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So often waterfalls are judged on their beauty or their brawn — the tallest, the most powerful, the most beautiful. All are valid superlatives. But what makes one the best? What about a waterfall makes you want to visit, to hike to its location, and stand in its spray? There’s no wrong answer, but perhaps — whether it’s the surrounding area, its historical or geographical significance, its aesthetics, or a combination of all three — we can concede that some are slightly more engaging than others.
Waterfalls have a somewhat mystical place in our psyche. Raw and enchanting, they make you feel small. And sometimes, the best ones are just fun to check off your travel list. America has more than 17,000 documented waterfalls. Here’s the best waterfall in each U.S. state.
Little River Falls, Alabama
Other waterfalls in Alabama might be considered more spectacular, or at least taller (here’s looking at you, DeSoto Falls), but Little River Falls in Little River Canyon is supreme. Why? Because the 45-foot falls flow into one of the best swimming holes in the country.
Horsetail Falls, Alaska
Horsetail Falls is a twofer: stunning in the summer and an exceptional ice-climbing destination in the winter when the cascade freezes. What’s more, the surrounding city of Valdez is the snowiest in the U.S., which translates to tons of spring waterfalls from all the snowmelt. Bridal Veil Falls, Gold Creek Falls, Horsetail Creek Falls (not to be confused with Horsetail Falls) — there’s a waterfall on almost every hike in the area.
Grand Falls, Arizona
The famed waterfall of Havasupai is, without a doubt, a spectacle, but permitted access is tricky. Grand Falls on Navajo Nation land in the Painted Desert is open to all and totally unique; the Little Colorado River’s silt-laden water gives the falls a rich chocolate color. “The first time I saw them, I cried. They were so beautiful,” says Marjorie Magnusson, Arizona Office of Tourism’s media relations manager.
Twin Falls, Arkansas
In Ozark National Forest, in the Richland Creek Wilderness, you’ll find Twin Falls. If you’re there shortly after a big rainfall, though, you might be treated to “Triple Falls,” when three cascades emerge rather than the usual two. Either way, the area is beautiful and offers prime hiking.
Burney Falls, California
A special shout-out to the beguiling Yosemite Falls, but McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park’s spring-fed Burney Falls is in a class all its own. Fern-cloaked and ethereal, the 129-foot cascades are perhaps the most striking in a region laden with fantastic-looking waterfalls. Phantom Falls on North Table Mountain in Oroville, the three-tiered McCloud Falls just south of Mount Shasta’s majestic slopes, Hedge Creek Falls — take your pick.
North Clear Creek Falls, Colorado
“This waterfall is a hidden gem along the Silver Thread Scenic Byway and the perfect stop if you don’t have time for a long hike,” says Timothy Wolfe, director of the Colorado Tourism Office. You can visit this 100-plus-foot waterfall in southwestern Colorado in the summer when most do, but if you’re an ice climber, snowshoer, or snowmobiler, you’ll also be rewarded in the winter when the cliffside falls turn to solid ice.
Kent Falls, Connecticut
Kent Falls in the Berkshires isn’t technically one fall, but an initial big waterfall followed by a succession of cascades, plateaus, and pools on a mountain stream called Falls Brook that eventually terminates at the Housatonic River.
Brandywine Creek Falls, Delaware
“Delaware is a place of gentle, quiet waterfalls — the kind travelers discover all along the historic Brandywine River,” says Jessica Welch, director of the Delaware Tourism Office. You can access secluded spots along the Brandywine’s banks via hiking trails in Alapocas Run State Park and Brandywine Creek State Park.
Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park, Florida
Fact: Florida is the flattest state. That means that its waterfalls need a little something special because elevation differentials don’t make a big difference here. At Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park in Gainesville, natural trickles flow into a 10,000-year-old limestone sinkhole with a spring-fed pond at the bottom. The best waterfall in Florida isn’t so much a waterfall as it is a geological marvel.
Amicalola Falls, Georgia
One of the tallest cascading falls east of the Mississippi? You bet. “It’s also the start of the eight-mile Approach Trail for the southern terminus of the world-famous Appalachian Trail that calls Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest home,” says Mark Jaronski, Explore Georgia’s deputy commissioner.
Manawaiopuna Falls, Hawaii
Kauai is known for its tropical rain forest and verdant and volcanic landscape. Manawaiopuna Falls, which is located on the island, is known for its cameo in Jurassic Park. The waterfall is privately owned, so the only way to see it is on a helicopter tour, which might be the best way to view it anyway; some tour companies will take you close enough to get soaked by the spray.
