The first place I think of when it comes to the best waterfalls in the U.S. is Niagara Falls. But there are many other beautiful waterfalls around the country. Sometimes these falls are called the "Niagara Falls" of their respective regions, but the most popular waterfalls in America are spectacular enough to stand (or fall?) on their own, not get compared to or overshadowed by other amazing waterfalls nearby. This guide will show you both, how to travel to America's favorite waterfalls as well as lesser-known but equally beautiful waterfalls worth checking out.
The Best Waterfalls in the US
Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, CA
In Yosemite National Park, there are two iconic waterfalls that hikers can check out while exploring the area. But the one we want to highlight is Yosemite Falls. Yosemite Falls is made up of three smaller waterfalls that cascade into one another, making it one of the tallest waterfalls in the US and easily viewable from Yosemite Valley. The best time to see the waterfalls is late May and early June. Any later in the summer, and you won't get to see this waterfall in all of its glory because of how fast it dries up.
McWay Falls, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, CA
A quick pit stop off Highway 1, McWay Falls is just a small part of the gorgeous natural scene that is the California coast. Located in the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur, the waterfall directly flows into the Pacific Ocean and is best seen during sunset. And as enticing as it might seem, make sure you don't hike to the bottom since it's illegal and dangerous. However, you can ask a park ranger if you can paddle down or kayak as many others have been known to do.
Desert Mountain Region
Havasu Falls, Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
Located on the Havasupai Indian Reservation in Supai, Arizona, Havasu Falls is probably one of the most beautiful waterfalls in America. The Grand Canyon red rocks contrast against the crisp blue-green water, creating a vibrant and colorful sight for all visitors. Normally, you would have to make a reservation with the Havasupai Indian Reservation in order to visit the falls. Unfortunately, visitation is currently suspended through June 2022, so keep an eye out to see if it opens back up.
Upper Falls/Lower Falls, Yellowstone National Park, WY
Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park has more to see than just burly bison and colorful geysers. The Yellowstone River runs through the park and then drops 109 feet at the Upper Falls and then another 308 feet at the Lower Falls. There are platforms at both trails to the waterfalls (Brink of Upper Falls and Brink of Lower Falls) for you to stand on while beholding their immense powers and beauties. And since Lower Falls is bigger, you can actually see it from other places including Red Rock Point, Artist Point, Uncle Tom's Trail, and other points along the South Rim Trail.
Calf Creek Falls, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, UT
Hiking in Utah is pretty popular, but it doesn't give enough attention to Calf Creek Falls in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. While the area might make you feel like you're in the desert, this waterfall drops into an oasis, framed by a sand beach, surrounding green trees, and a creek off to the side. Be ready to hike though, since it takes six miles to get there and back.
Multnomah Falls, Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area, OR
Up in the Pacific Northwest, Multnomah Falls is the most famous waterfall in the state of Oregon. Walk across the Benson Bridge that sits at the base of the upper part of the falls and on top of the lower part, so that you can see both from a single vantage point. Add visiting Multnomah Falls to your Portland day trip itinerary, along with other activities around the Columbia River Gorge.
Snoqualmie Falls, Snoqualmie Falls State Park, WA
One of Washington state's most popular scenic attractions, Snoqualmie Falls brings in over 1.5 million visitors every year. You can view this powerful, roaring waterfall from both an upper and lower observation deck or by making an easy 1.4-mile hike down Snoqualmie Falls Trail. This waterfall became even more popular because of its appearance in the TV show "Twin Peaks," and is an easy day trip from Seattle.
Palouse Falls, Palouse State Park, WA
In Washington state, this waterfall sometimes gets overshadowed by Snoqualmie Falls. The powerful Palouse Falls resides in a canyon in Palouse Falls State Park, where it drops into a pool at the bottom. There are great viewpoints of the waterfall from all over the state park, including from some nerve-wracking hiking trails that follow the canyon rim. If you want to see the waterfall at sunset, you can reserve a campsite to spend the night after the sun goes down. The area is also currently inhabited by Natives- the Palouse Indians.
