As temperatures warm, a season’s worth of snow will melt into rushing cascades of water. Early spring is generally the best time to see waterfalls, before summer’s heat dries up the flow (though there are a couple of exceptions below). These ten picture-perfect parks are great bets for a natural rush.
1. Yosemite National Park, California
Waterfalls are a major tourist attraction at this iconic park, for good reason. The high granite walls throughout the Yosemite Valley offer dramatic settings for falling water. Visitors can easily drive or take short hikes to reach some of these falls, including Sentinel Falls, Ribbon Fall, Bridalveil Falls, and Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in the country. For a challenging hike, take the 5.5-mile round-trip trail to the top of Nevada Falls, passing the remarkably wide and full Vernal Falls (shown here) along the way. The top of the trail gives hikers a view behind the rushing water as it cascades down the rock and into the valley below. The 8.5-mile Panorama Trail also offers an excellent view of the Illilouette Fall, though this route is more strenuous.
2. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Rushing water is especially precious in the desert, and in a setting as spectacular as the Grand Canyon, waterfalls take on a special beauty. Alas, the amazing sights of Elves Chasm (shown here), Deer Creek Falls, Vasey’s Paradise, and Cheyava Falls all require difficult hikes or boat trips on the Colorado River, but the views are an incredible reward for the effort. Just outside the park, the Havasupai Nation is also home to several spectacular waterfalls that are part of this canyon system, though visiting them also requires a long trip and advanced planning. Visitors must access these spots, including the famous Havasu Falls, with a separate set of reservations and permits through the tribe.
3. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
This unique urban park has a bit of everything, from a historic railroad to a popular towpath trail, and waterfalls are no exception. The impressive Brandywine Falls are one of the main visitor attractions at the park. Visitors can reach the falls from an easy 1.5-mile loop trail and admire its wide, 65-foot drop over shale ledges. Just don’t overlook the nearby Blue Hen Falls (shown here) and Bridal Veil Falls, which are also easy to get to from the road and well worth the extra stops.
4. Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Brooks Falls may not be particularly high or remarkable in themselves, but at the peak of summer, when salmon make their trek upstream, this is the meeting spot for the park’s bears. The best time of year for wildlife-watching tends to be late June and July, when the salmon are running. If traveling to the Alaska backcountry and braving the wilderness feels like too big a commitment, you can still get a glimpse of these falls and the animals that fish and play there on the park’s webcam (which is currently showing highlights from previous footage, but will return to a live stream in June).
5. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Shenandoah may be best-known for its tree-lined mountains, but its wooded hollows offer waterfalls galore during the wet spring season. The most popular waterfall, and one of the easiest to reach, is the beautiful, multi-tiered Dark Hollow Falls (shown here). For more a challenging and less-crowded hike, try the 8-mile loop from Whiteoak Canyon to Cedar Run to see eight formidable waterfalls, or the 6.4-mile hike to Overall Run Falls, the tallest in the park. Other popular options include the Jones Runs Falls (3.4 miles out and back) and the Doyles River Upper and Lower Falls (3.2 miles out and back), both in the southern district of the park. Just remember on most of these hikes that the uphill trip back to the parking lot is more strenuous than the trip out!
6. Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park, New Jersey
At 260 feet wide and 77 feet tall, the Great Falls of Paterson, New Jersey, are the dramatic focal point of the town’s landscape and one of the most spectacular waterfalls on the East Coast. They are also the force that has been powering the area’s industrial center for decades. In the 1700s, Alexander Hamilton helped to found a thriving manufacturing district, harnessing the abundant hydropower generated by this waterfall. See the rush of water come crashing through the Passaic River Gorge and stroll among the historic factory buildings of “Silk City,” where a diverse community of artisans and mill workers created a range of products and fought for better labor standards.
7. Devils Postpile National Monument, California
This monument takes its name from a cliff of cooled lava that formed into striking hexagonal columns some 100,000 years ago. The dramatic Rainbow Falls may take second billing to the postpile, but its natural wonder is a spectacle in itself worth seeing. Take an easy two-and-a-half mile hike from the ranger station to see these falls plunge 101 feet down into the roaring water below. Stroll there at mid-day when the sun is at its peak to see the reflected rainbows that give the falls their name.
8. Haleakalā National Park, Hawaii
Hawaii receives more rain than any other part of the country, so it’s no surprise that this tropical archipelago is home to numerous waterfalls. Visitors to Haleakalā on the southeast coast of Maui can take a moderate three-mile hike to the famed Waimoku Falls, driving and hiking past other falls along the way. The Waimoku Falls drop 400 feet at a nearly 90-degree angle down a verdant lava wall into a lush valley. Unlike mainland parks, the best time to see waterfalls at Haleakalā is during the wet season, generally from November to April.
9. Olympic National Park, Washington
With its rare temperate rainforest, its numerous rushing rivers, and its more than 12 feet of rainfall a year, Olympic is a wonderful park to see water cascading among lush greenery. From the tall and elegant Marymere Falls to the gracefully fanning Madison Creek Falls to the powerful Sol Duc Falls (shown here), visitors have plenty to see, all of it surrounded by verdant scenery that is like nowhere else in the world.
10. Yellowstone National Park, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming
Yellowstone may be known as a place to see water shooting upward from geysers, but it’s also a great park for watching water fall. The park’s largest and best-known falls are the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone (shown here). With its 308-foot drop, its force is powerful and the view is majestic—but it is by no means the only show in town. Yellowstone’s dozens of waterfalls come in all shapes and sizes, including the tall, narrow Tower Falls and the wide, multi-tiered Gibbon and Union Falls. Easy hikes lead to wonders like Mystic and Undine Falls; longer, more strenuous treks lead to impressive and less-crowded destinations like Osprey and Union Falls.
About the author
Jennifer Errick Managing Editor of Online Communications
Jennifer writes, edits, and moderates online content for NPCA.