Plunge Into Adventure: Wild and Wonderful Waterfalls
The natural wonderland of the United States has many of the most beautiful cataracts and cascades in the world. Melting water means that America’s stunning waterfalls are thundering down in National and State Parks near you.
Motorists who live in North America are fortunate that spectacular waterfall sites are close to every area of the US. The sublime music of freedom that is water plunging over escarpments and cliffs brings enchantment to lift spirits after winter is over.
Here are some little-known yet breathtaking road trip suggestions to waterfalls throughout the US. We’ve also included links so you can visit these spectacular natural wonders virtually.
How to plan a waterfall adventure
Beautiful waterfalls are located on wild rivers and creeks and are sometimes subject to flooding; be sure to check conditions on the website of your chosen destination before you go.
For more information, here are some links and tips to start your search:
- The National Park Service’s webpage, Find A Park By State map is a wealth of information. An additional feature, “Find a park near me” has an interactive map, pinpointing parks at a set traveling distance from your location.
- US Forest Service Interactive Map. Search for “waterfalls” and pinpoint your location. This great site is conveniently organized by activities and things to do for travels year round.
- Search the web for travel routes with “waterfalls” and your state’s name in the search box.
- Check out your automobile association’s postings or magazine articles online for “waterfall travel routes” near you.
- Your State Park or County’s website or Tourism Office is a great place to start and is just a click or phone call away.
Waterfalls you might not know - but are worth discovering
The large, famous waterfalls–Horseshoe Falls at Niagara, the multiple falls in Yosemite National Park that shake the granite valley floor in spring, Yellowstone Falls and Sioux Falls in its namesake city–are visited by millions of people every year.
If you seek an experience of wildness and quiet, some of these lovely sites are near metropolitan areas.
Starting at the top of the United States, and working towards southern regions, these cascading gems are well worth a trip into discovery, solitude and glorious wonder.
Pigeon River High Falls, Grand Portage National Monument, Minnesota
About as far north as you can get in the lower 48 US States, this colossal fall on the Pigeon River is right near the Canadian border of the US near Lake Superior. The tallest waterfall in Minnesota has attractions in every season: it roars in spring, sprays rainbows of refreshingly cool mists in summer, its blazing fall colors draw photographers in autumn and the aurora borealis (northern lights) can sometimes be seen during winter-time treks. The park has camping, canoeing, accessible trails and activities for any level and any season.
Kent Falls State Park, Connecticut
This lovely scene is contained in a wild canyon with many-cascading falls along an easy, but sometimes steep trail. Accessed over a covered bridge that recalls colonial days, successive cataracts extend for more than 1/4 mile, dropping 250’ on its way into the Housatonic River. The park is a close drive from Hartford and is famed for its abundant color during the fall months.
Located near Twin Falls, this wonder is often called “the Niagara of the west” as it thunders over 1000’ wide escarpment. Lewis and Clark’s expedition was stunned at the site as they traveled down the Snake River on their voyage of discovery across the newly-acquired US territories to the Pacific Coast. Spring is the best time to experience the power of water at this easily accessible trail and park.
A one-mile trail, within the traveling abilities of most visitors, leads to one of Maine’s highest water plunges. More impressive cascades tumble in the rocky canyon of the Kennebec River for longer walking tours as part of an extended camping or “fall color” trip.
Located on its namesake river and approaching the towering Cascade Range near Seattle, this fall features a hotel right on the brink of the 268’ drop of rainbow-making water with beautiful views over bridges and along the highway. Very accessible and close to the Seattle metro area, plan your trip in less-frequented seasons or weekdays to lose the crowds.
Rumbling through Mather Gorge, only 15 miles from the US capitol, the Potomac River gathers speed and funnels through the narrow gorge and jagged rocks. Walk in the steps of George Washington and other founding fathers of our nation, who traveled to this place to relax and recuperate in awe-inspiring beauty.
