate Falls” due to the distinct brown color of river water that crashes over the edge and into the Little Colorado River. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons that the Little Colorado River is so opaque! You might be thinking, “A muddy waterfall? Who cares!” but this feat of nature is not one to miss. At 185 feet tall, it’s taller than the famous Niagara Falls. The wide rim of the waterfall is breathtaking, and the multi-tiered levels that the water crashes down make for a powerful show.

These beautiful falls are a natural creation of an ancient lava flow from the local Merriam Crater that filled the Little Colorado River Canyon gorge over 100,000 years ago. When time passed by and the lava cooled, it left a natural basalt dam that blocked the original river channel.

The seasonal river water would then pool behind he basalt dam and eventually rejoin the Little Colorado channel and cascade over the wide spillway of basalt. It plunges over a final wall and forms the Grand Falls.

How Come It Looks Like Chocolate Water?

Grand Falls Arizona Chocolate Waterfall
Source: Grand Falls Arizona | Discover Navajo

There is a simple explanation for this, really. And no, it doesn’t involve Willy Wonka in any way. The river water travels some 150 miles through the high-desert region, even high atop the White Mountains, and picks up tons of sand and clay. Thus, the distinctive chocolate color. You’ll find that we have the desert region to thank for. It is basically responsible for the chocolate in this Chocolate Waterfall in Arizona.

From a Dry Landscape Into a Rare, Majestic Sight

Grand Falls Arizona Chocolate Waterfall
Source: Grand Falls Arizona | World of Waterfalls

The Grand Falls is a by-product of snow, so it’s not all year round that you’ll get to see the Chocolate Waterfall. The trickle will disappear and will be dried up during mid-April, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less beautiful. You’d actually appreciate the canyon more. The rock formations will still take you by surprise with its raw and unfiltered beauty.

You Have to Time Your Visit to Grand Falls Carefully

Flickr User Monty Jackson
Flickr User Monty Jackson

If you want to see the Chocolate Waterfall, you should come here during spring or during times when there are a good snowpack and a good runoff. These are the prime times of this natural wonder. And think about it, there’s also no admission fee, so this is the perfect weekend activity for the whole family!

Sometimes the waterfall is overwhelmed with powerful, rushing water. Other times…not so much. For example, during March and April, snowmelt from way up in the White Mountains makes its way down to create a breathtakingly powerful waterfall. Snowmelt, combined with rainfall, ensure that water steadily crashes over the terraced levels of the falls. Likewise, during the monsoon season of the summer, plentiful rainfall causes water to gush over the falls. Of course, weather patterns are unique, so a less rainy monsoon season might lead to a less than spectacular water flow. Since Grand Falls lies just thirty miles northeast of Flagstaff in the Painted Desert, there are many times that when the water coming over the rim slows to a mere trickle or stops completely. Perhaps it is a blessing in disguise, though, because during these times, the beautiful terraces of the falls are laid bare for all to see.

How to Get to Grand Falls Arizona

Chocolate Waterfall Arizona
Source: Chocolate Waterfall Arizona | World of Waterfalls

If you want to get to the Chocolate Waterfall in Arizona, here’s the route you should take from Flagstaff: Take I-40 east to Winona, Exit 211. Then, drive north for about 2 miles before turning right on Leupp Road. Continue to drive for about 15 miles, then turn left on Indian Road 70. You should keep your eye out for the Grand Falls sign. Note: Parking is said to be 8.5 miles at the end of IR 70.

Note:  A high clearance 4×4 truck or SUV is best to use when going to the Chocolate Waterfall.

Be Sure to Get a Hiking Permit Before You Head Out

Flickr User Jeff Peters, photo by Darren White
Flickr User Jeff Peters, photo by Darren White

Grand Falls was formed when lava flowing from nearby Merriam Crater dammed up the Little Colorado River. When the water found it’s way back to the river, Grand Falls had been created! These days, the falls are part of the Navajo Nation. Grab a hiking permit beforehand, be sure to stay on the roads and trails, and you’ll be good to go! Grand Falls can be notoriously tricky to find. No paved roads lead to the falls, so taking a 4×4 is highly recommended. Depending on which route you choose to take, you might even cross the floor of the little Colorado River. This route is better left for Navajo guides and experienced backcountry people driving 4×4’s, though. If you’re an amateur or in a passenger car, don’t despair. You can make it to the falls fairly easily by staying on the south side of the river!

Don’t Be Afraid to Explore

Flickr User Ken Peterson
Flickr User Ken Peterson

Once you make it to Grand Falls Arizona, there are plenty of beautiful vistas to be had. An easy, half-mile trail will make sure that you don’t miss any of the stunning angles. If you’re there while the falls have plenty of water to fuel it, you can make your way to the bottom for a glorious view, and even feel the spray. Grand Falls Arizona is well known for creating rainbows that arch across the edge and make for a spectacular photo. The sound of the rushing waterfall alone is part of the experience. If you choose to visit when the falls are dry or merely a trickle, you’ll be able to (carefully!) explore the terraces of the waterfall. What an awesome adventure: to explore somewhere that is often hidden beneath a powerful stream of water.

What Should You Bring?

  • Expect high winds and very little shade in the Chocolate Waterfall in Arizona. Make sure you come wearing comfortable clothes that are fit for exploring. Additionally, you can bring sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun.
  • This is a natural wonder, so don’t think you’ll find any restaurants around. The best you can do is to prepare and bring plenty of water and snacks enough for the whole family. (Note: Only picnic tables and gazebos are available)

What You Should Know Before You Go to the Grand Falls in Arizona

  • The desert regions of Arizona don’t see enough waterfalls, so going to the Grand Falls will be a unique adventure.
  • The waterfall isn’t even a drip most of the year. You’ll also find that even at full-flow, they aren’t nearly as wide. Come here during March or early April to see the roaring energy of the water.
  • Stay on the south side for the best view of Grand Falls. The north side will only show partial views. Note: Just don’t follow Google Maps.
  • You can make it to Grand Falls in a car, but a high clearance 4×4 truck or SUV is best.

Hang Out and Enjoy the View! 

A rainbow shines through the chocolate colored Grand Falls in Arizona.
Flickr User CEBImagery

There’s a reason that people seek out the not-so-easily-found Grand Falls. It’s worth the effort! Once you’ve made the trek out to locate this natural wonder, why not hang around and enjoy it for a while? Near the killer viewpoints, you’ll find picnic tables and gazebos. Bring along a snack and a drink for lunch, find a spot to make yourself at home and let the soothing rush of water or the dazzling drop of the waterfall relax you. Remember to be respectful when visiting this awesome location, or any other natural wonder. If you leave no traces, the next visitor will get to experience the beautiful Grand Falls Arizona as it should be!

If you’re not dining next to a waterfall,  maybe it’s a sign that you should head out and see one of the surreal places you need to see in Arizona right now!

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