11 Amazing Waterfall Hikes in America
Maybe it's the unexpected nature of waterfalls that makes them so special. You often hear the sound first, in the distance, rumbling like constant thunder. And then when you spot it, you’re hit with sheer delight. The beauty, power, and elegance of watching gravity-fueled water cascade from above is a highlight of any hiking trip. The United States has some of the most impressive waterfalls in the world, and many are accessible by equally impressive hikes.
Here are 11 postcard-worthy falls that make unforgettable hiking trips.
1. Lower Yellowstone Falls
The country’s first national park is home to several memorable sights, including Old Faithful, just one of the preserve’s spectacular geysers. In fact, two-thirds of all the world’s geysers are found in Yellowstone . But it’s not just the water being shot into the sky that makes the trip worthwhile. Yellowstone Falls is one of the most scenic waterfalls in the west, dropping nearly 500 feet in two sections from Yellowstone Lake into the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
The Upper Falls are an impressive sight at 109 feet tall. But the 308-foot tall Lower Yellowstone Falls are the signature non-geyser feature in the park. The lower section is twice as high as Niagara Falls, and spills the largest volume of any waterfall in the Rockies.
Located just east of Canyon Village in the north-central section of the park, the Lower Yellowstone Falls is easily accessible by a one-way road that offers four vantage points for viewing. The trail is accessible from the final stop, where a steep, three-quarter mile round-trip hike is all it takes to reach the top of the falls. From there you can take Uncle Tom’s Trail to descend the 500 vertical feet to the bottom. Just remember, you’ll have to climb the 328 steel steps to return to the top.
2. Cummins Falls
Cummins Falls , located in central Tennessee, about an hour and a half west of Nashville, was until fairly recently a hidden gem that locals kept to themselves. In 2011, the Tennessee Parks and Greenway Foundation purchased the land and helped create the state park, allowing anyone to view one of the most scenic waterfalls in the state—and one of the best swimming holes in the country.
You’ll find two rugged trails to access the 75-foot waterfall, one about a mile long and the other 1.5 miles. Both feature uneven terrain, elevation gain, water crossings, boulders, and other obstacles. As such, the trail is not recommended for small children. But for anyone else, the challenging hike is a perfect lead-up to the scenic cascade of water that empties into the wide pool at the base, which is a great place to cool off on a hot summer day.
3. Havasu Falls
When you think of the Grand Canyon, a swimming hole may not immediately come to mind. But the Havasu Falls is an incredible oasis amid the red rock and desert offering a truly amazing experience. The falls are one of several on the Havasu Creek located on Havasupai tribal lands (the name means “people of the blue-green waters"). You’ll immediately understand the etymology when you first spot the unworldly turquoise water.
Located in near the southwest corner of Grand Canyon National Park, Havasu Falls is about a two-mile hike from Supai Village, which isn’t an easy place to get to. Helicopter rides are available, or you can make the 8-mile hike into the village. With temperatures routinely above 100, this isn’t a hike to take lightly. A campground is available, but you must make reservations early due to its popularity. Several outfitters offer guided excursions to the falls, and they can help with the travel details. But however you get there, the 100-foot fall is not to be missed.
4. Yosemite Falls
Yosemite National Park in California features some of the most iconic waterfalls in the country. But the park’s signature attraction is Yosemite Falls, which drops an astounding 2,425 feet, making it the fifth highest waterfall in the world. The upper falls plunges 1,430 feet as Yosemite Creek makes its way toward the valley floor. The Middle Cascades section features five smaller drops of a total of more than 600 feet before reaching the lower falls, which makes a final 320-foot drop.
The lower falls are easily accessible from a trail near the Yosemite Lodge. You can also reach the top of the upper falls via a 7.2-mile round-trip hike that begins near Camp 4. It’s one of Yosemite’s oldest trails, and you’ll do plenty of climbing as you reach the top through switchbacks in the oak woodlands. Yosemite Falls does vary greatly by season, with it quite often disappearing during the dry August and September months. But after a big thunderstorm, it may quickly appear again. Snowmelt makes the spring the best time to see the waterfall in all its glory.
5. Bridalveil Fall, Vernal Fall, and Nevada Fall
Another Yosemite favorite, the 617-foot Bridalveil Fall features an easily accessible trail to view the first fall you see when entering Yosemite Valley. The paved path is only a half mile from the parking area, so you can quickly reach the base to see the wispy water flow over the rugged cliff.
