Mighty and majestic, waterfalls are one of nature's most incredible and dramatic features. Though they can easily be found in many locations across the country, the most awe-inspiring waterfalls have become destinations in their own right. From a surging water wall to an indoor torrent thirty million years in the making, these waterfalls capture the power and beauty of nature in one stunning sight.
By Zachary Laks
WHERE: Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
Up 611 feet from sea level, the two signature drops of Multnomah Falls are a natural wonder to behold. About a thirty-minute drive from Portland, the gorge becomes a fun, interactive destination with its Benson Bridge set at the base of the first tier. Ponchos and waterproof cameras are recommended, as the cold mist can be powerful. The reward of overlooking the 69-foot drop of the second tier is well worth the spray, though.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s The Columbia Gorge and Mt. Hood Area Travel Guide
WHERE: Buffalo, New York
Straddling the international borders of Ontario and New York, Niagara Falls stands as the country’s most impressive waterfall for its massive scale and scope. It comprises three falls, with the largest (Horseshoe Falls) spanning 2,600 feet in width. Be sure to bring your passport to get the full experience of the falls from the Maid of the Mist, a ferry that brings poncho-clad passengers within feet of the falls, to the more active Cave of the Winds tour that brings visitors closest to the Bridal Veil Falls via a wooden elevated skyway.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Niagara Falls and Western New York Travel Guide
WHERE: Yosemite Village, California
Yosemite Falls, one of America’s greatest natural treasures, stands as the tallest waterfall (2,425 feet) in Yosemite National Park, and it’s fourteen times the height of Niagara Falls. Three segments of the cascades provide numerous vistas come late May and early June as the water flow raises in intensity. Its size and scope ranks the first section, the Upper Yosemite Fall, in the top twenty highest waterfalls in the world, while the Middle Cascades and Lower Yosemite Falls are more sizable, making them more accessible for hikes and recreation. To get a sense of how the falls are flowing now, check out the live feed.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Yosemite National Park Travel Guide
Upper Whitewater Falls
WHERE: Jackson County, North Carolina
A highlight of the East Rockies, the Upper Whitewater Falls cascade through rocks and ledges creating a serene waterscape on the Whitewater River. Plunging from 411 feet, the upper falls can best be seen through a scenic, paved quarter-mile walkway to the upper overlook, accessible with a $2 fee. Keep on the lookout for the salamanders and wildflowers that populate the area and seek out the cool moist of the falls. Be sure to stay on the trails and marked pathways as the steep cliffs and wet rocks are perilous.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Asheville Travel Guide
WHERE: Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon
Picture-perfect cascades rush down the grand mountainside of Mount Hood at Ramona Falls, a 120-foot water wall. Access to the falls requires a bit of a hike, a seven-mile loop that averages about four and a half hours and an elevation gain of 1,100 feet. Before you get to the forest, be sure to check in with the local park authorities because the loop uses a bridge that got destroyed by a thunderstorm last year, and conditions vary throughout the day when it comes to crossing the river by foot.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Oregon Travel Guide
WHERE: Twin Falls, Idaho
The most popular natural highlight along the Snake River (the 1,078-mile waterway that extends from Washington to Wyoming) is the 212-foot high, 900-foot wide Shoshone Falls. As the snow melts in spring, the water rushes through the falls’ gorges and giant rocks with great splendor. Note that as the summer season nears its end, so does the falls. The state regulates the water flow for irrigation to agriculture and hydroelectricity via dams.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Idaho Travel Guide
WHERE: Chattanooga, Tennessee
An underground waterfall? Hike through the caves of Lookout Mountain to uncover the incredible majesty of Ruby Falls, a 145-foot spout inside the naturally formed caves of the mountain. The result of 30 million years of limestone erosion, the falls is produced by water from natural springs and rainwater. As the water rushes down from the ceiling, it collects in a pool at the base of the caves and flows through the mountain to the Tennessee River. The site has been built up with a tourist-forward approach, offering guided tours through the caves as well as an onsite zip line course and playground for kids.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Tennessee Guide
WHERE: Davis, West Virginia
Named for its tannic acid-darkened water, Blackwater Falls stands as one of West Virginia’s most photographed natural sites for the way the water rushes through a pronounced sandstone ledge. It’s no wonder nature-lovers seek out the babble of the falls, as the 62-foot cascade has a calming nature with its smaller-scale waterworks. Those with anxiety of being off the grid need not fear: The state park’s Wi-Fi access reaches to the area surrounding the falls, providing help with trail mapping and instant photo sharing.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s West Virginia Travel Guide
Bridal Veil Falls
WHERE: Valdez, Alaska
A common name for waterfalls because they resemble a bride's veil, the Bridal Veil Falls in Valdez, Alaska, stands out for its varied terrain in the Keystone Canyon. After a winter of snow, the summer’s sun rushes water through the valley bringing the cascade to life along the highway. For hiking, opt for the two-mile Bridal Veil Falls Trail that brings nature lovers along a restored section of the Trans-Alaska Military Pack-train Trail to Alaska’s first glacier-free route from Valdez to the heart of Alaska.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Alaska Travel Guide
WHERE: Corbin, Kentucky
Though it is often referred to as the “Niagara of the South,” Cumberland Falls is considerably smaller in scale and popularity than Niagara Falls, but it is still a sight to behold in Cumberland Falls State Resort Park. Hiking trails throughout the park provide multiple scenic vistas of the rushing water. Cumberland River Trail is a favorite, looping five miles and encompassing a variety of waterfalls. Stick around after the sun sets and await the moon’s arrival as Cumberland Falls is one of the only western hemisphere spots where moonbows (a rainbow produced by light reflected off the moon) can be seen with a full moon.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Kentucky Travel Guide