10 Best Waterfalls in the US: The Full Guide

There is something about waterfalls that brings tears to our eyes and a lump to our throats. The magnificent power of nature, the incomparable beauty of water as it plummets off steep cliffs and thunders into deep pools, lush, verdant greenery that surrounds them, the mist of spray that reaches you as you watch them mesmerized.  

There are thousands of waterfalls in the US.  How do you decide which ones are the best waterfalls in the US? The tallest? The most famous? The most beautiful? You will have to visit them and decide for yourself. Here are just ten of the country’s many magnificent waterfalls that are fairly easy to reach. You can visit them with the kids and even bring your pooch.  

Cumberland Falls, Kentucky

10 Best Waterfalls in the US

1.  Niagara Falls, New York

It is fair to start with the nation’s pride – Niagara Falls. It is probably the most famous waterfall in the world, for a good reason. It is formed by the waters of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario as they drain masses of water through the Niagara River.

The sheer power of the 4-6 million cubic feet of water as it spills 99 meters off the edge of the Niagara Gorge will leave you breathless. The rainbows almost constantly float over the mist that you will feel long before you see the falls.

Niagara Falls from the American side in spring.

There are three falls, shared between Canada and the States. The Canadian side is showier, with massive Horseshoe Falls, but also more touristy. The American side is more natural, surrounded by the lush Niagara Falls State Park, the oldest park in the country. 

Hop on the Maid of the Mist boat to see the falls from the water, go for a hike on the trail that runs behind the falls, and stroll through the lush forest around the falls to spot the falls from different vantage points. Be prepared to be thoroughly soaked (or bring a poncho), it is part of the fun.

Niagara Falls is easy to reach by flying into Buffalo Niagara Airport, where you can pick up a rental car. The falls are just a 20-minute drive from Buffalo.

With millions of tourists that visit Niagara Falls each year, there are hundreds of hotels, motels and restaurants where you can stay and extend your visit. There is more to see besides the falls – the greater Niagara area is filled with parks. And Niagara Falls, Canada has amusement parks, casinos and a variety of options for families to pass the time. The historic town of Niagara-on-the-Lake is very charming, with wineries dotting the area. It’s a great destination for a Niagara Falls road trip.

2. Cumberland Falls, Kentucky

Cumberland Falls is a smaller version of Niagara Falls, with a 68-foot drop as the Cumberland River spills into a calm blue lake at the bottom. Its horseshoe shape makes the locals justifiably call it the Niagara Falls of the South.

Cumberland Falls is wonderful to visit year-round, but the vivid fall colors of the surrounding forest of Cumberland Falls State Resort Park make the fall visit the most spectacular. Its famous rainbows can be enjoyed any time of the year and the massive surge of water in spring will take your breath away.

A misty view of Cumberland Falls State Park in Corbin, Kentucky.

The falls are easy to reach by driving two hours from Lexington on Interstate 75. Park at the falls and enjoy it from about 500 feet away or take a trail that will take you to the lower falls for a very different view. There are a lot of wet stairs and ramps but after about a quarter of a mile, you will reach a lovely beach on the river.

If you can stay longer, check the famous historic DuPont Lodge with its massive hemlock beams on the ceiling and the huge stone fireplace. The lodge offers fifty-one rooms with spectacular views. 

If you prefer more rustic lodging, there are also 25 cabins, cottages and 49 campsites. Riverview Restaurant offers great food and the view of the falls and surrounding forests.

There are 17 miles of scenic hiking trails through the surrounding park. If you take the Moonbow Trail, it will connect you with other backpacking trails that run through the Daniel Boone National Forest. 

Finally, if you can’t get enough of waterfalls, Kentucky is your place to be, there are at least 19 stunning waterfalls you can explore. 

Sorry, no pets are permitted in the park.

3. Multnomah Falls, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

If it is judged by the number of people that visit Multnomah Falls every year (two million!), it is by far the most famous fall in the Pacific Northwest. It is also one of the most iconic American waterfalls, created as the mighty Columbia River drops 620 feet on its way through the Columbia River Gorge

All that water comes through underground springs from the nearby Larch Mountain. It means that you can expect more water in spring as the snow melts.

By the way, if you are exploring the entire gorge, you will see more falls, although none as spectacular as Multnomah. The area around the falls is great for checking the geology of the gorge as it is exposed by annual floods. 

Multnomah Falls, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

You can prolong your visit by staying at the Multnomah Falls Lodge. It has a nice Visitors Center, restrooms, a gift shop, a snack bar and a restaurant. It is fully ADA accessible. 