Smith Falls State Park, Nebraska
Perhaps you might be surprised to learn that this prairie state has a 70-foot high roaring waterfall. Lovely wooden walkways and easy trails bring visitors right under the spray. The National Scenic Niobrara River has attractions of canoeing, tubing, kayaking and rafting along its lovely course for a fun-filled vacation or family getaway.
Bridal Veil Falls, near Telluride, Colorado
Located in Black Hill National Forest, the tallest waterfall in Colorado is a magnificent sight in a region of the Rocky Mountains that is famous for stunning scenery: the triangular area between Ouray, Telluride and Ophir. Enjoying a 365-foot pillar of free-falling water is an adventure worth negotiating the switchback road to the trailhead to see. Two trails of 1-2 miles and a 4WD-only road lead to the top and bottom of the fall.
Willow Falls, Willow River State Park, Wisconsin
Open year-round, this multiple cascading falls allows swimmers to come right under and behind many of its tumbling waters. The park in the Willow River gorge in northeast Wisconsin has camping, attractions and hikes for any energy level. Camping and picnicking sites are abundant and the park site features plenty of ideas for a fun-filled visit.
Cummins FallsState Park, Blackburn Fork State Scenic River, Tennessee
Wide, flat slabs of rock and tumbling water, falling over a string of cliffs attract swimmers and encourage standing beneath and behind the flows. Located in the lush hills off Hwy 56, deep pools for swimming and tubing make cooling off or camping at the park a lovely experience.
Upper Desoto Falls, Desoto State Park, Alabama
Horseshoe cliffs where a picture-postcard waterfall drops into a deep green pool with a round pothole canyon on three sides. Named for Spanish explorer Ferdinand DeSoto, this northeastern Alabama state park is part of Lookout Mountain. The park features a resort hotel and meeting rooms with restaurants in addition to camping and picnicking sites. Kayaking and rafting along the river are common activities, where groomed hiking and biking trails provide routes for any activity level.
Hemmed-in Hollow Falls, Ponca Wilderness, Buffalo National River, Arkansas
“The Beautiful Middle Of Nowhere”, as claimed on the website, is preserved as a National Park Scenic River designation. The 209-foot drop off a striated cliff into a bowl canyon is just like its name describes. The pristine river flows through jagged canyons where floating and hiking glories abound. Fall brings gold to the aspens, while the canyon walls echo with the warlike bellows of the males in gathering deer and antelope herds.
Amicalola Falls State Park & Lodge, Georgia
“Tumbling Waters” to the Cherokee people, this long fall leaps over rocks in an extended canyon, falling 729 feet. Several falls, North Cascade, Main Cascade and others are reached by hiking trails that travel along the canyon and bridge the water. Nestled in the very top of north Georgia, the park has many camping sites and hotel accommodations in the historic lodge.
Falling Waters State Park, Florida
The Florida Panhandle has many fascinating sinkholes; this park is among the most beautiful. Underwater caves and rivers beside many impressive waterfalls attract visitors to its beauty with a range of activities from adventurous caving or spelunking to strolling for hikers and floating for swimmers. The park is just off Highway 10, between Pensacola and Tallahassee, just south of the Alabama border.
Hamilton Pools Preserve Waterfall, Texas
Caves with a necklace of dripping beads by deep green pools, describes this Travis County park near aptly named Dripping Springs, 25 miles west of Austin, Texas. Water and flooding conditions sometimes restrict swimming and access to the falls, so check the park’s website. Camping and picnicking sites are available in the park.
Mooney Falls, Havasupai Reservation, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
This site is among the most beautiful and iconic waterfalls in the world. The Reservation is only reached by a steep hike, but is rated by many as a “most memorable trip of a lifetime”. The 190-foot cataract has a unique, blue-green color, falling into a shallow bowl of a pool where rocks warm the waters for a lovely swimming experience. From the campsite at Havasupai campground, a short cave-like historic trail carved by miners curls down to Mooney Falls and further to Beaver Falls. Many visitors use this area as a jumping-off point to the Colorado River to gain a “bottoms-up” view of the steep cliffs of the Grand Canyon towering over the valley floor.