7 Best Waterfall Hikes in the U.S.
American Waterfall Trails That Will Take Your Breath Away
Tim Peck is a climber, skier, and cyclist from New Hampshire who has spent has who has spent countless hours adventuring around the United States. Here he shares his seven favorite waterfall hikes from different regions across the country.
There’s something particularly gratifying about a hike that brings you to a waterfall. The rushing water and cool mist combine to create one of nature’s most spectacular sights. Luckily for hikers in the U.S., trails with waterfalls can be found in all 50 states. Here are the best waterfall hikes in the U.S. by region.
Pacific Northwest: Multnomah Falls
Oregon might not have the most waterfalls in the U.S., but it’s in the running for the state with the most waterfalls that will take your breath away, including Multnomah Falls. The most impressive thing about this classic cascade isn’t its 620-foot plunge—it’s that, unlike many of the West’s famous falls, it never dries up.
The 2.4-mile roundtrip hike on the Multnomah Falls Trail is the most popular way to see the falls, but hikers looking for more of a challenge and an escape from the more than two million yearly visitors to the falls should explore the Multnomah-Wahkeena Loop. This walk is approximately five miles and tours a handful of lesser-known falls. Need more inspiration to make the hike? Wahkeena is a Yakima word meaning “most beautiful.”
Feel the spray of the falls, snap an Insta-worthy photo, and catch this cascade from Benson Bridge, which traverses between the two tiers of the falls.
West Coast: Yosemite Falls, California
No list of the best waterfalls in the U.S. is complete without Yosemite Falls. These iconic falls have been captured by legendary landscape and nature photographers like Ansel Adams and Galen Rowell and have been immortalized in words by John Muir—and with good reason.
Most striking in the spring, when fed by snowmelt, Yosemite Falls is the world’s fifth highest waterfall and North America’s tallest, dropping 2,425 feet to the valley floor. Visitors can reach the top of the falls via a 7.2-mile roundtrip hike on one of the park’s oldest trails. Built between 1873 to 1877, the trail starts near the historic Camp 4, the epicenter of Yosemite rock climbing since the 1950s.
Speaking of climbing, you’ll be doing plenty of it—albeit without the need for ropes—as the trail gains 2,700 feet in elevation. In addition to Yosemite Falls, hikers are treated to arresting views of Yosemite Valley and notable features such as Sentinel Rock and Half Dome. Lucky hikers might even enjoy a refreshing mist from the falls if the wind is blowing in the right direction.
Southwest: Havasu Falls, Arizona
A dazzling oasis with intense blue-green water contrasted against the stark red rock walls of the Arizona desert, it’s no wonder that Havasu Falls is considered among the world’s most beautiful waterfalls.
To access Havasu Falls, you must first walk eight miles to the remote town of Supai. For over 1,000 years, Supai has been home to the Havasu Baaja, meaning “people of the blue-green waters,” known today as the Havasupai Tribe. From Supai, hikers continue on another two miles to the falls, where they’ll take in spectacular scenery, cool off in water that hovers around 70 degrees year-round, and spend the night at the campground.
In fact, you have to spend the night—day-hiking to Havasu Falls is prohibited. Even more challenging than the hike is getting a permit to do so. Permits are limited and book fast. To knock this trip off your bucket list, you’ll need to contact an outfitter, or cross your fingers on February 1, when reservations open.
Rocky Mountains: Bridal Veil Falls, Colorado
“Bridal Veil” is a name attached to many a waterfall, from Yosemite to Niagara. But one that stands out among all others sharing its name is the 365-foot Bridal Veil Falls in Telluride, Colorado, the state’s tallest free-falling waterfall.
A straightforward 1.8-mile hike climbs 1,200 feet up a dirt road and brings you to the top of Bridal Veil Falls. The views are certainly worth the climb, but hikers should stay alert on the way up; this path is not the most pristine of waterfall trails, and you may need to share the road with mountain bikers and four-wheel drive vehicles. But it’s worth the hike up the double track for the stunning view of Telluride.
Midwest: Spearfish Falls, South Dakota
To quote South Dakota’s first governor, Arthur Calvin Mellette, “Oh, South Dakota is a swinged cat, better than she looks.” Swinged is an old colloquialism meaning singed or burned slightly. For proof of the governor’s statement, look no further than the magnificent Spearfish Falls in the infamous Black Hills.
Spearfish Falls is reached via a 1.5-mile roundtrip hike on the notoriously slippery Spearfish Falls Trail. A true waterfall park, those hungry for more falls will find Spearfish Canyon home to a handful of cool cascades, including Bridal Veil Falls (yes, another one), Roughlock Falls, and Little Spearfish Falls.
Aside from its beauty, Spearfish Falls also has a unique history: it actually went dry for 86 years when the creek feeding the falls was diverted to a hydroelectric power plant for a gold mine. It wasn’t until 2003 that the waterfall was restored to its natural glory.
The South: Cumberland Falls, Kentucky
Often called the “Niagara of the South,” the 69-foot-tall and 125-foot-wide Cumberland Falls is a truly breathtaking sight, reminiscent of its more northern namesake.
The most popular of the trails leading to Cumberland Falls is the aptly named half-mile Cumberland Falls Trail that descends to the river. Hikers seeking a greater challenge should look no further than the Moonbow Trail, a 10(ish)-mile point-to-point hike beginning at the Falls.
While many waterfalls are at peak flow in the spring, Cumberland Falls is at its best in the fall when the surrounding forest is draped in orange, gold, and yellow. Align your visit with a full moon and perhaps you’ll have the good fortune of seeing a moonbow. This nocturnal rainbow produced by moonlight is a phenomenon found nowhere else in the Western Hemisphere.
Northeast: Arethusa Falls, New Hampshire
A personal favorite, Arethusa Falls is located in the heart of New Hampshire’s White Mountains and delivers four-season fun for northeastern adventurers. Arethusa surges powerfully in the spring, and makes for a refreshing hike on hot summer days. Come fall, it’s ablaze in fall foliage, and in the winter, it’s a popular ice climb.
The 1.5-mile Arethusa Falls Trail is the most direct route to the cascade. However, the Bemis Brook Trail adds a little over a half-mile to the total trip and passes smaller falls, along with a top-notch swimming hole.
Few in New England will dispute the beauty of Arethusa Falls, but they will argue over the size of the falls. Depending on who you talk to, the falls can be anywhere from 125 feet to 200 feet tall. It’s a striking scene, either way.
Hiking trails with waterfalls are one of the greatest joys offered by the outdoors—blending a pursuit that’s good for your body and mind with the opportunity to observe one of nature’s most miraculous creations (bonus points if there’s a swimming hole).
A former child model, Tim Peck spent a portion of his youth gracing the pages of Sunday paper advertisements for many now-defunct department stores. Living responsibly/rent-free with his parents into his thirties, Tim pursued climbing, skiing, and biking while logging an impressive amount of time in the mountains (and accumulating gear accordingly). Relentlessly pursuing the dream, Tim’s modest life ambitions are to ski all 12 months of the year, to climb 5.12, and to live in a van. Follow him on Instagram here.