The easiest way to reach the falls is by taking the Columbia Gorge Express bus, which runs daily between Portland, Cascade Locks, Multnomah Falls, and Hood River. There is also a free Columbia Gorge Express shuttle from May to September from Rooster Rock State Park.

This is a hikers’ paradise. Start at the Multnomah Falls Visitor Center and take a steep trail to the historic Benson Bridge that looks like it is floating over the falls. Standing on the bridge will give you a serious adrenaline rush. 

If you want some more rigorous exercise, take a short side trail after the bridge to the viewing area on the top of the falls. The whole hike is about 2.4 miles there and back, easy to do with the whole family.

4. Tahquamenon Falls, Paradise, Michigan

As it runs through the dense forest of the lush, mysterious Tahquamenon Falls State Park in Michigan’s Eastern Upper Peninsula, the Tahquamenon River forms two spectacular falls. 

The Upper Tahquamenon Falls is at 50 feet one of the largest falls east of the Mississippi. At its maximum flow of over 50,000 gallons of water per second, it spreads 200 feet across the rock ledge. 

Four miles downstream Tahquamenon River is the Lower Falls. It consists of five smaller falls with a small island that separates them. You can reach the island by renting a rowboat offered by the park concession.

Most of the park is undeveloped, lush woodland, perfect for enjoying peace and solitude. There is a campground that is open year-round.

Upper Tahquamenon Waterfalls, Paradise, Michigan.

To see the upper falls, take a short hike from the parking lot on a well-maintained half-mile-long paved trail that runs through the lovely old forest. There is a small observation platform at the top of the falls.

From the trail, take 94 steps down if you want to see the falls from the bottom and feel the full power of the water as it thunders off the cliff. 

There is a four-mile trail along the river that will take you to the Lower Falls. (Park map) You can also take a riverboat tour for an up-close and personal view of the falls.

There is a restaurant and gift shop at the Upper Falls located in the replica of the original logging camp. A spacious deck overlooking the river and the falls has a fireplace and a pleasant sitting area.

There are also picnic tables near the Upper Falls trailhead, as well as restrooms.

There is no fee to visit the park but you need a Michigan state park pass.

5. Burney Falls, Mt Shasta, California

Located 60 miles northeast of Redding, Burney Falls is one of California’s most spectacular falls.  This massive cascade draped in lush ferns is 129-foot-tall and it is at its most spectacular after the snow melts, from early April to the end of October. 

From the parking lot in McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, follow a short path to the main overlook. The wall of water will hit you head-on, roaring over the fern-covered rock face before plunging hard into a clear pool below, creating thousands of rainbows in the process.

Sunrise on Burney Falls in Mt Shasta, California.

The main falls start at the top of the cliff, but icy snowmelt also spills from all over the face of the volcanic rock. 

Continue down the short path to the pool below the falls. The water is never above 42 degrees, but that does not keep fishermen from throwing the line in the big pool at the fall base as well as above and below the cascade on the Burney Creek.

There are five miles of hiking trails running through the park. You can also connect to the Pacific Crest Trail, which passes through. If you want to stay longer, there is a nice campground with 24 cabins and 121 sites.

6. Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite National Park, California

The most beautiful of all Yosemite Park falls, Bridalveil drops 620 feet or189 meters as Bridalveil Creek plunges from the edge of the precipice into the valley below.  

Bridalveil Fall is usually the first waterfall you see as you enter Yosemite Valley. Most of the year, it is just a charming, light, thin flow. In spring, as snows melt, it thunders. 

Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite National Park, California.

There is a paved trail that leads from the Bridalveil Fall parking lot to the base of the waterfall. Because of the elevation gain of 80 feet, the trail is not wheelchair accessible. It is only a half-mile long and easy and it takes about 20 minutes to complete.

Expect to get wet from the strong mist, which can be pleasantly refreshing in summer, but which makes the trail slippery and icy.

Bridalveil Fall is very popular and it gets very crowded. Come early and avoid holidays and weekends to find a parking spot and to avoid crazy crowds.

7. Upper Falls, Crystal Falls and Lower Falls, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA

As if the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is not spectacular in itself, it also has three magnificent waterfalls: the Lower, Upper and Crystal Falls. They are all created by the Yellowstone River as it flows over increasingly less resistant, softer rock.