Minnie Miller Springs, Idaho
Southern Idaho’s Thousand Springs State Park looks like something out of a fantasy movie. Spring water bubbles year-round from the walls of the Snake River Canyon, flowing into the channel below, where you can stand-up paddleboard and kayak.
Starved Rock State Park Falls, Illinois
To be clear, the best waterfall in Illinois isn’t a singular cascade; it’s all of Starved Rock State Park’s prolific collection. The 18 canyons here were formed by melting glaciers and the resultant floods. In the spring — or after a big rain — four of the canyons feature waterfalls. To be specific, LaSalle Canyon has a 25-foot veil, Tonti Canyon boasts two 60-foot waterfalls, St. Louis Canyon is home to one of the highest falls in the park, and the waterfall at Wildcat Canyon is scenic year-round.
Cataract Falls, Indiana
Cagles Mill Lake, Indiana’s first flood control reservoir, was built in 1952. Mill Creek, where the falls (the largest in the state) are located, is one of the major streams that feed the lake. Now, they’re all part of the Lieber and Cataract Falls State Recreation Area, a go-to for family hiking and camping.
Dunning’s Spring, Iowa
The best part about this 200-foot rocky waterfall surrounded by limestone cliffs is that it’s just minutes from downtown Decorah, the gateway to Upper Iowa River activities such as canoeing, kayaking, and fishing. Bonus: There are two other waterfalls nearby, Siewers Springs in Decorah and Malanaphy Springs in Bluffton (which requires a two-mile round-trip hike).
Geary Lake Falls, Kansas
Geary Lake Falls is an ephemeral and peaceful beauty in a quiet area near Junction City, Kansas. This spectacular 35-foot waterfall has been known to dry up in warm weather, while turning into a cascade of water in the rain.
Cumberland Falls, Kentucky
Trust a local: “The best and largest waterfall in the state of Kentucky is none other than Cumberland Falls, the ‘Niagara of the South’,” says Maggy Monhollen, executive director of Corbin Tourism and Convention Commission. “This 125-foot-wide, 60-foot waterfall produces a natural phenomenon called the ‘moonbow.’ On the night of the full moon and with a clear sky, from the mist of the falls, a lunar rainbow will appear. Cumberland Falls is the only place in the world where people can view this wonder of the world.”
Rock Falls, Louisiana
The Bayou State isn’t exactly known for cascades and cataracts, but Rock Falls, a tiered, 17-foot waterfall (reportedly the tallest in the state), is worth a visit because of the rolling hills, creeks, and tons of tree species (magnolia, hickory, elm, ash, and sweetgum) inside the J.C. “Sonny” Gilbert Wildlife Management Area.
Screw Auger Falls, Maine
Find the falls in Grafton Notch State Park in a narrow valley along the Bear River. “Many visitors enjoy wading in the shallow pools and picnicking along the calming waters of the river while enjoying the tumbling cascades,” says Jennifer Geiger, communications manager of the Maine Office of Tourism. “This region is a premier recreational destination lying amidst some of Maine’s most spectacular mountains, the Mahoosuc Range.”
Muddy Creek Falls, Maryland
At 53 feet, this free-falling waterfall (meaning it doesn’t make contact with rock behind it) is one of Maryland’s tallest. “Though the falls are beautiful anytime of year, you don’t want to miss it in the winter surrounded by snow-covered trees,” says Sarah Duck of Visit Deep Creek. “If it’s cold enough, the falls even freeze — definitely a unique and impressive sight.”
Bash Bish Falls, Massachusetts
Bash Bish Falls — a series of cascades that tumble down in tiers and culminate in an emerald pool — in the Taconic Mountains is accessible via three different hikes, some more challenging than others. For a quick fix, choose the 0.6-mile loop from the Massachusetts parking lot.
Tahquamenon Falls, Michigan
Nearly 50 feet tall and more than 200 feet across, the water at Tahquamenon Falls has the distinct appearance of frothy, foamy root beer, which comes from the tannins that leach from the cedar swamp at the start of the Tahquamenon River. You can see it on a Midwest road trip whenever you want — it flows year-round.
High Falls, Minnesota
Go north to the Canadian border to find Minnesota’s highest waterfall at Grand Portage State Park. “North West Company fur traders used the river in the late 1700s to early 1800s, and it’s quickly apparent why they carried their large canoes around this daunting waterfall, which can double in size during the spring,” says Alyssa Hayes from Explore Minnesota.
Clark Creek Waterfalls, Mississippi
Mississippi’s sheer abundance of tucked-away wonders may surprise visitors and locals alike — it’s hard to pick just one in this region. “The Clark Creek Natural Area along our southwestern border is a treasure that features some of the best the Magnolia State has to offer, including more than 50 waterfalls, with the highest rising more than 30 feet,” says Craig Ray, director of Visit Mississippi.