For a more challenging hike in Yosemite, tackle the Mist Trail, which takes you past Vernal Fall and to the top of Nevada Fall. The trail begins at 4,000 feet in elevation, and requires 1,000 feet of vertical climbing, including up 600 granite steps, to reach the top of Vernal Falls. From there, continue climbing about 1.5 miles via rocky switchbacks to to stand atop the 595-foot Nevada Fall. It’s worth the climb as you’ll see amazing views of the falls and Yosemite Valley.
6. Taughannock Falls
Taughannock Falls, located in New York State just northwest of Ithaca, is the tallest single drop falls east of the Rocky Mountains at 215 feet. Taughannock Falls State Park features both gorge and rim trails to access the top and bottom of the falls. The one-mile Gorge Trail also offers access to the 20-foot Lower Falls along the route. The 2.6-mile Rim Trail features a loop with views of the Taughannock Falls from above. The Gorge Trail is open year-round, while the Rim Trail is closed in the winter. Swimming is not permitted near the fall any time of the year. But there is swimming in Cayuga Lake, which is accessible from the park. Campsites are also available.
7. Multnomah Falls
Located on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge about a 30-minute drive from Portland, Multnomah Falls descends 620-feet in front of an impressive footbridge. More than 2 million people visit the Multnomah Falls each year, making it the most popular recreational site in the state.
A 1.2-mile trail will take you from the base of the waterfall to the top. From the visitor’s center, you’ll first climb to the Benson Bridge, a historic 1914 concrete-arch pedestrian bridge that spans the lower section of the falls. From there, you’ll continue up on switchbacks to a viewing area at the top of the fall. Not enough hiking for you? The Larch Mountain Trail continues another six miles to the top of Larch Mountain through old-growth forest, offering additional waterfall views along the route.
8. Palouse Falls
Palouse Falls State Park is home to one of the Washington’s most scenic waterfalls, located on the Palouse River about four miles before it meets with the Snake River in the southeast corner of the state. The lower falls features a drop of 198 over rugged basalt cliffs. While easily accessible by car, Palouse Falls is in a rather isolated part of the state, about four hours east of Seattle.
You can access the falls via an easy path in the state park. Once at the top of falls, you can continue on a more rugged dirt trail to get higher for a better view. The trail along the rim features views of the upper river and some smaller falls. The park offers a first-come, first-serve campground for those who want to stay overnight.
9. Fall Creek Falls
Fall Creek Falls State Park is the largest and most visited state park in Tennessee, occupying 26,000 acres across the rugged Cumberland Plateau a little over an hour north of Chattanooga. The 256-foot Fall Creek Falls is a big draw, and it certainly is a spectacular sight. It’s one of four major falls in the park, and 35 miles of well-kept trails give visitors the opportunity to design a route to visit them all.
The popular Woodland Trail starts at the nature center and travels to the overlook above Fall Creek Falls, going through virgin hardwoods and crossing over a handful of trickling creeks along the way. Add the short (.2 miles) Gorge Overlook Trail to reach the most scenic views in the park, including Cane Creek Falls, Cane Creek Gorge, and Fall Creek Falls from the less-frequented side of the gorge.
10. Alamere Falls
Marin County, just north of San Francisco, is filled with incredible hikes and scenic views of the city. But on the Point Reyes National Seashore , you’ll find a rare tidal fall, which is a waterfall that empties directly into the ocean. The dramatic 40-foot tall cascade comes at the end of a scenic hike featuring spring wildflowers, whale watching opportunities, and access to Bass and Pelican Lakes. The round-trip hike via the Coast Trail is about 7.5 miles, but you can extend the length of the hike if you’d like. Camping is available at the nearby Wildcat Beach.
11. Bridal Veil Falls
Colorado’s largest free-falling waterfall shouldn’t be confused with the Bridalveil (one word) Falls in Yosemite, or one of the smaller falls in Niagara. This 365-foot cascade in Telluride, Colo., is deserving of attention, even if its name isn’t unique. A rocky road (for 4-wheel-drive vehicles only) is 1.8 miles long and gains 1,200 feet in elevation. You can hike or mountain bike to the top as well. Once at the top, vehicles must remain in the parking lot at the trailhead for routes in the Bridal Veil Basin, where you’ll find plenty of trails, alpine lakes, and additional waterfalls.
Originally written by RootsRated for Marmot.