The Lower Falls, at 308 feet, is the tallest, twice the height of Niagara Falls. The amount of water depends on the season. In the spring, at the peak of the snowmelt, over 63,500 gallons per second of water flow over the falls. In the fall, the flow drops to 5,000 gal/sec.

You can enjoy the Lower Falls from the observation platform at the Brink of the Lower Falls trail or many points along the South Rim Trail.

Waterfall at Yellowstone National Park.

The Upper Falls is much smaller at 109 feet, but breathtaking as well as you watch it from the platform at the Brink of the Upper Falls.

Crystal Falls, located between the lower and upper falls, is much less known. It was formed by Cascade Creek as it flows into the canyon. Crystal Falls can be observed from the South Rim Trail, east of the Uncle Tom’s area.

There are many trails that will take you to one of the falls, but Upper Falls, Lower Falls and Crystal Falls Trail will let you see all three. This 6.1-km out-and-back trail is moderately challenging with an elevation gain of 141 meters. It takes an hour and a half to complete. 

If you come early in the morning you can get some solitude and spot many local birds. The best time to visit is between April and the end of October.

8. Snoqualmie Falls, Washington

Located between Snoqualmie and Fall City, Washington, just east of Seattle, Snoqualmie Falls is a spectacular 268-foot waterfall formed by the Snoqualmie River. It is a popular tourist attraction known all over the world for its role in the TV series Twin Peaks. 

Snoqualmie Falls in Washington state, near Seattle.

The waterfall is surrounded by a lush two-acre park. There is a parking lot at the entrance to the park behind the Salish Lodge. The best spot to watch the falls is the observation deck just behind the Salish Lodge, where you can see the Snoqualmie River plunging 270 feet into the deep pool below. 

You can take a short 0.7-mile walk from this viewing area to the base of the falls. The trail is steep and wide and surrounded by salmonberries, sword ferns, elderberries, and vine maple. It is so lush and beautiful it is worth the effort.

9. Wailua Falls, Hawaii

Located on the island of Kauai in Hawaii, Wailua Falls is the 173-foot fall formed by the South Fork of the Wailua River near the town of Lihue. The waterfall became famous worldwide from the TV series Fantasy Island.

While off the beaten path, Wailua Falls is easily accessible and seen from the roadside on the way to Hana.  It drops 80 feet almost vertically in two streams into the deep plunge pool. During the rainy season, the immense amount of raging water thunders down in a single flow and makes the falls look like it is 200 feet long.

Wailua Falls in Kauai, Hawaii

If you come in the morning, you may see a rainbow as the rays of the sun meet the mist. 

The fall is located in the lush tropical jungle and is also known as Secret Falls.

There is a trail that leads to the bottom of the falls. The trail is about a third of a mile long, very slippery and steep. There are some hanging ropes left for the hikers but you will have to hang on some thick tree roots and branches as well. Kids love it. 

It is a fun 15-minute adventure and you will be rewarded with a completely different view of the falls. The tough part is coming back, up the same tricky trail.

10. Arethusa Falls, New Hampshire

Located in the lush Crawford Notch State Park in the New Hampshire White Mountains, Arethusa Falls is a lovely waterfall formed by Bemis Brook as it plunges almost 140 (some say 200) feet to a deep pool below. 

There is a magical beauty to this fall if you visit late in the afternoon just when the afternoon sun throws its bright rays into the water spilling over the vertical granitic cliff. The combination of the blue-grey water and the brown and orange rocks is spellbinding. It is magical in winter too, when the entire fall turns into a frozen wall of ice.

Frozen Waterfall: Arethusa Falls, New Hampshire.

There’s a large parking area on a side road off Route 302 in Crawford Notch State Park near the town of Hart’s Location. From there you can reach the Arethusa Falls by taking the Arethusa Falls Trail or the Bemis Brook Trail to the Arethusa Falls Trail. 

The total distance to the falls is one and a half miles one way. The trail is rocky and you can expect to sweat a lot, but it is easily doable for the whole family. Once you get to the base of the falls you will know it was worth it.

Conclusion

There is definitely something magic about waterfalls. While you can see many magnificent waterfalls from the comfort of your car, get out, take a hike and feel the tremendous power of the falling water.  The mist and the rainbows add to the magic. 

Once you start, you might get the waterfall bug and use my list to start your own waterfall pilgrimage. It is difficult to imagine a more wonderful way to enjoy the awesome beauty of this country.

A brief bio about the author:

This is a guest contribution from Lorena Maia at TravelCroc. Lorena and her husband have traveled around the world and have lived on 3 continents. She shares her experiences and favorite places on her blog.

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