The great outdoors of the United States have some of the most fantastic and breathtaking sights in the world. Beautiful peaks like the Sierra Nevadas and Cascades crown the nation’s great forests and plains, making nearly every inch of the U.S. a destination for a natural adventure. Something that isn’t often considered, however, are the waterfalls. The idea of rivers simply meeting gravity doesn’t seem so exciting, but to see them in person will astound the most seasoned traveller. Here are some of the tallest and most awe-inspiring waterfalls in the United States.
The title of tallest waterfall in the United States is a contested one, because of differences in measurements from the drops to the bases, and how single waterfalls can have multiple drops. One of the contenders is Yosemite Falls in Yosemite National Park, California. Measuring at 2,425 feet from the upper fall to the base of the lower fall, it’s composed of several drops, the middle of which are called the Cascades and take multiple paths to the base. Plan your visit there around the spring or early summer, because the later summer and beginning of autumn, the falls are known to stop flowing. Even if the falls aren’t flowing, Yosemite is a beautiful place to visit and offer campsites and hiking trails throughout the park. Not only that, but Yosemite also houses its own museum and several opportunities to see the American bison, an increasingly rare experience today.
Colonial Creek Falls
Also contending for tallest waterfall are the Colonial Creek Falls, which take a less traditional waterfall appearance. Where Yosemite is sheer drops off cliff faces, Colonial Creek has less dramatic, small falls that make up its total. There are thirteen steps that make up the Colonial Creek Falls, and together they make it 2,568 feet tall, although the exact measure is disputed. Because of the spread of the falls it’s difficult to get a proper viewing, although the Ross Dam trailhead and Thunder Arm Bridge provide the best vantages. The surrounding area is also great for hiking and biking, as the North Cascades National Park is one of the larger mountainous parks in the United States. More adventurous visitors can even attempt rock climbing along the Colonial Creek Glacier.
Getting away from the continental U.S., waterfalls get more exotic and exciting, particularly in Hawaii. So the next contender in tallest waterfall in the United States is Olu’upena Falls on the isle of Molokai in Hawaii. The falls hold an unofficial title of the fourth tallest in the world, claiming 2,953 feet in height. Unlike the other two, however, Olu’upena is a very thin stream that is only visible from the air or the ocean. During the summer, guided boat tours and aerial tours visit the falls with tourists. You can easily make Hawaii a destination on your journey through America’s tallest falls, as it’s not difficult to visit the islands during a week-long trip. Olu’upena’s island, Molokai, is often touted as the most beautiful and natural of the Hawaiian Islands, a title it owes to locals’ resistance to commercial development. This resistance isn’t unfriendliness, as Molokai is known as the Friendly Island among the chain, and is famed for the very visitor-friendly culture and low-traffic tourism.
A second Hawaiian waterfall caps the list of the four tallest falls in the United States. Pu’uka’oku Falls also cascade into the ocean on the coast of Molokai. Much like the nearby Olu’upena, Pu’uka’oku is a thin stream of water carving across the volcanic formations of the island. Standing at 2,755 feet from base to peak, it’s unfortunately also difficult to visit like its neighbor. Aerial and boat tours visit the locale, as the fall is not accessible by land and subtle enough to be missed if one isn’t looking for it. Nonetheless, it’s still an impressive natural formation and persists all year long.
When you think of waterfalls in the United States, the first place anyone’s mind goes is the world-famous Niagara Falls. But seldom do people know that Niagara is actually three falls, and only two of them are American. Because Niagara straddles the border of New York and Ontario, the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls are the only two that land solidly in the United States. While Niagara isn’t the tallest (or much of a competitor at all on that front) it deserves an honorable mention for its astounding length and cultural significance. Visitors can view the falls from Prospect Point Park on the American side, and also take voyages through the base on the famous Maiden of the Mist. And if the falls aren’t exciting enough for you, Buffalo, New York is only a car trip away.
All of these waterfalls are not only record-holders, but astounding experiences that will leave a lasting memory on your life. But it’s not just the waterfall, it’s the adventure and the journey that you can make around each of them. Share the experience with your friends and family when you visit these places, and make the most of it with everything the islands, mountains, and forests about them have to offer.