No two waterfalls are exactly alike, but these will always capture our imagination.
We’re drawn to waterfalls. The air around them feels fresh and rejuvenating, and science shows they have a calming effect on our mood by altering our serotonin levels. Some are pretty, others magnificent, and still others intimidating. And while just catching the view from a lookout is all right, earning it on a legit waterfall hike will always feel better.
There’s something about America’s most beautiful waterfalls that makes them worth the chase, whether a road trip to a new destination or an overnight hike in one of country’s magnificent national parks. From stunning chutes of water jutting from tropical cliffs to gentle tumbles down the side of a glacier, here are 20 of the most beautiful waterfalls in the USA that should definitely make it to your bucket list.
1. The Multnomah Falls, Oregon
A 20th-century stone bridge strung between two cliffs offers the best views of Multnomah Falls, one of the most famous waterfalls in all of Oregon. Stand on the bridge to admire views of the 542-foot tall upper tier and 69-foot tall lower tier from a single vantage point, providing a contrast that puts the falls’ sheer size into perspective. See the falls on their own, or combine with a trip to the historic Multnomah Falls Lodge. The falls make an ideal Portland day trip when combined with other Columbia River Gorge attractions.
2. Mesa Falls, Idaho
A 115-foot cascade billows over the remnants of an ancient volcanic eruption at Mesa Falls in Ashton, Idaho. The Lower Falls can be seen from a drive-up parking area with a lookout point, but the real show is at the Upper Falls, accessible by a short paved path from the visitors center. Mesa Falls is yet undiscovered by most area visitors, making for a more tranquil viewing experience.
3. Cumberland Falls, Kentucky
Known as the “Niagara of the South,” Cumberland Falls in Corbin, Kentucky is a 125-foot wide vail of gushing blue-green water in Cumberland Falls State Resort Park. The falls are easily accessed from a pair of viewing platforms located right off the highway, but hiking trails give you the option to make a full day of the visit. Plan your trip on a full moon for the chance to see a moon bow, a rainbow caused from the strength of the light reflecting off the falls and the full moon.
4. The McWay Falls, California
An 80-foot plummet straight into the Pacific Ocean, McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is a must while in the Big Sur area. Visit as a quick pit stop off Highway 1, taking the short and easy hike to the falls, or opt for one of the longer linked hiking trails for rewarding views of the California coast and one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the USA.
5. Tahquamenon Falls, Michigan
Tahquamenon Falls is wider than it is tall. While it stands at an impressive 50 feet tall, it is a magnificent 200 feet wide. Tahquamenon Falls are truly a sight for sore eyes. It is Michigan’s most famous and powerful waterfall.
Spanning 48,000 acres in land area, Tahquamenon Falls is also known for being Michigan’s largest waterfall. The trails around Tahquamenon Falls allow you to walk almost right up to the base of the falls.
Another feature of Tahquamenon Falls worth mentioning, is its colour. While it is predominantly brown other than its white, frothy foam base. The river that leads to Tahquamenon Falls passes through a cedar swamp, which drain it of its natural tannins.
This is what gives Tahquamenon Falls it’s brown colour. Adorably enough, this has also given the Tahquamenon Falls the nickname “Root Beer Falls” among the locals.
You will be pleased to learn that Tahquamenon Falls also flows all year round and that Michigan’s Tahquamenon Falls State Park is open all 365 days! Tahquamenon Falls is extra spectacular during the winter months.
6. Burney Falls, California
One of the most spectacular waterfalls in California—if not the continent—this 129-foot-tall, fern-draped cascade seems to come out of nowhere. Located 60 miles northeast of Redding—in an area of the Shasta Cascade region that from a distance looks like a rumpled collection of weathered cinder cones and broad plains under a cloud-free sky—Burney Falls is one of California’s biggest surprises. It’s no wonder 26th President Teddy Roosevelt dubbed it “the eighth wonder of the world.”
To witness the falls at their most intense, visit during the spring, from early April through October, when snowmelt is at its peak. When you’re done oohing and ahhing at the foot of the cascade, there are five miles of hiking trails to explore within the park, and the Pacific Crest Trail passes though. For those who want to stay the night, there is a campground with 121 sites and 24 cabins.
7. Grand Falls, Arizona
At a spot about 15 miles from the nearest paved road on the Navajo Reservation, the Little Colorado River makes an abrupt dogleg turn and disappears from view. Just over the horizon, the water cascades 185 feet over a series of falls that create a magical display of sight and sound.