Grand Falls, Missouri
“Rain or shine, you’ll always get a fantastic view of Grand Falls in Joplin,” says Stephen Foutes, director of the Missouri Division of Tourism. “Grand Falls is the state’s largest continuously flowing waterfall and it’s formed from a 163-foot-wide ledge of solid chert. Along with being a naturally scenic and beautiful stop, it’s not far from Route 66, making it a must-see for road trippers.”
St. Mary Falls, Montana
Take the St. Mary Falls trailhead in Glacier National Park and keep walking until you hear the roar. That’s the waterfall gushing over three separate benches in all its blue-green glory. The best time to visit is spring, when the snow is melting.
Smith Falls, Nebraska
Beautiful and biologically significant? Check. The area around Smith Falls — which is now a state park, but was once the homestead of its namesake, Frederic Smith — still hosts ice age flora not found elsewhere in Nebraska, including paper birches and aspens.
Tamarack Peak (Galena Creek) Falls, Nevada
Sometimes, you want a breathtaking waterfall you can see from a roadside viewpoint. Other times, you want to work for it. Galena Falls is a hiker’s reward — a headwater tumble over a granite ledge about 2.5 miles along the Mount Rose Trail. The hike almost always includes a display of wildflowers around mid-July.
Diana’s Baths, New Hampshire
Diana’s Baths is composed of multiple levels of rocky pools and chutes that filter into kid-friendly swimming holes. A historic site in White Mountain National Forest, it was once the location of a family-owned sawmill in the 1800s.
Buttermilk Falls, New Jersey
“Many people don’t realize that Buttermilk Falls, New Jersey’s tallest waterfall, is located in one of the most scenic areas of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area,“ says Tammie Horsfield, president of the Sussex Skylands DMO. “Expect a little bit of ruggedness when you visit — the falls are definitely located off-the-beaten track.” You can see the waterfall from two observation platforms — ideally on a weekday because weekends can be busy.
Sitting Bull Falls, New Mexico
A short canyon hike in the Lincoln National Forest will take you to the base of this perennial, spring-fed waterfall, where you can swim and cool off in the clear, cold pools. It’s the best because it’s hidden; few expect the New Mexico desert to deliver a true oasis.
Niagara Falls, New York
Can you even have a best-of waterfall list without mentioning Niagara? Other waterfalls are often described as being the “Niagara Falls of [enter state or region here].” Niagara Falls is nothing but itself — one of the biggest falls in the world and one of the most beautiful, too; a muse of television, movies, and literature, and out of this world even in winter. It’s composed of three waterfalls — the largest, Horseshoe Falls, straddles the border between Ontario and New York. The two others, American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, are firmly in New York state.
Dry Falls, North Carolina
See this 75-foot cascade in Nantahala National Forest from multiple vantage points. A short, accessible trail leads from the parking area to an observation platform right out in front, where you can then take stairs to a walkway behind the powerful flow.
Mineral Springs Waterfall, North Dakota
Mineral Springs is North Dakota’s best waterfall because it’s the state’s only natural waterfall: “North Dakota’s only registered waterfall is the Mineral Springs Waterfall in the Sheyenne River State Forest,” says Mike Jensen, North Dakota’s outdoor promotions manager. “It originates from an underground spring that gently trickles down an eight-foot embankment into a small creek that connects to the Sheyenne River. The trail to the waterfall is a spur of the North Country National Scenic Trail, a favorite of hikers in the area.”
Ash Cave Falls, Ohio
Hocking Hills in southern Ohio is an underrated Midwest destination. Its eponymous state park is a destination in and of itself. The area has seven major hiking trails, one of which leads to Ash Cave, an enormous natural recess cave with a seasonal flow that tumbles over the overhanging cliff.
Turner Falls, Oklahoma
Natural beauty, a 77-foot cascade that plunges into a refreshing swimming hole, campsites, and snack bars — Turner Falls Park in Davis, Oklahoma, is basically the best municipal swimming pool.
Toketee Falls, Oregon
“The picturesque Toketee Falls on the North Umpqua River is relatively short, but spills into a beautiful blue-green basin surrounded by a cliffside of basalt columns and greenery,” says Allison Keeney, global communications manager of Travel Oregon. “The access hike is fairly easy and short, and there are natural springs right near the waterfall. Toketee Falls is only a short drive from the famous and beautiful Crater Lake, making for a fun day trip.”
