With destinations like West Virginia having just launched their first-ever statewide Waterfall Trail and the Oregon Bed & Breakfast Guild having prepared a dedicated map of waterfalls for their guests to visit across the state, waterfall chasers are rushing out in full force. These 12 waterfall drives across the U.S. promise spectacular sights accessible via a scenic road trip (with a couple of opportunities for travelers also to stretch out their legs sprinkled along the way).
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North Carolina’s Land of Waterfalls
A section of Highway 64 in western North Carolina can take travelers to more than 200 waterfalls in Transylvania County, in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. With highlights including Toxaway Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Dry Falls, and Looking Glass Falls, it’s no surprise this area is commonly known as the “Land of Waterfalls.” Transylvania County itself offers travelers more than 250 of these magnificent cascades to witness nearby. Be sure to check out Looking Glass Falls— this 60-foot must-see cascade features an easily accessible trail (even for people with mobility challenges) or stairs from the parking area for a close-up view. It’s named after Looking Glass Rock, where frozen water in winter glistens in the sunlight like a mirror. And while in the neighborhood, check out Sliding Rock—a 60-foot natural waterslide with seasonal lifeguards for swimming.
South Carolina’s Scenic Waterfall Byway
There are more than 50 waterfalls that reside within upper South Carolina’s Blue Ridge Escarpment. In fact, it’s the heaviest concentration of waterfalls in the Eastern United States. Drive along the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway, also known as the “Keowee Path” or “Cherokee Path,” which was once the route used by Cherokees and English and French fur traders, and check out the 20-plus foot Wildcat Branch Falls located roadside just past Caesars Head State Park. It’s a perfect place to stop for travelers to stop and dip their toes in the water. Then, switch over to Highway 276 to end the trip in Greenville with a visit Falls Park on the Reedy. Here, travelers can step over the enormous cascading waterfall for which the park was named by walking along a 345-foot long, 12-foot wide, concrete reinforced deck suspension bridge directly over the water below.
Not Niagara Falls But Still New York
New York is no doubt known for the iconic Niagara Falls but for a less crowded adventure, check out the Finger Lakes Region. While this region is already famed for its 11 glacier-formed lakes, there are also hundreds of waterfalls in the area to explore. Some of the most prominent ones that can be viewed from the parking lot are Taughannock Falls (which is actually taller than Niagra Falls!) and Shequaga Falls, which is a 30-minute drive west, near Seneca Lake. Those seeking more of an adventure on foot after a long car ride should check Letchworth State Park, known as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” for various waterfall trails to explore. Those seeking a more “extreme” waterfall adventure can even take off on a hot air balloon ride over the roaring waters.
Oregon’s (Other) Highway of Waterfalls
In Southern Oregon, the Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway (nicknamed the “Highway of Waterfalls”) and Highway 138 offer more than a dozen unique and majestic waterfalls just waiting to be explored. The route first travels up the North Umpqua River from I-5 at Roseburg, then back down the Upper Rogue River to Gold Hill, just north of Medford. Along the way, travelers encounter the many cascading streams flanked by glistening mountain lakes. Check out Watson Falls, which is the highest waterfall in southwest Oregon at 272 feet with waters that are said to be visible from the parking lot—or Toketee Falls with its 120-foot falls, accessible via a nice easy walk to a viewing platform overlooking the water. Clearwater Falls also plunges in a segmented arc 30 feet down across moss-covered rocks to a pool of water below.
The Adirondack’s Waterfall Challenge
The Adirondack region encompasses seven large areas in New York, including Lake Placid, the Whiteface Region, Lake Champlain Region, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, the Adirondack Hub (Newcomb, North Hudson, Schroon Lake, and Minerva), and Hamilton County, which actually has its own “Waterfall Challenge,” featuring 17 waterfalls. Easily explore some of these quick–to-reach roadside cascades, and for those seeking some additional backcountry excitement, some falls require a hike. Each waterfall is assigned a point rating, and the goal is to earn 12 points to earn a special patch. Jaw-dropping spots on the route include Austin Falls—a long, sliding waterfall surrounded by beautiful rock formations, and Christine Falls, which is easily accessible and drops about 20 feet to a great swimming hole. There’s also Buttermilk Falls, a series of short and wide cascades on the Raquette River totaling more than 40 feet.
Lookout Mountain (Waterfall) Parkway (Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee)
The scenic Lookout Mountain Parkway travels 93 miles on a two-lane highway that spans three states across the top of Lookout Mountain from Gadsden, Alabama, through Northern Georgia, to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Start with Alabama’s Noccalula Falls at Noccalula Falls Park and Campground. This 90-foot waterfall was named after a young Cherokee woman, said to have plunged to her demise instead of betraying her true love and marrying another. Next, check out North Georgia’s Cloudland Canyon State Park, with rugged terrain for exploring, including one short hike where the exceptionally outdoorsy can see two spectacular waterfalls in one trip. Finally, in Tennessee, visitors of Ruby Falls can enjoy the rare opportunity to venture inside Lookout Mountain to see the tallest and deepest underground waterfall in the U.S. open to the public. This experience requires advanced reservations, but there are a few different tour options to encounter this special adventure.
