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Reader Participation Day: Where Are the Best Waterfalls In the National Park System?

Waterfall Ohe o Gorge, Haleakala National Park, copyright Q.T. Luong

Where's your favorite waterfall in the National Park System? Is it this one, a waterfall in Ohe o gorge in Haleakala National Park? Photo copyright by Q.T. Luong, used with permission.

Two of the most incredible waterfalls in the National Park System can be found in Yellowstone National Park. But it certainly doesn't have a monopoly on waterworks. Olympic National Park boasts the beautifully secluded Marymere Falls, Glacier National Park the towering Bird Woman Falls, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park the comparatively small but gorgeous-just-the-same Abrams Falls.

What other waterfalls in the park system deserve to be singled out for their beauty? No doubt there are thousands to choose from. Nevada and Vernal falls in Yosemite National Park (not to mention that big one, Yosemite Fall), in Sequoia there's Tokopah Falls, and even Acadia National Park has some beauties, such as the 40-foot cascade known as Hadlock Brook Waterfall.

Shenandoah National Park is cut with waterfalls, one of which, Overall Run, plunges 93 feet. Even Arches National Park, that red-rock gem that's normally talc dry, has some spectacular waterfalls ... that result from torrential downpours and quickly vanish.

So, where would you begin in building a list of the top 100 waterfalls in the National Park System?


Yosetmite Falls.  I had a transcendent experience on a May night with the falls raging with snow melt.  The valley below was bathed in the light of a full moon.  I'll never forget it.

I love the Jacks river falls in the cahutta wilderness on the Ga Tn line. It's a cool hike with about 38 to 40 river crossing to get there. But it's worth it just to see it. You use to be able to camp out there on the falls but now they won't let you due to the bears. But still have lots of great spots to set up the Eno and relax. I'm planning a trip there in the beginning of October hope it's not to cold.

The Waterfalls in the Cuyahoga Valley in Ohio are very nice, shady and accessible to just about anyone. Brandywine Falls has a boardwalk with ramps so anyone can enjoy the waterfall and for the able-bodied there is a very nice loop trail that goes down into the valley, crosses the stream and back along the other side.

Also, any waterfall is beautiful when it freezes.

Waimoku Falls at Haleakala National Park is amazing. The hike through the bamboo forest to get there is awe inspiring.

The waterfall complex at horseshoe basin in North Cascades NP is pretty spectacular in mid summer at the height of the melt-out 12-18 waterfalls in one Glacial circ

The permanent/ semipermanent waterfalls in the Grand Canyon are great because water is such a precious commodity there. All of them a hard to get to also , with a long hike or a river trip necessary. The best:

1. Thunder River Falls- Massive amounts of water pouring out of a cave on the side of a cliff and then cascading down for a half mile until it pours into Tapeats Creek. It's one of those places you never forget.

2. Deer Creek Falls- Large waterfall that falls almost directly into the Colorado River as you float by. A great place to take a shower!

3. Cheyava Falls along Clear Creek- The tallest in the Park, it may not run in the dry season but is spectacular in the Spring.

4. Vasey's Paradise- A beautiful cascade along the Colorado River.

5. Elve's Chasm- A small but beautiful grotto.

6. The inner gorge of the canyon after a large summer thunderstorm creates literally scores of temporary falls that plummet into the river.

Just outside the park, on the Havasupai Nation, but which are part of the Grand Canyon's canyon system, are the 4 spectacular falls of Navajo, Havasu, Mooney, and Beaver.

It's hard to make the comparisons -- tall, full falls in Yosemite (Vernal, Nevada, Yosemite, Illilouette, even Bridalveil) can knock your socks off.

But for more subtle pleasures, look in the Appalachians. The suggestion above about half-day hikes in the Smokies is great. Abrams, Laurel, and Rainbow are three pretty examples on the Tennessee side.

Certainly there are plenty of waterfalls that are just off NPS land. I remember traveling Tioga Road back in 2006 a week or so after plowing was completed. The water flow was high and there was one really nice one on Forest Service land just before the Tioga Pass entrance to Yosemite NP. With runoff everywhere, there were also temporary falls along the side of Tioga Road.

In addition, Rainbow Falls at Devil's Postpile National Monument is rather impressive:

Horsetail Fall in Yosemite is supposed to be temporary when the snow melt drops off the side of El Capitan. Under just the right lighting (just around sunset with the right angles and an orange glow) conditions, it can look like it's on fire.

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