Cucumber Falls, Pennsylvania
Found in Ohiopyle State Park in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, Cucumber Falls — named for its water source, Cucumber Run — is a 30-footer that can be seen from multiple vantage points in any season. In the summer, walk behind it to feel the spray on your face.
Pawtucket Falls, Rhode Island
One of Rhode Island’s few natural waterfalls, Pawtucket Falls has nonetheless made a significant historical impact. The base of the falls was used as a trail crossing for Native Americans; later, the falls powered an iron forge, a cotton mill, and many other aspects of industry.
Yellow Branch Falls, South Carolina
Located in the exceptionally scenic Oconee County in South Carolina, hikers can easily tackle Yellow Branch Falls’ three-mile trail in a day.
Roughlock Falls, South Dakota
In the spring, water rushes down the canyon; come fall, orange and yellow colors pop; and during the winter, frost and ice transform Roughlock Falls in Spearfish Canyon into a winter wonderland. Maintained boardwalks make it easy to access at anytime.
Cummins Falls, Tennessee
“The 75-foot waterfall at Cummins Falls State Park is known for its refreshing swimming hole and unique tiered geologic formation,” says Randy Hedgepath, a Tennessee State Parks State naturalist. Those reasons plus its sheer beauty make it the tops.
Gorman Falls, Texas
To see gorgeous Gorman Falls, you’ll have to do a bit of hiking, but it’s well worth the effort. “Gorman Falls is otherworldly. As you hike down a steep trail, you’ll hear the falls before you see them. Water tumbles 70 feet from Gorman Creek before reaching the Colorado River, making Gorman Falls one of the tallest waterfalls in Texas. Beneath the water and hanging from the cliff wall are slabs of travertine, a sensitive mineral deposit. In wet years, the falling water feeds lush vegetation. When it’s dry, you can see more of the travertine foundation of the falls, and the delicate pools that have formed at the bottom of the waterfall. Both the travertine and plants are sensitive, so the best spot to see the falls is from the viewing platform,” says Katie Raney, regional interpretive specialist at Texas State Parks.
Fifth Water Hot Springs Waterfall, Utah
Utah’s distinctive geography means there’s no shortage of fantastic waterfalls. One of the best though? A multi-tiered hot spring waterfall just about an hour and a half outside Salt Lake City. If soaking in a milky-blue natural pool after a four-mile hike is your idea of a good time, you’ll agree.
Bingham Falls, Vermont
A summer hike to this horsetail waterfall in Stowe is peak Vermont: a great hike through a water-sculpted gorge ending with a clear, ice-cold plunge pool, and, ideally, a picnic. Natural beauty at its best.
Cascade Falls, Virginia
“The best waterfall in Virginia isn’t necessarily the biggest, but it certainly is in a league of its own. The awe-inspiring Cascade Falls, found in Giles County, is one of the most scenic waterfalls in Virginia, and, quite possibly, this side of the Mississippi,” says Andrew Cothern, a spokesperson for the Virginia Tourism Corporation. A trip here offers a great way to beat the heat in the summer — and a cool view during winter.
Palouse Falls, Washington
Palouse Falls is special. It’s one of those places that make you introspective and reminds you of your place in the natural world. The dramatic, 200-foot plunge was carved through the basalt cliffs more than 13,000 years ago. It’ll drop your jaw — which will prepare you for wine sampling at the 120-plus wineries in the nearby Walla Walla region.
Blackwater Falls, West Virginia
“One of the most iconic and most loved West Virginia waterfalls is Blackwater Falls,” says Lauren E. Hough of the West Virginia Department of Tourism. That’s partially because it’s one of the state’s tallest falls, partially because of its rugged canyon location, and partially because of its peculiar color — an amber tint that comes from the tannic acid of fallen hemlock and red spruce needles.
Big Manitou Falls, Wisconsin
Pattison State Park outside of Superior, Wisconsin, offers a two-for-one deal: “Nearly as tall as Niagara Falls, Big Manitou Falls sends a rush of water down a beautiful landscape framed in pines,” says Anne Sayers, secretary-designee of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. “Hike a little further to discover Little Manitou Falls and its wide current of water dropping off a dramatic cliff face.”
Shell Falls, Wyoming
Shell Falls lies about an hour and a half from Sheridan, Wyoming, on the outskirts of the Bighorn National Forest — close enough for an easy road trip, but far enough to keep it secluded. “This hidden gem stands about 120 feet tall and cascades down a granite mountainside into Shell Creek,” says Piper Singer Cunningham, communications senior manager for the Wyoming Office of Tourism. “The best part about this experience may be that there’s no need to worry about crowds.”