The Niagaras of the U.S.
Niagara Falls, Niagara Falls State Park, NY
Sitting on the border of Canada and New York is the world-famous, majestic Niagara Falls. As one of the largest waterfalls in America, it comprises the Horseshoe Falls, American Falls, and the Bridal Veil Falls. Sail the Maid of the Mist boat tour to see the grand Canadian Horseshoe Falls, open the last week of May to the first week of November. Or see the magnificence of the American and Bridal Veil Falls year-round on the Cave of the Winds tour, which also takes you through the scenic park as well. Make sure to have some sort of rain poncho ready, since you'll probably get to experience the power of the water from wherever you might be.
Shoshone Falls, Twin Falls, ID
In Twin Falls, Idaho, follow the Snake River to see it drop off at the mighty Shoshone Falls. Also known as the "Niagara of the West," this waterfall is one of the most popular attractions in the state. The best time to check out these roaring rapids is in the spring, and you can actually kayak and swim at the base of the falls. There are also hiking trails, picnic tables, and a boat ramp for recreation options during your visit.
Cumberland Falls, Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, KY
We talked about the Niagara of the West, but did you know there's also a Niagara of the South? Cumberland Falls is located in Corbin, Kentucky, at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park. You can go whitewater rafting near the waterfall during the day, but it's known as one of the few places around the world that produces moonbows or lunar rainbows. If you can plan for it, try visiting during a full moon so that if you're lucky and the skies are clear, you'll get to see these nighttime rainbows. But if you're just passing by, there are plenty of viewing platforms along the highway.
Outside the Continguous United States
Olo'upena Falls, Molokai, HI
Hawaii holds the three tallest waterfalls in the U.S., and it's not that these waterfalls aren't popular enough either. When people talk about beautiful waterfalls, they tend to stick to places on the mainland. Not to mention, Hawaii has a plethora of scenic attractions that separate it from everywhere else in America.
The tallest waterfall in the U.S. is Olo'upena Falls, standing at a whopping 2,953 feet. It's located on the island of Molokai in Maui County and rushes down steep slopes of forest greens. You can only see the waterfall by aerial excursion or boat tour, since there are no trails to hike or drive.
Nugget Falls, Tongass National Forest, AK
In Juneau, Alaska, Nugget Falls is also known as Mendenhall Glacier Waterfall since it's formed from a glacial creek that makes its way into Mendenhall Lake. What makes this waterfall stand out from other glacial waterfalls is how much bigger and voluminous it is. There is a graveled path that you can follow to see this waterfall, but many see it by taking the Juneau Shore Excursion or going on the Mendenhall Lake Canoe Adventure.
Our Picks for the Most Unique
Tahquamenon Falls, Tahquamenon Falls State Park, MI
Tahquamenon Falls suits the name of the city it resides in, located in Paradise, Michigan on the Upper Peninsula. The waterfall is split between the Upper Falls- a vast waterfall beautifully presenting tannin-stained rapids against the picturesque backdrop of color-changing leaves and the Lower Falls- a group of five cascades that surround a freshwater island. Tahquamenon Falls is one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi and can be seen from platforms at its base.
Ruby Falls, Lookout Mountain, TN
One of the most unique waterfalls in the U.S., Ruby Falls competes with the others by offering a different experience than the typical grand waterfall. Located in Chattanooga, Tennessee, visitors head underground Lookout Mountain to follow a trail that takes you past cave features instead of trees and brush. The trail ends at Ruby Falls, vibrantly illuminated by an array of colored lights. Book the Lantern Tour so a guide can lead you on your journey to the tallest and deepest waterfall in the U.S. that is open to the public.
What do you think is the prettiest waterfall in the U.S.? Share your answers with us on our Wide Open Roads Facebook!
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