North America’s most spectacular waterfalls

The lifelong love affair with North America’s natural world starts and ends with water, from the crashing waves of California’s coast to the tranquil pools of the Great Lakes region. Today however we prefer our water vertical and intense, by way of the most beautiful waterfalls in North America. So, for once, we refuse to listen to TLC and instead go chasing those waterfalls, through the USA, Canada and Mexico, feeling the spray for ourselves at any of the locations below.

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Niagara Falls | Photo: Sergey Pesterev

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The world’s most iconic natural attraction and best of the best waterfalls in New York, accessible from both Canada and the US.

1. Niagara Falls, United States and Canada

We couldn’t not give Niagara Falls their deserved mention, as the world’s most iconic natural attraction and best of the best waterfalls in New York, accessible from both Canada (south-east Ontario) and the US (west New York State). 3,100 tonnes of water flow over Niagara Falls every second, a combined effort from what is actually three waterfalls near NY (the American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and the Canadian Horseshoe Falls) generating hydroelectricity for both sides. The best way to view the falls from any angle is by boat, allowing for an up-close experience that will get you drenched in the falls’ powerful spray. If travelling from New York State, head 27 kilometres north-northwest of Buffalo, or, if from Toronto, drive 121 kilometres south-southeast, each drive ending at a city named Niagara Falls – gateway to the falls themselves.

Niagara Falls | Photo: Cameron Venti

2. Havasu Falls, Havasupai Indian Reservation, Arizona, USA

Named after the Native American tribe which still inhabits the Havasupai Indian Reservation, Havasu Falls are the most sacred of Arizona waterfalls, also appealing to young Instagrammers for their ethereal blue water walled in by rust-red cliffs. In a remote area just east of Grand Canyon National Park, Havasu Falls are only open to campers with a prior reservation, meaning you’ll have to plan your visit in advance and stay the night at the campgrounds; a crowded endeavour on holidays and weekends. To reach Havasu Falls, hike down from Hualapai Hilltop (with water, good shoes etc.), reaching Supai Village to pick up a permit and other supplies (food and a local map is a good start) before continuing for another 3 kilometres to the campgrounds.

Aim to hit the falls on the same day after setting up camp (a short trip back up the trail), so that you can venture ever further the next morning, towards Mooney Falls, Beaver Falls and a Colorado River canyon, which totals 26 kilometres if completing the full loop. After Mooney Falls, the trail becomes ever-more rugged, with water crossings and rock climbing elements, so do consider waterproofing your equipment if continuing after this point.

Havasu Falls | Photo: Evan Sanchez

Havasu Falls | Photo: Ameer Basheer

3. Shoshone Falls, Idaho, USA

Another big boy – just as wide as (and 45 feet taller than) Niagara Falls – is Idaho’s Shoshone Falls, located at the edge of Twin Falls on Snake River. Though glorious all year round, it is said that Shoshone is best in spring when snowmelt from the Grant Tetons rushes through at around 10-12,000 cubic feet per second. In summer meanwhile, a portion of these waters are diverted to the Magic Valley farming region, lessening the intensity of the falls, while in fall the area dries out somewhat. Whichever season you visit, take advantage of the recreational facilities that include a shaded picnic area, boat ramp and swimming area, veering off into the surrounding wilderness on marked hiking trails if so inclined.

Shoshone Falls | Photo: Ryan Fish

4. Montmorency Falls, Québec, Canada

What Canada’s Montmorency Falls lack in girth and popularity they more than make up for in length, dwarfing Niagara Falls by over 100 feet. The falls’ location is another reason to visit, just 15 minutes from Old Québec, where the St. Lawrence River runs through dense woodland towards the cliffs of Montmorency. Then you have the falls’ pivotal place in Canadian history when in 1759 they saw the Battle of Montmorency play out and, over 100 years later, when they became a source of electricity for Québec City. See the falls several ways, via cable car or zipline over the site, crossing the suspension bridge to the belvedere to feel the force of the river below. Ferrata is another mode for the bravest visitors, choosing one of three challenging climbing routes to the top, followed by a 487 step panoramic staircase to make your legs quiver. Relax later with a picnic in the old orchard or a meal at Montmorency Manor, with fireworks lighting the sky above on summer nights.

Montmorency Falls | Photo: Mercedes Schulz

Photo: Jeremy Bishop

5. Agua Azul, Chiapas, Mexico

Across the southern border, Cascades de Agua Azul heads up the list of Mexico’s most beautiful waterfalls, anglicised simply as ‘blue falls’ for good reason. The crystalline water of Agua Azul on Chiapas state’s Xanil River comes beautifully contrasted by calcified cliffs, over which a sequence of cascading falls, some as high as 20 feet each, make their way. The nearest town to Agua Azul is Palenque, some 69 kilometres away. While in the region you can also consider visiting Cascada el Aguacero (15 kilometres from Ocozocoautla), a photogenic site backed by jungle and wildlife, accessible via a series of 724 steps that zig-zag down to the canyon floor below.

