There’s no getting around the fact that I’m a beach bum. Few things in life delight me more than discovering a sweet little cove with soft white sand and turquoise waters. But every now and then I hanker for clear mountain air, dark groves of moss-covered trees, and water cascading through still, green places.
There’s something spiritual about waterfalls. Whether I am standing awestruck in front of thundering Niagara or watching gentle creek waters cascade over toppled boulders, waterfalls never fail to stun me with their beauty. They remind me that, in the greater scope of things, I am insignificant. And so it is with this thought that I offer my list of the top ten waterfalls in the U.S. Certainly, there are hundreds more worth visiting, and some of the more spectacular must be left off a list that can only contain ten. But for me, these ten represent the most beautiful, most impressive, and most spiritually moving waterfalls across the county.
Lower Calf Creek Falls, Escalante National Monument, Utah
This narrow ribbon of water glides over a near vertical cliff and lands in a shallow pool surrounded by colorful sandstone walls, making it the perfect place for a cool dip in the desert heat. The best time to arrive is mid morning, since Lower Calf Creek Falls is surrounded on three sides by high cliffs that keep it in shadow for most of the day. See more things to do and hotels in the Escalante area.
Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
At 308 feet high, these falls are almost twice as high as Niagara and have the largest volume of water in the Rocky Mountains. Within Yellowstone National Park, a one-way loop drive takes you to the brink of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, offering four different views of the Lower Falls and access to a trail that leads to the top. A quarter mile upstream, the 109-foot Upper Falls are also well worth a look. More attractions and accommodations in and around Yellowstone National Park.
Upper Whitewater Falls, in southwestern North Carolina
Because of the difficult access and rugged terrain, much of this area is wild and undeveloped, providing hikers and back country campers with a true wilderness experience. Deep within this pristine area is Upper Whitewater Falls, at 411 feet the highest cataract east of the Rockies. This area of North Carolina is known as the “Land of Waterfalls” and offers literally hundreds of trails leading to cataracts of various sizes and configurations. Although some require difficult hikes, many others require only a short stroll along modern paved paths or down stone staircases. Hotels in Cashiers and Brevard, North Carolina. See more things to do in southeastern North Carolina.
Snoqualmie Falls, between Snoqualmie and Fall City, Washington
I sometimes wonder whether the producers of “Twin Peaks” realized that Snoqualmie was a ‘two-faced’ waterfall when they chose it as the signature image for their popular TV show. Most of the time, the waters of Snoqualmie Falls are diverted to hydroelectric generating plants, leaving only a trickle flowing over the lip. But during times of heavy rain or snow the river is high enough to flow across the entire precipice. On those days, with the ground trembling beneath your feet, it is not hard to believe the legends of the Snoqualmie Indians, who insist that the falls are the place where prayers were carried up to the Creator by great mists that rise from the powerful flow, connecting heaven and earth. Accommodations and activities near Snoqualmie, Washington State.
Havasu Falls, Supai Village, Havasupai Indian Reservation, Grand Canyon, Arizona
I first visited Supai many years ago, when few people knew about this remote corner of the Grand Canyon. For eight miles I trekked downhill through steep, dusty terrain until, near the end of the trail, Havasu Creek burbled up, creating Navajo, Havasu, and Mooney Falls as it tumbled toward the mighty Colorado River. Since then, the tribe has built a lodge and offers both helicopter and horseback rides to the bottom of the canyon, making for a much easier visit. At Havasu Falls, blue-green water cascades over terra cotta cliffs clad in watercress and wild grapes. Deposits from these mineral-rich waters have formed travertine walls at the base of the falls, damming the water into an exquisite swimming pool. Although Havasu is by far the most popular and most photographed, nearby Mooney Falls, which requires a 200-foot scramble down a sheer cliff, using only handholds carved into the rocks and old miners spikes, is also a must see.
Shoshone Falls, Twin Falls, Idaho
My first view of Shoshone Falls followed a week-long whitewater rafting trip in Idaho. By day we negotiated thrilling rapids and held on for dear life; by night we gazed at star-filled skies and tried to soothe our rattled nerves. On the seventh day we rowed to shore for the final time and I began the long drive home. Passing through the city of Twin Falls, I noticed a sign advertising Shoshone Falls and decided to stop. I was astounded by the 900-foot wide precipice where the waters of the Snake River crashed spectacularly to the canyon floor. Having recently been in the midst of wild rapids, I said a silent prayer of thanks that I’d been on the Salmon River rather than the Snake. Since much of the Snake river is diverted for irrigation in the summer and fall, Shoshone Falls are best visited in the spring. Things to do around Shoshone Falls and hotels in Twin Falls.
Multnomah Falls, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
Winding high above the waterway, the historic Columbia River Highway provides access to dozens of waterfalls, including 620-foot high Multnomah Falls. Unlike many of the falls in the Gorge that can only be accessed by trail, Multnomah plummets to the ground within sight of the highway, providing access for people of all ages and capabilities. Most days you can stand on the bridge spanning the gorge and feel the mist on your face, but when unusually cold weather hits, the falls can freeze into one giant icicle. Accommodations along the Columbia River Gorge and other things to do around Multnomah Falls.
Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite National Park, California
The glaciers that carved out Yosemite Valley left hanging cliffs that spawned waterfalls. Half of this top ten list could well have been filled with the waterfalls of Yosemite. Yet, when forced to narrow it down to my favorite, it must be Bridalveil Fall. Although Bridalveil drops a precipitous 620 feet from the top of a massive granite cliff, its waters seem to glide effortlessly down the rock face, like a bride caressing her soon-to-be spouse. The fact that this raw power can engender a feeling of such utter peace and serenity continues to mystify me. Any trip to Yosemite also merits a visits to Yosemite Falls, the highest measured waterfall in North America; Vernal Fall; and Nevada Fall, among others. Check places to stay in and around Yosemite National Park and other nearby attractions.
McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Big Sur, California
McWay Falls, though tiny, makes this top ten list because it is the only waterfall in the continental U.S. that falls directly into an ocean, merging my twin passions for beaches and waterfalls. Located about 36 mlies south of Carmel and ten miles south of the better known Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, the four-square mile park that is home to McWay Falls offers trails through Redwood groves, unspoiled coastal views, and observation areas for spotting migrating whales, in addition to the 1.5 mile trail to the McWay Falls Overlook. Accommodations in Big Sur, California and other area attractions.
Niagara Falls, Niagara, New York
Although we tend to take this remarkable treasure for granted, Niagara Falls is undoubtedly the #1 waterfall in the U.S. No superlative can adequately describe this raging, jaw-dropping cataract that tumbles over the strait connecting Lake Erie with Lake Ontario, forming a portion of the border between Canada and the U.S. Find hotels, motels, and B&B’s near Niagara Falls in the U.S. and Canada. Other things to do near Niagara Falls in the U.S. and Canada.
While you may not agree with my top ten, I’m sure you’ll agree that there are enough waterfalls in the U.S. to last a lifetime of travel and discovery. Happy hunting!
Article by Barbara Weibel of Hole In The Donut Travels