Grand Falls (also known as the ‘Chocolate Falls’) is over 181 feet tall, and occurs when the monsoon season hits northern Arizona and during snow melt from the winter snowstorms. The falls are fed by the Little Colorado River with water coming from Mount Baldy, located 140 miles southeast, and several other smaller creeks from the Colorado Plateau. But, during the rest of the year, the falls do not appear, but as a trickle of water.
The best way to know if there is water flowing at Grand Falls is to check the water flows on the USGS website for both Winslow (upstream) and Cameron (downstream). If the reported flows are registering at 300 cubic feet per second (cfs) or more, there is a very good chance that water is flowing over the falls.
8. The Palouse Falls, Washington
Palouse Falls’ unexpected beauty graces eastern Washington, enticing thousands of yearly visitors to see the 186-foot drop from a scare and rocky outcrop into a churning azure pool below. Check out the falls from a number of viewpoints scattered about Palouse Falls State Park, peer down from a trail hugging the canyon rim, or get up close to the water from behind protective railings. Bring a tent and reserve a campsite in order to catch the best views of the falls at sunset.
9. Yosemite Falls, California
This 2,425ft waterfall is one of the tallest in the world and widely considered the crown jewel of Yosemite National Park’s plethora of cliff-diving waterfalls.
The only catch with this beauty is that it dries up by mid to late Summer as it runs through its massive winter snow pack very quickly thanks to its relatively bare, unforgiving granite drainage.
Nonetheless, if it can induce superlatives from the likes of Ansel Adams, John Muir, Thomas Ayres, Francois Matthes, James Hutchings, and more, there’s a good chance it can do the same to you, too!
10. Yellowstone Falls, Wyoming
Yellowstone Falls consist of two major waterfalls on the Yellowstone River, within Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, United States. As the Yellowstone river flows north from Yellowstone Lake, it leaves the Hayden Valley and plunges first over Upper Yellowstone Falls and then a quarter mile (400 m) downstream over Lower Yellowstone Falls, at which point it then enters the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, which is up to 1,000 feet (304 m) deep.
The upper falls are 109 feet (33 m) high. The brink of the upper falls marks the junction between a hard Rhyolite lava flow and weaker glassy lava that has been more heavily eroded.
Cascading from the 590,000 year old Canyon Rhyolite lava flow, Lower Yellowstone Falls is the largest volume waterfall in the Rocky Mountains of the United States. These falls are 308 feet (94 m) high, or nearly twice as high as Niagara Falls.
11. ‘Akaka Falls, Hawaii
The ‘Akaka falls are a 422 ft (135 m) tall waterfall and are the highlight of the ‘Akaka falls state park. This park is located close to Hilo and a visit to this waterfall should be part of any road trip crossing the Hamakua coast.
There are two waterfalls that you can visit in the park:
- The 422 ft ‘Akaka falls (easy to see) – You can only see the falls after a pleasant and short 0.4-mile hike from the parking lot. This walk is called the ʻAkaka Falls Loop Trail and is an easy hike that is doable for the whole family. Completing it can take up to 1/2 hour if you take your time and the trail head is easy to find: directly off the parking lot.
- The 400 ft Kahūnā falls (more difficult to see) -There is another waterfall visible from this trail: the Kahūnā Falls. This waterfall is with a 400 ft drop almost as tall as the ‘Akaka falls, but it is difficult to get a good look at the Kahūnā falls from within the park. There is a small overlook point from where you can see these falls about 800 ft beyond the ‘Akaka falls overlook. The Kahūnā falls are best visible after lots of rain because the trees on the cliff in front of it shield most of the falls from view.
12. Niagara Falls, New York
The king of America’s most beautiful waterfalls, visiting Niagara Falls is a surefire bucket-list experience. Three magnificent falls, two American and one Canadian, mark the point at which the Niagara River rumbles over the Niagara Escarpment. Reviewers claim that the scenic attraction is “Heaven on Earth…Everyone should visit the fall at least once in their lifetime. Words cannot describe the feeling or the euphoria of being there.”
13. Shoshone Falls, Idaho
Often referred to as the Niagara of the West, Shoshone Falls is a must see attraction in Twin Falls, Idaho. At 212 feet tall and 900 foot wide, Shoshone Falls is one of the largest natural waterfalls in the United States surpassing the height of the famous Niagara Falls. Shoshone Falls is located on the Snake River as it carves its way through a deep basalt Canyon on its way to the Columbia River. For directions to Shoshone Falls Click here for a map.
