There’s something about arriving at a cascading waterfall at the end of (or partway through) a rigorous hike that is truly gratifying. The possibilities are tantalizing—jump in for a cool swim, head through or under the falling water, enjoy lunch on a nearby rock, or simply take in the surrounding flora and fauna to the soothing soundtrack of flowing water. No matter your fitness and experience level, there are easy to advanced hikes waiting for you in domestic destinations as diverse as Hawai‘i’s O‘ahu island, Malibu in California, Alaska, and central Oregon.
Around the United States, many waterfalls become active or stronger when the snow melts in the spring and summer. Hiking in the spring is cooler, but if you’re into seeing the leaves change, it’s worth planning a fall hike to some of these destinations. In Alaska, most of the waterfalls freeze in winter, creating opportunities for ice climbing, while in Southern California, you can hike to waterfalls year round.
Whenever you decide to go, grab your gear and hiking boots and set out for one of these 10 great waterfall hikes throughout the U.S.
1. Cedar Creek Falls
San Diego County, California
Distance: 6.6 miles round trip
One of San Diego’s most popular waterfall hikes is quite advanced, requiring a 6.6-mile round-trip trek including 600 feet of elevation gain. The difficult and often hot hike is best avoided between June and October. However, from November to May you will be greeted by the beautiful Cedar Creek Falls that tumble 80 feet over a cliff into the sparkling swimming hole known as the “Devil’s Punchbowl.”
2. Eaton Canyon Falls
Distance: 3.5 miles round trip
There is free parking for the Eaton Canyon Falls hike, where you can visit the adjacent nature center that offers fun guided hikes with friendly docents. Located in the 190-acre Eaton Canyon Natural Area, this mostly flat hike shaded by buckwheat, prickly pear cactus, and sycamore trees in the San Gabriel Mountains is great for both families and dog owners. Cool off at the base of the 40-foot waterfall or spread out on one of the surrounding rocks for lunch.
3. Waimea Falls
Waimea Valley, O‘ahu, Hawai‘i
Distance: 1.5 miles round trip
Located within the lush, botanical abundance of Waimea Valley, home to over 5,000 types of plants, the 1.5-mile loop to Waimea Falls is well worth the short trek. You will see rare birds, including peacocks, while on this paved path. The cascades fall 45 feet; for cooling off, it’s possible to take a dip in the swimming hole at the base of the cascade.
4. Fossil Creek Waterfall
Gila County, Arizona
Distance: 1 mile each way
If you like off-roading by car, then the 16-mile rugged route starting at Camp Verde will land you at the start of the hike to the Fossil Creek Waterfall. The trail offers plenty of opportunities for splashing around in swimming holes, climbing unique rock formations, and viewing wildlife such as beavers, wild pigs, and black hawks in a lush riparian area. Because the Fossil Creek Waterfall is fed by a spring, the water stays around 70 degrees year-round.
5. Horsetail Falls and Bridal Veil Falls
Distance: 5.2 miles round trip
If you’re a fan of beautiful snowy winterscapes, then Valdez, Alaska, should be on your list. The destination experiences dozens of feet of snow in the winter months, making Valdez one of the snowiest city in the United States. Perhaps just as impressive is witnessing the melting snow in the spring and summer create flowing water through two of Valdez’s most noteworthy waterfalls, Horsetail Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. Both waterfalls are accessible via the Keystone Canyon Pack Trail, and the trail difficulty is moderate at 2.6 miles each way with an elevation gain of 250 feet. Alternatively, you can view the waterfalls at lookout points along the highway. In the winter, the falls freeze and become a popular location for ice climbing.
6. Koosah Falls and Sahalie Falls
Willamette National Forest, Oregon
Distance: 2.6 miles round trip
To see a pair of impressive waterfalls on one hike, head to Oregon’s Koosah and Sahalie Falls located along the McKenzie River in the Cascade Mountains. Both can be viewed on an easy loop hike that connects both Koosah Falls, which plunges from 70 feet, and Sahalie Falls, which drops an impressive 100 feet over a natural lava dam.
7. Manoa Falls
Distance: 1.6 miles round trip
The hike to Manoa Falls is located on the south side of O‘ahu, a short distance from Waikiki. The easy trail runs parallel to Waihi Stream, and you can stop and take photos of Manoa Falls from the bridge at the start of the hike. Take in the lush grove of eucalyptus robusta trees while the trail slightly ascends through a rain forest of towering bamboo. The end of the trail terminates at the waterfall viewing area. Unfortunately, swimming is not allowed in the pool at the base of the waterfall, but the area is surrounded by a tropical rain forest in the lush Koolau Mountains.
8. Ribbon Falls
Grand Canyon, Arizona
Distance: 16.8 miles round trip
This hike takes you deep into the Grand Canyon from the trailhead at the rustic Grand Canyon Lodge. You’ll need waterproof hiking boots because you have to cross a creek along the way. Unlike other waterfalls in the Grand Canyon that are accessible by backpacking on an overnight hike or by rafting the Colorado River, Ribbon Falls is an advanced day hike. For overnights in the area, check out Cottonwood Campground or Bright Angel campgrounds.
9. Solstice Canyon
Distance: 3 miles round trip
For a dog-friendly trail in Southern California, head to Solstice Canyon in Malibu, where you can experience 669 feet of elevation gain during a three-mile loop. The 30-foot waterfall in Solstice Canyon is also surrounded by a trail that includes panoramic views of the Santa Monica Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. The trail ends at the ruins of Roberts Ranch House, designed by African American architect Paul Williams in 1952.
Photo by Victoria Ditkovsky/Shutterstock
This 90-foot stunner in Central Oregon will not disappoint.
10. White River Falls
Distance: 1.4 miles round trip
Central Oregon’s White River Falls features a stunning, 90-foot plunge over a shelf of basalt rock. You can take pictures and selfies safely from an overlook that is a short hike from the parking area. To witness a man-made marvel and experience a slightly more challenging trail, hike along a steep and rough .7-mile path that takes you deep into the canyon to the historic hydroelectric power plant at the base of the falls, then on to Lower White River Falls.
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