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The Top 9 US National Parks for Waterfall Lovers

The Top 9 US National Parks for Waterfall Lovers

People visit national parks for many different reasons, but did you know there are many national parks with waterfalls? Not all of them have one, of course. 

For instance, you certainly won’t find any falls at Death Valley or Florida’s Everglades. But that still leaves plenty of options, and we’ll narrow them down so you can make plans to visit the best ones.

Keep reading for our carefully selected list of the top nine national parks with waterfalls.

Falling Water of Yosemite Spring 2017 | Waterfalls Compilation

US National Parks Are Full of Wonder…and Water!

How many national parks have waterfalls? You may be surprised! The National Park Service lists 30 national park properties with these amazing natural features. These include full-fledged National Parks plus other federally protected places such as national seashores, recreation areas, and monuments. Of these, 13 are officially designated National Parks with waterfalls.

Where Is the Tallest Waterfall in the United States?

In fact, the tallest waterfall in the country happens to be in a national park. It’s one of the biggest claims to fame at Yosemite National Park in California, which is on our list. Yosemite Falls is not just the tallest waterfall in the United States but also in all of North America! Its three cascades total a whopping 2,425 ft of falling water.

Photographer taking picture of waterfall in national park
The US national park system is full of many amazing hikes, campsites, and waterfalls.

Top 9 National Parks With Waterfalls

Here’s the scoop on where and when to experience many captivating national park waterfalls. Think of this as a concise travel guide to the best of the best. 

1. Mount Rainier National Park

We’ll start our tour in Washington state in Mount Rainier National Park. You’ll learn that it has a special distinction with its waterfalls. Mount Rainier National park is located just southwest of the city of Seattle in west-central Washington. At 369 square miles, this one’s tiny compared to many national parks but has a magnificent and imposing centerpiece. Mount Rainier, which peaks at 14,410 feet, is an active volcano home to 25 major glaciers.

Can’t Miss Waterfalls: The whimsically named Fairy Falls is a three-tiered wonder that tumbles for almost 600 feet. Narada Falls is about a third of that height but often makes a bigger impression with its eye-catching rainbow. You can observe the 350-foot Spray Falls from the remains of a glacier.

Best Time to View Waterfalls: Early summer is when the snow melts and feeds the many rivers and streams. They dwindle by later summer until rain in the autumn replenishes them. For the best views, head to Mount Rainier in Spring and early Summer to catch these waterfalls in their full glory.

2. Glacier National Park

Despite its remote location, more than 3 million people visit Glacier National Park every year. Glacier National Park borders Canada in northwestern Montana. This park covers over a million acres in the rugged Rocky Mountains. It’s often under many feet of snow and the site of numerous glaciers.

Can’t Miss Waterfalls: Plan to see Bird Woman Falls, just west of the Continental Divide. It has two separate drops that together plunge about 960 feet. It’s one of around 200 waterfalls throughout the park, including Swiftcurrent Falls and McDonald Falls.

Best Time to View Waterfalls: Visit in the summertime because it’ll have plentiful water, and the snow has thawed enough that you can take the roads and trails. By late summer or autumn, the swells will definitely have died down some, but will likely still be worth it.

3. Olympic National Park

This park in the Pacific Northwest has old-growth forests and stretches 60 miles along the coast. Olympic National Park lies on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, across the Puget Sound from Seattle. Protected since 1909, Olympic became a national park in 1938. It is mostly wilderness and has mountainous and meadow areas in addition to its rugged coastline. The highest point is the centrally located Mount Olympus, which rises to 7,965 feet.

Can’t Miss Waterfalls: The slender Marymere Falls elegantly cascades into a small pool against a backdrop of moss and stone. Viewing these falls is a popular activity at Olympic because it’s at the end of an enjoyable round-trip hike, just under two miles. 

With its classic horsetail shape, Madison Falls lies just two-tenths of a mile down a paved trail.

Best Time to View Waterfalls: Visit in the spring for the best conditions. As a bonus, you can also enjoy the meadows covered in wildflower blooms.

Waterfall in glacier National Park
From coast to coast there are tons of national parks with waterfalls.

4. Yosemite National Park

The continent’s tallest waterfall lies in Yosemite National Park, with many more you can visit. Yosemite National Park lies in east-central California on the northwestern edge of the Sierra National Forest. Named after a native tribe, Yosemite covers nearly 1,200 square miles and is one of the most famous national parks. It’s also the most visited of all of California’s nine national parks and is one of the oldest in the country. Protected since 1864, it became a national park in 1890.

Can’t Miss Waterfalls: Yosemite Falls has three separate cascades that, when combined, officially extend to 2,425 feet. The park has many others worth seeing as well, including Sentinel and Ribbon Falls.

Best Time to View Waterfalls: Some waterfalls flow all year, but you’ll get the best views in spring and early summer because of snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Pro Tip: Get out into the great outdoors and enjoy these 7 Easy Hikes in Yosemite That Anyone Can Enjoy.

5. Cuyahoga Falls National Park

On to the Midwest, this park is a thriving natural oasis between two industrial cities. Cuyahoga Falls National Park sits between Akron and Cleveland in northeastern Ohio. This is where urban meets rural. Congress first protected this area as a national recreation area in 1974 and elevated it to national park status in 2000. The park encompasses 33,000 acres of undeveloped land in an otherwise pretty developed area.