The flow of the Shoshone Falls is dependent on many variables. One of which is the amount of snowfall our region receives each winter. On years with heavy snowfalls, Shoshone Falls can reach flows upwards of 20,000 CFS (cubic feet per second). In a typical year, the spring flows at Shoshone Falls will peak between 10,000 and 12,000 CFS.
Spring, when the snow pack begins to melt, is the best time to see Shoshone Falls. In the summer months, a portion of the river is diverted for irrigation purposes, which reduces the flow over the falls. In the Fall, you will often experience a minimal flow where Shoshone Falls will appear nearly dry. At this time, the majority of the water coming down the Snake River is used to recharge the reservoir system upstream of Shoshone Falls.
14. Waimoku Falls, Hawaii
Waimoku Falls in Haleakala National Park Kipahulu is more about the journey than the destination. The scenic 1.8-mile Pipiwai Trail leads you through towering bamboo forests and past series of waterfalls in a pristine tropical rain forest before dropping you near the base of the 400-foot tall Waimoku cascade. However, due to safety concerns, you have to keep a distance from the water. This trail is known for being well-maintained and not too difficult, with an intermediate incline slowly leading up to the falls.
15. Bridal Veil Falls, Alaska
From Ansel Adams to Instagram, Bridalveil Fall is one of the most iconic views in Yosemite National Park. This famous waterfall tumbles 620-feet down to the base, with enough water in the spring and early summertime to mist its visitors and a delicate yellow glow in the winter. Though the waterfall is not wheelchair accessible, it is only a 10-minute walk down a paved path from the main visitor parking lot. Visit as part of a larger trip to Yosemite from San Francisco or Los Angeles to make the most of your time in California.
16. Whitewater Falls, North Carolina
At 811-feet tall, Whitewater Falls is the tallest waterfall in the Eastern United States, with beauty to boot. The multi-tiered falls break over a series of jutting rocks, all clearly visible from two observation decks. Take a short hike down a paved walkway to the upper overlook, or head down the 154-step staircase to reach the lower observation area, considered by many to have better views.
17. Bushkill Falls, Pennsylvania
Bushkill Falls, also known as the Niagara of Pennsylvania, is the state’s most famous attraction. So you can understand why it is on our list of the best waterfalls in the US.
Although Bushkill Falls is privately owned, you’ll be glad to hear that it is open to the public. Bushkill Falls is in fact a series of 8 waterfalls that reside deep in the Pocono Mountains. Among these 8 waterfalls are Bridesmaid Falls, Laurel Glen Falls and Pennel Falls.
Connecting most of the waterfalls within Bushkill Falls is a network of bridges and hiking trails. This, of course, makes it popular for hikers of all kinds. Bushkill Falls has also been known to attract birdwatchers as there’s a great selection of the colourful creatures. The birds, the greenery, the scenic routes all offer an amazing experience for visitors.
18. Lower Calf Creek Falls, Utah
Lower Calf Creek Falls run off a river located at the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. It has a 130-foot drop and a lot of beauty to go around. It’s covered in greenery all round essentially making it paradise!
Lower Calf Creek Falls also has a swimming hole below it, offering a chance to get under its showers and cool off. An experience that will definitely put you in touch with nature. Lower Calf Creek Falls is easily accessible as it can be hiked to in almost no time at all.
It’s shaded on all sides by its mineral stained sandstone walls, providing a cool environment even in very hot weather. There’s also the Upper Calf Creek Falls if you prefer somewhere quieter. It has an 88 feet drop that feeds the swimming hole beneath it.
19. Snoqualmie Falls, Washington
A viewing platform just 200 feet from the parking lot makes it easy to see Washington’s Snoqualmie Falls, located just off the busy I-90 interstate. These famous waterfalls have become more popular recently because of their appearance in the TV show “Twin Peaks,” but have long been a favorite day trip by Seattle-area visitors. Make the most of your trip to the Emerald City by visiting Snoqualmie Falls as part of a Seattle sightseeing tour, or take a full day in the countryside by visiting as part of a Seattle winery tour.
20. Havasu Falls, Arizona
Havasu Falls has been shaped by nature and it is a stunning view from every direction. It is even better up-close! Feel free to strip down to your swimsuit and take a dip. You can even enter the small rock shelter behind Havasu Falls if you feel like exploring all that it has to offer.
Access to Havasu Falls is done mostly through hiking and backpacking on the trails that have been created in the surrounding area. So don’t fail to enjoy every step it will take to get to these falls.
Located around the Havasupai Indian Reservation, Havasu Falls has the best view you’ll get among all the others in the area. This reservation, which encourages hiking (whether you like it or not) was set up and is now occupied to provide visitors and tourists with the basics they need.