Falling for Waterfalls in National Parks

Rebecca WatsonNPF Blog
Small waterfall cascades down slate rocks into a pool surrounded by lush greenery
Waterfall along Obed Wild & Scenic River - NPS Photo

The sound of water in motion has a soothing effect and rich benefits that have drawn people, wildlife, and greenery to the banks of waterfalls and cascades for centuries. From the iconic falls at Yosemite or Yellowstone to the small falls we might find on a quiet, secluded hike – our national parks protect hundreds of waterfalls across the country. Join us in exploring a small fraction of the waterfalls preserved by the National Park Service.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Kings Creek Falls at Lassen Volcanic National Park

Kings Creek Falls at Lassen Volcanic National Park

NPS Photo

Home to steaming fumaroles and many volcanoes, Lassen Volcanic National Park might not be the first place you think of when you imagine waterfalls. However, the park is home to four watersheds, as well as the mighty Kings Creek Falls – a large roaring waterfall that drops nearly 30 feet. But the Kings Creek Falls aren’t the only ones in the park! Mill Creek Falls, at the junction of East Sulphur and Bumpass creeks tucked away in the park’s rugged southwest terrain, boasts the park’s largest waterfall drop at nearly 75 feet.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Spray Falls and a tiny waterfall to the left flows over the cliff edge into Lake Superior

Spray Falls at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

NPS Photo

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is home to a variety of waterfalls – up to 300 are estimated to be housed on either private or public lands. At Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, most of the park’s waterfalls can be accessed on foot! However, the must-see Spray Falls are best viewed from the great lake itself. Plunging 70 feet directly into Lake Superior, the base of the falls is also the spot of the 1856 shipwreck “Superior,” now resting under 20 feet of water. 

Little River Canyon National Preserve

The 45 ft / 13.7 m Little River Falls is one of the main attractions at Little River Canyon. As Little River is almost solely dependent on rainfall for its flow, the size of the waterfall can vary greatly from day to day, especially in the summer.

Little River Falls in Little River Canyon National Preserve

NPS Photo

The namesake canyon of Little River Canyon National Preserve is formed by a waterfall that is anything but “little.” Carving away at the surrounding sandstone at an over 45-foot drop, Little River Falls is an incredible demonstration of the power of water and waterfalls in sculpting the landscape around it. In the summer and autumn months, the river’s low water level makes it ideal for swimming and wading in the river.

Katmai National Park & Preserve

Three bears fishing for sockeye salmon on the brink of Brooks Falls.

Bears fishing for sockeye salmon on the brink of Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park & Preserve

NPS Photo

Waterfalls not only attract plant life with their mists and rich sediment deposits, but also wildlife looking to make the most of the waterfalls’ ecosystems. At Katmai National Park & Preserve, Brook Falls is one of the best places in the world to view brown bears, since the river offers a veritable buffet of salmon. From a young age, bears learn from their mothers various fishing techniques from the “dash and grab” to the “sit and wait.” When viewing bears, keep a safe distance of at least 50 yards at all times. 

Pipestone National Monument

Winnewissa Falls along the Circle Trail

Winnewissa Falls in Pipestone National Monument

NPS Photo / Nathan King

The pink quartzite cliffs of Pipestone National Monument once drew tribal groups of the Great Plains to quarry for pipestone, a stone quarried to this day. Today, visitors to the park can experience the beauty of these cliffs, their power emphasized even more by the park’s great Winnewisa Falls, just a short walk from the park’s visitor center. And these falls are an all-seasons marvel – Minnesota’s chilly winter temperatures often freeze the raging waters, making for a magical frozen site.

Mount Rainier National Park

Comet Falls with avalanche debris in foreground

Comet Falls in Mount Rainier National Park

NPS Photo / Roundtree photo

There are 25 major glaciers that carve through the landscape of Mount Rainier National Park, fueling five major river systems and providing essential sources of water, including those that rush through its many waters. There are at least 150 waterfalls in the park, one of the most popular being Comet Falls. The 320-foot cascade, named after its comet rail-like appearance, is one of the highest in the park. 

Yellowstone National Park

View of Lower Falls and the canyon

Lower Falls in Yellowstone National Park

NPS Photo / Neal Herbert

Sitting atop a volcanic hot spot, Yellowstone National Park is home to a variety of geothermal attractions, including many waterfalls. And the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River are some of the most impressive in the park. Nestled in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone – a formation estimated to be over 140,000 years old – the Yellowstone River has slowly deepened and widened the canyon through erosion of the rocks below.

New River Gorge National River

waterfall spanning the river

Sandstone Falls along New River Gorge National River

NPS Photo / Louise McLaughlin

While some waterfalls boast great heights, others can prove just as powerful over a shorter range of altitudes. Marking the confluence between the Gauley River and New River, Sandstone Falls along the New River Gorge National River is a dramatically wide cascade, covering over 1500 feet. Dotted with a series of islands, the falls drop 10 to 25 feet in areas, as rushing water cascades down to the Kanawha River.

Shenandoah National Park

Water cascades down a stone, mossy facade

Dark Hollow Falls in Shenandoah National Park

NPS Photo / Neal Lewis

Located along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, Shenandoah National Park is home to headwater streams that feed into the Shenandoah, Rappahannock, and James Rivers. With nearly 90 perennial streams that originate in high elevations throughout the park, there are plenty of riffles, rapids, cascades, and falls to discover. Dark Hallow Falls, a series of waterfalls and cascades, lies along a blue-blazed forest trail, one of the popular, shorter hikes in the park. Over a series of drops, the Hogcamp Branch of the Rose River falls down over 70 feet. 

Yosemite National Park

Upper and lower Yosemite falls

Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls in Yosemite National Park

NPS Photo / Damon Joyce

No list of national park waterfalls is complete without referencing Yosemite National Park. And Yosemite Falls, with a height of over 2,400 feet, is one of the world’s tallest. The waterfall is actually made up of three separate falls – Upper Yosemite Fall, the middle cascades, and Lower Yosemite Fall, and features an ice cone that forms at the base of the Upper Fall during winter months. The warmth of spring and the ensuing snowmelt make falls seem stronger and more forceful during spring months. 

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Brandywine Falls in Spring

Brandywine Falls in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

NPS Photo / D.J. Reiser

One of the most popular spots in Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a boardwalk with an unparalleled view of Brandywine Falls. And with a scenic cascade making a 60-foot drop among an ever-changing backdrop of seasonal colors and sights, it’s not hard to see why. From the icy view in winter months to the salamanders that can be spotted along nearby trails in the spring, Brandywine Falls offer a new experience each time you visit.

Many national parks feature waterfalls, cascades, or gorges – some are as mammoth as Yosemite and others are on lesser-known pathways in unexpected locations. And the National Park Service works diligently to protect and preserve all of these watery masterpieces for generations to come. Do you have a favorite waterfall that you’ve encountered in a national park? Share a photo or write down the route to your favorite cascade for others to discover in our Find Your Park Pics & Recs Gallery.  

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