Anyone who’s ever visited Niagara Falls, Yosemite and a few other famous waterfalls in the United States probably has a personal list of their favorite falls. And countless travel magazines and websites have published lists of America’s most beautiful waterfalls. Beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder, so there’s really no way to quantify America’s most popular or most picturesque waterfalls … until now. Using Google’s popular Image Search feature, we entered several dozen of America’s most famous year-round falls and ranked the top 10 based on the number of Google search results. It’s not a perfect study, and some of the results were questionable (see the footnotes at the end of the story). Still, it’s a good starting point for a debate on America’s greatest waterfalls. Here are the 10 waterfalls that came out on top in the Google Image Search results.
10. Snoqualmie Falls, Washington
According to Washington state tourism officials, some 1.5 million people visit these 268-foot falls each year, including many couples for their wedding ceremony. It’s a sacred site for members of the Snoqualmie tribe, who believe the mist created by the falls is the intersection of Heaven and Earth. But for most people, the falls are probably best remembered for being featured prominently in the opening credits of the TV series Twin Peaks.
9. Multnomah Falls, Oregon
These falls’ distinctive two-tier drop of 620 feet has captured the fancy of photographers for generations. You can hike a 1.2-mile trail to the top of the falls, but frankly, if you’ve already taken the obligatory photo of the waterfall and Benson Bridge from down below, you can move on, as there are too many other interesting destinations in the Columbia River Gorge, one of America’s most underrated tourist spots.
8. Shoshone Falls, Idaho
Nicknamed the “Niagara of the West,” these falls near Twin Falls, Idaho, are actually about 50 feet higher than Niagara Falls, plunging 212 feet into the Snake River. As with most of the other waterfalls on this list, the waterfall varies in appearance depending on the time of year and recent rainfall. Spring is the best time to visit for maximum flow.
7. Havasu Falls, Arizona
Located on the Havasupai Reservation at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, these falls are a tough trek for visitors. Plan on at least a five-hour hike each way on the challenging 11-mile trail; it’s best done in a two-day excursion, and is probably for experienced hikers only. And there are several potential pitfalls once you get there; for example, the otherworldly turquoise-colored pool at the bottom of the falls — which gets its unique color from magnesium in the water — turns a not-so-picturesque muddy brown after a heavy rain. Still, most people who’ve made the trip seem to agree it’s a worthy bucket-list experience. While in the canyon, be sure to check out nearby Mooney Falls.
6. Great Falls of the Potomac, Maryland
These falls lack the dramatic plunge of the other falls on this list, but they’re still a very popular attraction in the Washington, D.C., area. Most visitors are amazed that such rugged wilderness exists only minutes away from the nation’s capital.
5. Yosemite Falls, California
This collection of three falls in Yosemite National Park plunges a total of 2,425 feet, making it one of the highest falls in the world. The jewel of the trio is the 1,430-foot Upper Fall, prominently featured in the work of Ansel Adams and other famous American artists and photographers. The upper and lower falls are visible from many vantage points in the park, including Yosemite Village, but for a different perspective, one of the oldest hiking trails in Yosemite is an extremely strenuous, 7.2-mile round-trip route to the top of Yosemite Falls.
4. Western North Carolina Waterfalls
The mountainous western portion of the Tar Heel State is home to hundreds of waterfalls, including one that became a movie star in 2012. N.C. tourism officials expect thousands of fans of the movie The Hunger Games will visit Triple Falls, which appeared in a scene in the movie. That waterfall and scores of others in Western N.C. are accessible to the public. Ground zero for waterfall tourism in the region is Transylvania County, which has more than 250 waterfalls and boasts the nickname “Land of Waterfalls.” Here’s a great travel website, ncwaterfalls.com, with hundreds of photos of Western North Carolina waterfalls, visitor information and more.
3. Vernal/Nevada Falls, California
The second set of falls from Yosemite National Park to make this list, Nevada Fall is the higher (594 feet) and arguably more picturesque of the two falls. Vernal Fall made news for all the wrong reasons in 2011, when three young adults fell to their deaths in a single incident. Unfortunately, accidental deaths have occurred at all of the waterfalls on this list; in most cases, the ill-fated visitors ignored posted warnings and/or common sense and paid for their mistake with their life.
2. Yellowstone Falls, Wyoming
There are more than a dozen prominent waterfalls in Yellowstone National Park, but the two most significant are the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone. The Lower Falls are by far the taller (308 feet versus 109 feet) and more popular of the two. A short but steep three-quarter-mile round-trip hike leads to the top of the Lower Falls, a truly awe-inspiring experience and highly recommended, but the iconic photo of the falls (seen above) can be taken after an easy walk from the parking lot to Lookout Point.
1. Niagara Falls, New York
You don’t need Google Search results to know these are the most famous falls in not just the U.S., but the world, although technically, most people seem to prefer the greater volume and distinctive shape of Horseshoe Falls, which are just across the Canadian border. The ultimate experience at the falls is a boat tour aboard the Maid of the Mist, which first began sightseeing tours in the Niagara Falls Gorge in 1846. In a search for unusual photos of the falls, we came across these rare photos from 1969, when the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers built a temporary dam and blocked the American Falls for several months to study the riverbed and make changes to help slow erosion.
Here are the Google Image Search returns for the above waterfalls:
Niagara Falls, 47.8 million Google Image results
Yellowstone Falls, 20.2 million
Vernal/Nevada Falls, 3.9 million
Western North Carolina Waterfalls, 2.7 million
Yosemite Falls, 2.6 million
Great Falls of the Potomac 1.4 million
Havasu Falls, 297,000
Shoshone Falls, 260,000
Multnomah Falls 257,000
Snoqualmie Falls, 240,000
It’s worth noting that a Google Image Search for Ruby Falls in Tennessee returned 3.4 million results. Are they really the fourth-most popular waterfall in the United States? We didn’t think so, either, since multiple review sites on-line are filled with scathing remarks from visitors who say they found it difficult to get a photograph given the hurried tours. From personal experience, these falls inside Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga are worth a visit, but do they compare with the falls in Yosemite, or even across the border in Western North Carolina? No.
The author has spent the past 20 years journeying around the United States in search of travel adventures.