Maybe it’s the unexpected nature of waterfalls that makes them so special. You often hear the sound first, in the distance, rumbling like constant thunder. And then when you spot it, you’re hit with sheer delight. The beauty, power, and elegance of watching gravity-fueled water cascade from above is a highlight of any hiking trip. The United States has some of the most impressive waterfalls in the world, and many are accessible by equally impressive hikes.
Here are 11 postcard-worthy falls that make unforgettable hiking trips.
1. Lower Yellowstone Falls
Lower Yellowstone Falls is one of the signature sights in the country’s first national park. Nate Eagleson
The country’s first national park is home to several memorable sights, including Old Faithful, just one of the preserve’s spectacular geysers. In fact, two-thirds of all the world’s geysers are found in Yellowstone . But it’s not just the water being shot into the sky that makes the trip worthwhile. Yellowstone Falls is one of the most scenic waterfalls in the west, dropping nearly 500 feet in two sections from Yellowstone Lake into the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
The Upper Falls are an impressive sight at 109 feet tall. But the 308-foot tall Lower Yellowstone Falls are the signature non-geyser feature in the park. The lower section is twice as high as Niagara Falls, and spills the largest volume of any waterfall in the Rockies.
Located just east of Canyon Village in the north-central section of the park, the Lower Yellowstone Falls is easily accessible by a one-way road that offers four vantage points for viewing. The trail is accessible from the final stop, where a steep, three-quarter mile round-trip hike is all it takes to reach the top of the falls. From there you can take Uncle Tom’s Trail to descend the 500 vertical feet to the bottom. Just remember, you’ll have to climb the 328 steel steps to return to the top.
2. Cummins Falls
Once exclusive, then threatened, Cummins Falls is now a protected paradise open to all. Brenton Rogers
Cummins Falls , located in central Tennessee, about an hour and a half west of Nashville, was until fairly recently a hidden gem that locals kept to themselves. In 2011, the Tennessee Parks and Greenway Foundation purchased the land and helped create the state park, allowing anyone to view one of the most scenic waterfalls in the state—and one of the best swimming holes in the country.
You’ll find two rugged trails to access the 75-foot waterfall, one about a mile long and the other 1.5 miles. Both feature uneven terrain, elevation gain, water crossings, boulders, and other obstacles. As such, the trail is not recommended for small children. But for anyone else, the challenging hike is a perfect lead-up to the scenic cascade of water that empties into the wide pool at the base, which is a great place to cool off on a hot summer day.
3. Havasu Falls
Havasu Falls is difficult to get to, but the turquoise waters that cuts through the red rock of the Grand Canyon is one of the country’s most impressive waterfalls. Sean Hagen
When you think of the Grand Canyon, a swimming hole may not immediately come to mind. But the Havasu Falls is an incredible oasis amid the red rock and desert offering a truly amazing experience. The falls are one of several on the Havasu Creek located on Havasupai tribal lands (the name means “people of the blue-green waters”). You’ll immediately understand the etymology when you first spot the unworldly turquoise water.
Located in near the southwest corner of Grand Canyon National Park, Havasu Falls is about a two-mile hike from Supai Village, which isn’t an easy place to get to. Helicopter rides are available, or you can make the 8-mile hike into the village. With temperatures routinely above 100, this isn’t a hike to take lightly. A campground is available, but you must make reservations early due to its popularity. Several outfitters offer guided excursions to the falls, and they can help with the travel details. But however you get there, the 100-foot fall is not to be missed.