Can’t Miss Waterfalls: The 60-foot Brandywine Falls is the center of attention here. It’s the grandest waterfall in the region, and visitors often describe it as having the classy look of a bridal veil. Additionally, the 1.5 mile Brandywine Gorge Loop offers easy access and stunning views.

Best Time to View Waterfalls: This waterfall has a consistent flow throughout the year, so feel free to visit whenever the weather is welcoming.

6. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

America’s most visited national park has an abundance of plant and animal life in addition to its beautiful waterfalls. Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. This popular national park gets its name from the beautiful mountains often shrouded in fog. Established in 1934, it contains more than half a million acres in the two states. It’s also a gateway to the Blue Ridge Parkway and Appalachian Scenic Trail.

Can’t Miss Waterfalls: Ramsey Cascades rolls gracefully over about 100 feet of rocky ledges. We also love Grotto Falls as more of an interactive experience. Here you can step carefully “inside” its curtain of water.

Best Time to View Waterfalls: Shoot for late spring to avoid the larger summer crowds.

Tom and Cait from Mortons on the move in Yosemite by waterfall
Yosemite is home to the tallest waterfall in North America.

7. Shenandoah National Park

Sometimes overshadowed by the Smokies, Shenandoah National Park may be one of the East Coast area’s best-kept secrets. In the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, you’ll find Shenandoah National Park with its majestic waterfalls. Just 75 miles from the busy Beltway area, this park has nearly 80,000 acres of unspoiled forest and wetlands. Additionally, the 105-mile Skyline Drive has more than 70 overlooks that reveal the majesty of the Appalachians.

Can’t Miss Waterfalls: Overall Run Falls is the tallest at around 93 feet and stands out against a stunning backdrop of the Shenandoah Valley. But the 67-foot Rose River Falls has separate cascades that form their own pool.

Best Time to View Waterfalls: Spring is best, but any time of year works as long as the area receives abundant rainfall.

8. Yellowstone National Park

The nation’s oldest and first national park, with its many impressive waterfalls, makes for an epic adventure. Yellowstone stretches into three states, including northwestern Wyoming and parts of Montana and Idaho.

This park has been protected since 1872 and is massive. It stretches over 3,500 square miles, larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined. It’s famous as the home of wild American bison and many geysers, including the landmark Old Faithful.

Can’t Miss Waterfalls: The Lower Yellowstone River Falls tops every list with its 308-foot drop. The northern portion, more than a third that height, is harder to view but worth seeking out. Additionally, Undine Falls, which takes its name from mythology, plunges about 60 feet into a more remote canyon.

Best Time to View Waterfalls: Visiting these waterfalls in the fall gives you lovely views once the summer crowds have diminished.

9. Haleakalā National Park

We’re heading off the mainland and on to Hawaii for these attractions. You’ll find Haleakalā National Park on the island of Maui. The name of this 30,000-acre park translates to “House of the Sun.” The reddish landscape leads many visitors to comment that they feel like they’re on Mars. The park gets its name from the Hawaiian Islands’ third-largest volcano, which is Maui’s highest peak at 10,023 feet. 

Can’t Miss Waterfalls: Take a two-mile walk through a thick bamboo forest to find the incredible Waimoku Falls, with its 400-foot cascade. It lies in the section of the park they call the Kīpahulu District. Furthermore, the 200-foot Makahiku Falls is another popular stop on the Pipiwai Trail.

Best Time to View Waterfalls: Plan to visit during Hawaii’s rainy season, roughly between December and March, to see the waterfalls at full capacity. If you want to skip the rain, April and May are also great times to see full cascades. It rains a lot in Hawaii most of the year, so no matter when you go, be prepared for muddy trails. But don’t worry, the payoff will be huge!

Pro Tip: Hawaii is home to many waterfalls and is famous for its waterfall hikes! Check out the best waterfall hikes on Oahu.

Waterfall at the top of Haleakalā National Park
Hike through a bamboo forest and rainforest to find the waterfall at the top of Haleakalā National Park.

Which National Park Has the Most Waterfalls?

While Yosemite National Park in California has the biggest ones, the national park with the most waterfalls is farther north. The National Park Service says that Glacier National Park in Montana has more than 200 waterfalls.

However, there’s probably no exact number because some come and go depending on snowmelt and rain. And many others lie in such remote areas that most visitors never see them.

What State Has the Most Waterfalls?

It should be no surprise that two of Washington’s national parks made our list because that state has more waterfalls than any other. An exhaustive project called the World Waterfall Database lists 3,131 waterfalls in Washington. We’d say that’s certainly a benefit of getting all that rain. 

Visiting Yellowstone National Park - East Side Attractions | MOTM VLOG #58

Go Chasing Waterfalls in America’s National Parks

Hiking, camping, and kayaking are some of our favorite things to do at national parks, but so is chasing waterfalls. And if you time your visit right, it’s surprisingly easy to do. In fact, many of these national parks each have 20 or more waterfalls you can experience up close. And, let’s face it: there’s nothing like the soothing, comforting sounds of those invigorating waters crashing down.

We love the anticipation you feel when approaching a waterfall from a secluded trail. We’re talking about that moment when you can hear the waters but can’t see them just yet. Then you turn around a bend and voila!

These top nine national parks with waterfalls offer exceptional pay-offs for waterfall lovers. As long as it’s the right time of year when the waters are flowing, they won’t let you down!

Which national park do you want to visit first? Tell us in the comments!

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for Hwy.co and an Arizona travel guide.

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