10 Stunning Waterfalls in the U.S. That Are Worth Hiking To
These hikes reward you with some of the most stunning waterfall views in the country.
Who doesn’t love the feeling of reaching the end of a hike, having summitted some towering peak, and taking in the landscape vista sprawling beneath your elevated feet? But you know what’s even better? Getting to the end of your hike and basking in the cooling cascade of a beautiful waterfall like you’re Grecian nymph. The U.S. is home to a number of excellent hikes where your efforts are rewarded with some of nature’s most beguiling features.
The first things one tends to visualize when thinking about Zion National Park’s iconic slot canyon hike are the steep cliffs and the water that runs along the bottom of the canyon—but it’s also a great place to see more vertical water features. The easiest spot to reach for day hikers is the Mystery Falls. The water here seeps down the rockface more than it cascades which might not sound that dramatic, but this is The Narrows, which means you’re still getting a jaw-dropping visual.
The highest waterfall in Yosemite National Park is a no-brainer for anyone who likes waterfalls, hiking, parks, or being amazed. But for a more up close view you’re going to have to put in some work on the trail. You can hike to Columbia Rock which will allow you to take in both Yosemite Falls and Half Dome in one postcard-perfect snapshot. But if you’re willing to put in a little more hard work and continue up the trail, your efforts will be repaid with a one-of-a-kind view of Yosemite Valley and you’ll be so close to the falls that you’ll be able to feel the misting of the spray and the roar of the water.
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Picture classic, nature documentary footage of brown bears fishing for leaping schools of salmon in the middle of a wide river. You’re probably picturing something a lot like Brooks Falls in Alaska’s Katmai National Park. The hike is fairly easy, but it does come with its own unique challenges. Because the bears that live in the park are frequently on or near the path, visitors have to stop and allow them to pass. And if a bear decides they’d rather not move, sometimes a “bear jam ” is the result. Once you reach the end of the trail, however, you can watch the bears as they fish and frolic in the falls from a viewing platform where you can nab some National Geographic-worthy footage of your own.
Glory Hole Waterfall Trail
Located in the Ozark National Forest, the Glory Hole Waterfall is one of the most unique and striking water features you’re likely to encounter. Unlike the classic cascading waterfall of Yosemite or even the “seeping” falls of The Narrows, this waterfall is (as the name suggests) a hole in a rocky overhang. You’ll want to do your best to save this hike (which is fairly easy) for when there’s been some rainy weather to see this waterfall at its most impressive.
The falls are breathtaking, cascading downward and spreading out on their way down, almost resembling the embers of a firework on the descent. This is a moderately difficult hike, but anyone looking to venture into the Mt. Hood Wilderness needs to make sure they’re being safe and taking the necessary precautions when it comes to crossing the Sandy River (something you need to do reach the falls). There is no bridge here and the river’s conditions can become dangerous (and have proven, tragically, to be fatal in the past.
Not every waterfall is an opportunity to kick off your hiking boots and go for a swim. But on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, you can indulge your fantasies of submerging yourself in a picturesque swimming hole at the bottom of a waterfall at the end of the Maunawili Falls hike. Although the hike isn’t overly difficult it can be tricky in muddy conditions (the trailhead is also located in a residential area so be mindful and plan accordingly).
Eternal Flame Falls
WHERE: New York
If you were to reach Eternal Flame Falls not expecting the name to be so literal, you might think you were bearing witness to some kind of divine miracle. At the heart of a dramatic waterfall (flanked by equally dramatic tree roots bursting out of the cliffside) is a small, but enduring flame. But this arresting visual is a result of a natural phenomenon and human intervention. Inside a small cave within the falls is a source of natural gas. Hikers can light the flame which stays lit thanks to the ongoing natural gas source. The result is one of the most unique and hauntingly beautiful waterfalls in the world.
Located in the Shawnee National Forest, this hiking trail leads to falls that are not only beautifully picturesque they’re also some of the tallest in the state of Illinois. The best time to see the falls at their most robust is during spring when the falls are most likely to have been rounded out by more rain, but the falls here also take on an icily beautiful quality during the winter.
Though it’s difficult to imagine a waterfall one wouldn’t describe as scenic, Gorman Falls (located in Colorado Bend State Park) seem to go above and beyond. These 70-foot tall falls are remarkably wide and cascade over travertine rock formations. And though you might be tempted to inspect the unique pools these formations create, make sure to let them be, as they support their own little ecosystems that include “purest strains of [the Texas] state fish, the Guadalupe bass. ”
Jason St Peter [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]/Flickr
It’s also the rare instance where a waterfall can be just as—if not more—beautiful at night. Cumberland Falls is also the rare location where a natural phenomenon known as a “moonbow” regularly occurs. Much like a daytime rainbow, this “white rainbow” is created by the light of the moon refracting off the droplets created by the spray of the falls. There are certain conditions that make it more likely to see a moonbow (such as a full moon) so Kentucky State Parks creates a schedule every year so that you can optimize your chances of seeing this rare phenomenon.