5 favorite waterfalls in North America
Blue Ridge to Sierra Nevada to Canadian Rockies
Who doesn’t like a waterfall? They can reduce your stress, enhance your senses and cool the air. I love the thrill of finding and enjoying new ones.
And before sharing this list of favorites, just a heartfelt word of caution. People die every year near waterfalls. I assume you’re smart. And you want to live and wander another day. Please don’t take chances.
Comet Falls, Mount Rainier National Park
The short route is 3.8 miles roundtrip, with an elevation gain of 900 feet, but you get to coast down on the return trip. A longer route of 5.8 is for the more adventurous hiker. You can’t hike to the base of the falls, but its devastating beauty is best viewed from a distance. And there’s scenery along the way, including great forestland and smaller cascades. The trail is popular with limited parking, so get there early. Plus the trailhead is near scenic Christine Falls.
Takakkaw Falls, Yoho National Park, Canada
Now you see it, now you don’t. Takakkaw Falls thunders during the summer months as the Canadian Rockies’ snowpack melts and feeds this amazing site. Then, depending upon the weather, it dries to trickle, at least compared to its power during the runoff months. It’s a short, easy walk to the falls. And nearby are other great sites, including Emerald Lake and Laughing Falls. Of the four national parks that cluster in this Canadian region, we’ll spend more time next trip in the less crowded Yoho and less time in Banff, Jasper and Kootenay.
Yosemite Valley waterfalls
I can’t pick just one, so one of my top five is an incredible foursome of falls in Yosemite Valley: Bridalveil, Vernal, Nevada, and the park’s namesake, Yosemite Falls. Bridalveil and Lower Yosemite involve a short walk. Nevada is a five mile round-trip hike with significant elevation gain, which includes Vernal at the one mile mark. Upper Yosemite is a seven-mile steep trek and provides a great workout, but not better views of this iconic falls. Most importantly, these falls are most powerful during the spring thaw and run-off. The bigger the winter snowpack, the more mighty the waterfalls. Late summer and autumn visitors can be disappointed when the falls slow down, although their beauty still prevails.
Whitewater Falls, North Carolina
The reason for finding waterfalls can change with the seasons: frozen over in winter, more visible before the budding of spring, draped in summer green and painted with color in autumn. And that’s what makes Whitewater Falls in southwestern North Carolina so special. The photo shows only one section of the 500-foot falls, which is easily viewed after a short walk along a paved trail. The autumn foliage in the Smoky and Blue Ridge mountains explodes with color and can make waterfall viewing extra special. I almost chose several other North Carolina falls for my list, including Crabtree and Looking Glass.
Fairy Falls, Yellowstone National Park
I haven’t trekked to this waterfall in the summer but I cross-country skied to it during February. Yellowstone National Park is eerily peaceful this time of year when the tourists shrink from summer crowds to a small gathering of winter explorers. Fairy Falls involves a three-mile, round-trip hike through a young lodgepole pine forest, with little elevation gain. It’s near Old Faithful and the Geyser Basin area. I really like this falls because it’s unique and peaceful.
Other iconic North American waterfalls
I’ve included more of my favorite waterfalls in other posts: Sol Duc Falls in Olympic National Park and Havasu and Beaver in the Grand Canyon. Those three would certainly make my top five list but, in the spirit of exposing you to others, I didn’t repeat any in this article. If you’ve got a favorite waterfall, let us know. I’d love to wander to a new one.