Olympic National Park & Forest-Washington’s Valley of 10,000 Waterfalls
Highway 101 loops around Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, nicknamed “Valley of 10,000 Waterfalls,” making for a stunning coastal drive around the Pacific Ocean and three separate ecosystems—coastal, rainforest and sub-alpine. For a short drive, check out The Quinault Rain Forest Loop Drive, which travels around Lake Quinault, up the Quinault River, and into the Olympic National Park to see sights like Merriman Falls and the towering 60-ft Bunch Creek Falls. Further north, near Lake Crescent, there’s Marymere Falls, which cascades 90 feet downward and can be easily accessed in a short nature walk through old-growth lowland forest. About 40 minutes driving southeast from Marymere is Sol Duc Falls, which is an absolutely magnificent sight after a short hike with waters roaring down 48 ft—it’s a landmark and perhaps Olympic National Park’s most famously photographed waterfall.
Waterfalls of Richardson Highway Toward Valdez, Alaska
Along Richardson Highway leading to Valdez, Alaska, road trippers can visit two of Valdez’s most note-worthy waterfalls, Horsetail Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, which are located in the easily-accessible Keystone Canyon. In the summer, travelers can see the waterfalls at the lookout points along the highway—but those who are feeling especially adventurous can opt-in for a more exciting raft or kayaking excursion along the Lowe River, which runs directly in front of Bridal Veil Falls. In the winter, thrill-seekers can ice climb up the falls or even admire them from above on a helicopter tour. Other note-worthy waterfalls near Valdez include Anderson Falls, which is produced by Anderson Glacier, or The Gold Creek Waterfall along Shoup Bay Trail. And there’s also Horsetail Creek Falls (not to be confused with the above “Horsetail Falls”) which sits along Mineral Creek Trail in Mineral Creek Canyon, north of the Valdez townsite.
Yoho National Park’s Scenic Western (Waterfall) Slopes
Yoho National Park is located on the scenic western slopes of the Canadian Rocky Mountains and hosts numerous jaw-dropping waterfalls. See the glacier-fed Takakkaw Falls, the second tallest waterfall in all of Canada at nearly 1,000 feet. Driving the scenic Yoho Falls Road offers glimpses of the falls along the route (there’s also a short hike to it for a closer look). There are also Twin Falls and Laughing Falls, two other beloved waterfalls of the park—however, these are best explored via a longer hiking trail. Another (enormous) fall in the park is Wapta Falls, nearly 500 feet wide—it’s made of overlapping, cascading streams that flow into a seemingly endless rush of water. Visitors can reach it by taking the beautiful Trans-Canada Highway from Golden and turning south onto the Beaverfoot Forest Service Road into the Wapta Falls recreation site.
The Waterfall Corridor of Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area (Permit Required)
The famed Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area’s Waterfall Corridor is a legend in the world of waterfall drives. It’s best accessed from the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail. This route showcases more than 90 waterfalls, including Horsetail Falls, Wahkeena Falls, Multnomah Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls. But be sure to grab a permit (which helps to conserve the land and reduce congestion!). Between May 24 and Sept. 5, 2022, travelers must reserve a “Timed Use Permit” for each personal vehicle to gain access to the federal lands adjacent to the Waterfall Corridor between Bridal Veil (Exit 28) and Ainsworth (Exit 35) between the hours of 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. And since Multnomah Falls is one of the most visited outdoor sites in the Pacific Northwest, visitors must get a separate permit to reserve time hourly between the same hours.
Under-the-Radar NorCal Waterfalls
It’s no secret that California boasts an abundance of scenic waterfalls, including Big Sur’s McWay Falls beautiful seaside cascade, and Yosemite’s Valley loop drive with iconic sights like Bridalveil Fall. But up North, in Siskiyou, there are more than a few spots for a waterfall drive-by. Check out Hedge Creek Falls, which runs off into the Sacramento River and features beautiful platform views of Mt. Shasta from close proximity to I-5. There’s even a small cave behind the waterfall that travelers can walk behind for some added pizzaz. Next, visit Sweetbriar Falls, located a half-mile east of the Sweetbriar exit on I-5, and features an accessible parking area from which travelers can follow the creek to the trails. Finally, visit McCloud Falls, which has a trail that leads an easy 1.5 miles (3 miles roundtrip) along a gorgeous trail to see three different falls.
New Hampshire’s White Mountain Waterfall Route
In New Hampshire’s White Mountains, Crawford Notch and Franconia Notch each offer abundant hiking opportunities and roadside waterfalls. Silver Cascade and Flume Cascade are two of the best spots to check out are Silver Cascade and Flume Cascade, both of which are easily accessible on the north side of Route 302 in Crawford Notch. And the 140-plus foot Arethusa Falls in Crawford Notch State Park, which is often regarded as the tallest waterfall in New Hampshire, is accessible via an easy, family-friendly hike. There’s also Jackson Falls, which is located in the Shawnee National Forest. Part of these upper falls can be seen from the roadside, or it’s a very short 5-minute walk to the lower falls of this 100-foot waterfall. Finally, check out the 64-foot Glen Ellis Falls, which is located near Mount Washington, just 0.4 miles off the road, for an easy trek perfect for travelers to stretch their legs.