Agua Azul | Photo: Aline Dassel

6. Multnomah Falls, Multnomah County, Oregon, USA

Of the best waterfalls in Oregon, Multnomah Falls win out in Columbia River Gorge, itself a famed attraction worth visiting. Though the gorge has many falls, Multnomah are the tallest at 610 feet, easily accessible just 50 kilometres from downtown Portland. If you’re looking for waterfalls near Seattle, then consider Multnomah just a 3-hour drive away. The best eye-level vantage point of the falls is on Benson Bridge where you can see the two-tiered falls from up high. For adventurous spirits, there is also a 4-kilometre circular hike to a viewpoint or a more challenging 8-kilometre trip that combines a few other falls such as Ponytail Falls. Note that your experience in the gorge will be drastically affected by the season; come in fall, for example, and you’ll be overwhelmed by rustic fall foliage, while in winter, snowfall blocks the paths but provides some unique photo opportunities.

Multnomah Falls | Photo: Dave Hoefler

Photo: Chris Briggs

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Proving that size isn’t everything is California’s Burney Falls, said to be one of Teddy Roosevelt’s favourite spots for its verdant cliffs and weeping-wall effect that makes it unique among the state’s offerings

7. Burney Falls, California, USA

Proving that size isn’t everything is California’s Burney Falls, said to be one of Teddy Roosevelt’s favourite spots for its verdant cliffs and weeping-wall effect that makes it unique among the state’s offerings. Based in the McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, Burney Falls can be seen from the parking lot, or, for a rather more outdoorsy approach, you can take the easy 2-kilometre loop trail around the base of the falls. After a full day exploring the black volcanic rock and basalt terrain around the park, consider staying the night in one of the park’s cabins or pitch up at the campgrounds.

Burney Falls | Photo: Jonathan Nguyen

8. Bridal Veil Falls, Colorado, USA

The tallest of free-falling Colorado waterfalls, Bridal Veil Falls come centred in a region already famed for its ski pistes, winter chalets and mining heritage, all an easy drive from Portland. If skiing is not on the itinerary, consider visiting outside of winter for all the more diverse mountain scenery and hiking opportunities in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. The historic mining town of Telluride is the perfect place to stay while in the canyon, moving east along Colorado Avenue, past Pandora Mill and up the road to find the top of Bridal Veil Falls and the nearby hydro-electric power plant, built in 1907. Getting to the bottom of the falls requires a high clearance 4X4 or, alternatively, you can hike the new 2-kilometre Bridal Veil Trail, a fun but challenging single-track trail with a water crossing that – beware – becomes impassable after heavy rains in spring and early summer.

Bridal Veil Falls | Photo: Keith Wong

9. Mesa Falls, Idaho, USA

When in Idaho, Mesa Falls surely become the ‘best waterfalls near me’, for their dual upper and lower falls that stretch 200-feet across and 114-feet up. Come here on the way to West Yellowstone National Park from Idaho, traversing the falls’ own byway within Grand Targhee Forest. The byway runs deep within the forest, becoming especially magical in fall, though come winter the trail is closed off to hikers due to snow and snowmobiling and cross-country skiing become the preferred way to get around. Mesa Falls have their own visitor centre, allowing for information on the site’s history as well as peak rainbow-spotting times (hint: it’s usually 9AM to 1PM).

Mesa Falls | Photo: Eric Muhr

Photo: Will Swann

10. Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, California, USA

A crowd-pleaser to finish is Yosemite Falls in California’s mighty Yosemite National Park. Ever the favourite, Yosemite National Park wows visitors with its epic proportions (spanning a total of 3,000 square kilometres) as well as its unparalleled natural beauty in any season. While the park is home to a number of them, the namesake Yosemite Waterfalls take precedence with 3 tiers reaching a cumulative drop of 2,425 feet. The village of Ah-wah’-nee at the base of the falls was once the home of Yosemite Indians, but today the area is a top hiking destination, featuring a number of vantage points of the falls along various surrounding trails, best started in Yosemite Village.

Yosemite Falls | Photo: Jeb Buchman

Yosemite Falls | Photo: Michael Baker

More Waterfalls in North America worth a mention

You’ve got Connecticut waterfalls, Alabama waterfalls, Great Smoky Mountains waterfalls and more; North America is literally streaming with them! The best waterfalls in Tennessee are often Chattanooga waterfalls (within the aptly named Falling Water Falls State Natural Area) while the best falls in NYC are said to be Catskills waterfalls (namely Kaaterskill Falls within the Catskill Mountains, 160 kilometres of New York City). The list could go on and on but I’ll give you but three more;

First is the Stewart Falls hike in Utah, one of the state’s most popular hikes that runs 6 kilometres around Mount Timpanogos, through aspen groves and along rocky ridges, overlooking the two-tiered falls at a number of points along the way. Then, Helmcken Falls in British Columbia is another worth the hike, deep in the Cariboo mountain range. The trail is just 1 kilometre and dog-friendly, best walked between April and October when snowmelt intensifies the flow. Third and finally, of the best Alaska waterfalls, Blackstone Falls in Whittier get our vote for surroundings of glacial wilderness at Blackstone Bay, accessible via a scenic 4-hour boat ride from Whittier.

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Photo: Jeremy Bishop

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